Category Archives: How To

Let’s Make Some Noise!

Lets make some noise 1Angler: Aaron Rubel with a 23″ redfish caught in a seam of water flowing off a peninsula.
Photographer: Jameson Redding

The past couple of weeks along the north central Gulf Coast has been, like much of the country, blustery weather.  Temperatures have dipped as low as 15F accompanied with stiff north winds.  As fronts pass, wind direction changes, and as a result water clarity vanishes.  During the past few seasons of fishing the Mobile Bay and Pensacola area, I have found that January is the time to put the fly rod in reserve, and instead experiment with spinning and baitcasting techniques.

Another thing I have learned is during periods of dark water, the angler needs to be a little more strategic about where to spend effort seeking fish.  Look for water that is still moving, yet out of the main current such as a seam flowing off a peninsula from a tidal river.  A seam is anywhere you see faster water flowing along slower or slack water.  The friction between the two different speeds of water creates a visible “seam” on the surface.  The fish will often reside on the side of the softer, slower water.  Holding in this position decreases the effort they exert as the fish wait to ambush food drifting by in the faster water.  I always position myself on the side with quicker water and cast to the seam.  This way, there is less of a chance to line the fish you’re casting to.

Find a choke point that maintains a current and yet has structure protecting it.  The protection combined with the pinch point will assist in optimizing clarity through increased speed of water and obstructing or absorbing matter.  Subtle differences are what you are looking for as fish are seeking even a small advantage to the food source and reduced turbidity.

Fish can taste, smell, feel, touch, and see.  When using artificial flies or lures during tough winter conditions, sight is limited.  I typically use techniques that don’t trigger the sense of smell and this presents an even greater challenge to catching fish in these tough conditions.

Lets make some noise 2

In this case, triggering the sense of feel is important.  A lure or fly that emits vibration is key.  Fish feel vibrations through the lower part of the inner ear combined with a lateral line running the better part of the length of their body.  On January days when winds have blown water turbid, I tend to go to a lure like the Badonk-A-Donk SS.  This will swim subsurface, and the two balls rattling inside the head create vibration in addition to the lure movement in water.  Force it to swim erratically to create maximum vibration and evoke nervousness of a baitfish.


Once the fish has engaged on the sense of vibration and flight of lure, sight must close the deal.  Color choice is important in darker water.  My go to preference for color in saltwater or an estuary that is stained during daytime is blue.  The color blue has a short wavelength of light which means it is not absorbed as fast as other colors with longer wavelengths of light.  Selecting a color like blue or purple seeks to gain every advantage to lengthen the distance the fish can initially focus in on your lure or fly in cloudy water.

Don’t hesitate to venture out on the water during the height of winter.  There will be fewer anglers to compete with.  Avoid cotton clothing and opt for wearing synthetics.  Select good neoprene foot protection with wool socks inside to keep dry and warm.  Make sure to have a high quality pair of polarized eyewear like Maui Jim Sunglasses to cut glare, protect your eyes, and help prevent headaches.  Finally, find a choice lure that creates vibration and utilizes colors of short wavelength of light such as blues and purples to bring out the predatory instincts of your target fish.

Copyright 2014 by All rights reserved

Red October

Angler: Landon Rubel, with Chuck Fisk
Photographer: Aaron Rubel

Fall colors peak along the Gulf Coast in October.  The color red, that is.  After enduring a long and muggy summer, the angler is rewarded with great opportunities to find redfish as fall sets in.

An effective way for the adult fly angler and child to enjoy a day on the water together was introduced to me by good friend, Chuck Fisk.  We brought both fly rods and conventional fishing gear to the beach.  Chuck and I started the day by wading in the shallows and catching ladyfish on clouser minnow flies.  The ladyfish went into the cooler.  Later, they were transformed into cut bait and drifted just beyond the surf on conventional rods to entice bull redfish.  Bull redfish are adults of the species that have grown on average above 26 inches and made their way out of the marshes, into the larger bays and open waters of the Gulf.

Red October 2Ladyfish on the fly

The technique of combining fly fishing and conventional tackle proved successful as Landon caught a tremendous redfish on the coast of Mobile Bay.  We also had the opportunity to teach him that although we sacrificed one species of fish, releasing another is important to the preservation of future generations of game fish.

