Fishing at Monster Lake

An early spring fishing trip in April included Monster Lake, just 10 miles south of Cody, Wyoming. Though snow in Montana on the way there made the travel treacherous, our arrival at the lake the next day, blessed us with warm sunny skies. Though we basked in the warmth of the spring day, the water temperature was still struggling to reach 45 degrees. Clear skies, and an intermittent ripple on the water made it the perfect morning to entice trout rising to feed on a midge hatch. I caught my largest trout in 4 feet of water along the shore line edges. Check out this video of me catching a monster trout at Monster Lake:

This excellent fishing experience helped banish the memory of the long, cold, rainy winter months.

I hope to get back there for the sedge hatch which I hear is epic. That should occur in July. If you are interested in learning more about Monster Lake, give me a call and I will share with you information about this very special gem, one that belongs on any angler’s bucket list!

What’s coming to Stillwater Adventures?

What’s coming to Stillwater Adventures? A new series of stillwater fly patterns!

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reservedIn the works for three years, my new series of stillwater fly patterns will be available late in the fall of 2018. Developed to meet the needs of stillwater anglers, these patterns combine new materials with natural fibers to offer innovative stillwater patterns. A new retail web site will launch during the introduction of these eight fly patterns. Beyond my new flies, will also make available the fly tying materials used to tie my patterns, as well as rods, reels, and lines I have evaluated and tested to be well-suited to fishing stillwater.

The creation of my stillwater fly pattern series took years of design, testing, revision, re-testing and revising. Each design change was documented, the fly tested, and the field test results recorded. Those field results drove further revisions and improvements, which were documented, tested, and the whole cycle was repeated multiple times. The result was a fly pattern series that has successfully performed for the most demanding critics of all: trophy trout.

Traveling up to six months a year (fishing lakes in OR, ID, MT, NV, CA, WA and WY), I thoroughly test my flies in a wide range of lakes under varying conditions, and during different times of day and seasons. Once the materials and design perform the way I want, I then move the pattern(s) into production. It has taken me three years from initial concept to the final fly pattern.

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved

Vickie’s Grizzly Bug

To give you an idea, here is what went into the development of the “Grizzly Bug” pattern.

Design Concept
Three years ago, I envisioned a leech pattern that was unweighted and proportionally smaller in size. Exact duplication of a leech was not my goal. Rather, I sought to create an impressionistic silhouette which was suggestive of various food sources trout eat such as darting fry, minnows, and undulating leeches.

As with all the patterns I developed, I made exhaustive study of entomology and paired it with actual time on the water. Since I spend half the year on the road fishing lakes throughout the Northwest, the Grizzly Bug pattern was extensively tested. I created pattern notes, then modified the pattern based on how it fished and how durable of the fly’s materials proved to be. I documented every fish I caught and what pattern and color variation was used. I made modifications, recorded those changes, tested, and repeated this cycle multiple times.

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved

Pattern Notes and Fishing Logs

The design of my Grizzly Bug pattern underwent many changes. Originally, I used a shorter tail and tested various materials (rabbit, fox tail, partridge, short marabou, wood duck and various UV materials of varied stiffness, texture, width and color). I also tested numerous marabou colors to evaluate which was the most productive. Various material for the soft hackle was evaluated.

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved

I ended up choosing a soft, oversized grizzly hackle. A manufacturer partnered with me to custom dye grizzly hen saddles to match the color of the marabou. The resulting soft hackle adds additional movement and color contrast to augment visibility.

The natural dubbing materials I chose created a buggy appearance. I added specific UV materials to both enhance the visibility of the fly and provide additional movement to create a silhouette that looked and moved like living, breathing food.

Final Design
Through this process of extensive testing, design, retesting and redesign, I selected the 6 most successful color variations: Black, Olive, Rusty Brown, White, Dark Burgundy and Burnt Orange. The black, olive and rusty brown colors imitate leeches. Burgundy and burnt orange are attractor colors, and white imitates minnows or young fry.

