• Weight: 5.7 ounces
• Spool diameter: 3.500 inches
• Spool width: .750 inches
• Capacity: Standard WF 5 line plus 125 yards of 20 lb. Dacron backing or WF 6 plus 100 yards of backing
• Material: Spool, frame and foot machined from 6061-T6 cold finished
aluminum bar stock
• Drag system: Draw bar actuated cork disk
• Finish: Corrosion-resistant anodized
• Colors: High gloss black coral or non-reflective matte black, other custom colors available at an additional charge
So, what’s this?? A beefy, brawny saltwater tough guy posing as a trout reel? Isn’t that a bit …well, overkill?
all, in fly fishing, unlike conventional spinning or bait casting, we
don’t actually use the reel to make the cast. In the old genteel days of
trout fishing, the reel simply stored line until we’re lucky enough to
hook something that took out more line than we had in our hand. I grew
up using a stamped, Japanese import, then a stamped Pflueger Medalist,
and finally graduated to a variety of die cast Hardy reels, the gold
standard of trout reels in the early 1980’s. I treasured all of them in
their time. Maybe it was the insistent buzz made by the clicker as a
trout peeled off line, or maybe I felt the reel was my fishing
companion, sharing in each new adventure.
Fast forward to 2007.
Our “genteel” art has become, on many fronts, a slugfest. No longer are
we satisfied plying our trade in bucolic settings fishing for small
trout. Today, many of us travel
the world seeking larger trout in New Zealand, Patagonia, and Chile. We
fish the salt water flats for species such as bonefish and permit that
swim much faster and pull much harder than their similarly sized
freshwater cousins. Consequently, we’re harder on our tackle and have
come to expect greater performance from our fly reels.
think it wouldn’t take rocket science to come up with a little metal
wheel with a brake that was dependable. But I’ve seen just about every
brand of reel fail at one time or another. Whether it’s grit or grime,
extreme heat or cold, component wear, or impact from a hard fall, if
there’s a weakness, we usually find out about it exactly at the wrong
Enter Steve Abel. Although not a rocket scientist, he is
an experienced aerospace machinist, who started selling his fly fishing
reels in 1987. His motto then, and the company’s motto today is “to
design and build the best, most dependable gear in the world and give
world class customer service.” In the ensuing twenty years, Abel Quality
Products has succeeded in carving out a niche in the increasingly
competitive arena of high quality fly fishing reels and built a devoted
following of end users. The latest offering from Abel is the Super 5
Narrow Large Arbor, a trout sized reel that boasts a robustness usually
found only in its larger, saltwater brethren.
The Abel Super 5N Fly Fishing Reel is the newest addition
to the Abel Super Series, which have a large arbor design for faster
line retrieve, reduced line coiling, and better drag continuity. The 5N
spool, frame, and foot are cut from a solid block of 6061-T6 cold
finished high molecular density aluminum. The spool and frame are
aggressively ported (ventilated) to reduce weight, while maintaining
great strength and rigidity. The draw bar, main shaft, pawls, and screws
are machined 303 stainless steel. The drag is comprised of a large surface
area, cork composite covered drag plate tightened against the inside of
the aluminum spool by the draw bar. All aluminum surfaces are protected
against corrosion by Abel’s proprietary hard anodizing process. The 5N
is convertible to left or right hand retrieve. At 5.7 ounces, it’s
relatively light considering its bombproof strength. The drag system is
silky smooth, with low start up inertia, and based on a simple design
that has proven itself over two decades. The spool capacity is suitable
for 5 or 6 weight lines, making it ideal for large trout and small
steelhead. Substituting smaller diameter gel spun backing in place of
Dacron, one could pump up the backing capacity to over 150 yards for
medium steelies, smaller bonefish, specks and reds. Overall, a nearly
flawless, extremely rugged and reliable fly fishing reel for taking
fresh and smaller saltwater species on light tackle.
• Large arbor, narrow spool design for quick line pick up
• Machined from 6061-T6 cold finished aluminum bar stock
• Impact resistant spool rim and frame
• Smooth, reliable cork-draw bar drag system
• Durable, hard anodized finish
• Custom colors, handles, and engraving available at additional charge
Fly fishing reels machined from a solid bar of metal have
the greatest rigidity and strength per weight, but in the long run, are
more costly to produce than stamped, or die cast reels. Over thirty
years ago, American companies such as Seamaster and Fin Nor pioneered
the construction of machined fly reels, primarily for a small following
of hard core salmon and saltwater fly enthusiasts. The increased
popularity of fly fishing, coupled with political and economic expansion
of the Far East in recent years, has led to an influx of many
reasonable quality, less expensive machined imports primarily targeting
entry and mid level customers. Many U.S. makers of good reels have
folded under this pressure, and the majority that have remained, like
Abel and Tibor, have done so by directing there efforts at top of the
Although you may find some custom $2000-$10,000
titanium reel models on the Internet, aluminum is the choice for mere
mortals. Abel uses 6061-T6 cold finished bar stock in all of their
reels, which is the strongest, densest, most corrosion resistant
aluminum for this purpose. The spool, frame and foot of the 5N Super are
cut from this, and the mainshaft and drawbar from 303 stainless steel,
on Computer Numerical Control lathes and mills. In fact, every
machinable part in the reel is made in the Abel factory to insure utmost
quality control, right down to the stainless steel screws. The only
non-metal parts are the cork drag washer, a neoprene o-ring, and the
laminated, sealed wood handle.
