Thursday, October 23, 2014


Developed by Jim Finn on Virginia's Mossy Creek, the Golden Retriever is a fly that has seen success the world over for trout, smallmouth, steelhead, salmon, and a host of saltwater species.

Photo by Matt Reilly.
    A typical streamer, the Retriever can be swung, stripped, and some prefer to fish it under an indicator.  It's easy to tie too, and requires many basic skills that make it a great first fly to tie.

    In my own testing of this fly, I have found it deadly on stocked and holdover trout.  In fact, this fly, apart from woolley buggers and the kreelex, is often the first and only fly I tie on when fishing for meat, or simply bullying stocked trout for the fun of it.

    The keys to this fly are the red underbody and the pulsating estaz or cactus chenille.  Make sure you lay a solid base of red threat on the wire core, wrap the eztaz creating even gaps wide enough to let the underbody show through, and palmer the chenille while wrapping to ensure all of the material angles backwards and none is trapped by your forward wraps.  All materials can be purchased at Mossy Creek Fly Fishing, or via their online store.  Tie a few up in peach (below), purple, root beer, and green, and have at it!

*These instructions are for a peach pattern.  To change, simply match the marabou color with the cactus chenille.*


Hook:        #10 3X Streamer Hook
Thread:     Red Flat Waxed Nylon
Head:        5/32" Gold Bead
Lead:        .025" Lead Wire
Body:        Gold or Peach Estaz
Tail:          Peach Marabou


  1. Crimp down hook barb and slip on bead.
  2. Wrap wire about 16 turns and lodge into the bead head to lock in place.
  3. Attach thread behind wire and build a dam of thread level with the wire wraps, and tapering towards the bend.  This will allow you to create an even underbody after tying in the tail.
  4. Tie in a clump of marabou about 1 1/4 the length of the hook, and cut off tag end at end of the wire wraps.
  5. Tie in a strand of Estaz at the hook bend.  Always pay attention to the direction of the fibers, and tie on so that they slant back.
  6. Form a smooth, even under-body by wrapping thread towards the bead.  Remember that the thread alone is your under-body, and should be built carefully.
  7. Wrap the Estaz forward in 5-6 evenly spaced turns, and tie off behind the head.
  8. Form a red collar behind the bead with a few extra turns of the thread, whip finish, and add head cement if desired.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Photo by Matt Reilly
I sat in a quaint breakfast café sipping my sixth cup of coffee while the elderly waitress eyed me from inside the kitchen doorway as if I was a homeless man threatening to drink dry the kitchen’s supply of coffee facilitated by free refills and local hospitality.  The previous night’s temperature dropped well below freezing, leaving me feeling rather lethargic despite appropriate gear.  Coffee was bringing me back to life.

    This brought to mind the couple I met the night before when stepping out of the upper Connecticut River.  The wife, an endearing retired schoolteacher named Dixie, titled me insane for pitching my tent and actually intending to sleep in it while the frost fell overnight.  I could make no strong case for my sanity apart from declaring that I “just want to prove that I can.”  The like-minded husband, Dave, identified with me and offered to take me fishing the next day, nevertheless.

    I departed the café at half-past eight, and raced along winding, gravel roads littered with signs of direction for snowmobilers and ATV-ers.  The four-season destination of Pittsburg, New Hampshire, the smokestack of the Granite State north of the 45th parallel that marks the northern border of Vermont with Quebec, is a magnet for these tourists, who swap vehicles with the seasons.

    When at last I found my destination, Dave’s figure emerged from the ground floor of their red camp, having just finished breakfast, ready for the day’s adventures.

    I gathered my fishing gear and made two peanut butter sandwiches from the groceries in my car’s cooler, and we made off for the river.

    The Connecticut River is unique in that it is four different rivers in its regularly-fished length, and all are tailwaters.  Flowing out of Fourth Connecticut Lake, the upper river runs south on its course to Long Island Sound, beaded by Third, Second, and First Connecticut Lakes, and Lake Francis.

    We began the day fishing for about an hour above Lake Francis without luck before heading to the “Trophy Section” below “First Lake.”  In a few hours there, Dave tied into a large rainbow trout, and I landed several smaller, including one landlocked salmon parr.

Photo by Matt Reilly
Photo by Matt Reilly
    When morning turned into afternoon, we continued north in search of fish until reaching a spot below “Second Lake” where Dave was proud to have caught and released a 19-inch salmon the week before.

