I remember the first buffalo
that I ever landed on a fly rod. It's not an easy event to forget.
I was bottom-bouncing a Mixed Media looking for pre-spawn smallmouth on a
fine spring day. There was a sharp tap at the fly and I set the hook
with a combined rod lift and strip-strike when, for no reason at all, all
hell broke loose. My fly line melted off my reel as something
abnormally large made a powerful downstream run. The backing knot
ticked through the guides without the slightest hint of a slowdown.
nearly 10 full minutes just see what I'd hooked. When I
finally landed it, I realized I had only the slightest idea of what it
was. My subsequent Internet search for information on fly fishing
for buffalo took me to the first, and best, of the few real sources for
direction in chasing the forgotten species. These are the fish no
one else talks about. Some dismiss them as rough fish.
The Roughfisher exalts
Jean-Paul Lipton is
The Roughfisher. A
transplanted Hawaiian son now living in Minnesota, JP counts among his
home waters a flow that has been written about here on Fly Fish Ohio, the
Ottertail River. Within a 100-mile radius of Rough Fisher Central
lies more water than any one person could fish in a lifetime; much of it
is unsung warm water creeks and rivers with populations of everything from
smallmouth bass and northern pike to common carp and river redhorse
suckers. It's a Mecca for fishermen. But fly anglers are scarce, and
fly rodders who specialize in species that aren't even mentioned in most
fish and game regulations are damned near one-of-a-kind.
It took a while to cajole
Jean-Paul into sharing the inside of his fly boxes with us, but the
results prove to be well worth the effort and we're grateful for the
shared insight. What you see here is a laser-sharp focused
collection of flies that work on fish that feed primarily on bottom-bound
invertebrates. These are flies that Jean-Paul developed through
trial and error, research and investigation. These are patterns
that are universal, original and effective. If you fish in fresh water for
just about anything, the patterns below will prove invaluable.
FFO - When, and most
importantly why, did you start the Rough Fisher blog? What did you
hope to accomplish?
JP - I had been blogging
at a popular Minnesota angling site when I began to feel constrained by
the boundaries that were set within a privately owned site; I didn’t want
the pressure to have to placate any sponsors we had on board, and to be
frank, the site did not place much emphasis on fly fishing. I wanted the
freedom of voice and opinion without having to hold anyone else liable
except for myself. Somebody needed to help spread the love of roughfish
among other anglers and I took it upon myself to fill that niche that had
been missing from mainstream fly fishing. I founded
Roughfisher.com back in February
of 2008 to start my own journal and accounts of a day in the life of a
roughfisherman, and have never looked back.
FFO - Define "rough fish"
for us. What's a rough fish and where did the name come from?
JP - In
Minnesota “rough fish” are defined as carp, buffalo, sucker, redhorse,
sheepshead, bowfin, burbot, cisco, gar, goldeye, mooneye, and bullhead.
For many of us anglers, we grew up having to endure a deep-rooted cultural
history of mistreating and under-appreciating these fish, all native
species except for the carp. There have been many misconceptions and
blatant lies spread about roughfish throughout the years, resulting in
egregious abuses and wanton waste. In recent years, however, the Minnesota
DNR Section of Fisheries have been referring to roughfish as "underutilized"
fish, in an effort emphasize their important role in a healthy aquatic
ecosystem and downplay their previous misnomer of being “trash fish”.
Though it’s just a start, roughfish are slowly beginning to be considered
a worthy adversary, finally deemed fit to swim alongside their gamefish
FFO - What is your favorite
rough fish quarry?
JP - Anything
that swims. I’m an opportunistic angler so I’ll take what I can get, even
the “other” roughfish, aka trout.
FFO - What's the most
unusual fish you've successfully targeted?
Bowfin, only unusual for the fact that these fish can breathe air through
their vascularized swim bladder. Throw in the
fact that they’ve been around since the dinosaurs and have gnarly sharp
teeth and you’ve got one badass fish.
FFO - What do you consider
to be the most challenging fish you chase? Which one makes you work
JP - Hands down the carp.
Redhorse can be extremely finicky and tough to catch, but the common carp
has left me scratching my head on more than one occasion. No other
freshwater fish has the raw power, speed, adaptability, sensory perception
and intelligence to match a carp. These fish are survivors and can adapt
to just about any condition they are put in. Between their highly
advanced lateral line and nervous system and ability to communicate
chemically, these fish can shut down an entire pool or reach of stream
with a just a drop of pheromones. I’ve watched carp become keen to fly
patterns and fly colors. I’ve seen them snub flies all day long and all
of a sudden turn on for a brief moment and feed voraciously. I also don’t
know of any other fish species that can send out pheromones to school up
during low oxygen periods and open up a hole in the ice for some oxygen.
Perhaps that is why it so rewarding when you can finally trick a carp into
taking a fly and landing it. Catching a carp on the fly is truly a worthy
accomplishment, and easily the most difficult fish I’ve ever pursued. Keep
in mind that I grew up fishing the salt.
