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Batteries For Trolling Motors - Knowledge Matters, Part 2

Friday, March 26, 2021

Batteries For Trolling Motors - Knowledge Matters, Part 2

 Batteries for Trolling Motors – Knowledge  Matters, Part 2

David Hutton
Palmetto Fly n Fish, March 2021

Introduction

In part 1, we took a deep dive into the different types of batteries, how they work, and some benefits to each. If you're not subscribed and missed it, here's the link to it:

Batteries For Trolling Motors, Part 1

Now, in part 2, we will look at the practical side of things to help you decide on the battery you should have, and how to get the most from it.

-----------------------------------------

The number one concern people have with a trolling motor battery is always the same:

“How long can I run a motor out on the water?”

Some guys wanna go all day, some don't. But everyone wants to know the answer to that question.

To answer it, we have to know two things:

1. A battery's
amperage hour rating

2. A motor's current draw, in amps.

Let me say up front that trolling motor run-time is not a, "one-size fits all," kind of thing.
But you can approximate your potential run time, and have a good idea of what you'll need to get you there.


Amperage Hour rating
    A battery's amperage hour rating, abbreviated as amp/hour, or "Ah," is like the gas tank of a car. It basically describes how much current a battery can deliver over time.
For example, a 100 amp hour battery will last longer than a 55 amp hour battery.
    To be a little more precise, a 100 amp hour battery can deliver 100 amps of current for 1 hour – thus the name, “amp hour.”    
By the same token, it can also deliver 1 amp of current, for 100 hours.
This ability to cover a range of current draw possibilities is what saves us.

    There's a simple mathematical formula that covers this, in fact:

Amp hour rating (capacity)/current draw from motor = runtime

    So, lets say your motor was running at a low speed, drawing 5 amps from your 100 Ah battery. Using the formula, we would divide 100/5 to get a 20 hour run time.
    Going the other way, if you're running wide open and drawing 40 amps, the result would be 100/40, for a 2.5 hour run time.


Motor Current Draw
    A motor's exact amperage draw rating isn't always easy to find, but it will be available from the manufacturer. You can check the spec sheet that came with the motor, or if you don't have that, check on the internet

    M
ost manufacturers will only list a motor's maximum current draw at top speed. That's really all they can do, but it's enough.
With that information, we can extrapolate across the range, from zero to max, using that maximum value as a baseline.


    But we don't run our motors at a constant speed for a defined time-span, do we?
We run them fast, slow, and an awful lot of the time, somewhere in between.
Sometimes we don't run them at all.

    You have to understand that your power consumption is determined by the conditions, and how YOU choose to run the motor.
    For example, if you must power through a high flow river current, or against a stiff wind, you will require a higher power setting and draw more current.
If you paddle protected backwaters a lot, as I do, you may draw very little current from the battery in a given fishing session.

    So what's the simple answer to how much battery you need?
Drum roll please: There isn't one.


    Take a look at the chart above, and notice the first word in the heading - “approximate.”

    Really, it all comes down to throttle management. You can run at a moderate pace throughout the day, going from spot to spot, using drifting, paddling, anchoring, etc., or, you can run flat out for 2 1/2 hrs. and go to the other end of the lake.

    But the whole battery conundrum can usually be distilled down to:

Get the physically largest deep cycle battery that you NEED, which you can manage without throwing out your back, or upsetting the balance of your boat.
This is different for each application.

    For trolling motor use in a small boat, for example, I generally recommend a battery with AT LEAST a 100 amperage hour rating, and a Group 24-31 case size rating.
In a kayak you may want a motor with a reduced thrust factor, and that could mean a smaller battery.
But above all, know your motor's current draw and the battery's amp hour rating.
    From there, you can take what you've leaned here, do some simple math and find out what you need for YOUR situation
    And that's a result!


Some Battery DO's and DONT'S

Use Variable Speed Motors

    Using a variable speed motor (vs. a fixed speed motor) generally results in significantly longer run times. Variable motors are more energy efficient, especially at slower speeds. They are also much more convenient as they allow you to dial in the speed to the exact setting you want. 

    Actually, I'm not sure there are any fixed-speed motors available anymore. I haven't seen one, at least.

