Winter Fly Fishing

by Mysticfish on January 26, 2016

Here is my take on winter fly fishing.

I love a good January thaw.  The air feels like spring but you know it’s not. If you are able to take advantage of an open window and go fishing before the next cold front rolls in, it feels like you scored something extra.  It makes surviving the next big chill so much easier if you get out and fish for a day.

Central Montana cycled though a typical window of hard winter cold and snow.  Ice shelves lined the Missouri River.  The water was hovering just above freezing and slush ice was clogging things up in the mornings.

Missouri River Montana

Ice Sheet Nymphing. Next time I’ll grab a chair and a cooler.

This is an extreme place and the weather never holds the same for long. Between bouts of arctic cold, we experience a phenomenon known as the Chinook Winds.  High winds blasting down the Rocky Mountain front create friction and the air warms into the 40s and even low 50s.  Snow and ice evaporates in hours.  After a day or two, its like a different season again. Shelf ice goes away.  River temps can warm to 36 degrees and the fish begin to move back into prime feeding lanes for a few hours each day. Nymphing is excellent.

Winter thaws are also prime time for trout spey.  I love the winter swing game.  Tossing a 3 or 4 wt trout spey set up is a blast.  I often take my nymph rod and dredge up a few fish when I first hit the river.  Then I spend the bulk of the day tempting trout with the little two-hander.

Complainers will say it’s too windy.

The wind is going to blow.  So what. That’s why the air got warm.  That’s the bonus of the Chinook Winds.  At 15 or more degrees above freezing, it’s not so bad.  Over line the nymph rod.  Crank out sink tips with the two hander.  Wind adds a little challenge to fishing that’s arguably as good as or better than the best summer days.

Complainers will say there’s no dry flies.

Well I say, boo hoo.  Enjoy the couch.  February is coming with midges aplenty.  April will bring baetis before you know it.  You’ll be cleaning caddis from your teeth in June and complain about that too.  Enjoy the fact that you can go fishing in the middle of winter without freezing your ass off.

If you happen to live in Montana, Idaho or Eastern Washington, North 40 Fly Shop  has some info on picking your winter fishing destination.

I don’t do cabin fever.  If fish the Missouri River.  Tight Lines!


The “Dead Head” Streamer Fly Pattern

by Mysticfish on January 7, 2016

Dead Head Streamer Fly

The Dead Head Streamer is a super simple pattern with some unique and fishy characteristics. If you have seen my Bald Eagle pattern, you will note some similarity.  This is what I would term as a guide fly; a quick easy tie with a clear intention.

While you could substitute a conventional Rabbit Zonker Strip, I’ve tied the Dead Head with a Zip Strip (twisted rabbit hair). Zip Strips are essentially zonkers that have been processed in a unique way.  The hide is thinned and twisted.  The result looks more like a dubbing brush. The result is a uniform tail without hair on the top and hide on the bottom.

The Dead Head employs an Umpqua U series U506 60 Degree Jig Fly Hook.  The bend provides a keeling effect and an enticing wobble. Life is about rhythm.

Dancing Bears

You will be grateful for the “Touch of Grey Cream” that makes this pattern appear vulnerable to predation.

UTC 210 Tan Thread

Umpqua U506 #4 Hook

Spirit River Real Eyes 3/16”

Zip Strip Twisted Rabbit Hair

Red and Copper Flashabou

Tan or Cream Rabbit from Zonker Strip

Tie one up, tie it on, dance it in the streams and “Fare thee well.”


A Picture Worth Some Words

by Mysticfish on December 29, 2015

My posting on Mystic Waters has been rather limited for the past year or so.  The main reason is that I’m no longer a full time guide with time on my hands in the off season.  I’m a full time Fly Shop manager who guides and or fishes when I’m not in the shop.  I post a couple days a week at and that consumes my weekly content.  So how do I maintain my own fly fishing blogger presence?

If a picture is worth a thousand or so words, then I should have plenty of content. Last night I came up with a plan.  If I look though my collection of images from time to time, some of them should speak to me.  Then I will take a trip down memory lane and tell a few stories.

kenai river rainbow

This photo is one of my favorites.  It was taken during the second week of October 2008 by a professional photographer named Kent Fredriksson.  Kent had spent the preceding summer surrounded by bears in Katmai National Park. He’d been doing so for many years.  Kent has amazing photos and stories about his experiences living among and photographing bears and wildlife along the Katmai coast.  He joined our crew several times in the fall seasons to shoot photos and see what happens when guides go fun fishing after their guiding seasons are done.

So to begin the story that leads to the photo, I have to start on September 30.  Stacy had decided mid-month that September 30 would be his last day of the guiding season.  “Don’t you dare book me any more trips Freddy Boy.  I’m going fishing with Marty until you are done and then you better plan on fishing for at least a week before you head to Montana.”

Not only did I not book Stacy any more trips after the 30th, but I set him up with the perfect last day. He got a boat load of seasoned anglers including an orthopedic surgeon and an anesthesiologist from Anchorage.  This would prove prophetic on my part.

