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Jay Niederstadt's Fearless Flies

by Jay Niederstadt
2008 Schmidt Outfitters

We as anglers wander our favorite waters whether they are rivers, streams, lakes, or ponds looking for a target to cast to: logs, rocks, boulders, downed trees, or in a word, structure. We are drawn to structure because the fish are drawn to it, and the gnarlier it looks, the better. We cast our flies as closely as we dare in an effort to get our offerings to the fish. We love structure--that is until we snag our flies in it, and then we curse it. So we snap off the old bug and tie on the new one with a little grumbling mixed into this scenario. But we keep at it because this is the way it is done. Until now.

Ray Schmidt and I have developed a breakaway system that enables you to snap off the hook and have the fly stay attached to the leader. Simply replace the hook and keep casting, fearlessly. Here is how it works.

We tie our flies on tubes. Tubes come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors so it is easy to find one that will fit the patterns that you want to fish. At the rear of the tube we have a section of latex tubing approximately 5/8” long. This flexible junction tubing will seat firmly onto the back of the fly tube but is removable. Not all standard junction tubing will work for this; it must be the correct diameter and flexibility to accept a swivel. To rig the fly, thread your leader through the tube and knot on a micro swivel. To the rear of the swivel, knot on another short section of leader material. This must be at least 4-pound test less than the main leader. At this point, tie on your hook of choice to the lighter section of leader material. Now you can grip the body of the fly and pull on the main leader, drawing the swivel into the latex tubing until it seats against the back of the fly tube. When finished, the hook should hang just to the rear of the tail of the fly. Now we have two options for the location of the hook. It can be left as is and it will function as a trailer hook, or you can simply insert the eye of the hook into the junction tubing, locating the hook point near the head of the fly. When inserting the hook into the tubing, you should position the leader on the top of the hook shank which will keep it free from inhibiting the hook gap. When a fly rigged in this manner becomes snagged, the lighter leader material will break, leaving only the hook in the structure. The micro swivel will work as a stop at the rear of the fly tube. Replace the hook and you’re back to fishing.

This all started with steelhead. I guide in northwest Michigan, and as other anglers who have fished in our neck of the woods know, there is a lot of wood in our rivers. My standard approach is swinging flies down and across with Skagit heads and T-14 sink tips. Our typical steelhead runs are sprinkled with wood, boulders, or gravel ridges with a large log jamb either at the head or tail of the run. On the days when the fish don’t want to move a long way to intercept a fly, it pays to get your bug tight to the cover. This is especially true on those bright, sunny, clear water days. With this breakaway system, I can have my clients target specific fish holding in structure as we step down a run, as well as swing their flies deep under log jambs where the fish are hiding from the sun and the other anglers. It is amazing how much more aggressively people will fish when they know that they aren’t going to lose their fly. I felt as if I was granted freedom to fish even in the nastiest-looking runs where other anglers wouldn’t dream of casting. From there the possibilities seem endless. 

Streamer fishing for log-loving brown trout is a favorite technique for big trout junkies like my boss Ray Schmidt. This was our next focus with this system. When the day is spent tossing streamers from a moving drift boat in rivers that flow through forests, the lumber can claim a lot of flies. So the fearless fly rig was an instant hit for this approach. It’s the same story for smallmouth bass. I have even tied poppers on tubes to use with this breakaway system. It will also work for large meaty nymphs or bugger-style flies

There are some specific reasons for rigging your fearless flies in different manners. When swinging for steelhead, I prefer to leave the hook at the rear of the materials to work as a trailer fly. Steelhead will often follow a thrown fly and eat it from behind. When doing this you can orient the hook point to face up before you pull the swivel into the latex tubing. This will make the fly more snag-resistant and the fish are typically hooked in the side of the upper jaw, which makes for a good hook hold. When fishing the flies on an active strip-streamer style, I like to seat the hook eye into the latex tubing, keeping the hook point near the head of the fly where predators focus their attack. Your hook choice can also make a big difference in your success. We use short shank, wide gap hooks sized to the fish that we are pursuing.

The variety of shapes, sizes, and colors that tubes come in make it easy to find one that will fit the patterns that you want to fish. You can tie on different weight bottle tubes to achieve the sink rate that you prefer or you can use cut-to-length plastic tubing. You can even use the two in conjunction for endless variations. Cone heads and lead eyes are also easily attached, and there are some high quality tube fly adaptors that clamp in standard vises for around twenty bucks.

So the next time you head to the water, take a box full of flies and a package of your favorite hooks. Cast as tightly as your can to the nastiest spots you can find and fear no log. You may go home with the fish of a lifetime, but you will definitely go home with a box full of flies.