The overall weight of the reel is
significantly reduced, while retaining structural integrity, by
precise, aggressive porting throughout the spool and frame. All parts
are hand de-burred, hand polished, cleaned and inspected and aluminum
parts are protected from wear and corrosion (and colored) by Abel’s
unique hard anodizing process, which penetrates and bonds to the metal.
Two sealed waterproof ball bearings on the spool and one on the drag
plate provide near frictionless rotation.
Abel currently employs
28 production workers and 7 support staff in their Camarillo,
California facility. They offer a lifetime warranty on manufacturing
defects for all their reels. Although you’re not likely to need that
warranty, it’s nice to know that Abel, due to their success, will
probably be around to back it up if you do.
In a nutshell, there are two basic types of fly reel
drags; the classic spring and pawl, popularized by Hardy Brothers of
England well over a century ago, or one of many variations of the more
modern disk drag. Most anglers, and manufacturers today overlook the
click pawl, unfairly in my opinion, in favor of disks for all fly
fishing. Actually, the click pawl, if well constructed, is very reliable
for smaller trout and is the lightest, simplest, and least expensive to
build. And as it works, it creates that sweet sound that many of us
find synonymous with fly fishing.
As we seek fish that pull
harder and faster and fight longer, our fly reels are progressively
subjected to greater amounts of what most often kills them; heat. A disc
drag slows the spool by friction, applying pressure between two or more
discs, usually one on the spool and one on the frame, or within a hub
mounted on the frame. A great number of variations of this seemingly
simple concept are available today, each one claiming superior
However, the big game fly reels that have been the
most successful in landing fish over 100 pounds, and, therefore, operate
smoothly and survive the greatest amounts of stress, have draw bar
drags. This simple system has two center mounted disk shaped brake
surfaces that meet when the spool is attached, and drag is increased as
the draw bar tightens the frame against the spool through the central
Although most newer disk drag systems use synthetics such
as Rulon, Delrin or carbon fiber, as the brake material, natural cork
(ground and mixed with a polymer), is still considered by many
to offer the best balance of durability, low start up inertia, stopping
power, and adjustability. This cork composite, unlike the synthetics,
is compressible, providing for its smoothness. The Abel 5N Super has the
largest drag of this type of any 5 or 6 weight reel I’ve seen, and the
“open” design dissipates heat rapidly into the rear of the spool and
throughout the reel frame. “Closed” or completely sealed drag systems
offer the advantage of low maintenance, but generally can not cool as
Cork must be lubricated occasionally to replenish
its natural moisture, usually with pure neatsfoot oil. Make sure to
follow the manufacturer’s directions, as petroleum products or solvents
may harm the cork, and back off the drag tension when not in use.
Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of the draw bar drag is that it does
not allow for quick change spools, as some disassembly is required.
Choose another design if this is a priority for you.
to the International Game Fish Association, Abel reels where used in
setting the greatest number of new world records for 2006. Though you
may not land a world record, you will at some point encounter that fish
of a lifetime. The Abel 5N Super Large Arbor Fly Fishing Reel, with its
impeccably machined strength and superb drag, is as likely as any to get
the job done.
At $550, the Abel 5N Super is much more expensive than
some other very serviceable trout reels and is an ounce or more heavier
than others with lighter drag designs and frames. The draw bar does not
allow for the convenience of quick-change spools. Open design requires
occasional cleaning and lubrication.
The Abel 5N Super, compared to other reels of its size, is most likely to withstand extreme conditions, and the one you’ll probably hand down to your grandchildren.
Having been in the fly fishing industry for over 25 years
as a professional guide, fly fishing school director, writer, and
manufacturers sales representative, I’ve been fortunate to fish with a
wide array of equipment from almost all of the top makers.
Check out the Abel Super 5N Fly Reel
Back to Reviews
Deep within the Alaskan Arctic, on the edge of the Brooks Range where the summer sun never sets and moose, musk ox, and caribou still roam their ancient territories, there is a secret. And only a few lucky anglers will ever fish these clear, classic rivers to which the world's largest race of sea-run dolly varden return each year.
