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Loon Soft Head & The Squirmy Wormy: The Best Discovery of ‘19!

Loon Soft Head – Protection for your Squirmy Wormies

If you’re not afraid to tie and fish worm patterns, then you most likely have a relationship with the squirmy wormy. And, if you’re like me, the relationship you have with this worm and it’s squishy, wobbly material has been a roller coaster ride.

The San Juan worm dominated the worm scene for many years – so much that many people still refer to any worm pattern as a San Juan worm! I have been tying and fishing San Juan worms ever since I started fly fishing in the early 90’s. They are easy to tie, durable, and catch fish wherever you find worms – so pretty much everywhere! Just tie some ultra chenille on the hook, wrap it up the shank, tie it off, then use a lighter to taper the ends, and you have the perfect worm pattern!

Then, about 10 years ago, someone showed me a potentially more perfect worm fly – the squirmy wormy. But, I was happy and confident with my ultra chenille San Juan worms, so I didn’t really catch the squirmy wormy fever like so many other worm guys. As a fly tier, however, the demand for squirmies was, and still is, pretty intense, so I couldn’t help myself from tying and even using this new wiggly miracle worm. Soon enough, the San Juan worms in my fly box were replaced with squirmy wormies.

Also soon enough, I became frustrated with their lack of durability. It’s just a shame to spend time tying a fly that fish love so much only to have it bust apart. Sometimes fish rip off the squirmy material from the hook, but more often than not my squirmy wormies fall apart where the material is wrapped on the hook shank. The squirmy material does not hold up well to teeth or forceps, and sometimes the material wrapped around the hook shank will just unravel and explode on its own. I tied a batch of nice squirmy wormies a while back, put them in the fly box for an upcoming trip, and when I opened the fly box a few days later, I was dismayed to see that the worms had all exploded around their shanks. I was ready to give up on the squirmy wormy: The material is a pain in the butt to tie on a hook; they’re not durable; and any drop of any adhesive will melt and destroy the material. They might catch fish, but they’re not worth the hassles. Or, so I thought!

It turns out that there is an adhesive that won’t melt the squirmy- Loon Soft Head! Loon’s natural, water-based products are indeed squirmy friendly, and both the Soft Head & Hard Head products will work well. Preference is for the Soft Head since it is flexible, which means it is more durable and is a better match for the supper flexible squirmy material. I don’t know who originally made the discovery, but I first saw it done by the good people at Fly Fish Food on their YouTube channel. After watching the video and seeing the proof, I was so excited to see if I could use Loon products to repair some busted wormies and to tie some new, super-durable squirmy wormies. I didn’t have the preferred Soft Head, but I found a bottle of Loon Hard Head and immediately got to work on my busted wormies.

Squirmy Wormies repaired with Loon Hard Head

In the picture above, you can see how some of the wormies have been repaired and protected with Loon Hard Head. Once the adhesive is fully dry, it creates a shiny, durable coating, which protects the squirmy material from sharp teeth, damaging forceps, and from breaking apart all on it’s own. That mangled repair job on the far left of the bottom row has seen more than a few fish jaws this year, and it’s still going strong! These were all coated with Hard Head, which seems to be easier to find than Soft Head, so go with hard if that’s all you can find.

As stated, the flexibility of Loon Soft Head makes it better suited for the squishy squirmy stuff, and once I found a bottle of the soft, I went straight to the vise and tied up some squirmy wormies that look great and will hold up to many fish and much abuse.

Ultra durable squirmy wormies coated with Loon Soft Head.

There are a variety of ways to tie the squirmy wormy. But, whichever method you use to attach this unruly material to your hook, include one more step to the process and coat the wraps of squirmy material with Loon Soft Head. You might need to bust out the old rotary drier wheel, but it’s worth it!

The Kreelex Changer: Combining the best parts of the best streamers! Inspired by Chuck Kraft & Blane Chocklett.

The Kreelex Changer – Silver & Gold.

Two of the most popular streamers of the past couple years are Blane Chocklett’s Game Changer and Chuck Kraft’s Kreelex. The die-hard fans of both patterns swear that these are “must have” streamers for chasing trophies! Although I’m far from being a streamer connoisseur, like so many of the young-buck fly guys these days, I have been tying and fishing streamers for over 20 years, and I have to admit that the Game Changer and Kreelex definitely have become my 2 favorite freshwater streamers. So, in an effort to get a little more creative than usual. I decided to blend the 2 patterns into a fly I call the Kreelex Changer.