Chuck Fisk, Gulf Coast Council Conservation Director of the International Fly Fishing Federation,
demonstrates proper release of a redfish.
Photographer: Aaron Rubel

Do you want to seek more secluded water in search of Redfish?  Close encounters with big reds are possible in backwaters by use of kayaks specifically designed for fishing.  The low profile construction enables opportunities for sight fishing and short casts.  The kayak also serves as cushion to the tension of line between angler and the strength of Redfish.

Angler: IFA Kayak Fishing Tour Champion, Benton Parrott, with a nice Mobile Bay area redfish
Photographer: Aaron Rubel

Whether you enjoy the breezy beach or tranquil marsh, Red October is the time to reach the water for one of the Gulf Coast’s favorite species.

A Mobile Bay area marsh redfish on the fly
Angler and Photographer: Aaron Rubel

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Copyright 2013 by All rights reserved

Eat More Shrimp!

Eat More Shrimp 1

The boys and I got outdoors for a local cultural tradition of blue crabbing along the beautiful coast of Daphne, AL today.

So many times on our walks along the piers of Mobile Bay we have witnessed the very effective technique of using chicken quarters mixed with raspberry sauce or well prepared turkey necks to catch blue crab. The chicken and turkey are typically baked in the sun for hours to attract blue crab to the rotting scent of poultry. Something to think about is spoiled chicken and turkey are known to produce protein toxins and bacteria that are certainly not native to estuaries that blue crab reside in.

Considering the risk, I have been wanting to find another way of effectively catching blue crab with my boys without having to use the same types of bait. So, my boys and I made a trip to our neighboring seafood carrier and picked up two dozen locally caught shrimp. We rigged up the crab net with a two-drop nylon leader rig that enabled three hooks to be attached. After all, blue crab are opportunistic feeders and they are attracted to shrimp as a native food source.

Eat More Shrimp 2

Eat More Shrimp 3During the course of the day we had some onlookers that detailed their guaranteed recipe for success, but we enjoyed sharing the idea of using a native food source and were able to demonstrate it can be a successful method of crabbing.

Eat More Shrimp 4The blues we caught today were not large, but we had a great time and the boys learned another good lesson in conservation. That is, to release those of the catch that are undersize. What a great day, taking in a local tradition that we can share as a family.

Eat More Shrimp 5Eat More Shrimp 6

Copyright 2013 by All rights reserved

Video & Book Review: Smallmouth Fly Fishing – Revealed!

Smallmouth Revealed 1

Eleven years ago a friend handed me a 29 page pamphlet on fly fishing for Smallmouth bass, written by a well known bronzeback angler from Minnesota named Tim Holschlag .  Three or four years later, I discovered Mr. Holschlag expanded the information to a 326 page book packed full of secrets uncovered.

Well, if that wasn’t enough, he’s done it again!  This time, Tim Holschlag has brought to life, through a 71 minute video, all of the valuable tips from reading the river, to flies, and even details on how to do the Crayfish Hop with the fly rod!

When watching a fishing show or instructional material on the topic, I want details.  If the why’s aren’t given, I lose interest quickly.  Upon reviewing this video, I was amazed at the extent that Tim Holschlag and company went to produce Smallmouth Fly Fishing – Revealed!  Over the course of a few months, Mr. Holschlag traversed 14 rivers, numorous lakes, and even went as far as acquiring underwater footage to show the action of each fly he discusses within the actual environment of the real thing.

Techniques such as the Twitch & Tease and the Crayfish Hop, just to name a couple, are covered in detail right down to the timing of action in varied types of current.  Not familiar with fishing rivers?  No problem.  The video instructs about stream substrates, pools, riffles, and bends.  Have you ever wanted to gain some advice on improving your casting stroke with those heavy flies that smallies go after?  Tim Holschlag communicates some great insight and strategy on the topic of rod, line, and reel combinations for effective casting in Smallmouth bass habitat.

I was very impressed with the quality of presentation, and the expertise effectively communicated.  I’m confident after watching this video that my knowledge of fly fishing for Smallmouth bass has been enhanced and will result in more bronzebacks caught and released next time I’m out on the stream.