So the trip was completed and we were celebrating at the Kingfisher.  At least Stacy was.  I still had several more trips, so I kept my intake of Glacier IPA to a professional level.  Our friend Dom owns and runs the Kingfisher and he’d recently bought a new Ping Pong table.  He set it up on the porch to entertain the late fall crowd of mostly guides and local fish heads.  Back in June, Dom had mentioned that he was going to be rolling out a ping pong table come fall.  Stacy and Carl had been talking smack about who was the better player ever since.  Word of the prospective match spread around the Kingfisher and soon the whole town was eager for the event.  Once the table came out in mid-September, everyone was trolling through the Kingfisher every night to see if Carl and Stacy were there. No one wanted to miss it. I think Dom could have sold tickets, but when it finally happened late on the night of September 30, only a handful of us were there to witness it.

The game and the trash talk were fierce.  Fueled by Glacier IPA (known in Cooper Landing as guide crack), the battle raged. It was nearing match point when Stacy lunged for a wicked shot off Carl’s paddle and his Achilles went pop.  Game over.  No winner.  Stacy was done.  So was his coveted late season fishing time with the boys. Thankfully, he was on the phone to the docs the next day in Anchorage. They pulled strings and he was anesthetized, repaired and laid up on his couch in short order.

I finished up my trips and then joined the crew, less Stacy, on the water.  It was an epic time.  I don’t believe we will see fishing again, like it was during that fall in 2008.  The conditions were perfect and the river was full of big hungry trout.  In the middle of the bliss, I called Stacy to see how he was doing.  Not good.  Attempting to elevate his mood, I told him he was not missing anything.  In fact I said, “The fishing is so good, it’s not even challenging.  Martin is fishing for you today and he’s hooked up right now.  It looks to be pushing 30”.  Oops.  He lost it.”  Stacy blew a gasket.  I ended the call.

That night we rendezvoused at Stacy’s house.  We collapsed exhausted on the furniture except for Lundy who sprawled on the floor and was snoring in minutes.  While Marty rustled some chow and Carl passed around beers, Stacy was hobbling around the living room in frenzy.  “Shouldn’t you be convalescing?” “Bleep, bleep, bleepety bleep, I’m wrapping my bleeping leg in trash bags and duct tape and getting in that bleeping boat tomorrow.  Marty is not going to be losing any more of my bleeping fish.”  That settled it. Stacy was going fishing.

Overnight, it snowed a bunch.  Lundy and I shoveled out the boat and loaded up the gear while Stacy and Martin made Sandwiches and filled growlers with Glacier IPA.  Then we ran down to our launch site on Skilak Lake.  That’s when we realized my oars were still buried in the snow back in Cooper Landing.  Stacy called our friend Scotty in nearby Sterling.  He was not home, but said there were oars we could use in his friends garage.  Lundy and I dashed down the road, found the place and found our way into the garage.  By the time we got back to the lake, it was very late morning.  Stacy was frothing, but we tossed him in the boat and took off across the lake, toasting pints of tasty IPA.

The water was dropping fast from the fall chill.  The salmon were mostly dead and gone and the trout we’d been living on were scattering.  We found a few pockets of action and landed some nice fish, but conditions were changing fast.  We kept pointing out the zones where we’d been catching lots of big fish the preceding days.  ”Hey Stacy, that’s where Marty hooked that big one.” Stacy was not amused. We got distracted for a while by a pod of big silvers, but Stacy cajoled us back to the pursuit of the bows. We continued rolling down the river hunting for the packs of ravenous bows we knew were somewhere.  Late in the afternoon it finally happened.  Stacy hooked the next level fish he needed to salvage his fun season.

Stacy slayed his Achilles and Kent captured the scene with Lundy, Stacy, Marty, me and a special fish that looks downright embarrassed.  The image appeared in an article Stacy wrote for This Is Fly in 2009 and one I wrote for Fish Alaska in 2011. It will forever take me back to a really fine day that climaxed one of the best seasons I spent while guiding in Alaska.

1169 words…



Golden Polar Minnow

by Mysticfish on October 27, 2015

Several years ago, I posted a video with the Polar Express Minnow.  For that pattern, I used UV Pearl and accented it with some permanent markers.  That’s still a viable fly. As a fly tier, I am constantly tinkering with my own patterns and those of other tiers.  I have tied the Polar Express Minnow with a variety of UV and standard Polar Chenille’s. I have also finished the heads with rabbit, Senyo’s Laser Dub and Ice Dub.  I’ve found various levels of success with most of them, but the Gold UV Polar Chenille has been a standout.


Thread: UTC Tan 210

Hook: Gamakatsu B10S #6

Eyes: Spirit River Real Eyes 3/16” Nickel/Pearl

Tail: UV Polar Chenille twisted and furled

Body: UV Polar Chenille Gold (Click to purchase)

Head: Tan/Claret Ice Dub in split thread or dubbing loop (Click to purchase)

Trout, Salmon and even bass can’t leave it alone some days. Here is an updated Golden Polar Minnow with Claret and Tan Ice Dub completing the head.  Please let me know if you like it or find another version of your own that gets it done.

 Note: If you want a sparser body, don’t be afraid to trim some Polar Fibers to shape and thin your fly.

Have fun fly fishing!