John Shaner was the guest speaker at the March BC Flyfishers chapter meeting, just days after the chapter celebrated its 2nd year as an IFFF chapter. And like his first presentation to the fledgling chapter, Shaner did not disappoint.
The meeting started, as usual, with a fly tying demo. One could say John Shaner’s tie – a pheasant tail nymph – was pretty usual as well, except for the fact that this pheasant tail was Sawyer’s Pheasant Tail – and tied to historic specifications with one exception. Shaner is a fly fishing history buff and collector and had samples actually tied by Frank Sawyer’s wife. Sawyer was a River Keeper and his wife tied the flies at home while he was out on his rounds (and fishing). The nymph is a fairly simple tie and looks quite fishy. Shaner tied it completely with wire, in the Sawyer tradition, but deviated by not winding the wire with the pheasant tail fibers when building the thorax and abdomen.
After chapter announcements, John Shaner stepped up to the podium, arms filled with tackle bags and fly rods. His presentation was strictly visual – no powerpoint presentation or video – just John Shaner and his tackle for a fly shop talk…
John is admittedly a tackle nut. He loves all things tackle – rods, reels, line, set-up. He started off his talk by saying he is a big believer in “performance through prevention”. His philosophy is that when a fly fisherman’s “system” is tuned well, fishing results are always better. Most of his comments were geared to trout fishing but apply more broadly to other species and types of fly fishing.
- Reels – John started talking about reels and passed 3 of his very own around as part of a quiz. While the reels were passed around, he debated the virtues of large arbor reels versus standard arbor reels. Large arbor, once the rage, have lost ground to standard arbor reels most recently. Large arbor reels offer a faster retrieve and more line storage, but this is generally only needed in saltwater fly fishing. Shaner prefers the standard arbor.
- Backing – how much is needed? The standard is 100 yards of backing but Shaner believes 50 yards is plenty, particularly for a trout reel, adding that if a big trout takes that much backing, the fight is mostly lost anyhow. Somewhat surprisingly, Shaner recommends not the standard 20 lb test backing, but 30 lb because it won’t bind under or pinch. He favors dacron over gel-spun. Rigged reels that he sees (and he has seen thousands in his line of work) are typically over-spooled. For this reason, he prefers just 50 yards of 30 lb backing and on top of that, cuts 20 feet off the back of the fly line. The quiz part of his reel pass-around was that all of the reels were over-spooled with line.
- Connections – Shaner prefers the needle nail knot over a nail knot for the fly line to leader connection because of its lower profile. With a needle nail knot, the profile is barely larger than the diameter of the fly line. He also matches the leader butt diameter to the fly line diameter for smoother turnover and energy transfer.
- Why do leaders and the tip section of fly line sink? Shaner gets this question a lot. His answer was multi-faceted: 1) leaders and fly line that are dirty will sink, 2) loop to loop connections will weigh down the line, and 3) nylon mono absorbs water over time.
- Leader straighteners – Shaner’s opinion is that leader straighteners are unnecessary and may even do some harm to a leader due to the heat they can transfer to a leader. He suggests simply pulling the sections of the leader straight to get out the curls and kinks.
- Leader strength – The enemy of leader strength is a combination of heat, friction, and abrasion. Shaner demonstrated the friction and heat impact by holding a piece of leader taut with a volunteer. He then took a paper towel and vigorously rubbed it up and down over a section of the leader, breaking the leader like a hot knife through butter. Abrasion obviously has its own impact. He also mentioned the impact of leaving leader material exposed to sunlight and heat over time.
- Fly line – John started off his discussion on fly line by calling fly line the single most important component of the fly fishing system. He discussed the different coating types – polyurethane versus PVC – explaining that they impact the line differently in hot or cold conditions. John’s rule is to replace any fly line that shows cracks. He also emphasized regular cleaning using dish detergent (such as Dawn) and water. He prefers not to use fly line dressing saying dressing is just a carryover from the days of silk lines. He also believes dressing just helps the line pick up “dirt”, causing it to not cast as smoothly and sink. Dirt or grit accumulated on a line can also lead to abrasion.
- Rigging a rod – John demonstrated how he rigs his fly rod. He starts by joining sections together from the tip down, never allowing his rod to touch the ground. He then secures his reel, takes off whatever cap he’s wearing, and uses that to protect the reel when he rests the rod butt on the ground to string up. Shaner emphasized doubling the fly line over and running it through each guide. If one loses grasp of the line in the process of stringing up, the line won’t typically fall through all of the guides.
- Shaner demonstrated the strength of a fly rod and rig with 7X tippet 8 ounce weight on 7X tippet. He asked for a volunteer to come forward and take his fly rod and lift the weight off the floor. Hesitant at first, the volunteer slowly lifted the weight off the floor with a nice bend in the rod.
- Setting the drag – Shaner demonstrated the proper setting of the drag on a trout fly reel. He sets his drag tight enough to prevent over-run of the reel if line is ripped quickly from it at half-spool. Beyond that, Shaner uses rim control. His reasoning: the hook is the weakest link in the system, especially in this era of “springy” hooks.
- Playing a fish – Shaner used the term “angles” a lot here. His tactics include always getting below the fish, so the fish is fighting the current as well as the rod. He believes in pointing the rod at the fish, constantly changing line angles, rather than the classic “rod held high overhead” type stance.
John Shaner’s presentation was excellent not only for the information he shared but also for the demonstration of fly fishing and tackle principles provided. It was also remarkable in causing every angler present to re-think their own tackle, how they rig up, and how they fish. Fly fishers are apt to learn and accept concepts and practice them with close to religious fervor, never again questioning them. John Shaner showed it’s good to question what we take as fly fishing gospel.