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CPR for the Fly Fisher
Color, Profile and Retrieve
by Capt. Jim Freda

Shore Catch Guide Service

t seems like the heart of winter has arrived a lot earlier this season than our expectations were hoping for. In fact in our area, the Metropolitan Northeast, Mother Nature sent us a wallop of several Arctic blasts right around Thanksgiving. It was at that time that we saw our water temperatures plummet to a chilly forty-four degrees and the fishery was never the same. For many longrodders that put an end to their season and their rods and reels were headed for winter maintenance. © Gene Quigley

So now is the hard time for these same longrodders when there is no where to shoot the suds and inevitably cabin fever begins to set in. If you are lucky enough you may head off to one of the many southern Meccas that offer a variety of exotic species that will burn your drag. But if you are like me and burn the midnight oil through the winter, than ESPN's Walker's Cay Chronicles and Flip will have to do.

The numerous fly fishing shows that can be found in the New York-New Jersey-Pennsylvania area will also help to fill a lot of the void. Here one will be able to pick up new ideas, patterns, and tying tips that we can take home to the vise and put into practice. Many a fly fisher will spend countless hours at the vise this winter getting all their feathered imitations ready for spring's rebirth that can't come quick enough.

The saltwater fly is intriguing to say the least. When we take a look at the sport of fly fishing this is the one distinguishable element that lies at the heart of its roots. Yes the rods, reels, and lines are important but there would be no need for them without the flies. If you try to trace the evolution of the fly I would bet that our feathered imitations probably date well back into ancient times.

But if we look at today's modern fly fisher and tier it's easy to see the fascination that one has with creating an imitation that resembles the natural perfectly. Works of art that each and every tier can attest to in his or her own way that ultimately reward us with our prized New Jersey quest, a trophy linesider or hard tail.

© Jim FredaThis leads to an interesting point of consideration that I like to share with my clients whenever we are out on the water and the need to select a particular fly arises. Which fly do you choose? Which color? Which size? And the list goes on. Here is where my CPR for fly fishers gets the nod. That would be color, profile, and retrieve. (A synonym for retrieve would also be presentation.)

Fly selection can be critical at times especially when finicky bass or albies are keyed in on particular bait. An experienced fly fisher will take into account CPR when deciding which fly to fish under each and every situation. What bait is present? How deep is the water? How rough are the conditions? Is there a current? Is it day or night? Are but a few of the considerations to ponder.

But even after considering all the factors one may still find times when a hook dressed with just dangling thread can take fish. You can live by the old freshwater saying, 'match the hatch', and 'you won't have a problem' but you will need to remember in most instances even the best matched imitation in color and size is not going to take fish if the presentation isn't correct.

A meticulously reproduced crab pattern fished during the summer soft-shell shedder season will not draw strikes if you are using a quick two-handed retrieve. I doubt very much if bass are accustomed to seeing crabs swim at them. So it is important to learn how your bait behaves and moves and your need to replicate this. It is then that your identical imitation will be effective. In the case of the crab a strip-pause retrieve that allows the fly to drop between strips would be important. Small crabs are feeble swimmers and are at the mercy of strong currents and rough surf when not buried in the sand.

In other instances such as with grass shrimp dead-drifting a Popovics' ultra shrimp in a back bay current is extremely effective on the new and full moon stages during the spring. During these moon phases these baits are flushed out and naturally get swept away. In the fall during a peanut bunker blitz with bass busting through the pods fishing the outskirts of the schools away from the 'safety in numbers' will be the correct presentation. And if you need to go deep for a particular presentation lead eyes and cone heads are very effective as a fly tying aids to put your offering in the strike zone.

Always keep presentation in mind. Many fly fishers that are new to the scene will quickly get a false sense of confidence when they hit the suds with the right fly in size and color that was purchased from a pro shop or professional tier. They think success is imminent because the fly is right, but that's only until it hits the water.

© Jim FredaFollowing presentation the other two important considerations to consider when selecting your fly are color and profile. Let's look at color first. When doing so we need to examine the concept of color perception from the fish's perspective first. The majority of the saltwater fish that are caught by the inshore fly fisher have the ability to see colors. They do not however see colors with the same perception that we are accustomed to. This is due to differences in the anatomical make-up of the eye. The research states that these inshore species have a keen ability to detect movement and the ability to discriminate objects against specific backgrounds rather than to perceive precise details and colors. In fact we will never know what the fish's perception actually is because we will never know for sure how their brain processes the stimulus from the color receptors, the cones, that are found in the fish's eye.

Take for instance the striped bass. We have all encountered times when one particular color is definitely more effective than other. We make mental notes of this and keep utilizing this fly as our 'go to fly'. Our mental notes will include but are not limited to when this color works (day or night, dawn or dusk, etc), how long it works(what seasons, etc), conditions in which it is working (rough vs. calm), and how it is being retrieved. As a guide being out on the water all the time gives one a distinct advantage to log many different events and the colors that were most effective.

We also need to look at how the physical properties of water will impact colors and their effectiveness. When looking at the visible spectrum different colors of light will penetrate to different depths. Reds are usually filtered out in the first ten meters of the water column and blue and greens penetrate the deepest. So what colors are available to be back scattered or reflected from a fly will ultimately depend on what depth the fly is being retrieved at. This will cause the color of the fly as we see it before it goes into the water to be different when it is viewed underneath the water by a fish.