The Grizzly Bug has been tested and proven to work in various forms of presentation. It may be fished from the surface down two or three feet, as a streamer along shallow shore line areas, trolled, or fished vertically up through the water column.

I caught over twenty trout in one day, all 18-20 inches, using this pattern. Check out the video from that day:

Here’s a closeup of the trout I caught in the video above:

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved

All the stillwater fly patterns that will soon be available have been field-tested under varying conditions, at multiple locations, and during different times of day and seasons. Those test results have driven re-designs, which were then tested and redesigned again, based on the results.

I am excited about the introduction these patterns. It is my hope that these patterns be as productive for you as they have been for me.

Special Offer to Blog Subscribers:
If you subscribe to my blog, you will be notified when the flies will be available for purchase. To subscribe, simply locate the “Subscribe to Stillwater Adventure via Email” box, enter your email, and click “Subscribe.” Note that your email address will never be shared or sold.

Join me again this fall, 2018 at Pronghorn!

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reservedJoin me at Pronghorn Lake Ranch in Oregon for another weekend of trophy trout fishing October 27-28, 2018! Last year’s rendezvous was a big success, so you won’t want to miss this next one! For more info about the weekend, click here.© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved

Gearing Up for Big Fish, Part 5 of 5: Putting It All Together

It is important when fly fishing to have the right gear so you’re able to respond to any situation or condition. Consider moments like these (all of which have happened to me): Your heart stops as you watch your only pair of hemostats disappear into the depths. Or when one of your fishing buddies flips their pontoon boat upside down, a sudden 30 mile an hour wind gust sweeps you to the far side of the lake, or a motorboat gets too close, wrapping your tippet, leader and line around its propeller. Being prepared ensures you can keep fishing regardless of changing conditions, or situations like these.

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved

Gee, I wonder why I was the only angler on the lake? Well, at least I was prepared…

In the previous four parts of this series we discussed my recommendations for rods, lines, leaders and tippets, and nets to use when fly fishing stillwater for trophy trout. In this fifth and final chapter I’ll review and summarize what we covered and finish with a checklist you can use to make sure you have everything you need.

Reviewing the essential tackle components

1. Rods

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Fishing at sunrise

My rods are pre-strung with each of the lines that I use. The benefit is that when the bite changes, I can quickly switch to the rod that has the appropriate line experiencing minimal down time. For lakes that support large trout, gear up to a six-weight rod. I prefer 6-weight, 9-foot rods with a comfortable grip, progressive bend in the tip, and large guides. The only time that I use a five-weight rod is when I am fishing dry flies, as I find it provides a more delicate and softer landing of the fly on the water.

2. Lines

The lines that I use are: Floating lines, Clear Camo Intermediate Sinking Line, and a 7-foot Clear Camo Intermediate Sink Tip.

Floating lines: I use two floating lines each on a separate rod. One line is dedicated for dry fly action, the second floating line is used when fishing with indicators. Having two rods makes it quick and easy to switch, since there is usually a short window when adult insects are hatching on the surface.

Clear Camo Intermediate sink line: (sink rate: 1.25- 1.75 inches per second or about one foot in 10 seconds). This line is used for fishing shallow shore line areas and the top five feet of the feeding zone in the lake. This line covers 75% of the time I spend fly fishing.

7-foot Clear Camo Intermediate Sink Tip: (sink rate: 1.25- 1.75 inches per second). This line is effective for covering shoreline edges as well as fishing the top few feet and fishing in between weed beds.

3. Leaders and Tippets

Leaders: To avoid breakoffs, I use either a 0X or 1X, 9-foot monofilament, tapered, leader. Over time, monofilament leaders absorb water and can become brittle with exposure to light. Thus, at the beginning of each season I replace the leader with a new one. A monofilament leader will slightly stretch, allowing the leader to be stretched straight if it begins to coil. I use a nail knot to secure the leader to the line.