Midnight Sun Adventures Fishing:
This trip is all about dollies - large ones to be specific - that average seven plus pounds and exceed twenty pounds on a fair basis. To make things even more interesting, anglers fly about one at a time in Piper Cubs landing with soft, oversized tires on the rocky beaches of four exceedingly wild and productive rivers. Once you have landed, your solitude is essentially guaranteed each and every day, with the exception of your campmates. Best suited to skilled anlgers fond of swinging streamers on sink-tip lines, these rivers typically offer five to ten quality fish per day with the chance at a true world record.
Midnight Sun Adventures Accommodations:
The lodge is very rustic, with a rambling array of small, stove-heated bunk cabins and simple hearty meals that are served in the main cabin. This is wild Alaska - utter soliture, no roads, and no other lodges. Just you, a couple of Piper Cubs, and four rivers full of sea sculpted char that can top fifteen pounds. A remarkable Alaskan experience for the adventurous angler.
Midnight Sun Adventures Travel:
To reach Midnight Sun Adventures, anglers will need to make flight arrangements in and out of Kotzebue, Alaska. Since anglers are encouraged to arrive at Kotzebue in the morning, overnighting in Anchorage is encouraged, but for the adventuresome, arriving at Kotzebue the night before and overnighting there can also be arranged. Due to potential weather related delays in departing the lodge, anglers are encouraged to schedule their flight out of Kotzebue in the afternoon.
A representative from the lodge will pick you up in Kotzebue and fly you roughly 1 hour out to the lodge.
Midnight Sun Guide Staff and Fishing Program:
Anglers typically fly one at a time in Piper Cubs to the elected pools and rivers. During a typical week with agreeable weather anglers might fish as many as three separate river systems. All planes are wheel planes and landings are made at low air speeds on rock beaches/bars adjacent the rivers. Guiding is somewhat relaxed and the fishing is best suited to skilled anglers not requiring excessive instruction.
Midnight Sun Climate:
Being located within the Arctic Circle, the weather is highly variable at all times of year. While daytime highs may reach 75 degrees, it is just as likely that they stay within the 40's. Come well prepared for cold, inclement conditions.
Midnight Sun Power and Communications:
There is a telephone at camp and power is provided by a generator that is turned off at night.
Transportation between Kotzebue and the lodge, lodging, meals and guiding.
Air transportation to and from Kotzebue, alcohol, licenses and gratuities.
MULTI-DAY FLOAT RATES
$400 / PERSON / DAY for 2 anglers
$375 / PERSON / DAY for 3 or more anglers
DOES NOT INCLUDE:
leaders, Deschutes River boater's Passes, Tribal permits, fishing
licenses, alcoholic beverages, and guide gratuities.
DEEP CANYON OUTFITTERS, BEND OREGON: A
day spent fly fishing is a great way to enjoy the beauty of the
outdoors near Bend Oregon. Our guide service offers a variety
of day long guided Fly Fishing Bend Oregon Trips.
at the water, our expert guides will show you were the fish are and
help you master the techniques used to catch them. Chicken, steak, pork,
or sandwiches with all the fixin's are served when your tummy begins to
growl, and snacks and beverages are available at any point in the day. A
Full-day trip is 8 hours on the water, and don't worry...if the fishing
is hot we won't leave before you're ready to go.
One Day Boat Trips
Expert guides, rods and reels, boots and waders, boat,
lunch, snacks and non-alcoholic beverages. Deschutes River Trout fishing
suggested fly list. Steelhead fishing suggested fly list.
Walk-in guided fly fishing Oregon trips are a great way
to enjoy the rivers in our area, each river is utilized during it's
prime fly fishing season. Most of our walk-in guided fly fishing trips
are to the Crooked river, a great fly fishing destination any time of
year. Wherever our fly fishing guides take you, the scenery is sure to
offer Full-day and Half-day walk-in guided fly fishing trips. Full-day
guided fly fishing trips are 8 hours of fishing time, and a Half-day is 4
hours on the water. Included is any rental equipment (boots, waders,
rods, reels), drinks, snacks, and of course the guide. Full-day guided
fly fishing trips include lunch.
Full Day Guided Fly Fishing Trips
1 or 2 anglers..................................$400.00
+$100 per additional angler/4 anglers per guide max
INCLUDES: expert guides, rods and reels, boots and waders, BBQed streamside lunch, and beverages.
Half Day Guided Fly Fishing Trips
1 or 2 anglers..................................$250.00
+$50 per additional angler/4 anglers per guide max
Expert guides, rods and reels, boots and waders, snacks, and beverages.
DOES NOT INCLUDE:
Flies, leaders, fishing licenses, ?boater's passes, tribal permits, or guide gratuities.
Early season reservations will allow you to secure the dates
desired. A 50% deposit is required to secure dates, refundable
if cancellation is received no less than thirty (30) days prior
to trip date. Trips proceed regardless of weather conditions.