Chuck Kraft’s Kreelex, Blane Chocklett’s Game Changer, and my Kreelex Changer.

One thing Blane and Chuck have in common is their southern roots, and there’s a big difference between the south and the north when it comes to the different traditions of fly fishing and tying. To generalize – accurately of course, the north is steeped in a close-minded, elitist tradition of trout fishing while the south is associated with good ole boys chucking big baits for big bass.

Since the preferred species in the north is trout, and trout eat insects, most flies are tied with trout in mind using fur and feathers to imitate delicate bugs. Traditionally, the same materials have been used to tie streamers. The many famous but delicate feather-wing streamers of the northeast reflect this tradition. Essentially, fly fishing in New England was a sport for the distinguished upper class who used delicately crafted flies made from exotic, expensive feathers in order to pursue stately salmonoids – Atlantic salmon and trout. Bass and other warm water species were considered rough fish and did not deserve the attention of a gentlemanly fly angler. And, anything associated with catching rough fish was considered crude and unrefined. Basically, fly fishing in New England meant gentlemen in tweed, catching gentle fish with gentle flies while turning their noses up at any other method. Any flies or methods resembling spin fishing were ostracized, and still are by many “purists.”

Down south is a totally different story. I have no doubt that the snobbery surrounding fly fishing took a small foothold in the south, but the general attitude is much more open minded and practical. Not known for it’s cold water streams, the southern states have never offered much in terms of trout – at least not compared to the north. Trout require cold clean water, and except for the small sections of the Appalachian Mountains shared by portions of Virginia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Georgia there is not much natural trout habitat down south, so there’s not much of a trout tradition and not much of an attachment and adherence to using feathers, fur and traditional materials like there is up in New England.

The south does have a strong bass fishing tradition! With countless warm water lakes, rivers, and streams, sunfish and bass dominate. And, unlike the gentle trout up north that sip small insects, bruiser bass smash big bait. Countless dollars and hours have been spent researching and developing bass lures that will trigger strikes and win tournaments, so it didn’t take long for fly fishermen in the south to tie flies that mimic these effective bass lures. Smart southern boys like Blane Chocklett and Chuck Kraft weren’t about to sit there with delicate feather streamers originally designed for trout while their buddies slay smallmouths with big flashy spinners and soft plastics scientifically proven to catch fish.

So basically, instead of admonishing and rejecting bass tactics like the fly fishermen up north, the southern fly guys like Kraft and Chocklett have embraced their southern culture of bass fishing and the effectiveness of proven lures and have designed flies unencumbered by the trout tradition. These guys just want to catch more bigger fish, and they’re not afraid or too elitist to borrow from the spin fishing crowd and the many proven lures for catching aggressive fish.

Known by many as the fly version of a Mepps in-line spinner, Chuck Kraft’s Kreelex streamer has been catching fish for years. Like most of Kraft’s flies, the Kreelex is easy to tie. Instead of focusing on new, complicated tying procedures, Kraft’s genius is in the materials, the dimensions, and the simplicity of his flies. He developed the Kreelex from a flashy material called Kreinik, and designed a streamer that takes full advantage of the material’s properties. He found that tying the fly just like a Clouser Minnow was effective, but he wanted to get more out of this flashy stuff, so he designed a fly that borrows from and is similar to a Clouser minnow but with shorter wings and with a tail. And most importantly, the material must be cut to the right length and cut square, not tapered, in order to achieve the best movement and best light reflection possible.

The Kreelex – Be sure to cut the wings and tail straight, not tapered!

I first started fishing and tying the Kreelex almost 25 years ago when I was living in the Blue Ridge Mountains northwest of Charlottesville, VA. This was my go-to streamer for trout. After wading upstream drifting dry flies and nymphs, I would work my way downstream back to the car by casting and stripping a Kreelex. This fly is super flashy and has a big presence in the water for such a little streamer. Instead of having to switch to a beefier rod in order to cast a big heavy streamer, I can cast the Kreelex with a 4 wt, and I get the effect of a bigger fly due to the flash and movement of the material.

Trends come and go, even in fly fishing, and Kraft’s Kreelex is trendy right now, at least in the mid-Atlantic. Streamers in general are trendy, and as anglers visit older streamer patterns, they inevitably stumble upon the Kreelex. After tying some Kreelex streamers and taking them to the river, anglers are discovering that the tales of the Kreelex are true – the fly draws strikes and is making a comeback for sure!