FFO - In the fly selection
you share with us you overwhelmingly favor size 8 patterns. What's
up with that? Are rough fish not selective to size?
JP - I tend to juggle
mainly between size 8 and size 10 flies for most of my patterns, with a
few on the fringes like a 6 or 12. I personally don’t like fishing larger
flies to carp, though I’ve watched them take larger flies in the size 2 to
6 range, while sightfishing. It’s not that I don’t think roughfish are
not selective to size, because I certainly believe they can be, but to me,
hook gape is more important than anything else on a fly pattern. Most of
the hooks I tend to tie on are 2X or 3X short, and all are at least 1X
heavy or 1X strong. Even though my hook may be classified as a larger
size (8), the profile of the pattern will still be that of a size or two
smaller (10 or 12), however, the hook gape will still be that of the
larger size. I find that a small pattern profile and a wide hook gape are
crucial to ensuring a solid, deep hook set, into the fleshy mouth of a
sucker. Without enough penetration by the hook point, you’ll start losing
FFO - How much do you think
color matters? What are the key trigger elements you design into
JP - If you’ve observed
from looking at my fly box, most all of my patterns are drab colored.
There’s a reason for that. I look for profile and movement of a fly above
all else. With fish species like carp that have a highly developed
lateral line, the pulse and movement of a fly is what will set the trigger
off in a fish, not color, especially in turbid water. I will typically
tie in a hotspot on a fly, like a glimmer flash chenille thorax or some
brightly colored rubber legs, though I’m not convinced that they help take
fish. They do, however, help me spot my fly with a bit more ease while
sightfishing. When fishing to smaller suckers like redhorse and
quillback, I tend to favor fishing more traditional styled nymph patterns,
mainly because of their size and profile. Color is unimportant, as long
as you can get the fly down deep enough to roll along the bottom and stay
there. Many suckers will shovel through the substrate with their lips and
noses, vacuuming up anything with the profile of an aquatic insect. The
feel in their mouth is what will determine whether it is a bug, rock, or
your fly. It’s your job to know when to set the hook. For situations
where you are sightfishing, like for carp or buffalo, profile again ranks
first and color second. A smooth water entry helps ensure that you will
keep a fish around long enough to even look at your fly. I typically
won’t fish bright colored flies in clear water on clear sunny days; they
can spook fish. I tend to stick to more drab colors like grey, olive,
brown, or tan. If the substrate is lighter colored marl, I may fish flies
with some chartreuse, as they blend in very well against the background.
In cloudy turbid water, I’ll fish anything from hot orange, to black, as
the silhouette of the fly will be all a fish will notice, if it all.
FFO - Tell us about the
rigs you fish. In particular, tell us how you rig and what kind of
leaders you prefer.
JP - I
do a lot of nymphing here in Minnesota so my rigs are basically steelhead
setups. I also fish in a lot of high banked or wooded areas, so I tend to
favor long rods with fast tips and a progressive action. Something
that’s got a bit of backbone and has the punch to push a tungsten-laced
bomb into a stiff prairie wind; much like those Czech nymphing rods that
are starting to come out, but heavier. I’m usually fishing 6, 7, and 8-weight rods, in either 9’6” or 10’ lengths. I run steelhead taper fly
lines, with long bellies for mending, and poly leaders. I make sure that
I have plenty of 20# backing on my reels, at least 150 yards. I’ve needed
it more than once. I fish 2X fluorocarbon tippet, even for those sea
donkeys they grow out on the Columbia flats. I don’t do bobbers, and have
been known to catch a few roughfish swinging flies with my two handed
FFO - Which species are
missing from your life list that you're chasing? Which one haunts
There are a few species
I’ve yet to catch, and many of them are because they are not present or
very common in the Red River drainage where I mainly fish. Species like
shortnose and longnose gar, river redhorse, highfin and river carpsuckers,
black and smallmouth buffalo, blue sucker, longnose sucker, northern
hognose sucker, burbot, cisco, and lake whitefish have yet to make it on
to my lifelist. The burbot, cisco, and lake whitefish will be almost
impossible to catch on a fly rod since they are pelagic species that
prefer deep, cold water, however, I do know of a few runs of potamodromous
fish that make their way up the rivers each fall to spawn, so there’s
FFO - What's in the future
for the Rough Fisher - both your blog and you?
The Roughfisher Nation is slowly growing and starting to gain a foothold
around the globe. I’ve got a loyal group of fans that unwittingly
follow me on my adventures; many of them are gracious enough to invite me into
their homes and let me fish alongside them on their favorite stretches of
river. I’ve got plenty of waters to fish and keep me busy for a long,
long time. I’ve got a few writing projects up my sleeve and will
continue to spread my influence around the planet with my fly tying skillz
and penchant for gastrointestinal delights and high gravity malt
beverages. I’m keeping my eyes focused on world domination.