    There are also new electronic devices called “pulse width modulators” that feed the power to your motor in high frequency pulses. This stretches out the battery life, and they're worth considering if you want to add another tech project to your system.


Use A Higher Voltage Motor

    As voltage increases, you can get the same power using less current. In this way,
 larger 24v and 36v multi-battery trolling motor systems can provide the same thrust as 12 volt motors with less current draw. This results in longer run times.
    The motors are more expensive, of course, and you need TWO or THREE batteries in series to pull off this trick, so that might not be practical in YOUR situation.     

But seriously long run times are possible with 24v or 36v motor.


Don't Fully Deplete Your Battery: Big NO – NO!

    Running a battery “bone dry” on a regular basis will reduce the lifespan of your battery.
    Whenever possible, make it a habit to recharge your battery(s) before they are completely empty.
    Using a battery capacity monitor while on the water will help you know your battery's charge level, and reduce the chances of unexpectedly running out of juice miles from shore.

    For lithium batteries, make sure your monitor reads in remaining amp hours, and not just voltage.

Remember Your Batteries In The Off-Season

    It's really bad for batteries to be left uncharged for months at a time. It contributes to shorter battery life and reduced performance.
    During the off-season, use a battery tender or battery trickle charger to keep a small amount of current running through your batteries.
    Alternatively, you can re-charge your batteries every month or so to ensure they retain a charge and don't sit empty.
    Both options will significantly increase the life of your batteries.


Don't Mix Battery Types

    Resist the urge to mix old batteries with new ones. Ideally you want multi-battery banks to be of the same age and type.


Charge Batteries After Each Use

    Leaving batteries in a discharged state after use will decrease their longevity and performance. So make it part of your routine to charge them as soon as possible after you've used them.
    If you are using flooded, wet-cell batteries, also get in the habit of checking and topping up liquid levels every time you use them.


Storage

    Keep your batteries in a cool, dry place in the off-season and maintain them in a charged state.

Connecting the Battery

- Terminal connectors should be periodically examined for signs of corrosion. Don't just look at 'em or pour Coca-Cola all over 'em...Take them apart and clean them as needed.
Know what's happening there, and keep ahead of any problems with your connections.

- The best way to hook the motor to the battery is with large-lug, ringed terminals that attach flat to the terminal with nut and bolt hardware. 

    If your battery has tapered posts, make sure they are clean and bulldog tight.
    If you have alligator clip connectors, dump them as soon as possible.
    
From there, have an in-line circuit breaker, and
use quick disconnects on the motor and battery if you want to remove them.

- Your wiring should be sized appropriately.
Wire that is too small will not conduct current efficiently, and will dissipate power in the form of heat.
Wire that is too large conducts current fine, but it may cost you more than is needed.
    Each motor manufacturer recommends the proper wire size, depending on how far from the battery the motor is placed. Since we're not tossing out random info, here, I'm gonna tell you to find out what wire sizes your motor manufacturer says to use... and then follow those instructions to the letter.

- Keep your battery clean and covered in use, and don’t leave it outside to freeze over winter.

    To really be honest, these things are easily as important as the battery itself.


FAQ
Q. What do the "group numbers" on batteries mean?
A. The group number indicates case size dimensions.
This is important because you could maybe use a somewhat smaller battery, and still get the same capacity as a larger one. That's why its important to understand the amp hour specification and how it applies.

Q. Is one brand better than another?
A. Generally speaking, no.
Saying that will get many brand loyal people worked up, but it is ALWAYS your first priority to understand that battery current capacity / Motor current draw = run time.

The name on the case, where you bought it, it’s price, or even its internal makeup are secondary, and may mean next to nothing.
There may be those batteries with better warranties, or some slight edge in materials, and certainly there's some great advertising hype involved.
But the science, technology and manufacturing behind batteries is well established, and plenty of people get YEARS from their Walmart brand batteries.

Q. Can batteries go bad from sitting?
A. Absolutely.
They lose a percentage of their charge, month after month, just sitting on the shelf. This means that the manufacturing date is important at the time of purchase. Look for batteries that are no more than 6-8 months old.
And once charged and in service, they should not sit around without being on the charger periodically to keep them topped up. I cycle charge those not in use once a month, and I rotate them into service through the season.

