Sunday, February 16, 2014

The RBM Salmon Fly

RBM stands for Renate Bullock's Muddler, a fly that is pretty unique among atlantic salmon flies swimming the Miramichi system.   Designed by Renate back in 1993, my good friend and two-handed casting mentor Bill Tomielli of New Jersey was the first to tie it to a tippet and hook a salmon with it that year.  It hooked five salmon it's first day in the river.

Renate ties it with both blue and black heads, and a variety of floss body colors.  Her basic recipe:

Hook  - Mustad 3665A, most often in sizes 4 and 6
Tag     - flat silver tinsel
Body   - floss of several colors (chiefly chartreuse) underwrapped with silver mylar
Rib      - flat silver tinsel
Wing   - 6 strands of fine, limp, pearl flashabou  and 6 strands Krystal Flash
Collar  -  wrapped black hen under unclipped deer hair
Head   - deer hair clipped muddler-style

She often uses the two-tone RBM pictured above in the fall; here's one of her favorite summer variations:

I think one of the fly's most important features is the pearl flashabou in the wing.  It flashes incredibly, and I vividly remember watching the fly, on a day when the Miramichi was particularly clear, swing and sparkle across the current...right into the corner of the mouth of a grilse that came out of nowhere to grab it.

That experience with the RBM was all I needed to tie up a batch of them in Renate's recommended color schemes.  She fishes it June through October, varying the size and color to suit the river's mood.  It even takes kelts in the Spring.

She told me recently that last fall, Bill T. tied one up with a copper body, copper and gold flash and a black head that he hooked two salmon with during his week on the river.

The RBM is now "calendar quality", too!

Renate is an incredible person.  She started salmon fishing with her husband Fred on their honeymoon at Rocky Bend in 1966.  She was, as they say, hooked.  In 1977, she and Fred acquired their riverfront home in Boiestown from "Griff-Inns" Outfitter Clayton Stewart.  She got her first guiding license at about that time so that she could take family and friends salmon fishing...right out the front door (color me green with envy concerning the place Renate calls home!).   She sent me these winter photos of her "back yard" just the other day:

In 1986, downriver neighbor Vin Swayze approached Renate and Fred about leasing their pools (School House, Pine, Elbow and Home...I've landed salmon in all of them) for sports coming to his Tuckaway Cabins outfitting business.  The deal was done...and Renate became a Guide 1...the first licensed female guide 1 on the river, working for Vin.

I hooked my first atlantic salmon, a grilse, under Renate's tutelage, in 1998.  Kind of a funny story, really:  It was my first morning ever fishing for salmon.  I was with great friends Pam Bates Richards and Bob Warren. The late Gardner Grant knew of my impending trip, and gave me a small box of flies for the occasion...tied by none other than Keith Fulsher.  Renate picked out a Black Bear Green Butt for me and tied it on my tippet ("turle knot, what's a turle knot?!).  I stepped into the river at Elbow Pool, and on my second feeble cast, I hooked a grilse.  Landed it, remarking, "What's so hard about salmon fishing?"  Renate and I with that first fish:

About a dozen years later, Renate said something, in an email to me, to the effect that when she first met me, she wasn't sure she was going to like me.  But wouldn't say why.   That summer, on the river, I wheedled it out of her:  it was my cocky comment about salmon fishing not being so tough years earlier that got her dander up.  Fortunately for me, she learned, over the years, that I often say dumb things, and now she just laughs at with me!

Renate is a patient teacher.  She is an incredible caster in her own good as any I've ever seen...and imparts her knowledge subtly and understandingly.  She just seems to know when to step in and lend a hand to a struggling caster.   But can she hook and land fish?  ha.  Her best is a 37 pounder.

Renate's talents as a cook and host make for memorable meals and occasions.  I relish (pun intended) invites to the table she sets!

She even brings that kind of thoughtful largesse to the boat!  Renate, Vin and I usually get to take an early summer brook trout trip...we never go hungry or thirsty thanks to her!

Renate was elected to the Atlantic Salmon Museum (in Doaktown, NB) Hall of Fame in 2012.  She stands in awesome company, and very deservedly so.  I was proud to be there as she accepted her award.

And delighted when she broke out her accordion to give us a rendition of her song, "The Guiding Lady."

Photographer, guide, chef, musician...Renate is all those things, and more; she's a friend.  I hope you get to fish with her and enjoy her experiences and talents at Bullock's Lodge ( ).  The fishing is as good as it gets on the Miramichi there, and it is the most reasonably priced atlantic salmon fishing on the river.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Austin Clark's Brown Muddler

By way of introduction:  I was recently asked to tie a batch of salmon flies for a gentleman name of Bob Richard.  Bob came to me through the recommendation of fellow speypager ( and spey claver (, Doug Anderson.  He had not fished for atlantic salmon in twelve years prior to the summer of 2013, when he contacted Ann Smith of QuebecSporting (, and arranged to fish the York, Dartmouth and St. Jean rivers.

He was after a number of flies for a return trip to the Gaspe' Peninsula rivers this coming June, and gave me a list of flies, most of which I was familiar with and have tied before.  I was unfamiliar, however, with one fly in particular, Austin Clark's Brown Muddler, as Bob wrote it on his list.  Time for "Google."

"Brown Muddler" is easy to find as you google around (I wonder exactly when "google" became a synonym for "search?").  But none of them looked like the fly as Bob described it to me: "If I remember right, the deer hair was around the whole body behind the head of the fly.  It pulsed as it moved through the water and when you started your retrieve."  So, time to put "Austin Clark" and "Brown Muddler" together in the search engine.