    The water was comparatively smaller, and fit the definition of “pocket water” better than did our last destination, as an abundance of relatively-shallow pools stair-stepped down the moderate grade of the mountain hollow.  Most pools held several brook trout and a few small salmon; and I was at home nymphing to the fish of my Appalachian youth, though far from home.

    Whenever I travel to a place where brook trout are present, I make a point of inquiring on what a “trophy” brook trout is locally.  Everywhere the answer is relative to a number of circumstances.  

    However, there are a few generally-accepted benchmarks.  At home, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, the answer is 12 inches, as it is most places and, as I found, on the Connecticut.  In Labrador, the number is a factor of pounds.

    Density introduces another factor.  Whereas in Virginia, where one might catch a 12-inch Brookie every couple of outings, the same feat is readily achieved several times in one day on the Connecticut, if not in the same pool.

    It was upon this discovery that my expectations for the fishery were shattered.  After landing my seventh Brookie from one particularly-productive pool, I made another cast to a far current seam with my weighted nymph.  As the fly tumbled past a small boulder, the line hesitated, and my rod swept upward, bowed against the pressure, bringing with it the explosive form of a leaping salmon the length of my arm.

Photo by Matt Reilly
Photo by Matt Reilly
    As it struggled to find safety from the pressure of my arced Tycoon Tackle fly rod in the head of the pool, I, having lost my net to some Catskill underbrush some weeks before, stumbled into the center of the current, guarding the magnificent fish’s downstream exit with sidesteps and sideways pressure from the rod.

    The fish made two more silver leaps as I chased him about the pool, until a fourth and final leap brought my leader down hard on the boulder beside which the fish had emerged, loosing my fly from its jaws sans photograph.

    Dave caught up with me, and I relayed my story.  He smiled sympathetically, and we returned to camp for dinner of BLTs and home-friend potatoes.

Photo by Matt Reilly
    As I fell asleep that night, slightly warmer, under the stars, my eyes didn’t blink.  “These woods hide giants,” I repeatedly thought, inhaling the evergreen-tinted mountain air.  Just like that, I was once again haunted.

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


There's something magical about rising before the sun, making preparations to leave, and heading for the woods or the water.  Maybe it's knowing that the scene that unfolds before dawn is the prologue to great outdoor experiences everywhere, that it's a tradition as old as the sport.  Whatever the reason, I was starting the week off right.

    I made the hour and a half drive south to a delayed harvest creek I just discovered a few days ago and wanted to explore.  The land surrounding the fishery is said to be rolling hardwood forest.  So without the slightest bit of hesitation in thought, I aimed to include a squirrel hunt to my trip.  My Tycoon Tackle Scion fly rod and Marlin .22 rode in the back.

    There was still a heavy frost on the ground when I parked the Versa on the grassy shoulder just up the hill from the bridge spanning the creek I was to fish.  The sun was barely breaking the crowns of the bare poplar trees in the creekbottom, and I watched my breath float away into the autumn woods as I got into waders and rigged up my rod.

Photo by Matt Reilly
Photo by Matt Reilly 
Photo by Matt Reilly
    I try to keep fishing for stocked rainbow trout simple.  Woolley Buggers and Golden Retrievers will do damage just about anywhere; and these fish aren't picky.  So with a golden tied to the end of my tippet, I slipped into the woods, crunching on sycamore leaves all the while.

    The large bridge pool was dark and deep.  The occasional rise broke the glass-like surface and sent a delicate air bubble into the atmosphere.  Not wishing to spook any fish, I cautiously edged down the bank into the tail of the pool, check my backcast, and laid out a long cast down the pool's center.

Photo by Matt Reilly
    I let the fly settle, then began a strip retrieve.  Bam!  The line hesitated in the film on the water's surface, and I swept the long rod to the side as it bent under the weight of a fiesty trout.

Photo by Matt Reilly
    The sequence of events repeated itself twice thereafter before I decided to venture further downstream.  If there were fish here, surely some would have ventured downstream.  So I jumped on the trail and took a hike--an hour-long hike--downstream, with the intent of fishing my way back up to the bridge.

    I came to another bridge over the creek some two miles downstream; and by then it was 10:00 AM, and the sun was warming the woods.  The squirrels were awakening.

    Turning, I began fishing upstream, but to no avail.  Even the likely-looking holding spots, when dissected by 15 or 20 casts yielded no results.  A fine bushytail observed my dedicated casting shortly after it begun, and I later wondered why I had postponed my hunt until the afternoon, when none of the downstream water held fish.