As effective and popular as Kraft’s Kreelex is, probably the trendiest fly of the last few years has been Blane Chocklett’s Game Changer. Blane has been using a variety of synthetic materials over the past couple decades to design flies that look oddly similar to certain lures and soft plastics and, more importantly, that catch fish! Perhaps his first fly that made huge waves was his Gummy Minnow. This streamer uses a shiny, stretchy, gummy foam material in order to create a minnow imitation that looks and feels like a soft plastic bait. Traditional fly anglers who prescribe to the northern tradition of fur & feathers hated this fly, and they hated the fact that it worked so well!

Feather Game Changer.

But, Blane is always designing and improving, and he refuses to limit himself to any materials or traditions that might get in his way of designing the perfect streamer and catching bigger fish. Obsessed with designing a streamer that matches the profile and movement of real baitfish, Blane was on a mission to create a fly that would suspend in the water column and flex, twitch, and dart like a real baitfish. Sounds a lot like a suspending Rapala or super fluke, doesn’t it? Although this fly tying maniac is always working on a different, better pattern, Blane Chocklett’s Game Changer is about as close as anyone will ever get to creating a fly that mimics the movement of a baitfish so perfectly.

I don’t know why it took me so long to think that it might be a good idea to tie a streamer that uses the action and flash of Chuck Krafts lethal Kreelex combined with the game changing qualities of Blane Chocklett’s Game Changer. But I did, and I call it the Kreelex Changer!

Kreelex Changers ready for action!

The Fly Fishing Show – Denver

It was truly an honor to be invited as a tier at the Denver show. It was even a greater honor to tie next to Tim Flagler from Tight Lines Fly Fishing!

First of all, the Denver show is huge! Probably 5 times bigger than the the NJ show. And, it was crowded. I don’t think a minute went by without someone at my table. I talked to countless anglers and tiers – definitely talked more than tied! You hear from all kinds of folks at these shows and hear all kinds of comments. The most memorable comment was from a guy who was admiring my stonefly imitations, especially my stoned mop jigs. After admiring them for a minute, he says, “Too bad we don’t have stoneflies here in Colorado.” What?!?!

Anyway, let’s get back to Tim Flagler. Tim is a true celebrity at the shows, or at least his voice and fingers are famous as that’s about all you see of Tim on his videos. Fortunately, none of the show goers were put off by his appearance – kind of a mash up of The Dude from The Big Lebowski, with Gandalf. In fact, I think most of us excepted this look. Anyway, it’s amazing how many anglers of all skill levels depend on his videos in order to learn and develop as fly anglers.

Check out Tim Flagler’s fly tying videos at tightlinevideo!

His flies are fantastic, but his tying tricks, or “cheats” as he calls them, are really impressive and useful. He also shares some interesting observations about how flies and natural insects behave in the water. You may be surprised and/or disappointed to learn that your nymph flies will drift vertically through the water and that even soft hackle

I think Tim appreciated the fish catching ability of my flies. He took a look at my Stoned Mop Jig, gave a sly smile and joked, “Man, you’re a dirty fisherman.”

Amen to that!

I also was tying in close proximity to one of my favorite tiers – Tom Baltz of Pennsylvania. He ties some incredible parachute flies, and his para-nymph might be the best suggestive dry fly I’ve used. He’s also an excellent guide in high demand. I gotta find a way to get him to take me fishing on one of those challenging PA spring creeks!

I was hoping to garner more interest in my realistic green drake nymphs, but oh well. Apparently some people assumed these bugs were assembled using those realistic bug bodies like the ones from Hemingway’s Fly Tying Materials. But, let me assure you, these are flies I tie with standard tying materials such as pheasant tail and with a little UV flex resin.

In all, it was a great show! I sold a bunch of flies, talked to a bunch of fly guys of all ages and abilities, and picked up some tips from the masters

Tie Fest & My Stoned Mop Jig

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My Stoned Mop Jig was a hit at the show!