I found the fly, with a photo of Austin's tie of the fly, in Tony Lolli's Go-To Flies; 101 Flies the Pros Use When All Else Fails (2004, Wilderness Adventures Press, Belgrade, Montana).  It is listed in that book as "Austin's Brown Muddler."  Here's my take on Austin's Brown Muddler:

I used tan thread.  The tail is pheasant tail fibers.  Body is flat gold tinsel ribbed with oval gold tinsel (I believe Lolli has those reversed in his book...who puts flat tinsel over oval?)  The wing of gray squirrel tail (again, Lolli lists gray squirrel body hair for the wing...I hope I never run into the squirrel that has body hair long enough with which to make this wing!  He needed a better editor.) is tied in, then very thin strips of mottled turkey wing (one more for Lolli; he lists turkey tail for the wing...who uses turkey tail for Muddler wings?). These wing slips are much smaller than your standard Muddler wings.  Now for a main difference between Austin's Muddler and yer standard Muddler:  rather than spinning the first bit of deer hair as a collar, you tie in a top and then bottom wing of the hair, making sure that each batch flares out from the tie-in point.  Then you start spinning the deer hair head.

Fortunately, Bob wrote me that the fly I tied for him looked just like the one Austin tied on his tippet. Whew, happy about that!  I suspect the fly would work equally well as a dry fly (especially if you use mylar instead of metal tinsel for the body) or a wet fly.  As a wet, I bet it would work best in slow water, where a stripping retrieve adds interest to the fly.  Bob reports that the wing pulses enticingly.  He should know; he hooked a couple beautiful fish with it!

So that's the fly, but who the heck is Austin Clark?  I've never fished the rivers of the Gaspe' Peninsula, nor, sadly will I likely ever fish them...kind of above my paygrade at this point in my life (he said with a whine).  Bob started me looking for more on Mr. Clark when he related the following:

I was first introduced to Austin Clark in name only by Ann Smith, the owner of Quebec Sporting.  She said, "Bob, I'm going to put you with Austin as your guide.  When I related to Doug Anderson who my guide was going to be he said, "I don't know if the Austin you are referring to is Austin Clark. If it is, you have gotten the best guide on the Gaspe. Austin and his son Draper are legendary. Austin is at least 70 years old and you will have a tough time keeping up with him. I met Austin on the Dartmouth River in 2009. He had a client fishing the Dartmouth Falls and I spent a pleasurable time talking with him." 
I (Bob, that is) replied, "Yes he is. One and the same Austin Clark. Guess I'm in for a workout. Here I was worrying about keeping him out all day. Looks like it will be the other way around. Guess I'll be going back to school." 
You have to know Gary, my trip to the Gaspe last June was the first time I picked up a fly rod to fish for salmon in 12 years.  So here I am in my room at the Hotel Plante in Gaspe and I'm having a conversation with Ann about what time Austin should pick me up.  In a phone conversation Ann initiated with Austin, I asked him, 'What time of the morning would you go out if you were fishing for salmon tomorrow morning?" Quickly he replied, "How about if I pick you up at 5:30 am?"  And so at promptly 5:30 am the next morning my week of salmon fishing with Austin began.
Ann had told me, "Bob I put you with Austin Clark.  He is the most experienced guide on the river.  He has been guiding on the rivers of the Gaspe for 49 years."   She also told me he is a very quiet and sensitive person.  So our week together began.  What Ann said, I certainly found to be true.  But over time once we got to know each other he opened up to me and every day was a new lesson on how cast a fly for salmon.  Even up to the last evening when we fished Wild Rose Pool on the St Jean river.  As I stepped into the water he said, "Bob, if you should hook a salmon in this pool, even if it is a small one, be prepared for the fight of your life.  For some reason when the salmon come to lay in this pool the oxygen in the water or whatever it is must give them  new life.  Also vary the length of your fly line so that when you cast and step your fly lands and makes it's swing in a different place on the pool every time."  Even up to the last minutes we were together he was still teaching me his ways on how to fish for salmon. 

Austin has been mentioned by Monte Burke in Forbes Magazine (4/22/2006):

Clark has an understated manner. “"Well, we'’ll try our best to get one today,"” he says on the walk down to the river. He gives old vets their space but can also, if asked, teach a novice how to cast correctly. His instructions seem more like subliminal suggestions. "“That’s a taker",” he whispers from his client'’s shoulder when he sees an active fish. "“Rest her a bit, then try a cast".” Clark ties his own salmon flies during the snowy GaspĂ© winters... But more often than not, he’'ll ask for your fly box, thoughtfully finger through the mess of hooks, hackle and feathers, and say, "“Try this one,"” giving you confidence in your own tackle. He’s a sly one. At the end of the day, you’ll feel like it was you who chose the fly, you who spotted the big fish, you who landed it expertly.

Pete Bodo revealed a bit about Austin's understated humor when he reported, in the New York Times (7/7/1996) on a day with him:

Looking down the steep bank from the dirt road about 150 yards above Little Indian pool on the St. Jean River, Bill Taylor, a fishing buddy as well as the president of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, remarked: "Look at all those dark shapes. I'm sure some of them are salmon."
"I believe all of them are salmon," our guide, Austin Clark, said. "At least they were salmon yesterday."

Austin with a couple of Bob's beautiful Salmon:

It appears to me that I went looking for a fly, and found a man.  Happy to have made, in my way, his acquaintance.   I think we'd get along.