Are you a reader?  There’s nothing like having a book to enjoy and study.

Fly fisherman have always had a love affair in the pursuit of catching fish amidst the backdrop of tumbling water and towering pines.  Usually those thoughts are directed toward trout, and yet Smallmouth bass can be found in similar scenic settings, have proved to be a challenging species to catch on a fly, and are known as pound for pound the fiercest fighting freshwater fish.  A few years ago I was in a fly shop when I saw a book entitled Smallmouth Fly Fishing, written by accomplished guide and fly fishing instructor Tim Holschlag.

I was surprised at the short amount of time it took me to pick up on the advice given by Mr. Holschlag to start catching fish.  It is true what he says in the book about how smallmouth attacks a surface fly.  Additionally, crayfish are a staple in the diet of Smallmouth bass.  In the book you’ll find out how to do the “Crayfish Hop”.  This is an irresistible presentation that will draw a strike in the bottom half of the water column.

The book begins by answering the questions of why consider fly fishing for smallmouth. I was impressed not only with the approach the author used to introduce fly fishing for smallmouth bass to the reader, but also the detailed illustrations by artist, Ron Nelson.  Explanations on how different techniques are required to successfully fish for smallmouth versus those for trout are covered.  The challenge of catching a trout on a fly was part of why I took up the sport of fly fishing.  Tim Holschlag goes into great detail for the novice or experienced alike who is interested in pursuing the challenge of fishing for smallmouth on a fly.   Some of the key content Tim Holschlag covers is the anatomy of a smallmouth stream, subsurface and top water techniques, watercraft options, wading tips, and behavior of Smallmouth bass.  He reviews topics of lake and stream fly fishing techniques for smallmouth, and has included recipes and instructions for tying 40 bronzeback flies.

Usually we seek a book out to deepen our technical knowledge of fishing and then find a different resource for where to use the information.  In this book, there are one hundred smallmouth destinations introduced to the reader from around the country.

Smallmouth bass can be caught in spring, summer, and fall.  A variety of flies can be used.  From poppers, grass hoppers, to crayfish patterns, the fly angler can catch trophy bronzebacks even in mid to late summer.  I highly recommend Tim Holschlag’s book to anyone who has thought about fly fishing for smallmouth bass.  In my opinion, this is a required textbook for any fly fisherman who wants to diversify his or her angling skills to include bronzebacks.


Click here for more information on the newly released video entitled “Smallmouth Fly Fishing – Revealed!”, by Tim Holschlag

Click here for more information on the book entitled, “Smallmouth Fly Fishing”, by Tim Holschlag


Copyright 2013 by All rights reserved

Organizing Fishing Gear Part 2 – Clothing

Organizing Fishing Gear ClothingIt’s 12:00AM and just three hours before crawling out of bed to beat the sunrise to the water’s edge.  Frustrated and tired, the one piece of clothing needed is no where to be found.

Sound familiar?  The challenge to maximize available space and utilize it for saving time pays dividends.  A good night’s rest and low stress is important for enjoying the most out of a fishing trip.

I’m always looking for something that can’t be found just before going fishing.  I’ll admit it.  So, I decided to find one space that could store all my fishing clothes.  I also needed a way to quickly access small and large pieces in less than a minute, literally.

A company named Canopy manufactures a very useful hanging closet organizer that has a hook and loop attachment that wraps around a clothing bar.  Three large shelves within the organizer allow for both warm and cold weather under and outer wear.  Below are eight smaller boxes that store a surprising number of items to be at the ready when needed.

Those items I wear most and some that are hard to find will go into the organizer in the middle of the closet.  Hanging to the right and left are jackets, long pants, or heavier shirts that I sometimes select based on weather or fishing conditions.  This simple solution for organizing my clothes will go a long way toward a relaxed preparation for a great day of fishing.

Copyright 2013 by All rights reserved

Selecting a Fly Reel


Selecting a Fly Reel 1A fly reel in hot new colors consisting of the smoothest and strongest drag, can in some cases, make for the worst of casting combinations with your favorite rod.  This week, I’ve had a couple friends ask for advice on purchasing a fly reel.