Photo by Matt Reilly
    In truth, I should have hunted the morning hours before the sun hit its peak in the sky, then fished through midday, and resumed hunting in the evening; for it is my belief that stocked rainbows don't go on the feed at first light anyway, but squirrels are active in the morning, and lay up to sun themselves come noon.  Oh well, that's what exploring is about, I suppose.

    When I finally made it back to the bridge pool, I had no more than the three trout caught there at the morning's beginning to my name, so I was excited to give it a go once more.

    With the combined effort of my Golden Retriever and a purple, red, and black Woolley Bugger, I landed 42 fish between 8 and 16 inches in an hour in the shadow of the bridge.  It seemed that the fish had taken up residence in the pool and could not find a reason to venture downstream even to the next pool.  I will keep this in mind when fishing delayed harvest streams in the future.

Photo by Matt Reilly
Photo by Matt Reilly
Photo by Matt Reilly
Photo by Matt Reilly
Photo by Matt Reilly
    Fish #42 was a chunky fish of 16 inches, and rather than continue, I opted to end my bullying at seven times the legal limit of trout caught, for I was bored with the ease and repetitiveness of the fishing.

    Lunch was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich enjoyed in the hatchback of the Versa; and I sipped on a water bottle as I drove down the dirt road in search of a promising stand of mature hardwoods--the venue for my evening's squirrel hunt.

    The afternoon brought with it a steady breeze, which I knew would make squirrel sighting difficult.  The first grove I chose offered no squirrel sightings, though there were plenty of large oaks, hickories, and poplars present.  For just an hour and a half south of  my Fluvanna County home, I noticed, the woods were noticeably greener and fuller than those at home, adding to the challenge.

    With two hours of light left I opted to get back in the car and head back to the bottom of the second bridge over the creek, where I had seen a substantial amount of mast crop, and the single squirrel that found my fly casting so intriguing.  But after surmounting hardwood ridges bordering both sides of a mile-long stretch of creek, I had yet to see a squirrel.

    On such a long day, if dusk threatens and I haven't yet dropped a squirrel, I often don't aim to.  Taking the time to clean one animal so late in the hunt is exhausting and unnecessary for me to feel accomplished.  So, as is my practice, I located a beech tree, picked a small white spot on its bark, and unloaded my .22 in its center.  At least I know I could've hit a squirrel given the chance!

     I had hoped to mirror my successful morning with the trout with a limit of squirrels in the afternoon, but maybe that's just selfish.  Pleased with the day, I shed my field vest and rifle into the back of the Versa, and rode home through the chilling night with the windows down.

Monday, October 20, 2014


Photo by Matt Reilly

You pack a lunch, maybe a breakfast, throw all your gear into the corner, stage tomorrow's clothes, click the alarm clock on, and hit the sack, early.  Sleep never comes.

    The next day will bring a long-awaited adventure, or maybe a last-minute throw-together.  You'll tread paths untreaded by your seasoned boots, fish waters not yet probed by your feathery or flashy temptations, stalk woods of unknown population and chance.  The unknown awaits at dawn; and though you are to rise before the sun, your eyes remain wide long into the night. 

    As I sit here working--writing how-to's and me-and-joe's--I'm distracted by what awaits me in tomorrow's adventure.  One of my favorite combinations--a "cast n' blast"--will commence to the south--squirrel hunting a wildlife management area I have yet to explore and fishing a delayed harvest trout stream previously unknown to me.  I've been working hard all day; and I'm yawning now; though I fear I won't sleep much.  Morning will come early.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


Perhaps it's the wonderful memories I made in the woods in my early childhood years with my father or the first solo adventures I had in our subdivided woodlot with my very own Daisy pellet gun.  Or maybe it's the influence of the late Bob Gooch following me in the field as I weave stories of my own; but nothing welcomes in the fall season for me like a calm, cool day in the squirrel woods.

Photo by Matt Reilly
    The squirrel season in Virginia opens on the first Saturday in September, but personally, I acknowledge its beginning when the crisp air and smell of turning leaves floats lightly through the poplar groves on a slight autumn breeze, and the trees are yellow and growing bare.  There's just something mystical about this time of year in the Blue Ridge and the surrounding foothills; and squirrel hunting provides a stress-free, exciting, and active means by which to enjoy it.  Scouting helps, but is not required for success, and it's rare to go more than an hour without seeing a bushy, gray form bouncing along the forest floor or performing acrobatics in the crowns above.  One can simply relax.

