Snap Tandems For
by Brian M. Wiprud
Pickerel get little respect among most
anglers because they fall easy prey to various spinning lures - sometimes to the exclusion
of other, more desirable fish. They get even less respect among most fly
anglers, whose tippets are parted or streamers are mangled with one swipe of a
pickerels dental work. Pickerel are green devils that will savage practically
anything that moves in the water. But with properly constructed flies and a little
modified technique, youll discover eager pickerel on the fly is a blast, and you
might just find yourself hooked into more of the elusive monster pickerel to boot.
Tandem flies are the trick to keeping those teeth away from the leader and weeding out
strikes from some of the smaller pickerel. The big guys like a big fly four to six inches
long. Of course, you need a hook in the tail with a fly this long, and tandem #1 hooks are
ideal for snagging pickerel that hit short to maim their prey from behind. And rather than
opt for a fixed rear hook, I install a snap. This serves the dual purpose of allowing the
rear hook to swing free for added action (if dressed) while aiding removal of a hook
inhaled into the fishs gills.
|Rather than try to extract it out the front, you reach into the gill
plate, unsnap the hook, and back it out. The rest of the fly is removed from the front of
the fish. Once the fish is released, you snap the hook back onto the fly. This arrangement
also allows you to change the rear dressed hook. Some days a flashy tail will draw a
strike, while other days it will make them hesitate. With a rear snap, you can mix and
match to suit the mood of the fish.
While there are several
ways to connect the front to the back snap, I prefer either of two methods. The first is
to braid four strands of heavy 30lb to 50lb mono, which is light for ease of casting but
imparts enough stiffness to keep the rear hook from grabbing the front one during the
cast. Taking two strands six to eight inches long, thread them through the eye of the
snap, bring the ends together, and tie a figure eight knot just above the snap. Now the
four strands can be braided and then secured with mono tying thread onto the full shank
length of the lead hook, making sure the snap is oriented so that when the hook is
attached, it will align the hook barb up or down. The second method is braided picture
hangar wire, which has the advantage of a faster sink rate, but the disadvantage of more
problematic casting characteristics. I use both solder, wire wrap and then epoxy to fasten
the wire to the shank of the fore hook and to the aft snap.
Constructing the tandem frames can be a pain, but this is the fun part. Feathers and hair
wont cut it. Synthetic materials, such as Ultra Hair, Krystal Flash, Flashabou and
woven poly body tubes are ideal. I like to encase the shanks of both hooks and the
connecting wire in sturdy reflective braided body tubes cut to size. This is accomplished
by feeding the aft hook through a tube to the rear, starting about one inch from the front
of the tube. Then you can pull the tube forward and feed the eye of the fore hook through
the same hole for a completely encased body.
|Two to four pound test will do for tying thread, with all wrapping covered
with epoxy. Depending on the depths you aim to fish, forward weight could be applied via
dumbbell lead eyes. As always, Clousering the fly adds some very attractive action.
However, lead wire can be wrapped into some of the rear removable hooks so that you can
add or detract weight without changing flies, though this set up sometimes results in the
rear hook snagging the front when you cast. Dress steamers with hair and flashy stuff tied
at the head, preferably in a way that imitates local baitfish. For shad, black hair atop
while or pearl hair, with a pearl body. For golden shiners, switch pearl and white with
gold. For perch, go with green on yellow, with some red tied in at the gills. Use a black
permanent marker to add stripes. And red and white tandem streamers always seem to take
some fish. Finish off the fly with some big, flashy eyes and epoxy the head.
Even in clear water, leaders dont have to be over six feet, which is a good thing
when casting hefty streamers. Conventional steel leaders work, but have numerous
drawbacks, not the least of which is that the fish can see them quite readily. Anybody who
has watched a pickerel dog their lure right up to the boat can see that pickerel are
infatuated with a flys motion, and when they see a steel leader, theyre not so
much spooked as confused and ultimately distracted from striking. Other drawbacks include
the weak difficult connections, those little crimp-ons of which there never seem to be
enough, and the weakening from repeated casts that send your fly merrily off into the
bushes. At any rate, with long streamers, pickerel dont target the flys head
as often, and your main worry is that during the fight the leader may cross into that
toothy mouth. A six inch 50lb shock leader at the head of the fly thwarts fangs and goes
unnoticed by the fish.
For the rest of the leader, I use butt
sections from spent trout and bass leaders, usually with little or no taper and tip
sections comparable to at least twenty pound test. Of course, checking your leaders
regularly while in action for frays and nicks is essential.
As always, this is a somewhat subjective choice, though I dont see why anyone would
try to cast these flies with anything less than an eight-weight rod. Frankly, I sometimes
use pickerel fishing as an opportunity to build up my arm for spring tarpon, give my
twelve weight a work out and stretch the memory coils out of that WF12 line. You might
want to spare your most expensive saltwater reel any wear and tear, and unless you hook a
five pounder on a seven weight, you wont find yourself into the backing.
|Fly lines will depend entirely on the water depth you intend to target,
and weight forward lines work dandy.
Pickerel dont hit flies the way they do lures. Spoons, spinners and plugs generate
both visual stimulus and vibrations that spur the fish to hit it on the move. Unlike
lures, flies get strikes based almost entirely on visual stimulation, and the pause is
often more pivotal than the retrieve. Experiment with the pace of your stripping. Watch
the fly sink, and look for the green and white flash signaling a strike. Sometimes in
bright sun, it will take a pickerel a full three count before he rushes the fly. And
always play that fly right up to the end. As anyone who has tangled with this fish knows,
pickerel have the bold habit of dogging a lure right to the rod tip - often with explosive
boat side strikes. Like pike, pickerel will be found in the vicinity of weeds, but not
just those you can see at the surface. Ive found that large pickerel are most often
found cruising points and drop-offs with weedy bottoms. Nabbing one of these monsters is
like hooking into the bottom and finding that its alive. Early spring and fall are
the best times to find the big guys, when the water is between 55 and 65 degrees.
Though pickerel can fight quite
stubbornly, dont expect a protracted, drag squealing fight, even from the monsters.
You can usually get them close in rather quickly, and the battle becomes a boat-side
wrestling match that can require some fancy footwork. Perhaps the best part of pickerel
angling is the slashing strikes, though Ive known them to jump quite a bit in
shallow water. I recommend using a net to land this very slippery fish. To unhook, I use
one of the commercially available gripping mitts or gloves, the kind with little plastic
nubs on them. Theyre a little hard on the critters scales but result in a
quicker release and less strangling. Needle nose pliers are a must, and jaw spreaders,
while also a little hard on the fish, can be essential for a quick release. Be careful of
the pickerels teeth, and I dont just mean in relation to your fingers. The
fishs bottom fangs are an essential feeding tool and can get badly damaged if you
arent careful with the pliers.
So take your next early season bass
outing and turn it into a pickerel hunt. Youll be sorry you spent time trying to
© Brian M. Wiprud