Q. Are these batteries expensive?
A. Yes.
However, it depends on your financial situation.
Some guys think nothing of having $4500 tied up in 4, 220 ah batteries, special chargers, etc.
Me, that’s my fishing budget for the rest of my life!
So it's a different expense for everyone.
For those of us with pockets of average depth, plan to spend $1-$1.75 per amp hour for a decent AGM, deep cycle battery. You can shop around and find sales, or deals, but plan on that.

TIP: You can link batteries in parallel to gain current capacity.
For example,
I use TWO 55 amp hour batteries connected in parallel to give me 110 amp hours. I get them for free, so its a no brainer to use them.

As you can see, when connected this way, the current capacity is additive.
This means each time you add one to the circuit, in parallel, you add the new battery's current to the total.

So you could buy one, now, to get you going, and literally double or triple your run time by buying another next month!

Q. How often should I charge the battery, and do I need a special charger?
A. That's easy: charge it as soon after discharging it, as possible.
Ideally, when you get it home from using it, you'll put it on the charger straight away.
As for the charger, use a charger that offers self-adjusting current levels, and a maintenance feature. This type reduces the amount of current flowing to the battery as it gets approaches peak charge, and then it shifts to “charge maintenance mode,” what some people call a “trickle charge.”

Finally no matter how careful and knowledgeable you are – things can go wrong.
Because of that, I strongly urge you to have a collapsible paddle on board, just case.

For general information about trolling motor batteries, this will help:
www.trollingmotors.net%2F86992071-picking-a-trolling-motor-battery

Thanks to the following online resources for their presence and information...

Dakotalithium.com

trollingmotors.net

wikipedia

https://www.crownbattery.com

Interstatebatteries.com

battlebornbatteries.com


As always, thanks for reading, and dont forget to...

visit us on Facebook at: Palmetto Fly n Fish

Tight Lines,

David

Palmetto  Fly n Fish

© All rights reserved, 2021 


Batteries for Trolling Motors – Knowledge Matters Part 1


    

Batteries for Trolling Motors – Knowledge  Matters, Part 1

David Hutton
Palmetto Fly n Fish, March 2021


Introduction
A lot of information goes around about batteries for trolling motors, and most boaters have at least a passing familiarity with them. But there is much that passes for knowledge that is merely anecdote or opinion. Some is just repeated out of simple ignorance of the facts, and some is pure hokum.
I've spent my entire working life around electronics in some form or another. I'm no Rhodes scholar, mind you, but I understand the concepts behind basic electricity.
    And batteries and motors are, if nothing else, pretty basic.

    I've also learned that most folks know very little about the electricity they get from batteries, and this seems to apply to small boats and trolling motors in good measure.

    Fortunately, there are countless resources to help you learn, and these make choosing a proper trolling motor battery easy. Batteries have changed over the years and new technology has been applied to them, so it pays to do a little research.

    However, it seems that almost no one does.

    Someone says something on a facebook page, and without knowing anything else, the would-be battery user runs out and plunks down his hard earned money. I'm not kidding - I see it every day.
    This situation gives us a great opportunity to educate. It will be a challenge for some to wade through it, but it may save frustration, time, and money... and that's worth it.

    So, lets get into it.

Battery types
    There are different types of batteries available, but the main types of batteries you might use for a trolling motor fall into a few categories:

1. Traditional flooded, lead-acid, or “wet” batteries
2. Absorbed Glass Mat, or AGM
3. Lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4), or lithium-ion

The Old Standby ... Lead -Acid


 

    Traditionally, batteries rely on a chemical reaction between a solution of water and sulphuric acid, called "electrolyte," to produce electrical current. This process within the lead-acid battery hasn’t changed much since Frenchman Gaston Planté invented it in 1859.
    In truth, it hasn't needed to change.
    It’s still thin lead plates in a bath of sulfuric acid and water, inside a durable, polypropylene case. Improvements have been added over the years, but Monsieur Planté would probably still recognize his invention.
    The problem is, the demands placed on batteries have changed.
    Lead-in-electrolyte batteries are just fine, as long as you just want a quick, big jolt of current to turn over a car's starter. And fortunately, they are relatively inexpensive to make.