Read my article about my Stoned Mop Jig: The Stoned Mop Jig

This is my first time participating in Left Kreh’s Tie Fest, and I’m so glad I did! I’ve never seen so many legendary tiers in such a small space! Within a 5 yard radius of me was Bob Clouser and Chuck Kraft. How many times will I get the chance to sit next to these legends and annoy them with questions and praise as I tie flies? Not many I expect! The truth is that I only had a few minutes to talk to Bob Clouser. His table was right next to mine, but the guy is Bob Clouser so he’s not about to sit quietly at a table and tie flies. He’s doing casting lessons, making rounds talking to people, and just being the legend he is.

I told him how a customer at the show was surprised that I use big Clouser Minnows for river smallmouth, and that I told the customer I’m pretty certain that Bob Clouser first developed the fly for smallies. Bob confirmed what I told the guy, took a look at my  versions of his iconic pattern, looked up at me sternly in the eyes and said plainly, “Those will catch fish.”

Nice! My Clouser Minnows passed the scrutiny of Mr. Clouser himself!

But, it wasn’t my Clouser Minnows that garnered the most attention from the show goers. It was my Stoned Mop Jigs. I knew that most people at the show would be interested in Rockfish (Striped Bass) patterns since the show was in Annapolis, but I stayed true to my trout fishing roots and spent my time tying soft hackle sulphur patterns and Stoned Mop Jigs.

FB0559DB-749B-42EE-BE14-386BB13B330BThe Stoned Mop Jig is a fly I came up with while tying bigger Jiggy Bugs for steelhead. I was about to tie some articulated nymph patterns until I had a genius idea! I could use the notorious mop fly material to create an extended body stonefly.

Read the article about the Stoned Mop Jig: The Stoned Mop Jig

 

The Fly Fishing Show: Edison, NJ

With a fresh oil change and a new EZ Pass account, I was ready for the trek to Edison, NJ where I would spend 3 days tying flies at one of the biggest and best fly fishing shows in the US. The drive was relatively painless – gotta love breezing through those tolls with the EZ Pass! And, I arrived at the convention center early Friday morning with just enough time to set up my table and to prepare for the hoards of passionate anglers wanting to observe the many fly tying styles and techniques on display. I had a blast talking to all kinds of folks about all kinds of fly fishing and fly tying techniques, and it was an awesome opportunity to help people get started tying their own flies.

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My table was situated between 2 of the best fly tiers I have ever seen. To my left was Jason Taylor, a young guy from the Philadelphia area (Fly Eagles Fly!) whose saltwater patterns are truly amazing! Utilizing some of latest saltwater tying techniques, such as Bob Popovics’ hollow tying method, and incorporating his own, original methods of preparing and wrapping materials, Jason creates large saltwater flies that are beautiful and functional.  WhileJason Taylor Fly most of the saltwater guys are playing around with piles of synthetic materials and UV resins, Jason relies mostly on natural bucktail, ostrich, fox, and other furs that move seductively through the water. His patterns contain just the right touch of synthetics to give them the perfect amount of flash, and he does like using Steve Farrar’s synthetic blend ( as do I!), but his flies are mostly natural. When the great Bob Popovics came over to Jason’s table and began asking Jason questions about how to tie like that, I knew I was sitting next to one of the best! I was very impressed to say the least! Check out Jason Taylor’s instagram page: Flyonby

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To my right was Joe Ackourey, a fly tier and guide from NE Pennsylvania. This guy is truly amazing! Essentially born and raised in a fly shop, he started tying Catskill patterns for Orvis back in the 60’s – back when Orvis used real fly fishermen to tie their flies, and they would only accept flies tied to the exact dimensions that these classic dry fly patterns demand. The thing is that Joe is a young guy; well, maybe not as young as Jason, but he’s definitely a young 50. That means he was already tying some of the best patterns when he was like 6 years old! His experience and expertise is obvious when you watch him go to work on the vise. His flies are simple, effective and perfectly tied! Just as impressive as his flies and his fly tying techniques are his knowledge, passion, and enthusiasm.  Whether he was showing people his method for tying comparaduns, demonstrating his nymphing methods, or sharing stories about catching big PA browns, Joe was one of the first tiers each day to get a crowd, and he was the last guy tying flies all 3 nights. I pretty much had to order him to go take a break, get something to eat & drink, and go to the bathroom for crying out loud! They poor guy was starting to squirm like a 10 year old holding in his pee! Oh yeah, Joe also makes the best natural fur dubbing blends I have ever seen!