We reserve to right to cancel in the event of unsafe conditions
or other circumstances beyond our control. If we cancel your
trip, your deposit will be refunded or applied to a future
date that is mutually acceptable.
For more information please contact Deep
- Trey Combs, Steelhead Fly Fishing Each year, a sturdy population of tiny, but energetic, steelhead fry grows a bit larger and begins the journey of a lifetime, a watery trek that will take them from their sleepy home tributaries to the raging mouth of the Pacific Ocean and ultimately to the other end of the world.Each collection of migrating fish will grow from fry to adult steelhead, aided by the bounty of their new surroundings. Eventually these hearty fish will tire of grazing the vast open waters and will begin to find their way home. Driven now by the raw and instinctual urge to spawn, these quite large and commanding adult steelhead swim stoically to their natal stream to procreate and begin the odyssey anew.Each fall, as these great wild fish begin to make their return trip, fly anglers across the reaches of the Pacific Northwest from California to British Columbia, within the volcanic confines of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, and throughout the Great Lakes regions of North America flock to large, fast, tree-lined rivers and their myriad tributaries to “chase chrome.”Naming the Steelhead Steelhead are complicated and compelling creatures, worthy of great reams of literature, intense study, and much fireside mythology. These powerful, steel-grey fish have given biologists and ichthyologists fits and have driven generations of fly fishers crazy. Fly anglers who have plied waters for and caught steelhead generally develop an obsessive connection to these fish and for good reason; steelhead are some of the most striking, strongest and most aggressive fighters in freshwater, and a great deal of knowledge and attention to detail are absolutely necessary to catching a steelhead. These beautiful and brilliant fish have also been dubbed “the fish of 1,000 casts” and there’s nothing quite like some good old-fashioned perseverance when fly fishing for steelhead.Part of the steelhead’s unique complexity stems from the species’ somewhat confusing naming history. For all intents and purposes, steelhead are migratory or non-resident rainbow trout. This has not always been the contention. When initially named, these fish were thought to be more closely and generically related to Atlantic salmon populations, and accordingly, the species’ initial classification was Salmo gairdeneri. The publisher, In 1836, Sir John Richardson, included this new classification in Fauna Boreali Americana based on information provided by a doctor by the name of Gairdner who was working on the broad banks of the Columbia River with the Hudsons Bay Company at Fort Vancouver. Nineteen years later, the rainbow trout was classified as Salmo irideus by the founder of the California Academy of Sciences, Dr. William P. Gibbons. It was later established that Gibbon’s “new” species was not new at all as his observations were based on a pre-migratory steelhead specimen taken from San Leandro Creek (a beautiful creek located in Leland’s back yard and home to what is possibly California’s largest population of rainbow trout). In an instant, steelhead became anadromous rainbow trout and rainbow trout became non-migratory steelhead.The separate, but equal classification of rainbow trout as Salmo irideus and steelhead as Salmo gairdeneri survived until 1989 when the Committee on Names of Fishes assembled by the American Fisheries Society threw a knuckleball at all who knew and understood the species of migratory rainbow trout as cousins of the Atlantic salmon population. The committee announced that all species of trout native to western North America would be re-assigned the generic name Oncorhynchus, linking the trout of western North America to the Pacific salmon.Once established as a Pacific species, more than the Salmo designation needed alteration. In 1792, the prolific German taxonomist, Johann Julius Walbaum classified several species of Pacific salmon as well as the Dolly Varden char, and the rainbow trout of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula. It became clear that the steelhead was a more likely cousin of Walbaum’s Kamchatkan rainbows (Salmo mykiss) and, according to the strictures of scientific naming conventions, the populations of steelhead native to western North America should take Walbaum’s earlier species classification of mykiss. In a flash, steelhead morphed, at least in the land of nomenclature, from Salmo gairdeneri to Oncorhynchus mykiss. Such is the steelhead’s complexity.An Anadromous AdventurerLike their genetic counterparts, rainbow trout, steelhead are born in freshwater and are known among fly fishers for their aggressive jumps and long runs. Steelhead will spend anywhere from six months to three years in their home rivers and tributaries before riding the strong outgoing currents and migrating to the Pacific Ocean or to one of the Great Lakes of North America (the species was successfully transplanted to the Great Lakes region during several stocking campaigns during the mid-1800s).Once in their new, larger (and, for some, saltier) homes, these fish feed hungrily on a fat smorgasbord of baitfish, squid, and crustaceans. Here, the species trades its pink band for a new set of chrome silver sides and translucent fins. The fish will retain