Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold

Photo of the Month: Autumn Slab of Gold
Showing posts with label Shad kill. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Shad kill. Show all posts

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Tying and Fishing David Knapp's PB&J Streamer [VIDEO]

The Motivation Behind the PB&J Streamer

Flies usually come about as the result of either a problem that needs solved or a wild night at the tying bench. Occasionally, both reasons are responsible. When it comes to tying streamers, I've experimented a lot at the vise over the years. I went through an articulated streamer phase. More recently, I've focused on jig style streamers. However, the first killer streamer I came up with was invented quite some time ago.

Over ten years ago, I got addicted to stripers for a couple of years. My good friend Trevor got me started on them and soon we were catching enough to keep us going back. This was back in my teaching days. I would teach all day, go striper fishing at night, sometimes until midnight or after, then make the long drive back home to get up and get to work by 7:00 am. I'm mostly past the staying out late every night stage, but the memories are good ones. 

Late in that first season of striper fishing, we encountered an interesting situation. Smaller threadfin shad were swept through the turbines of the dam at one of our favorite striper spots. The big stripers would set up shop downstream and we would find them sipping shad much like a big rainbow might sip a mayfly. When I say big stripers, I mean fish in the 15-30 pound range. While we have much larger stripers around, those were huge to us. I needed a fly that was weighted and looked like those dead and dying shad. The main purpose was a fly that could be used for sight fishing when these big stripers set up just under the surface to gorge on shad. Enter the PB&J streamer.

The Design Process for the PB&J Streamer

When I got home and set out to tie a great shad streamer, I remembered that my good friend Byron Begley of Little River Outfitters preferred tying shad with EP (Enrico Puglisi) fibers. His EP shad were and still are killer. The only problem is that they were tied weightless and I wanted something with weight that could quickly get down 1-3 feet under the surface without a sinking line to target those big stripers that were sipping shad. 

At that time, I tied very few streamers without some zonker strips. The natural movement of the rabbit fur is killer in any type of streamer. Thus, I combined the best of a couple of patterns. With Byron's EP shad providing the basis for the shape of the fly, I took the wing of a Zonker or similar style fly for extra movement and added dumbbell eyes like a Clouser. Instead of tying the eyes in on top like the Clouser, I found that this fly was easier to tie with the eyes on the bottom which eliminated threading the zonker strip over the hook point. Also, for whatever reason, I found that I was getting better hookups on stripers with the hook point riding down. Add a splash of color (the jelly in PB&J) as a trigger, and the PB&J streamer was born. 

Find the recipe for the PB&J HERE.

Tying the PB&J Streamer

Learn how to tie the PB&J streamer here with this video I put together. Let me know if you have any questions about tying this fly! 




Fishing the PB&J Streamer

This fly came together fairly quickly. Once I had the design down, it was a matter of learning if the fish would like it. That part turned out to be easy. The big stripers it was designed for loved the fly! In fact, I was soon catching more and larger stripers with this streamer. When sight fishing with this fly, I would use a basic 20 lb and 12 lb leader setup. You don't want to get much lighter than 12 lb test because the stripers will really put it to work hard. The key was to locate a feeding striper, then toss this fly 3-5 feet up current from the fish and let it dead drift down. More often than not, the fish would eat. 

Over time, this fly accounted for plenty of stripers along with a lot of random bycatch. I caught sauger, walleye, drum, white bass, largemouth bass, and of course trout on this fly. As I've become more and more interested in fly fishing the shad kill on area rivers, I've focused more and more on trout over the last few years. Ultimately, while I love catching stripers and other fish, trout are my target species of choice and what I keep coming back to again and again. As it turns out, this fly is deadly during the shad kill on trout tailwaters as well. 

You can fish this fly several different ways. One way is to fish it under a large indicator dead drift. You can also tie it on a short leader on a sinking line and strip the fly back to the boat. If you are stripping a PB&J during the shad kill, I recommend focusing on swimming the fly slower, not faster. Imitating the dead and dying shad, you should remember that the natural bait in the water is generally just drifting in the current or maybe twitching a little. Either way, it isn't moving fast through the water. Another good method is to cast upstream on a sinking line and let it just sink as you drift downstream. This technique is risky as you have a good likelihood of snagging bottom. It is usually a matter of if a fish eats before it snags. However, letting it run along the bottom at nearly a dead drift is often deadly. 

