Flashers & Flies Fit For Kings

Chinook fishing has been pretty good on Lake Michigan the last couple of summers. If you want to put more salmon in the box, try this program. (July 2007)

A flasher/fly combo fooled this big chinook salmon.

Fifteen years ago, you couldn't give away flashers and flies to Lake Michigan captains who pursued salmon. J-Plugs, dodgers and squids were the rage back then.

What changed? A few pioneering individuals began experimenting with flashers and flies. They discovered flashers were much more speed forgiving than dodgers, which allowed anglers to troll faster and cover more water. The flashers caused trailing flies to move more enticingly when pulled behind a rotator, and they invoked aggressive strikes and solid hookups from salmonids. The flies also produced an eerie contrast, glow and shimmer that couldn't be duplicated by plastic or silicone squids. The bottom line is, flasher-and-fly combos just seemed to catch more fish. Nowadays, you don't see a Lake Michigan salmon boat without them!

"I think that with dodgers, you need to be much more conscious of your speed," suggested Capt. John Stieben, who fishes out of Algoma on Wisconsin's side of Lake Michigan (www.elitefishingcharters.com). Stieben also manufactures a complete line of flies, dodgers, flashers and terminal tackle through his company Opti Tackle (www.optitackle.com). "With dodgers, your speed needs to be right on. With flashers, you have a lot more latitude as far as speed."

Stieben said the tail or fin on his Inticer flasher -- and others on the market -- gives the trailing fly an added kick you don't get from a dodger. "The tail creates more movement," he said. "A flasher has that extra kick that causes the fly to snap, and I think that's important to trigger strikes."

Great Lakes tackle innovator John Emory has made the fin or tail of the flasher even more functional on his Smart Fish flasher. The fin on the Smart Fish rotates to allow you to adjust the spin of the flasher to different situations.

"The 11 to 11:30 setting is a good setting for the majority of your fishing," Emory claimed. "If you want a slower spin, all you need to do is turn the fin on the flasher closer to the 12:00 or 12:30 setting. Guys who run cut bait and want a more aggressive spin will find that the 2:30 setting is about right."

Emory said you can dial in the flasher setting you want to match the aggressiveness of the fish or the lure you're trailing behind it. To learn more about the Smart Fish flasher and how to use it, visit Legendary Products online at www.legendaryproduct.com

Capt. George Freeman relies heavily on flashers to catch fish (www.charterfreestyle.com). He charters out of Ludington, which was once considered in the heart of "dodger/squid country." Now most Lake Michigan skippers have made the change to flashers and flies. "Flashers just seem to be more forgiving as far as speed, and they work at a wide range of speeds," he said.

Shane Ruboyianes of Dreamweaver Lures (www.dreamweaverlures.com), manufacturer of the popular Spin Doctor, concurred with Freeman.

"Flashers are just more speed tolerant than dodgers," observed Ruboyianes. "You can run flashers anywhere from 1 to 4 mph and catch fish. With dodgers, you have to be going that critical 1.5 to 2.0 mph, and it's kind of all or nothing with a dodger."

Length of the lead between your flasher and cannonball or diver and between the flasher and the fly is often critical. "My typical lead between the ball and my flasher is about 20 feet," Freeman said. "But I'll tighten them up to 8 or 10 feet if I'm running them with plugs."

Freeman is a big fan of Dreamweaver's Spin Doctor flasher.

"You want a lot of action out of the flasher so it causes the fly to move, but you don't want so much that the fish can't catch it," Freeman advised. The length of the leader largely determines how much the fly mimics the movement of the flasher. "As a general rule, I make my leaders 2 1/2 times the length of the flasher. That's kind of a starting point. If I'm trolling slower, I may shorten the leader. If I'm trolling faster, I might lengthen the leader."

Stieben said right around 2 feet is a good rule of thumb for fly leader length. "I usually have a leader of about 23 to 24 inches between the flasher and fly," Stieben suggested. "You need to adjust that, though, depending on your speed. I might stretch the fly back 30 to 31 inches if the water is really warm and the fish are sluggish. Or I might shorten the leader if the water is colder and I want that fly to really snap, which can be especially good for cohos."

Not all flies are created equal either. "Many flies have too much material in them," Stieben said. "It doesn't allow for the contrast you need in a fly. Thinner flies often work the best."

How thin? Last year, a fellow captain at my dock had a fly hanging from one of his rods that couldn't have had more than a half-dozen strands of material left on it. I offered to give him a new one. He refused, saying that the mangled fly outproduced all of his others by a 3-to-1 ratio. Sometimes all you need is the illusion. I know several captains who give their flies a "haircut" immediately after taking them out of the package. That is often why flies produce better after they have caught a few fish and have been thinned out.

Stieben had another tip about flies. "Make sure the hook is at the back of the fly," he advised. "Add beads to position the hook near the rear of the fly because salmon often just nip at the fly. This way, they're more likely to get hooked."

What about hooks? Treble or single? "Both work well if you keep them sharp," Stieben said. "I know people swear by single hooks, but from a production standpoint, they're a lot more labor intensive."

Most commercial flies come with a single treble hook. Stieben said on some of his personal flies he often ties in a single hook ahead of a treble, and the rig is deadly.

Fly colors run the gamut from light to dark, and often depend on the species. Orange, chartreuse, red, pink and other bright colors are good for cohos and steelhead. But smaller dark flies often "match the hatch" when the fish are feedin

g on insects. Chinooks seem to prefer cool colors -- shades of green, blue and purple. Almost all flies have some glow material added to them. The phrase on Lake Michigan is, "if it don't glow, it don't go." But the glow can be overdone, too. Most captains agree that subtler glow colors in flies seem to produce best.

"I really like the Strong Flies that are produced by Dreamweaver," Freeman said. "They're ready to fish right out of the package. They have good hooks and a 50-pound leader, and have been hot for me the last few years." Freeman's favorite colors in the Strong Flies include mountain dew, blue fairways and green mirage.

Flashers come in a variety of sizes. For the most part, the medium-sized rotators are the most popular and productive, but the other sizes have their place. Stieben said two sizes of his Opti-Tackle's Inticer see the bulk of the work on his boat, and the 8-inch model is the one he reaches for nearly 90 percent of the time. Stieben said the larger flashers excel when using meat and with longer leads on flies.

"I've experimented with the bigger flashers," Freeman said. "The only one I've had really good results with is the 10-inch Spin Doctor. I'm sure other brands work, but I've had good luck with the Spin Doctors, especially with cut bait." Freeman said his best flasher colors are white glow with a white blade, blue bubble, and a dark green flasher with crushed white glow tape.

Most flashers feature glow-in-the-dark tape. "About 75 percent of the flashers on the market have glow tape on them," Stieben claimed. "They are especially good early in the day and when fishing deep. The glow on the flasher is more important than the fly. What you're looking for is a subtle afterglow. Too much glow can be overkill."

There's good reason why more and more Lake Michigan anglers are relying on flashers and flies. They're a combination fit for a king!

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