The first piece of advice I’d recommend is asking yourself the question of the purpose for purchasing a reel.  Will you be primarily using it to seek panfish, bass and trout?  Are you going to be hunting for powerful fish that reside in corrosive saltwater?

For the smaller species you can get away with saving some money and purchasing a reel to hold the best line you can buy.  If fishing primarily in saltwater, you’ll need to select one with protective material characteristics within the reel to resist degradation of the components.  I have a couple freshwater reels that I use in estuaries (where freshwater rivers meet the sea).  In this case, I make sure the reel is rinsed each and every time I go out and then wipe it down.  When air drying the reel, separate the spool and allow to dry for 48 hours (if not fishing in between) before putting it away.  This way, the backing that is tightly wound on top of itself can have the best chance of drying rather than building up mildew.

The most important advice I would offer is to take your time and find a reel that fits within your budget and balances perfectly with the rod and line.  Yes, the line too.  The rod, reel, and line should balance on your index finger as you grip the cork handle.  In determining balance, the line should be strung through guides and extended beyond the tip  for a distance of one rod’s length.

So, with all the choices out there how do you start narrowing the options?  Begin from the convenience of your computer.  Research how much your rod weighs in ounces.  Then, after determining what your options are for reels based on purpose and budget, look up the weight of each reel in ounces.  Then you can use these values combined with the AFTM ratings on fly lines to calculate how well each of those reels match up to your rod.

To leverage the effectiveness of your reel in combination with rod and line, Joseph D. Cornwall explains in his article, A Question of Balance, how calculating 1.5 times the swing weight of the rod should equal the weight of a loaded reel.  I have used this method in the past and found it to be a great way to begin shopping for a reel.

First, look up the weight of the first 30 feet of your line on the AFTM weight chart in ounces:
Click here for AFTM Fly Line Chart

Second, calculate the weight of the fly line that affects balancing of fly rod forward of reel:
Balancing weight of fly line on rod = (2 x rod length ft /30 ft) x AFTM 0z

Third, calculate Swing Weight of fly rod:
Swing Weight = Balancing weight of fly line on rod + Weight of fly rod in ounces

Finally, calculate weight of loaded fly reel to balance with rod and line:
Weight of loaded reel, line, and backing (oz) =  1.5 x swing weight of rod

This may seem at first a complicated process to begin selecting a fly reel, but it’s a lot easier than beginning by trial and error and ending up making a regretful decision.  After narrowing the field to a few reels, at minimum do a physical evaluation with rod in the store before purchasing.  Some shops will have reels lined for casting evaluations.  Take the time and make a well informed investment.  You’re making a purchase that will be with you for each and every cast you make on the water.

Spend as little as you possibly can and still satisfy the purpose of why you’re buying a reel.  Spend the money you save toward buying a quality fly line.  A quality fly line can actually lengthen casting distance and reduce stress on your joints.

For more information on why the selection of a fly reel should be in balance with rod and line, click on the following article:
A Question of Balance, By Joseph D. Cornwall

 Copyright 2013 by All rights reserved

Organizing Fishing Gear Part 1 – Rod Storage

Let’s face it, reducing the clutter of fishing rods, reels, flies, fly tying material, lines, leaders, endless number of tippet spools, maps, books, fishing clothes, and all those accessories for our watercraft can sometimes seem overwhelming.  It’s time to get organized so to reduce the time it takes to get ready for a trip to the water!  I’m starting with my rods.  Under the Christmas tree this year I was pleased to find a turnstile rod organizer, and below you’ll find how easy it is to put together and keep your rods ready to go.

I likely won’t use this turnstile for the rods I may only take on a long trip, rather utilize the system for the rods I use the most here on my home waters so I can reduce preparation, and maximize time on the water.

Step 1:  Buy a turnstile at your local out of doors store.  Tools are minimal and the hardware for attachments are usually included.

Step 2: Insert dowel into base and loose assemble leg.

Step 3:  Screw in base with brass wood screws.

Step 4:  Insert dowels into upper legs

Step 5:  Assemble top onto legs over dowels to align screw holes.

Step 6:  Fasten wood screws through top and into the legs.