When fish are mostly focused high in the water column as often happens during the shad kill, try this streamer on a floating line with a 9 or 10 foot leader ending in 1x. The floating line keeps the fly from getting too deep and under the view of feeding trout. 


Variations on the PB&J Streamer

Over the years, several variations on the original PB&J have also been successful. First and foremost, you can try straying from the original white colors. This thing works in a lot of different color schemes to match various baitfish. Another variation that I really like is to use buck tail instead of EP fibers for the bottom. This gives a much more slender fly that matches various shiners and other baitfish well. Tie the buck tail in just like you would for a Clouser. 

Perhaps the most successful small variation on the original fly is to simply alter the weight. Use smaller dumbbell eyes and maybe tie the pattern itself a bit smaller, say #4 or even #6. This makes a perfect dropper for fishing behind your favorite floating shad. 

Finally, have fun with this fly! Let me know how it works for you and also what interesting variations you come up with. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Floating the Caney Fork River Before the Cold

Last week, with the cold weather on the way, I wanted to get one more day of fishing in. After checking around, I discovered that my buddy Tyler was free and we agreed on a float of the Caney Fork River. With forecast temperatures supposed to rise into the low 50s, we were excited about one last nice day on the water before the arctic air plunged into the region.

Timing our arrival to coincide with falling water, we launched shortly after the last generator was turned off. Fish were rising all across the dam pool when the wind wasn't blowing but unfortunately there was more wind than not.

We started drifting with Tyler in the front casting brace while I enjoyed some time at the oars. It wasn't until we passed the second ramp that Tyler got in the zone with his casting and mending. The water was slow to fall out, probably due to the fact that they had been running two generators for several hours. That is a lot of water to drain down the river to the Cumberland.

About the time that I felt water levels were improving, Tyler made a nice cast and mend that set up a long drift. Right at the very end of the drift his indicator dove and he set the hook. A nice big golden flash got both of us excited but the fight was over as fast as it started when the fish threw the hook. Shortly after, Tyler made a long cast to the bank and after a short drift, the indicator dove again. This time everything worked out and we had our first little brown trout of the day in the boat.


I continued rowing and it was not too long before Tyler caught some more including a nice rainbow trout.



This fish was big enough that I decided to do a quick throat sample. While I do not recommend doing this with every fish, it is a good way to find out what the fish are eating. Thankfully this one seemed to handle it pretty well. Here is what was on the menu that day.


We continued down the river with Tyler catching a trout here and there but none of any significant size. Eventually, when we were a good third of the way into the float, I decided to let Tyler row. He willingly took a turn at the oars, proving to be a quick learner as it was only his second time rowing.

I got into some fish in an unlikely spot that I will remember for future reference, as well as some spots that I usually expect to find fish. Late in the float, I finally hooked the big fish of the day. This rainbow really wasn't a large fish, but I wish you could have seen its girth in person. The pictures do not do it justice. I guarantee it weighed at least double of what other fish of equal length weighed. Either this is a female full of eggs, or it has been eating a bunch of shad lately. I'm guessing the first one is correct based on where I caught this fish, but of course the shad hypothesis is a bit more interesting.


Two Photographs above by Tyler Debord

With forecast overnight lows expected to drop below zero in the upcoming nights, the shad kill likely is on the way. I'm already planning another trip to the river, and hopefully I'll be throwing streamers again next time. Until then, I think I'll try to stay warm.

If you are in the Huntsville area, I will be speaking to the Tennessee Valley Fly Fishers this upcoming Thursday evening about fly fishing in the Smokies. I'm looking forward to meeting a bunch of new friends! Come out to learn more about the excellent fly fishing we have here in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Monday, February 16, 2015

What Is a Shad Kill?

Since I keep talking about the shad kill, many of you have been wondering what I am referring to. Here is a little more information on the phenomena and why it should get you excited as a fly fisherman!


Many years ago, when the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) started building dams throughout the Tennessee valley and its tributary streams, numerous warm water reservoirs were formed. Each of these lakes boasts incredible diversity when it comes to fishing and a few even offer trout fishing.

The unintended by-product of these lakes was the cold water fisheries that prevailed below each dam. Within just a few years, many of the rivers were being stocked with trout. Not all of the TVA lakes have a trout fishery downstream because some are too shallow, but in the lakes that are deep enough for stratification to occur, cold water settles to the bottom of the lake. During the summer months, the bottom draw reservoirs are dumping cold water through the generators in their respective dams and create fantastic tailwater fisheries downstream. Rivers like my local tailwater, the Caney Fork River, as well as the Clinch, South Holston, Watauga, Holston, and Hiwassee are all known as great fishing destinations.