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved

Tippets: To the leader, I add a minimum of 3 feet of 1X or 2X fluorocarbon tippet. I secure the tippet to the leader using a blood knot. Fluorocarbon tippet material reflects less light, subsequently less noticeable to trout. Since fluorocarbon is stiffer than monofilament, use a loop knot to tie on the fly. A loop knot allows the fly to move freely, more accurately mimicking the natural movement of a fly. The tippet size should be one size smaller than the leader. For example, if the leader is 0X, I use a 1X tippet.

Longer and smaller tippets are best used when casting dry flies or when you are faced with clear, glassy conditions. I aim for a combined length of leader and tippet of 15-feet. Lighter weight leader (2X) and tippet (3X) provide a more delicate presentation when using a five-weight rod. Using any lighter weight tippets will snap when trophy size trout attack your fly.

4. Landing Net

Bring a landing net that has a large, deep basket made of rubber material with a long handle.


Now that you have the essential gear, what else do you need to bring? The following checklist can be used to help assure that you have all the essential items you need for your next fly fishing adventure. When I am on the road for an extended period, I always include backup gear. Any tackle failure such as a broken rod, damaged reel, as well as a tear in my waders, the loss of a fin, or a broken strap means I must stop fishing.

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved

Tiger Trout caught on Vickie’s UV Midge Pupa

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved

Vickie’s UV Midge Pupa


Vickie’s Gear Check List


  • Air Pump (pontoon boat)
  • Fins (pontoon boat)
  • Personal flotation device
  • Fly Box(s)
  • Large, Rubberized Landing Net
  • Rods
  • Stripping net (pontoon boat)
  • Waders

Boat Accessories:

  • Backup Clippers
  • Backup Hemostat
  • Depth finder and/or water thermometer
  • Drinking Water
  • Flashlight
  • Marine grade rope with D-ring (for towing another angler to safety)

Items to have with you:

  • Extra tippet and leaders
  • Fishing license
  • Hemostat
  • Hook sharpener
  • Knife
  • Nail knot tool
  • Pliers
  • Clippers
  • Whistle
  • Other:

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Be sure to read the other parts of this 5-part series on Gearing Up for Big Fish!
Part 1 of 5: Rods
Part 2 of 5: Line Selection
Part 3 of 5: Leaders and Tippets
Part 4 of 5: Landing Nets
Part 5 of 5: Putting It All Together

Gearing Up for Big Fish, Part 4 of 5: Landing Nets

When selecting your landing net for stillwater, consider the following four factors: basket size, basket material, length of handle, and depth of the basket.

Basket Size

Having the right size net increases the odds of successfully landing a large trout. Compare the two nets below with the 30-inch ruler. Now imagine attempting to land a 30-inch trout in the smaller net. That would be an impossible task – even for the most determined and skilled angler. The larger and deeper basket in the larger net would be a better net to select for stillwater.© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved
Even with the larger net, however, landing a fish that is 30 inches or longer will still present an exciting challenge. This is obvious in this video of me attempting to land a monster trout at Pronghorn Lake in Oregon.

Basket Material

Nets made from rubber remove less of the coating of slime that protects the trout from parasites, bacteria, and fungus. Maintaining the protective coating places less stress on the trout, increasing their survival rate.

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved

Fish caught on Vickie’s Predator Leech at Wildhorse Reservoir in Nevada

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved

Vickie’s Predator Leech

The second benefit to a rubber net is that gills, fins, and hooks are less likely to get caught in the netting material. This makes it easier to remove the hook while keeping the trout in the water. These factors allow for a quicker fish release and a higher survival rate.

Note: I’m pleased with my Fishpond net. It is lighter, floats, and the basket can be easily replaced (which I’ve done)

Length of Handle

If you are fishing out of a boat or float tube, having a longer handle makes it easier to guide the trout into the net without having to overextend your reach. Fish can easily be lost during landing because once a trout sees the net it will react, quickly bolting away. A longer handle, like one found on the Nomad Mid-Length Net by Fishpond, provides the flexibility to make quick adjustments without leaning over to reach the trout and risk tipping over or potentially falling out of your boat. Add an elastic lanyard, attaching one end to your net and the other to the pontoon boat to reduce the chances that the net will be lost.