its deep green back and dorsal spots as well. Steelhead will spend one to five years “a sea” and, like ocean-going salmon, will utilize their strong sense of smell to sniff out the unique chemistry of their native waters and return exactly home, sometimes hundreds of miles upstream to spawn. These fish don’t just get close to home, tagged steelhead have been observed returning to precisely the same spawning bed from which they were born, actually closing the loop on an incredible journey.The most famous runs of steelhead occur in the late summer months and continue throughout the fall to November. However, steelhead can be caught year-round and, since the early 1900s, winter steelhead fly fishing has steadily increased in popularity among fly anglers, especially in California, Oregon, British Columbia and the Great Lakes region of North America. When on the spawn these fish will slowly regain their pinkish banding and will begin to look more like the resident or non-migratory rainbow trout.Step, Cast, Mend … Step, Cast, Mend … Perhaps the most important and most difficult task to master in fly fishing for steelhead lies in understanding how to read steelhead water. Gaining such understanding takes fly anglers years to acquire and is truly a life-long pursuit. This is not to say that steelhead cannot be caught on a fly by a novice angler, but experience in steelheading makes a big difference in an angler’s ability to secure hookups and land fish. During their upstream migration, steelhead are most interested in conserving their energy, and this is especially true of steelhead returning to streams located farther inland. Idaho steelhead populations, for example, must pass several dams and cross high mountainous regions, while battling fierce currents along the journey of several hundred miles. In this effort to conserve energy, steelhead will often make short, powerful upstream runs, separated by longer periods of rest out of the main current. The virulent upstream runs can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days and rest periods can range from a single night of quiet to several long days of relief. Fly anglers enjoy their best chances at steelhead while they are at rest. During these times, fish will sit singly or in pairs along the river banks, in shallow pools, in broad tailouts, and along current seams where the moving water provides travel weary fish with much needed and appreciated pockets of lesser resistance. Learning to find and fish these parts of a river and types of water is invaluable in the steelhead game.Unlike their bull-headed counterparts, the Atlantic salmon, steelhead are ultimately smart about how they use water to their advantage. Rather than simply charging through the main channel, steelhead will choose the optimal pathway up a river, bobbing and weaving from slow current seam to slow current seam until they reach their destination. This quite brilliant behavior is difficult on even the most accomplished fly fishers because the optimal pathway upriver may not always mean the steelhead in front of you is holding in the slowest current in front of you; the fish may have determined that holding in a slightly faster current at an angler’s position in the river will optimize the aggregate journey. Again, such are steelhead.Due to the wide variety of water in which steelhead can be found as well as the wide size range steelhead take on (steelhead can be as small as a foot long like the Klamath River “half-pounders” or as large as twenty pounds in British Columbia’s famous Kispiox River), a host of methods for chasing steelhead with a fly fishing rod have been productive throughout fly fishing’s history. When chasing steelhead, many fly anglers utilize and swear only by a classic approach of swinging dry flies on floating lines. Techniques within this category include pure “greased-lining” and “skating” steelhead bomber and skater fly patterns. Recently, a small group of more adventuresome traditionalists have discovered success in “chugging” their steelhead bugs to imitate the rhythmic motion of hatching caddis. Other steelhead anglers employ trout nymphing strategy with indicators and floating lines, while other fly anglers borrow equipment and flies from Atlantic salmon fly fishing traditions to catch their steelhead. In larger rivers, two-handed Spey casting techniques are employed to efficently cover the vast amounts of water required for success in steelheading. Steelhead fly fishing rods can range from small 4-weight single-handed trout rods for smaller steelhead to large 10- and 11-weight Spey rods of 14 or 15 feet in length for the largest, and usually British Columbian, members of the species. Despite the tremendous variation in tackle and technique, the preferred steelhead rod today is a 7-weight two hand rod, running from 12 to 13 feet in length. By far, our favorite steelhead fly rod is Loop's Cross S1 7120-4. This rod bridges the gap between summer and winter run fish. It elegantly delivers topwater flies, yet can still turn over heaver flies and fast-sinking tips.The complexity of the steelhead game continues as there is a great deal of observed but poorly understood behavioral traits occurring in populations of steelhead from river to river. To this end, how a fly fisher presents the fly to a holding steelhead at a particular location on a particular river, is an equally important component that must be considered rigorously before even the very first cast is made. Ask around