Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

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Try old-school feather-wing patterns for trout in lakes

By Vic Attardo
Contributing Writer

Something I love about fishing is traveling to a distant place where they practice a different style or technique on the same, or similar, fish I catch around here, then bringing the technique back and applying it to Pennsylvania.

For example, this one I learned in Grand Lake Stream (the name of a village in Maine) where catching landlocked salmon on a huge lake by motoring in a blunt-end canoe and trolling a fly-rod with sinking line using feather wings streamers and attached bait is a winning gambit.

Not ironically the Maniacs called it, “fly baiting.”

The next time I was out for trout on a state park lake I was doing nearly the same thing with a little Pennsylvania twist. To get around I didn’t have a blunt end canoe so I had to use a modified-V, and instead of ciscoes I used shiners. But I still trolled with the fly-rod and a long sweeping line and I used single hook and tandem feather wing streamers. 

It was a perfect day for “Pennsylvania Fly Baiting,” at this same time of year, with a slightly overcast sky, a breeze under 3 mph and  stocked trout only 10 to 12 feet down in the water column. 

That day I landed so many trout I stopped counting after 15 and was won over by the universality of the technique. You know that saying about how great it is when a plan comes together well … this was it!

So if we agree to call it Pennsylvania Fly Baiting this is what you need and how it’s done.

Start with a 9-foot, 5 or 6 weight rod. (We used an 8 weight in Maine for bigger fish.)

Because it’s now November I recommend a Type III full-sink line with a sink rate of about 3 feet per second. In five seconds, you’re down 15 feet, give or take a smidge.

There’s no need for scouring the bottom but if you’re trolling between 5 and 10 feet down, the midlevel trout will rush  to your offering. And a Type III isn’t as hard to control as weightier models.

The business end of the line should be back 50 to 60 feet behind the boat depending on wind direction and wave height. I use an electric motor but one day the motor conked out and I rowed around and still scored. 

Kayakers I’ve schooled in the technique also do fine as long as everyone maintains a speed between .5 and 1.2 mph.

I lay the fly-rod in the stern at the corner and keep the rod tip 2 to 3 feet above the surface, again depending on wind speed and wave height. Troll with the line at a sharp angle from the tip. The momentary dip and dash when changing trolling speeds often spurs strikes. 

Setting the hook can be tricky, so I keep a shoe or knee cap pressed to the fly line above the reel (slack off the reel) and at the first sign of a twitch I grab the rod and lift hard. Using a tandem hook really helps with this but I’ve caught plenty of trout with single-hook streamers.

Yes, grabbing the rod and setting the hook is a little like a surprise fire drill, but it’s also fun. So many times a missed trout comes back for a second swipe or another fish in the same pod takes the fly, so be ready and keep the line tight.

Get as much leverage as you can by lifting the rod high and/or sweeping the rod in the direction opposite the running fish.

In Maine, feather-wing tandems are tied with the rear hook pointing up, size 4 and 6. I see the advantage in this and make a selection of traditional patterns with the rear hook pointing up, keeping them stashed away just for this presentation. 

I don’t bait the tandem hooks, but I do bait the single hook flies with a shiner. One fellow I taught uses grubs on the tandem’s rear hook and on a single hook fly. I see the value in that in November’s cool waters.

As for tying these feather-wing streamers, here’s something that works great. Tie the bottom or underwings of a multi-color pattern FLAT with the concave side down across the back just over the tinsel body. 

Though tough to position, the saddle feathers must lay flat from the head back over the bend. The flat feathers give tremendous action when trolled or strip-retrieved. 

For example, with a Mickey Finn place two of the yellow feathers flat over the body then place one yellow feather, in the normal position, tied perpendicular to the body under the side red feather.

One other thing I’ve done – though it goes completely against all conventional feather wing patterns – is sometimes tie a small tuft of wavy marabou over the bend. If you don’t have bait this is a good action substitute.

This modification of a New England style of fishing is a hoot to work, though other boaters may look at you strangely. 

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