Depth of the Basket

It is much easier to land a fish in a net with a deeper basket. If the basket depth is too shallow, catching a large trout is like trying to stuff a moving, oversized sleeping bag into a shoebox – it is virtually impossible.

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reservedA deeper basket also makes it easier to quickly remove the hook while the fish is still in the water. This causes less stress to the fish. The shorter the fight, the better chance the fish will survive upon release.


I always gear up so that the tackle is prepared for any size fish. Having a large enough net with a deep basket is important. Don’t take a chance of losing the fish of a lifetime due to a small net. Also, be kind to the fish and choose a basket made of rubber.

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Be sure to read the other parts of this 5-part series on Gearing Up for Big Fish!
Part 1 of 5: Rods
Part 2 of 5: Line Selection
Part 3 of 5: Leaders and Tippets
Part 4 of 5: Landing Nets
Part 5 of 5: Putting It All Together

Gearing Up for Big Fish, Part 3 of 5: Leaders and Tippets

Leaders and tippets both are crucial components of your tackle system. Selection of the appropriate size and length is vital. The effectiveness of the entire presentation hinges on having a balanced line, leader and tippet system that delivers the fly with accuracy. Choose incorrectly and you risk losing a big fish. Either the cast crashes on the surface, or you lose the fish through a frustrating breakoff.

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reservedI learned this lesson well while fishing at Guild Ranch Reservoir in Wyoming. Fishing with an indicator during glassy, sunny spring conditions, I watched trout darting in and out of the weeds, attacking my dangling midge. When the trout hit the fly, any pressure placed on the line with my 4X tippet resulted in snapped tippets. I lost three large trout in a row.

Unwilling to surrender, I switched to a 0X leader and 1X tippet. I Immediately hooked and landed two 6 pound trout. Now my tackle system includes heavier leaders and tippets which can better withstand the aggressive runs and spectacular aerial leaps of large fighting trout.

Problems will occur when the leader and tippet system is unbalanced. For example, when the length of the leader and tippet is too long, you may lose precision in your cast and your fly may often land under a pile of line and leader. When the length of the leader and tippet is too short, it drops like a lead brick, slapping the surface of the water. Both situations reduce any chance of hooking up – especially on clear glassy water.

The total length of the leader and tippet is also relative to the fly and the existing conditions. For example, when the conditions are sunny and glassy, I extend the total length of the leader and tippet to 15 feet, allowing the fly land softly on the water. Any any surface disturbance will send the fish running for cover.

A shorter leader may be used in low light or off colored water (like this algae bloom at Wildhorse Reservoir in Nevada). Also, when fishing deep, or during windy conditions with choppy water, any surface disturbance caused by the cast will be inconsequential.

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved

Algae bloom at Wildhorse Reservoir

My preferred setup consists of a 9-foot 0X monofilament leader and three feet of 1X fluorocarbon tippet. I almost always use a leader and tippet with combined length of at least 12 feet. When the tippet section becomes shorter than 12 inches, I remove the short section and replace it with a longer piece.

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved

Caught using Vickie’s Predator Minnow at Guild Ranch Reservoir in Wyoming

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved

Vickie’s Predator Minnow

I use monofilament leaders because they have memory, which allows the leader to be straightened by stretching. I use fluorocarbon tippets because fluorocarbon does not reflect light, does not leave a shadow, and is almost invisible in water.


Attaching the leader to the line: I tie the leader directly to the line using a nail knot. This approach creates a smooth transition and avoids a bulky connection. This is important because if an aggressive fish takes off with your line, a bulky connection can get hung up in your rod guides and the friction can cause a break off. Losing a big fish is a heartbreak easily avoided by having a smooth connection between the leader and the line.

Attaching the tippet to the leader: I use a blood knot, as this also creates a smooth transition which limits the buildup of moss and debris at the leader/tippet connection.

Attaching the fly to the tippet: I use a loop knot when using tippet size of 1X or 2X which allows the fly to move naturally due to the stiffness of the fluorocarbon.