about and read up on how local steelhead behave in the river you’re going to fish. Knowing even a small amount about how aggressively the steelhead you’re after takes (or leaves) a well-presented fly or if they are more apt to take a deeply-dredged nymph along the bottom of a pool than rise to a properly swung dry fly at the surface can be a skeleton key for hooking a steelhead on your trip. When practicing reading steelhead water, it is important to clearly define where each pocket, tailout, seamline, and pool are located. A good pair of polarized sunglasses with copper or yellow photochromatic lenses will ease the strain of this challenge. Make sure you look for well-defined water features where fish may hold and cast to these areas. It may take a couple of passes through a run or pool to learn at which depth in the water column the fish are stacking and how aggressive or non-aggressive the fish may be, but only with patience, experience, and experimentation, are steelhead caught. What’s on the Menu? Hardcore steelheaders can easily spend more time thinking about what their beloved quarry eats and what flies to tie than actually casting to fish. This outwitting of fish is not uncommon in fly fishing and is perhaps the sport’s most enduring trait, but steelheaders take it to an extreme that others in the sport do not frequent. Subsequently, there are three leading and competing theories about how steelhead feed. There is no consensus on which theory should rise to the fore of the debate, but it’s most likely that none of the theories are wrong and that steelhead use some combination of the three when choosing what to eat.Some steelheaders are convinced that the chromers they’re after feed off of surface bugs most like the caddis they ate when they were smolts. These anglers will often cast only caddis patterns and more recently chugging bugs. These fly patterns are thought to imitate most closely the movement and appearance of the juvenile steelhead’s earliest diet. The thought is that once the fish are back in their native waters, they will revert to their very first feeding patterns and habits.Another camp is of mind that steelhead feed instinctively when in the open ocean and that only movement and profile should be presented to a fish holding in a river. These modern steelhead fly anglers believe that these fish develop an almost purely instinctual feeding response while maturing and feeding in the ocean environment. This instinct-driven feeding pattern is thought to follow the fish back to their home water, and fly fishers of this ilk and belief will confidently say that size, movement, and profile are the three most important characteristics in creating a successful steelhead fly.The last group believe that the most realistic patterns should be fished at all times – the trick is to imitate closely what was in the ocean from whence the fresh steelhead came or to mimic precisely what bugs are in the river as the fish work their way upstream. These steelhead anglers choose to cast more realistic flies and within this camp there are anglers who favor baitfish, squid, and crustaceans (staples of the ocean-going steelhead’s diet) over the freshwater nymphs, shrimp, and dry fly patterns touted by still other hardcore steelheaders.The debate on the best steelhead flies rages on and the result is an incredibly creative and prolific catalog of successfully tied and fished steelhead flies.Flies commonly used to catch steelhead range from standard trout patterns to streamers and baitfish patterns to the most modern and innovative tube flies and marabou recipes. Spey and Atlantic salmon flies have also proven to be successful choices, especially on the large rivers of the western United States and British Columbia. The Green Butt Skunk and the General Practitioner are more traditional flies that will work well in the Pacific Northwest. Lage marabou flies like the Marabou Spey or the Popsicle will raise steelhead in Alaska and British Columbia and really wild marabou patterns (usually tied as tube flies) and large sculpin patterns will be productive on Russia’s pristine steelhead waters. Leland’s Keith Westra has tied and fished successfully his favorite marabou pattern with a bunny strip tail for British Columbian steelhead and Leland’s Proprietor Josh Frazier loves the action produced on the famed North Umpqua by Scott Howell’s Ska Hopper, a newer deer hair and foam chugging bug.Steelhead are haunting creatures. They enter a fly fisher’s life suddenly and with the powerful burst of a rumbling freight train. No matter how hard an obsessive fly angler prepares for each steelhead trip, or how an experienced steelheader expertly tries to reach the edge of a distant and promising pool, or how well a practiced and polished Spey caster mends line in anticipation of a long, smooth swing, the strike of a fresh steelhead is always unexpected. Steelheading’s seductive draw lies in this unexpectedness, this uncertainty, and it is with this stinking irony that the steelhead has been quietly humbling the generations of fly fishers who have chased her. The suddenness of a fly angler’s connection with a wild steelhead is compounded by its brevity and finality. Legendary steelheader, Trey Combs, writes of this feeling eloquently, and it’s this feeling and understanding, that an angler is just a single signpost on the steelhead’s long journey, that keeps serious steelheaders dreaming of the next sweet cast, unexpected take, and boundless run.