Anyway, Joe is a true gem. He’s everything you want in a guide, his flies are an inspiration, and it was a true honor to tie next to him. Check out his website: Joe Ackourey Fly Fishing Adventures 

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This is my first year getting involved in the shows, and I am having a blast. I don’t have the celebrity tier status like some of these other guys, but I always seemed to have someone at my table interested in learning how to tie or wanting to buy my flies. I thought that my sulphur Klinkhammer patterns would draw the most attention, but I was wrong. People were drawn to my table by the Game Changers I had on display. I know that the game changer catches fish, but what I really learned at the show is that game changers catch a lot of

img_2871fishermen! This large baitfish pattern developed by Blane Chocklett is probably the hottest pattern of the last 2 years, and everyone loves checking them out. More than a couple people told me that my game changers were the best ones they saw at the show, so that’s cool! Clearly, they didn’t see Jason’s feather game changers; those things kick butt! Most tiers at the shows tie big colorful saltwater and bass patterns, and most of the trout guys tie larger, delicate and/or realistic patterns, which I do not think are nearly as effective at catching fish as the smaller, more impressionistic patterns that I tie.  Another awesome fly is one that Joe ties – a little, impressionistic hare’s ear pattern that I’m sure slays trout everywhere! My jiggy bugs are also true fish catchers, and a number of people at the show wanted to get their hands on my awesome little nymph patterns.

People at the show also noticed that I have no problem tying these patterns on a size 20 jig hook. One person who took notice of my little jiggy bugs was Misako Ishimura, captain of Japan’s national fly fishing team and master Tenkara angler.

img_0761She appreciated my passion for tenkara and really liked my sakasa kebari patterns, which are designed for tenkara fishing. But, she loved my jiggy bugs and ordered a dozen in size 18 and size 20. I’m sure these will be as effective for her and Team Japan as they are for me!

I probably tied about 30 flies over the course of 3 days, but I expected to tie many more. It was tough to tie when I always seemed to be getting into discussions with fellow fly guys or when I caught myself staring at the artful handiwork of Jason Taylor and Joe Ackourey tying to my left and right.

I really had a great time, and I can’t wait for Tie Fest on February 24-25 and for The Fly Fishing Show in Lancaster March 3-4. Thanks to Ben Furimsky for accepting me to the Fly Fishing Show and thanks to all the other tiers who made me feel right at home and who offered to help in any way they could. I need to give a huge shout out to Safet Nikocevic who ties amazing, realistic nymph patterns. When I used to come to the shows as a customer, I always stopped at his table, and Safet always gave me great advice on tying nymphs. He let me use one of his bobbins designed for smaller flies for a majority of Sunday’s show, and I can’t thank him enough. He’s a great guy, and an incredible tier.safet If you ever want to truly match the hatch with realistic nymph patterns, he is definitely your go-to guy.

See ya’ at the shows! – Adam Wilner

 

Fly Fishing / Fly Tying Shows: 2017-2018

iFTS-300x271The International Fly Tying Symposium was on November 11-12 in Lancaster, PA. It was a blast! I was fortunate enough to tie next to Gordy Chesney who artfully creates some of the most beautiful Atlantic Salmon patterns i have ever seen!

I spent most of my time tying flies that I had lost over the course of the fall – mainly Jiggy Bugs & Green Weenies. And, I tied a bunch of size 22 midge and baetis patterns to get ready for the winter season. Getting tired of tying the small stuff, I also tied a handful of my weedless smallie streamers tied on an Ahrex worm hook (PR380). Of course I also tied up a few Sakasa Kebari flies for tenkara fishing.

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This year I will be demonstrating at The Fly Fishing Show in Edison, NJ Friday 1/26-1/28 and then again in Lancaster 3/4 – 3/5. Most likely I’ll be focusing on small parachute patterns, tenkara flies and jig nymphs.

On February 24 & 25 I will be in Annapolis demonstrating at Lefty Ktie fest logoreh’s Tie Fest. Apparently I’m tying next to Bob Popovics. I’m psyched to talk to him about modifying his flex flye for all the summer smallie fishing I do on the Potomac and Patuxent rivers.

 

Edison Fly Fishing Show: 1/26-1/28 Link to Fly Fishing Show in Edison

Tie Fest: 2/24 – 2/25 Link to Baltimore Sun article about Tie fest

Lancaster Fly Fishing Show: 3/4 – 3/5 Link to Fly Fishing Show in Lancaster