The leader and tippet selection is a vital aspect of the presentation system, and I would suggest more critical than fly selection. This is because if the leader, tippet and fly are out of balance with each other, you risk splashy landings, breakoffs, tippet pile ups, and short casts, all of which reduce your catch rate.

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Be sure to read the other parts of this 5-part series on Gearing Up for Big Fish!
Part 1 of 5: Rods
Part 2 of 5: Line Selection
Part 3 of 5: Leaders and Tippets
Part 4 of 5: Landing Nets
Part 5 of 5: Putting It All Together

Gearing Up for Big Fish, Part 2 of 5: Line Selection

Line selection is the most critical component of your tackle. While there is no one type of line appropriate for all conditions, I find that the following three types of lines satisfy most of my stillwater requirements:

  • Floating line
  • Intermediate slow sinking line
  • Intermediate sink tip

The value of having multiple lines is that you will have the flexibility to respond to changing conditions.

The critical factor in line selection is to choose a line that will maintain the fly within the top six feet (the primary feeding zone for trout). Using the right line allows the fly to be presented and maintained at the depth where trout are feeding. This makes the difference between occasional strikes and more consistent success. These are my recommendations:

1. Floating Line

The floating line has two applications. The first is when trout are feeding on the surface. Surface feeding is usually quite brief, and during this time, all other stages of aquatic insects under the surface are ignored.

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved

This trout was caught at Pronghorn Lake during cold glassy conditions using a floating line and an indicator with Vickie’s UV black/silver midge.

The second application is when indicator fishing, suspending small nymphs or chironomids below the surface. This form of presentation is used in depths greater than two feet. The indicator is an effective way of presenting pupae or emerger patterns when faced with clear, glassy conditions or during cold water temperatures when trout are not likely to chase a fly.

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved

Vickie’s UV Black-Silver Midge

One limitation of floating lines becomes apparent during windy conditions. They are ill-suited for casting and retrieving during a wind because of line drag. That drag will cause the fly to move unnaturally. Also, the belly created by the wind makes it impossible to maintain line tension needed to feel a strike.

There are additional limitations with floating lines when casting and retrieving. When a floating line lands in the water, it creates a surface disturbance. Additionally, miniature ripples on the surface result when the fly is retrieved. Further, flash and shadow will occur when the line is back lit by the sun. All of these factors spook trout.

2. Intermediate Slow Full Sinking Line

When there are no visual clues that trout are feeding on the surface, my go-to line is a clear camo intermediate sinking line. This line cuts through windy conditions and sinks below the surface, minimizing surface disturbance.

Intermediate lines sink at a rate of 1.25-1.75 inches per second, or about one foot in ten seconds. These lines are well suited to fishing lakes. When trout feed, they will either feed close to the surface or along shallow shore line edges. With a slow sink rate, the fly can be pulled horizontally through the water while maintaining the proper depth in the feeding zone. At the back end of the retrieve, or during shorter casts, you may let the fly sink then pull it up vertically, which mimics pupae emerging up through the water column.

This line is also effective for probing the top six feet to determine at what depth feeding fish are cruising. By counting 10, 20, or 30 seconds before the line is retrieved, the angler can test the fly at difference depths. Simply count, and then retrieve. For example, using this line, if the strike occurs after a count of 30 seconds, you know that the trout are feeding three feet below the surface. You can then repeat this count prior to retrieve in future casts.

This trophy trout was caught while trolling at Pronghorn Lake

This line is also productive when trolling. An effective approach is to stop moving every 40-60 feet, then retrieve the line. If you do not get hit, recast in a different direction and start trolling again. I have found this effective in generating a reactive response.

Tip: When evaluating sinking lines, determine the sink rate. Each manufacturer has adopted their own rating system. For example, a slow intermediate sink rate is defined by one manufacturer as 1.5 ips (inches per second) while another may define a slow intermediate sink rate as .5 ips. Knowing the sink rate is the only way to correctly estimate the actual depth where the fly is being presented.

Tip: If the fly, is hit immediately after casting or within the first few retrieves, you know that the trout are feeding in the top few feet.