    My first squirrel of the season has already fallen, but I look to enjoy my first hunt in the near future.  Maybe somewhere new, where I can explore.  Look for the story in days to come.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


It's not often that I fish for stocked trout, or rainbows at all even, here in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia; but with the parental units gone until later this month, I've been rolling on a wild game/fish diet to save on groceries, and have some fun, too.

    So after checking the VDGIF stocking schedule, I loaded up my Golden Retrievers and my creel and headed northwest to Madison County, to the Rose River which had just been stocked on the 14th.

    The Rose River parallels the road that runs through Criglersville for much of its length, making it easy for the stocking truck to disperse fish throughout the river, rather than concentrate them in one or two holes nearest the best access point--supposedly.  So without much thought, I picked a pull-off, parked, and rigged up.

    I passed several pickup trucks parked along the river below me, and there was a mini van taking up the pull-off just upstream.  So I was mentally prepared to have just one pool to fish and make the most of.  This wasn't the case, however.  A friendly fisherman (a fly guy too) stood in the pool just above me as I slid into the crystalline flow, running high from a full day of rain two days prior, but clear as ever, filtered by the limestone bed.

    The cover was tight; but I didn't skip a beat.  My new favorite rod, the Tycoon Tackle Scion Series graphite rod, roll casts like a dream; and with a flick of the rod tip, I turned a sliding D-loop into an airborne cast.

Photo by Matt Reilly

Photo by Matt Reilly
    After casting to the belly of the pool, along the current seams, and to the head of the pool, I had succeeded in fooling seven fallfish and one redbreast sunfish--fine, native fish in their own right, but I was searching for the slightly less-sharp non-natives for a change.

    The next cast was claimed by a fiesty rainbow, who immediately took to the air, thrashing and trying to break free.  I guided him to my hand and admired him.  His rosy, spotted flanks marked him as a holdover--a welcome indication in those waters.  With dinner on my mind, I slipped him into my creel.
Photo by Matt Reilly
    I returned to my car to shed my sweater and came upon a friendly man looking to do some bait fishing in the same pool I had just pulled the trout from.  He insisted I continue my fishing; and so I did, for a short while, before wishing the gentleman good luck and moving upstream to seek better fortune.

    I continued fishing upstream, hooking the occasional fallfish and sunfish, but managed one last trout, larger than the first, but obviously a recently-stocked fish by appearance.  He too met the bottom of my creel.
Photo by Matt Reilly
    By then the sun was almost at its pinnacle in the sky, and I had work to do--a deck that needed staining--and so I made my way back to the car with a few stockies in tote.

    Given the choice in sport, I typically forgo fishing for stocked rainbows for blue-lining on the upper reaches of the same streams for native brook trout; but if you're in the mood for trout for dinner, following the stocking truck can be a fun way to grocery shop!

Friday, October 17, 2014


Last weekend I had the pleasure of being invited to the 50th anniversary Southeastern Outdoor Press Association (SEOPA) conference at the beautiful Fontana Village in the North Carolina Great Smoky Mountains.

    The occasion?  Back in July, I was awarded the Lindsay Sale-Tinney Award by the Outdoor Journalist Education Foundation of America (OJEFA), the branch organization of SEOPA dedicated to recruiting youth to the profession of outdoor communications.

Photo by Matt Reilly

    Stu Tinney, founder of the original Striper magazine, established the award in 2010 in honor of his late wife, Lindsay, as a way to promote the youngest generation's presence in outdoor media.

    The winner, as selected by the OJEFA committee, is selected from a pool of applicants between the age of 12 and 25 who complete an application and essay demonstrating a strong desire to pursue a career in outdoor communications.  The award provides one free conference registration, four nights lodging, and up to $750 in travel expenses to attend the annual fall conference held by the organization.

    The real blessing provided by the award, is the opportunity to meet and network with over 500 of the country's most prominent outdoor communicators.  These conferences are where careers are born, shaped, and grown; and anyone interested in the field would be doing themselves a disservice to not attend one.

    So if you are an individual that fits the aforementioned criteria, I urge you to mark June 1, the deadline for the scholarship application, on your calendar for next year.  It very well may be the best move you ever make.  I know it was mine.

OJEFA Announces Recipient of Fourth Annual Lindsay Sale-Tinney Award