    However, they can’t run much of anything over a drawn out period of time. So for trolling motors, they're not the best choice. They will work, but they won't hold up for long.

    However the next generation of batteries can.

The Absorbed Glass Mat battery, and the Car

    An AGM battery is a battery designed for two jobs: delivering powerful bursts of current to a DC motor, and being able to do it over a long time.
The bonus is, they also tend to last longer than a regular flooded battery.

    “Absorbed glass mat,” means what it sounds like – woven fiberglass mats sandwiched between ultra-thin lead plates, acting as squishy sponges. Because the plates are very thin, more glass mats and lead can be shoehorned tightly into the battery's case. And more lead equals more power.




    
    AGM batteries also have internal gas valves that control the amount of hydrogen and oxygen gas allowed to escape during charging. These two gases are a result of the chemical reaction that occurs when recharging a battery, and the valves bleed off the pressure they develop without harm.
The term you'll see to describe batteries with these valves is, “valve-regulated,” or VRLA (valve regulated lead acid). It is an important safety feature of these devices.


    AGM's were developed in the 1970's to serve as backup power for telephone systems and computer banks. Today, they've blossomed in popularity, and we see them in motorcycles, cars, military vehicles and aircraft, and as power storage for everything from emergency lights to office buildings.

    So what's the big deal over standard, flooded batteries?

    Actually, the “big deal” is quite amazing, especially with the car-sized batteries we boaters are interested in.

AGM advantages

To understand the advantages of AGM's for trolling motors, we have to start by talking about cars for a little bit.

    Up until the last couple decades, AGM's weren't much seen in automobiles. In 2014, you could count the number of vehicle models that needed an AGM battery on your two hands.
    However, hybrid electric and the new, start-stop vehicles need an advanced battery to keep the air conditioning running, even if the engine turns off. The same can be said of vehicles with futuristic-level technology: lane-keeping assistance, pre-collision warnings, remote engine starting, GPS locating systems, keyless entry and ignition...and more.
    More and more motor vehicle models are employing this “always-on tech.” That means they need batteries that can deliver power over long periods. And that means AGM batteries are here to stay, and we benefit.

AGM batteries give you...

  • More starts per battery
  • Faster recharging
  • More durable construction
  • Safer to handle
  • Special valves protecting the battery's lifespan
    Most AGM batteries can start a car 60,000 times, or more. That’s more than three times the starts you’ll get out of a conventional wet battery.
    AGMs recharge faster, too. Once a car is started, the alternator takes over and replaces the current taken out to start the vehicle. Fast charging is a benefit, at that point.
    Because of the cushioning effects of the absorbed mats, AGM's withstand shaking and vibration better than typical batteries. Seems ideal for knocking around in boats, wouldn't you say?
    They’re also listed as spill-proof, meaning they are safer to handle all around.
    It probably sounds too good to be true, but it isn't. It's fact.

How AGM Batteries Work
    These benefits result from two special changes to the original wet battery, and a few extra design changes that fundamentally expand what batteries can do.

Big Deal #1 - The Valves
    First, an embedded gas valve prevents evaporated water from leaving the battery case. Its little more than a one-way check valve, but is the secret to an AGM’s long life.
    The AGM's fundamental chemistry is still based on lead, sulfuric acid and water. When you draw current from the battery, the acid molecules move to the lead plates, leaving water and lead sulfate behind. You are briefly removing the sulfuric acid from the liquid solution inside.
This enables a chemical reaction between the paste on the plates which results in an electrical current.

    The process is then reversed when you recharge the battery, and the sulfuric acid is mixed back into the solution.
    However, some molecular water loss will always occur when an electric current runs through water, because this splits it into hydrogen, and oxygen, gases.
Losing those gaseous water molecules through evaporation means the electrolyte becomes more acidic over time. This changes the chemical reaction on the plates, and ultimately shortens the life span of the battery.

    This is also the reason you had to replenish the water in the old, wet-cell, lead acid batteries

    But the AGM’s valve stops those water gases from leaving.