3. Slow Intermediate Sink Tip line

A sink tip line is a floating line that is married to a sinking tip. It works well when sight casting to trout that are feeding close to the surface. A 7-foot intermediate sink tip is my go-to line when there are visual clues (e.g. dorsal fin rises indicate trout are feeding on pupae in the top 10-15 inches). It is well-designed to fish the pupae form of mayflies, midges, and caddis just below the surface.

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved

This fish was caught using the 7-foot intermediate sink tip and Vickie’s UV Emerger pattern. Landed by Martin Landholm at Pronghorn Lake

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved

Vickie’s UV Emerger

The intermediate sink tip line is especially valuable when probing shallow areas or shorelines where trout feed.

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved
Fishing in between the weed beds will entice trout to leave the protection of cover for the promise of a meal. This line helps reduce getting hung up in the underwater structure as it maintains the fly in the top few feet of the feeding zone.
An added advantage of a 7-foot intermediate sink tip line is that it is easy to pick up and recast anytime during the retrieve.

Select the correct weight of the line

Regardless of what type of line you use, the weight of the line needs to be balanced to the weight of the rod. For example, it the line is too light, it will cast poorly because it cannot load the rod sufficiently. When using a six-weight rod, I recommend a 6- or 7-weight line.


The single most important component of your tackle is your line. Having a floating line, an intermediate slow full sinking line, and a slow intermediate sink tip line will place you on the path toward success when fly fishing lakes. Good hunting!

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Be sure to read the other parts of this 5-part series on Gearing Up for Big Fish!
Part 1 of 5: Rods
Part 2 of 5: Line Selection
Part 3 of 5: Leaders and Tippets
Part 4 of 5: Landing Nets
Part 5 of 5: Putting It All Together

Gearing Up for Big Fish, Part 1 of 5: Rods

Successful stillwater fly fishing requires specialized gear, particularly when angling for trophy trout. This five-part blog series will provide tackle guidelines on rods, lines, leader/tippets, and nets when fishing lakes that support trophy size trout.

To catch and land a large trout requires tackle able to withstand the rigors of an aggressive fish doing everything possible to avoid capture. We’ll begin the five-part blog series with how to choose the right rod.

Check out this 23-pounder caught by Toby Loftus along the shallow shoreline edges at Pronghorn Lake.

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved

Trout caught at Pronghorn Lake using Vickie’s Predator Bugger

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved

Vickie’s Predator Bugger

Factors to consider in rod selection include: rod weight, comfortable rod grip, rod tip bend, large guides, and rod length.

Rod Weight

Choose a 6-7 weight rod and leave your 5-weight at home. Lighter weight rods do not have enough strength in the butt section of the rod to overcome resistance from a large fighting trout. A 6-7 weight rod is also sturdy enough to slice through windy conditions as well as make long, delicate casts.

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved

Trout Caught on Vickie’s Predator Leech at Pronghorn Lake

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved

Vickie’s Predator Leech

Another reason to use a heavier weighted rod is that it requires less time to land a trophy size trout. When lighter rods are used, fish must often be played to the point of exhaustion before landing them. This results in an increased level of lactic acid and cortisol generated by the long fight. This stress upon the fish can significantly contribute to increased mortality rates as reported by Dan Dauwalter in his article, “Fish Stress from Catch-and-Release Fishing” (in Trout Unlimited, September 1, 2014).

According to his study, when a trout is played to exhaustion, the mortality rate can increase up to 89% either immediately upon release or during their recovery period afterwards. Help keep these wonderful creatures alive! Avoid playing them to exhaustion so that they may survive and be even bigger the next time you hook them!

Comfortable Rod Grip

Select a rod with a comfortable grip. You must keep a firm hold of your rod when fishing for trophy trout, and a comfortable grip makes this easier. After personally experiencing the tug that these fighting fish can place on a rod, it is easy to imagine how a rod might be ripped out of the hand of an unsuspecting angler. This has happened to several angers at Pronghorn, including one fellow last fall, whose story had an unexpected happy ending.