© Jim FredaThe closest match to what we see as we look at the fly in our hand will appear the same to the fish in clear, shallow water with respect to psychological interpretations. Whereas in deep turbid water exact color recognition and matching will be altered considerably. Here in deeper waters is where colors such as white, yellow, or chartreuse will produce best as they do reflect the minimal amounts of light that are present at these deeper depths below the surface. As a result flies tied with these colors are always very effective and are found as part of every fly fishers arsenal.

Others factors that have to be taken into consideration that are purely physical in nature when deciding on a particular color are the use of synthetic flash materials such as flashabou, krystal flash, angel hair, sparkle flash, tinsel, and lite-bright. These materials will help to scatter light from the fly to the fish's eye. These materials best match the silvery prismatic stripes or ultra-translucent scales of a fish's body that reflect or transmit light.

Here's an alternative to think about. Many times during the day when surf conditions are rough and there is a lot of white water present we will use an all black fly. This black color will physically stand out better by presenting more of a contrast against the all white foam. A black snake fly is very effective in these situations.

© Shell E. CarisWhen referring to size of the fly I like to use the term profile instead. A fish's profile is three dimensional. It has length, width, and height. When large baits are present such as blueback herring or adult bunkers a big fly will fit the bill. Six to ten inches in length, two to three inches high, and a half to one inch wide will produce the biggest fish. It would most likely be unproductive to throw a two to three inch sparsely tied clouser when these fish are keyed in on these bigger baits.

Keep in mind also that the three dimensional aspect of your fly's profile will appear differently to its predator from different viewing perspectives. For instance, in shallow, skinny water that is only two to three feet deep, the fish will be viewing your fly from an eye level perspective. In this instance the fish will not be able to perceive the dimension of width (girth). But the dimensions of length and height will be clearly evident.

When fishing the upper part of the water column over deep water your fly will most likely be viewed from below so the aspect of width (girth) becomes more important whereas its height will be diminished. In this situation length is still important and is perceptible.

© Jim FredaThere are many synthetic light weight materials that are available today, such as bozo hair, kinky fiber, angel hair, super hair, and big fly fiber that do not absorb water and breathe lending the illusion of a wide bodied bait. These light-weight materials also make it easier to cast these bigger flies with less effort. Don't over look the use of natural materials also for wide bodied imitations. Bucktails and feathers will always be important to the fly tier as will the tying procedure used to build the correct profile.

So which fly characteristic is more important, color or size (profile) when you are making your selection? If you had to choose between the two I would opt for the correct profile first. Here's why. The majority of our inshore species are opportunistic feeders, particularly bass. They will strike quickly if the situation presents itself. The competition factor plays a key role here in their aggressive nature. That's why the majority of bass that you hook will hit hard. They have made up their mind and go for it.

A correct profile will be more of a stimulus than will color since under different conditions colors can be masked. Remember, what colors we are seeing as we hold the fly in our hand is different from what the bass is seeing. Form and movement of the fly are the key.

So that concludes this CPR class. Keep in mind this winter that when the spring rolls around and we set out to cure our cabin fever that all three factors, color, profile, and retrieve will give you that deadly combination to stimulate your quarry to strike out at your fly. If you do, this upcoming season in the suds could be your best ever. Good fishin!…..Fly fishing that is!  End

Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Jim Freda, All Rights Reserved

Articles by Captain Jim Freda

Capt. Jim FREDAEmail Captain Jim Freda

Jim Freda is a highly respected charter captain, author, outdoor writer, seminar speaker, and photographer. His first book Fishing the New Jersey Coast, has been a best seller and received the “New Jersey Center for the Book Award” as one of the most notable NJ books. He co-authored a second book Saltwater Fishing a Tactical Approach, A Guide for Northeast Beach and Boat Fishermen, with his Shore Catch associates Capt Gene Quigley and Shell E. Caris.

Jim has weekly fishing columns that appear in the Bergen Record, NJ's second largest newspaper and the Coast Star and Ocean Star newspapers of Monmouth and Ocean Counties. Nationally, Jim is a contributing editor for Fly Fishing in Saltwaters magazine and also writes for Fly Fisherman magazine, Saltwater Sportsman, Eastern Fly Fishing, Big Game Journal, and Regionally he writes for On the Water magazine where he has is own monthly column, The Fisherman magazine and the NJ Federation of Sportsman Clubs newspaper.

As a seminar speaker Jim is featured as one of the celebrities on the Saltwater Sportsman National Seminar Series, as one of the “Stars of the Show” at the Fly Fishing Show in Somerset, NJ, the Northeast’s largest fly fishing show and is on the National Pro Seminar slate at the Toyota Saltwater Expo also in Somerset. He is also regularly featured each year at many of the local fishing clubs in the surrounding area including the State’s two largest clubs the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association and the Saltwater Anglers of Bergen County. Capt Jim has also been a guest speaker at all the Trout Unlimited Clubs in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jim has also been a special guest speaker at the Bloomberg Network in New York City.

He is a member of the National Factory Pro Team for St. Croix Rods and pro staff for Fins Fishing Line, AVET Reels, Spro, Gamakatsu, Hogy, Korkers, Costa Del Mar, Columbia Sportswear and Aquaskinz.

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