Albula vulpes Pieter Bleeker, 1859
- Pete Perinchief, former Director of Bermuda’s Fishing Information Bureau, 1964 The bonefish has been called the “silver bullet of the flats” and rightfully so. This member of the Elopiformes order and close relative of the tarpon possesses lightning quickness and race car speed. In open water these fish have been clocked at nearly 23 miles per hour. This astounding physical ability has helped the bonefish survive 125 million years of evolution, solidifying its place among the earth’s most ancient species. The bonefish is also clever and cunning, its name, Albula vulpes, literally means “white fox.” The bonefish was first discovered and named by famed Dutch ichthyologist, Pieter Bleeker, in 1859. Bleeker’s contribution to the study of fish was more than prolific during his 18 year stint as a medical officer in the Dutch East Indian Army from 1842 to 1860; his famous treatise Atlas Ichthyologique provides a laboriously detailed account of his work in Indonesia and includes notes on the bonefish. Bleeker’s bonefish are incredibly nimble and skittish creatures. Native to saltwater flats environments, bonefish can be found in nearly every tropical body of water on the globe. The recorded range of the bonefish is 45°N - 31°s, 159°w - 35°w. Yet, despite their common occurrence and widely distributed range, bonefish remain a difficult set of silvery fins to catch, owing to their selective feeding, nearly perfect camouflage, 360-degree eyesight, and flat out speed in open water. The unique sporting challenge offered by bonefish has brought a host of eager fly anglers to the tropics in search of adventure and the chance to catch a silver bullet. Bonefish are a curiously primitive looking species. Masters of illusion, bonefish sport a highly reflective set of scales that function as an array of tiny mirrors, reflecting quite accurately the fish’s ever-changing environment. The narrow and muscular bonefish is also built with a tapered nose, leading to an extremely powerful mouth. The species uses this mouth to root for its food in the coral and on the sandy bottom of the saltwater flats it calls home, crushing prey with its hard palate. Emerging on the skinny water of the saltwater flats during periods of tidal flux, bonefish dine on a rich diet of clams, shrimp, and crabs, and they will rarely pass up the opportunity to snare even smaller critters such as saltwater worms, snails, and baitfish. Locally, bonefish will vary their feeding habits, sometimes turning into the tide to sniff out their prey and at other times following prey into the tidal direction. Fly anglers should be sure to understand their local quarry prior to stalking bonefish – a local fly shop or guide service can be invaluable in the pursuit of these mirrored torpedoes. Tropical saltwater flats are often only a few inches deep and don’t offer feeding bonefish much protection or cover. When digging for their meals, bonefish are often forced to expose a good portion of their tail above the water. Subsequently, bonefish will often be found “tailing” either in pairs or in larger schools. To spot a tailing bonefish or group of bonefish, look for their deeply forked tails just above the waterline, flashing brilliantly in the sunlight. Saltwater fly anglers will tell you that there is nothing more exciting than crouching near a thick patch of turtle grass in the middle of an expansive tropical flat and spotting the glittering flash of a school of tailing bonefish! Despite the classic tailing give-away, merely spotting a bonefish can present quite a frustrating challenge to a fly angler. Many saltwater flats have sandy bottoms, but others are composed of the mottled browns, greens, and gold of thick turtle grass, making it very difficult to glimpse a well-camouflaged fish. Saltwater fly anglers also look for “cruising” or “mudding” bonefish. When looking for a cruising fish or school, watch for quick flashes and shadows along the bottom of the flat. Mudding bonefish will produce clouds and wide plumes of gray sand as they hunt and dig for their prey. Looking for such a mud spot will often yield good results. A good pair of polarized sunglasses with copper or yellow photochromatic lenses will ease the strain of this challenge. (Experience in spotting bonefish, or a guide perched atop the polling platform of a specialized flats boat will also help!) Bonefish are particularly aware of the perils of the thin water in which they feed. Such heightened awareness renders these fish extremely skittish at the slightest sign of danger. Fly anglers must take extreme care not to frighten feeding bonefish. This means maintaining a low profile, keeping rod tips on the water, and being prepared to make long, directed, and accurate casts in a number of challenging conditions. Saltwater flats fishing requires a confident cast, tight attention to fly presentations, and a good working knowledge of local water and tidal conditions. Bonefishing requires all of these along with a heavy dose of concentration. Fly anglers chasing bonefish will most often be sight casting for their quarry. When sight casting for bonefish it is extremely important to understand the delicate mix of water and wind conditions and distance to the fish. If the wind is high, an angler may need to use a shorter leader and a heavier 9 weight rod and line to turn over the fly and lay down a sixty foot cast. If conditions are calm and the saltwater flat is glassy, a 14 or 15 foot leader and a lighter 7 weight rod may be necessary to avoid spooking the fish during presentation of the fly. However, if you were to choose just one fly rod to tackle all conditions, it should be a 9' #8 fly rod. Our favorite bonefish fly rod is the Loop Cross S1 Flatsman 890-4...controlled distance, accuracy and strength.Because bonefish are so wary, it is important to understand how the fish is moving and where to place a cast. Saltwater flats anglers will often lead a feeding bonefish by a generous 15 feet or more. The key to presenting a fly to a bonefish is to make the fly appear to be moving away from the fish. This may sound difficult, but can easily be achieved with a simple hook cast or reach cast – both well-practiced casts in the arsenal of trout and freshwater anglers. Stripping line after such a cast is also important. Experiment with longer and shorter strips