A week after this gentleman lost his rod, Mark, a local Pronghorn angler was able to the retrieve the lost Winston 5-weight rod.

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved

Mark triumphantly holding the recovered rod

Mark hooked a fish and began stripping his line, and the struggling fish amazingly wrapped the line around the previous angler’s lost rod. Astonishingly, Mark had hooked not only a large fighting trout with an attitude, but also the rod! Mark successfully retrieved the lost rod, but unfortunately, the trout ultimately evaded capture.

Rod Tip Bend

© 2018 Stillwater Adventures. All rights reserved

Select a rod tip that has a progressive bend in the tip section. A softer bend in the upper section of the rod allows the tip section to absorb the impact of a trout attacking a fly or a strong hook set. The softer flex acts as a cushion, helping to prevent breakoffs. Rods that have a stiff tip will recover too abruptly, placing increased pressure which can generate a break off at the hook or tippet.

Large Guides

The ideal stillwater rod has larger guides. These reduce friction that results when line and leader rub against the guides during the retrieve or when your trout is running. As the line whizzes through the guides, any knots connecting the line, leader and tippet can get caught in smaller guides. A slight amount of resistance can be enough to cause a break off.

Rod Length

Select a rod that is 9 feet long as it provides sufficient leverage to make longer casts. I save my 10-foot rod on those very rare occasions that I am sight fishing from the shoreline using a floating line when I need to generate long casts or slice through wind. Be aware, however, that a longer rod will magnify any casting mistakes. On the other hand, a rod shorter than 9 feet cannot launch the line sufficient distance because it cannot generate the necessary line speed.


Evaluate these rod options while considering your own personal preferences. Since there are no industry standards manufacturers use to define rod performance, it is important to test various rods to determine which is best suited to your individual needs and preferences. The following qualities are what I look for when evaluating rods:

  • 6-7 weight
  • Medium-fast action rod with a stiffer butt section
  • Comfortable rod grip
  • A softer progressive tip
  • Large guides
  • 9-foot length

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Be sure to read the other parts of this 5-part series on Gearing Up for Big Fish!
Part 1 of 5: Rods
Part 2 of 5: Line Selection
Part 3 of 5: Leaders and Tippets
Part 4 of 5: Landing Nets
Part 5 of 5: Putting It All Together

Join Me At Pronghorn! (2017)

Photo by D. RickardsJoin me at Pronghorn Lake Ranch in Oregon for a weekend of trophy trout fishing October 28-29, 2017! For more info about the weekend, click here.

This event is past, but another rendezvous is planned for October 27-28, 2018! For more info about the current rendezvous, click here.

How to Dye Feathers

Photo by V. LoftusDo you have fly tying material in your inventory that just is not the right color? Or perhaps you are lucky to have been given surplus fly tying materials – something which happened to me – but you need a different color.

Dyeing feathers is easy and fun and sometimes can lead to surprises. This article will show you how to dye and how easy it is.

Photo by V. LoftusI have found liquid dye provides more uniform color coverage than powdered dye. I use Rit® liquid dye for my feathers. Also, if I want to add another color to create a different hue, I mix the dye before I add it to the water bath. The colors that I selected for this project were Harvest, Dark Brown, Dark Green and Wine.

Tools and Supplies:

Large Pot (aluminum or porcelain lined)
Colander (preferably metal mesh)
Large bowl (glass, porcelain, or stainless steel)
Large strainer to remove feathers from pot
Latex kitchen gloves
1 cup liquid measure
Large towel you don’t mind staining
White Vinegar (1 cup per batch)
Paper towels
Oven mitts
Liquid dish soap
Long tongs
Rit® liquid dye
Bags (for feather storage)

Step 1: Choose pot deep enough to hold your feathers
Photo by V. LoftusI use a Granite Ware Porcelain Water Bath Canner which is large enough to submerge all the feathers underwater. Porcelain lined pots are preferable so that any residual stains left from the dyeing can be bleached out. I do not use this pot for food preparation due to the caustic chemicals used in the dyeing process.