What most anglers do not realize is that these tailwaters fish great through the winter. Most anglers prefer to come fish during spring through fall when it is warmer outside. However, the winter can produce phenomenal midge hatches, and on a few rivers, blue-winged olives and winter stoneflies. The big event each year happens in late winter, if it is going to happen.

Each summer, in the reservoirs, the various species of shad (especially threadfin) proliferate in the nutrient rich waters. The shad in turn provide a great forage base for various fish including smallmouth and largemouth bass, stripers, white bass, and many other species. However, the shad need relatively warm water to thrive. In the winter, when the surface temperature on area reservoirs drops into the low 40s, shad start dying en masse. When this occurs, the current from the generators in the dams slowly draws the dead and dying fish. Eventually they get sucked through and come out below the dams into the tailwater fisheries.


That is when the real fun begins. When shad are coming through a given dam, the fish in the river below go on a feeding binge. In fact, this phenomena is one of the secrets of the fishing I do for large stripers. Generally, you can expect the best shad kills to happen in late winter during the months of February and March. It is during these times that the lake surface temperatures normally reach their lowest points of the whole year.

Even better for us fishermen, when a shad kill is on, fish will often hit just about anything white as they eat as much as they can and then some in an effort to pack on the pounds. Fish grow fat ridiculously fast on this high protein diet.


This year, I'm forecasting a good shad kill on the Caney Fork River. If it happens, it will be in the next 1-3 weeks. We have already seen some limited numbers of shad coming through the dam at Center Hill but so far the fish have not keyed in on the shad in a big way. If you are flexible with your schedule and want to experience some incredible fishing, call me as soon as I announce the shad kill has started to book a float trip to throw streamers. You may catch the fish of a lifetime...

There is a good chance that we will also see good shad kills on the Clinch and Holston Rivers. Additionally, even though it is a warm water fishery, I have had good luck fishing the shad kill on the Tennessee River in Chattanooga below Chickamauga Dam. The white bass and hybrids seem to like the shad as well as freshwater drum and of course the stripers when they are around. If you are interested in learning how to approach this fishery as a wade angler, please contact me for more information or to book a guided trip.


Over the years, I have developed 3 flies specifically for the shad kill. Two of them are ones you have seen or heard about before, the PB&J and my recent floating shad creation. The PB&J is best when you need to dead drift your patterns.


In addition to these patterns, white Wooly Buggers work as well as just about any other white streamer. I'm partial to Kelly Galloup's Stacked Blonde in all white.

Regardless of what flies you fish, make sure that you are using a strong rod and heavy tippet. I fish the shad kill with a 7 weight rod or heavier and fish no lighter than 10 lb. tippet but preferably 12 lb. The fish can be large at this time and the worst thing you could do is to hook the fish of a lifetime on too light of a tippet.

Stay tuned here for more on the shad kill. Once it is on it may last for days or it may be over within 48 hours. In rare years it may drag on for a few weeks but don't hold your breath for that one. However, as long as it stays unseasonably cold here in Tennessee, we have a pretty good chance of an awesome shad kill!

If you have any other questions about the shad kill or want to book a guided trip, please reply here and let me know or contact me

Monday, January 05, 2015

Clear and Cold Brings Us Closer to a Shad Kill

Here on the Cumberland Plateau, the recent storm system has moved out leaving us experiencing clear skies and cold temperatures.  Hope for a shad kill is on the upswing with the cold snap dropping temperatures in area reservoirs.

Each year we experience at least a small scale shad kill but in the best years it can bring the largest trout in the river out to feed.  By Thursday, we are expecting lows down near zero so it won't take a whole lot of time at these temperatures to bring down water temperatures in the lakes.  If we continue to have cold weather, I could see the shad kill here as early as the first of February although in some years it holds off until early March.  Once it starts, no one knows how long it will last.


In between tying flies and doing some writing, I've been able to get out and take some pictures.  The picture above shows how bright the sun is this time of year under mostly clear skies.  That cold blue color reminds me that the coldest temperatures are yet to come.  Here's to hoping for a really cold next month or so.  Then you'll know where to find me: floating down the river tossing white streamers...