    And if you overcharge the battery, the valves save your butt again.
Using a charger that doesn't reduce the current supply as the battery nears full charge is a problem... an overcharging problem. 
    Just pushing full current the whole time means the current must push through, regardless... and it keeps breaking up water molecules, and builds gas pressure inside.
    That’s when another safety valve mechanism kicks in, again, this time to release excess gas vapor and equalize pressure inside the battery.

Big Deal #2: Fiberglass Mats
    The next big improvement feature is the “GM” part of AGM: the fiberglass mats.
    Ultra-thin glass fibers are woven into a spongy mat that soaks up all the electrolyte (water and sulfuric acid) into thin pillows that cushion the lead plates. Instead of a free-flowing, liquid acid sloshing around inside the battery, the AGM carries its charge in soaked, fiberglass sponges between the lead plates. Neat, huh?
    The glass mats’ complete coverage makes it easier to summon more power from an AGM battery — and they make it easier to recharge.

    In power, speed, long life and durability, the AGM battery has standard batteries beat by a mile.
    
Lithium Batteries
    These are the darlings of the battery world, the new kid everyone wants to get to know.
    And in fact, there are ton of advantages to lithium batteries, and lots of people are jumping on the lithium bandwagon.
But like nearly all new tech, they also have at least one HUGE drawback that is usually glossed over, especially by their makers or those that have sunk money into them.
    But before we get to that, lets see what they bring to the table.
 

    The first benefit to portable lithium batteries, technically referred to as lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4), is that they don’t require any specific battery charger. They can be charged with most any current regulated charger, because they are outfitted with an on board battery management system (BMS) which controls the charging.

    Next, lithium batteries have longer-lasting power. A standard lithium-ion battery with a BMS has a long charge-cycle lifespan – up to 2000 discharge/recharge cycles, for example.
A high-quality AGM lead-acid battery may only be good for 500-600 cycles. That's still good, but it doesn't hold a candle to the lithium's cycle life.

    Other batteries lose voltage as they are drained, too. 
As the current goes out, the voltage across the plates diminishes. When these batteries reach about 50% voltage charge, they may lose their ability to run the trolling motor.
    Lithium batteries don't suffer this voltage drop while discharging.
    To be fair, they will also just quit on you with no warning, once their current capacity is depleted. You can at least monitor the voltage drop on the other batteries as they discharge, so you know where you stand with them.

    So it's not all roses with the lithiums. But, the fact remains that they can provide power, longer, over any other battery type.

    Still more advantages accrue to lithium batteries in the form of overcharge and deep discharge protection, built in. This means your batteries can be used for a longer period of time than a comparable lead-acid battery.
    They also weigh about 60% less than a conventional lead-acid trolling motor batteries, and they work down to - 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-29 Celsius).

    The final advantage is in the wiring needed for lithium batteries. Because the voltage stays more consistent during discharge, you don't need to oversize any of your wires to compensate.
This saves you money... well, as long as you never use anything else BUT lithium batteries.
    And with their built in BMS, you shouldn't need a short circuit disconnect – a circuit breaker, in other words. But you'd be foolish to dispense with the protection they offer, and its still ABYC* code to have them, so we wont call it an advantage.
* - American Boat and Yacht Council

    After reading this, you may wonder why other batteries exist at all. Well, like I said earlier, it's not ALL roses with lithium batteries.

    There is one huge disadvantage with the lithium batteries, El Numero Uno, the Big Bad Daddy of Drawbacks:

THEIR PRICE!

    Even the cheapest ones are at least 3-5 times more than any comparable AGM battery.
    For example, a 100-110 amp/hour, deep-cycle AGM like I usually run would cost anywhere between $150 and $250 to purchase.
The same capacity LiFePO4 battery is anywhere between $650-$1000, and up.
    Its shocking, really. I spit up my coffee the first time I looked at them.




I still do.





    So, is it worth putting up the money for lithium batteries?

Well, that depends on what you call, “need.”
You literally need food and water to live – but do you NEED a lithium battery for your trolling motor?
There's no definite answer to that question, except in terms of want and personal value choice.
If you want a long-lasting, durable battery - and cost is no object to you - then a lithium battery might be worth consideration.
    If you lose your job and have to take what you can get, well, the lithium batteries might not be so sweet. And remember that wiring? Suppose you wired your boat for them, and now you have to switch because you can no longer afford one?