Step 2: Clean the feathers
Photo by V. LoftusCleaning the feathers of grit, blood, and natural oils is an important step and helps the feathers absorb color.

Fill pot with lukewarm water. Add a tablespoon of liquid dish detergent. Gently move the feathers with tongs, so that all the feathers are exposed to the soapy water. Allow the feathers to soak for at least one hour to become fully saturated which aids in the even absorption of color from the dye.

Step 3: Rinse the feathers with cool water.
Photo by V. LoftusBring your pot of feathers to the sink. Place a colander in the sink under the faucet. Remove a few feathers from the soapy water and place them in the colander. Rinse the feathers in cool water. Continue to rinse the feathers in the colander until the water runs clean of any residual color, debris, or soap that may remain on the feathers.

Step 4: Soak cleaned feathers
Photo by V. LoftusTransfer cleaned feathers to a bowl. Keep the feathers covered in cool water until you are ready to place them into the dye bath.

Step 5: Prepare dye bath
Photo by V. LoftusI use the porcelain water bath canning pot for the dyeing process.

Place pot onto stove top. Add water, liquid dye, and 1 cup white vinegar (which acts as a color fixative). I use 12 cups of water and a whole 8 oz. bottle of Rit® dye (if you want subtle colors, use less dye). Turn on burner to high. Do not let the water boil since high heat can dry feathers out so that they become brittle. As soon as there is steam coming from the surface, immediately turn the burner off.

Step 6: Dyeing the feathers
Place a sample of feathers into the dye bath. Keep track of the time in the dye. Remove the feathers, then rinse the sample under cool water to see if the desired color has been achieved. The may take as little as a few seconds, or as long as a few minutes. If the feathers have not absorbed the desired color leave them in the dye bath longer.

Note: The color will appear darker when the feathers are still wet.

Once you are satisfied with the color, add the rest of the feathers to the dye bath. Remove the feathers when the right color has been achieved.

Step 7: Rinse feathers
Photo by V. LoftusPlace feathers into a colander in the sink. Rinse with cool water until the water runs clear.

Photo by V. LoftusPlace the rinsed feathers into a bowl and continue to rinse with cool water until all the water runs clear.

Photo by V. LoftusAfter the water is clear, return the feathers to the colander to drain.

Don’t discard the dye bath until you are satisfied with the final color, as you may need to reuse the dye if the color is too light after the feathers have completely dried.

Step 8: Air dry feathers

Photo by V. LoftusDrying the feathers can be done outside on a sunny, windless day. If desired, feathers can be placed on paper towels and dried inside.

Note: prolonged exposure to hot sun will dry out the feathers and make them brittle.

As they dry, check to see if the desired color has been achieved. If not, you can reheat the dye bath and place them back in for additional dyeing.

I usually start the drying process outside, weather permitting, and then finish drying them inside. Check to make sure that they are completely dry before putting them into storage.

Surprises do happen!

It is preferable to start with the color white because it is easier to control the outcome of the desired color. However, we must work with what we have, and these were the colors that I had available.

Photo by V. LoftusSome of the colors were subdued. I wanted more vibrant hues which was accomplished with a quick dip into the dye bath.

Photo by V. LoftusThe final color is influenced by the original color of the feathers, amount of dye used, and the length of time the feathers are in the dye bath.

For example, one surprising outcome for me was the yellow marabou. I wanted an olive colored marabou, so I selected a dark green liquid dye color.

The dark green dye made the color of the dye bath look blue rather than green. But the yellow marabou, when dyed, resulted in the exact color of olive that I wanted. This is because when you combine the colors yellow and blue you get green.

On the other hand, when dyeing a naturally colored grizzly saddle in the exact same dye bath, the final color turned out blue-gray.

Photo by V. LoftusIt is important to test various dye colors to ensure that you create the desired colors. You cannot assume that the name of the color of the dye will provide you the exact color that you are trying to create. While surprises do happen the results of your efforts can be stunning!

Photo by V. LoftusNow I have the exact color for the neck hackle and marabou that I needed to complete my new leech pattern!Photo by V. Loftus

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