with different pacing; pause and give the fly a slight jerk and then strip in more line. Local guides will have a favored technique and will tell you just what to do when you’ve spotted a fish and placed that perfect cast. Hooksetting should also not be overlooked. Be sure to set the hook firmly with a confident strip set as soon as you feel the subtle tug of a bonefish at the end of the line. Freshwater anglers making the transition to salt commonly make the mistake of lifting the rod tip vertically to set the hook. This technique may work on Montana’s great and storied Madison for big browns, but it won’t hook a bonefish. (Too many anglers have bought their guides rounds of drinks back at the lodge for lifting the tip instead of using a solid strip set. Don’t be a statistic!)For efficient fly delivery and better hook sets, the proper fly line is very important when bonefishing. The Airflo Ridge Bonefish fly line is the best fly line on the market today for saltwater flats fishing. With a patented coating of polyurethane, which is impervious to bug repellant and sunscreen, this particular fly line will last many hard seasons. All other fly lines are constructed of PVC material and don't react well to the likes of bug spray and sun screen. The low-stretch core of the Airflo Bonefish line provides more efficient casts. And, when "strip-setting" on a bonefish, this low-stretch core makes for solid hook sets. Bonefish will readily take a well-presented fly, and will make several long runs, usually taking a fly angler 150 yards deep into the backing. Generally a bonefish will make about as many long, straight runs as its weight in pounds. A 2-pound fish will make 2 long runs and a 4-pounder will take you and your reel for a spin about 4 times. This is not by any means a hard and fast rule, but something to keep in mind when it’s time to strip set the hook and play that fish! A raft of creative fly patterns has arrived on the tails of the bonefish craze. Synthetics, foam, and flashy materials offer fly tiers a new world of possible creations to toss into the salt. Crazy Charlies and Bonefish Candy are effective patterns from Christmas Island to Los Roques. One of the hottest and most productive bonefish flies around is Bonefish Bitters, a modern epoxy-headed crustacean imitation developed by Craig Matthews in the 1980s. Classics like the Gotcha and the Bonefish Scampi as well as myriad crab patterns will also yield good results on the saltwater flats. Bonefish have provided fly anglers of all stripes and backgrounds with a new and salty world of mystery, information, and excitement. Freshwater anglers have enjoyed the challenge of learning new rigging, casting techniques, and traveling to warmer more tropical destinations. Saltwater anglers have enjoyed advancing the sport of fooling bonefish with a fly and pushing the limits of saltwater flats fishing. Bonefish are special creatures, and according to fly fishing legend, Lefty Kreh, if left with only one choice, the bonefish would be his target. That’s quite a bold marketing pitch, and one we’re hard-pressed to disagree with. - Evan P. LeBon
Speckled Peacock Bass: This is the largest
of all peacock bass species, reaching sizes of nearly 30
pounds. Of course a fish of that size is very rare. On
good, remote locations they average 10 to 18 pounds,
with bigger fish always around. This is still under
scientific discussion, but it's generally accepted
that females have spots and males have three distinct
dark bars and a yellowish coloration, as well as a hump
on top of the head during mating season. They are very
aggressive and territorial and will strike topwater flies
with a vengeance. Most people who have fished for it agrees
that they show the most spectacular and ferocious topwater
strike of all fish. Everyone who enjoys casting topwater
flies among varied structure for big fish must go peacock
bass fishing in the Amazon at least once in a lifetime.
Their fight is brutal and they always seek structures
to cut or wrap the line.
Butterfly Peacock Bass: This is a smaller
peacock bass species, but very abundant. There are
actually two species of what is wrongly called
butterfly peacock bass. One of them is the true
butterfly peacock bass, with three big blotches
on the side, and another species, which shows
dark uneven bars and a more yellowish coloration.
Both are quite small on average, but may reach sizes
up to 13 pounds.
Traira: A very aggressive fish with
sharp teeth and a powerfull jaw. They strike just
about anything that moves close enough to it and
are very abundant on the shallow areas. They average
2 to 4 pounds and are fun on light rods, as well as
an important food source for large peacock bass.
These fish are very pre-hystoric looking and it
is believed they come from ancient times.
Arawana: The arawana is a famous fish
among aquarium hobbyists because of their unusual,
snake-like appearance. They are quite aggressive
and will strike a variety of patterns. Once hooked
they put up a good fight, with jumps and runs. A TV
documentary on a British channel became famous by
showing the scene of an arawana jumping out of the
water to get a bug on an overhanging three in the
flooded forest. This shows that they have great eyesight.
Jacundá: This beautifull fish is known
in the aquarium hobby as pike cichlid. Despite their
small average size they are very strong and aggressive
and very fun on light fly rods. They come in many varied
Piranha: There are mainly two species of
piranhas in the dark water rivers. The black and the
silver. The black piranha is the biggest one, reaching
10 pounds or more. They can be aggressive but nearly
never against people. There is a lot of myth around
piranha attacks and it's just not true. They can only
be dangerous when locked in a small lagoon where no more
food is available, otherwise they won't bother with you
at all and you can swim at the river without worrying.
Catching them on flies is not the easiest thing, which
is pretty good because they destroy the fly in a heartbeat
with their sharp, scissors-like teeth.
Next time: Best spots and what equipment to bring.
Octavio Campos Salles Araujo organizes and hosts unique
fly fishing trips to remote locations of the Brazilian
Amazon, where the rivers are still uncharted and big
fish are numerous. Check out his website at
www.amazonflyfishing.com for more.