Step 7:  Tap the decorative dowels with a rubber mallet.

Step 8:  Find a bare corner and place the new turnstile that doubles as a designer piece of home decor!  I’m now ready to grab my TFO rod and a reel on my way to the water, and making progress at reducing time spent preparing for future trips.

Copyright 2013 by All rights reserved

When Chrome Turns to Brown

January, ironically, brings back memories from a trip taken north to pursue a fish that turns fingers, toes, and river banks to ice.  It was January 25th, 2001, and a good fishing buddy of mine, Ed Roden, and I had decided to try a new river for the pursuit of steelhead.  Steelhead is a strain of rainbow trout that are spawned in the river, then run to the lake to eat until fat and ready to contribute to the reproductive cycle in the same river they were created in.

Ed and I normally would atleast fish together for two days on a steelhead trip since the hook up rate is lower than warmer weather trout fishing.  However, he and I both had other obligations to attend to during the week so one day was the only possible plan.  The air temperature was 28 deg F, and the water measured 38 deg F.  The Rogue River (near Grand Rapids, Michigan) was so cold that day that as snow fell, each flake upon landing on the river would turn the surrounding water to ice.  Unfortunately for me, the 3mm neoprene waders I wore had developed a small gap along the stocking foot seam, and decided to make itself known for the first time on the coldest day I had ever entered a stream.  At one point, I couldn’t feel my right foot any longer, so I climbed out of the river onto the bank, removed the waders and rubbed my toes until the blood circulated pain throughout my entire lower leg.  There’s nothing like putting a cold wet wool sock and waders back on, knowing full well how cold I would be in another hour or so.  This time, I didn’t wade so deep into the river so to reduce the pressure the water was previously applying to my foot and thus reducing the circulation.  It seemed to help.

When steelhead fishing, I like to find a pool near a riffle to cast in.  Steelhead like to stack up in these pools and have access to the riffles for spawning.  I prefer being thorough when fishing and so when there is high potential for fish residing in good habitat, I give it every chance to produce.  When fishing a pool, I prefer to use a sinking leader without a strike indicator, cast, mend line upstream, and then keep a tight line all the while making a dead drift.  I’ve found that casting two flies for steelhead on one line increase the chances of a hook up.  In my opinion, threading the tippet of the second fly through the eye of the first gives a more natural presentation to that of the first fly.

I casted for an hour into the pool at different lengths to cover the entire width of the river.  Admittedly, it was probably overkill, but there was another angler upstream of me and I wasn’t about to give the pool away to anyone but Ed.  Eventually, I started to get cold again, so decided to give it a couple more casts and call it a day.  The afternoon was getting long and it had been a very slow day of fishing.  By the time an hour went by, I knew every little movement the fly line would take on its’ course through the gentle currents of the pool.  On the last cast I would end up taking for the day, the fly line decided to take a slow and unusual subtle turn toward the outside of the path it should have taken.  Realizing this might be a fish, I reacted with a downstream hook set and low and behold a fish had eaten the estaz egg fly!  I could tell the fish was solid, but it didn’t take off like a steelhead normally would.  It also stayed low, pulling hard and taking me out of the pool downstream into the riffle.  Staying below the fish this time to reduce pressure on the line was impossible as the boulders were unevenly distributed on the river’s bottom, creating a trip hazard with each step taken.  So after a few moments of nervously getting into a position to where I could confidently stand, focus shifted to not losing the fish amongst the large boulders.  Fortunately, Ed had taken notice of the situation and asked me if he could help net the fish.  A couple minutes later the tired fish rested in Ed’s net.  The strangely colored tan fish measured 23″, and the more we looked at it the more the fish resembled a brown trout rather than a chrome colored steelhead.  After releasing the beautiful brown trout, I was amazed that on a cold, snowy, January day in 38 degree F water temperature, my personal best brown trout came to hand.
Chrome Turns to Brown 1


Chrome Turns to Brown 2
The Orange Estaz Egg Fly.  I tie it with a tuft of white yarn (yolk) and krystal flash tail, representing a “fish wriggler”, or in other words a fish that has not yet absorbed its’ yolk.  This pattern, I have found, produces better than the traditional egg pattern.

The following website provides a recipe for this fly.  The fly was originated by Chuck Hawkins, owner of fly fishing guide business Hawkins Outfitters in Traverse City, MI.

Copyright 2013 by All rights reserved

Smallmouth Bass in Mountains of Virginia

Photograph by: Jameson Redding, Anger: Aaron Rubel

My roots in fly fishing go back to days wading within well-structured banks swept with cool flowing water. I have no idea why rivers energize me, but even after a week of only 20 hours of sleep, a day on a mountain river in Virginia expunged every bit of stress in my body.

I have learned that some of the very best days of fishing on a river nearly always occur on cloudy days. I have also learned that there is something about friendships introduced around water and fish. The morning started early as Jameson and I met at 5:30AM for a day of fishing. When we arrived at the river, there were fish actively feeding, and the sunrise combined with just the right amount of fog reminded me of why the Blue Ridge Mountains are so appropriately named.

If there’s one thing that is the same about every fishing trip, there’s always a surprise that ends up making the day memorable. After casting from a bolder into a promising corner structure, we decided to move on after only catching one small spotted bass. Moving on gracefully in a kayak sometimes turns into begging for some mercy. After placing my fly rod in the kayak, I leaned over to sit on the water craft, but my foot was not firmly planted as moss was growing on the aggressively angled rock ledge. In certain circumstances, there comes a point when time stands still and you know there’s no going back. A choice must be made and made in that moment with no hesitation. I only had one option to keep from swimming, and that was to lunge for my kayak as it slid away from the bank. When I lunged off the ledge, I was certain the kayak would capsize and my fly rods would be at the bottom of the river (seven feet deep at this point). Well, thank the Lord I didn’t lose a single piece of gear, wasn’t impaled by a hook, and I stayed on top of the kayak albeit refreshingly wet!

The fishing picked up around 9:00AM, maybe not so coincidently in sync with clouds that moved in. I’ve learned that smallmouth like top water flies, and big ones. This knowledge is thanks to a guide I’ve spent some time on the water with in Michigan named Jon Ray as well as reading the book, “Smallmouth Fly Fishing”, written by well-known author Tim Holschlag. I came armed with an 8wt and 10wt rod. The ten weight might seem overkill, but I subscribe to selecting a rod for the day that efficiently casts the size of flies I intend to throw rather than choosing a rod solely for the size of fish I am targeting.  Anyway, smallmouth fight hard which raises the bar compared to any other freshwater fish of the same size.

Smallmouth Virginia 2Smallmouth bass flies of choice for the day

On our way upstream earlier in the morning, I noticed a deep trough on the inside of the river that spanned thirty yards across by one hundred yards long. My Maui Jim Ho’okipa’s with rose lenses enabled me to see detail that consisted of a deep and relatively narrow finger within the width of the river and adjacent shallows on all sides. On my second or third cast into the head of the pool as I drifted downstream, a smallmouth rolled my fly but the hook set wasn’t successful. I didn’t have to wait long for another chance as about ten casts later, another smallmouth rolled on the black and red popper fly and this time my rod bowed and it was game on! During the fight, the three plus pound smallmouth leaped out of the water, exposing just how fat he was and made some strong runs. I knew I needed to get downstream of him if I had a chance to land him. Well, as soon as I successfully negotiated getting downstream to gain leverage, the bronzeback ran under a rock ledge and anchored in with current pushing between him and the underside of the large rock structure. I was able to reel down to where the leader and fly line met my rod, and Jameson came over to lend assistance by sliding his hand down the leader and bringing to hand the 18 inch Virginia smallmouth bass.

Smallmouth Virginia 3Aaron Rubel with an 18 inch Virginia smallmouth bass

Photography: Jameson Redding of

I so enjoyed the day, both fishing in the river and at a pond that was literally on top of a mountain. In addition to the smallmouth we caught on the river, we landed ridiculously large bluegill that afternoon on the pond and some largemouth bass too. In all, we caught and released four species of fish and I look forward to hosting Jameson to some coastal Alabama fishing in the future.

Smallmouth Virginia 4Smallmouth being released, Photography: Jameson Redding

Copyright 2012 by All rights reserved