What About Deep-cycle Batteries?
    The next thing you'll hear, over and over with trolling motor batteries, is the term, *deep cycle.*

“Man, you need a deep cycle battery for that thing. Nuttin else will do.” 

   
    It is repeated so often it has become a mantra, almost like people really know what it means.
Well, here's what it really means.

    A deep cycle battery is a lead-acid battery designed to provide sustained power over a long period, and run reliably until it is about 80% level of discharge, at which point it must be recharged.
    It is important to note that although most deep cycle batteries can be discharged up to 80%, most manufacturers recommend not discharging below around the 50% level to extend the life of the battery.
    
    It is this level of discharge that is the “deep cycle” people talk about. It is the opposite of conventional battery types that are designed to deliver massive jolts of current in short bursts before they need to be recharged.
    To illustrate, a cars starter battery discharges only a tiny percentage of its overall capacity -- usually 5% or so -- each time it is used. But it does it in 600 amp chunks!
Then this relatively small percentage gets replaced by the cars alternator to await the next demand.

    Deep-cycle batteries, by contrast, might deliver, say, 30 amps, but they can do it for hours before needing a recharge

    For lead-acid, deep-cycle batteries, however, there is bad news. Well, kinda-sorta bad news.
    The bad news comes in the form of an inverse relationship between the depth of discharge (DOD) and the number of charge and discharge cycles it can perform.
In other words, the deeper you discharge it each time, the fewer recharge cycles it can handle before failure.
Go too far and you might kill it.
Literally.
    This is why lead-acid batteries are recommended to be discharged to an average "depth of discharge" of around 50%... it's a safety margin.
    On the other hand, they are still lead-acid batteries, albeit vastly improved ones. This means they bring the undeniable benefit of being way cheaper than the exotic lithium-ion cells.

This is the end of part one. Take a breather and then head to part 2, found here:

Batteries For Trolling Motors, part 2

Then, come visit us on Facebook at:

Palmetto Fly n Fish

Thanks for reading, and Tight Lines,

David

Palmetto  Fly n Fish
© All rights reserved, 2021 

Monday, March 8, 2021

The Gill Bug - A Bass and Panfish Fly

The Gill Bug
David Hutton, Palmetto Fly N Fish

Mar 8 2021

Simple flies.
I like simple flies. 
Just saying it aloud - “simple flies” - is appealing.
And when I say, "simple," I mean three materials or less, excluding thread and hook.

No complicated engineering, no laundry list of materials, and no difficult tying gymnastics...that is simple.
And that's what we have here today - a simple but very effective pattern for bass and panfish:
THE GILL BUG. 




Gill Bugs Galore

Origin of pattern
This pattern was the brainchild of Detroit rod builder, taxidermist and inventor, Paul Young.
If you were around in the 80's, you'll probably remember a pop musician of the same name, who had a few hits back then. Well ...


Sorry - not THAT Paul Young

Instead, the man I refer to is Paul H. Young, the fly fishing legend... 

                        
                                       THIS Paul Young

He built some of the finest fly rods ever, and was among the best of the post-WWII rod crafters...

His gear still brings high prices whenever it comes up for sale.
Today, a chapter of Trout Unlimited is named after him.
And he had “firsts”...
He was the first to take the short, slim fly rod into the mainstream.
He was the first to promote Mustad's famous barbless hooks, and he invented the famed Strawman Nymph.
Remember those collapsible, plastic drinking cups? The Trik-Kup? He invented them, too.

But Mr. Young was also a keen angler and fly tyer.
This one, the Gill Bug, is one of his lesser known patterns.
It was created to overcome the main drawback of most bass flies in general: they're just too dang big and bulky to cast pleasantly without heavy rod and line combos.


It's understandable that trout anglers, or panfishermen, might not want to invest in an outfit just for this heavy fishing.
I'm one of them.
Fortunately for us, Mr. Young gave us the Gill Bug to deal with that.
It is lightweight, not overly air resistant, and it floats on the water very well. Best of all, it appeals to bass when they want a surface pattern.

It was also popular in the not-too-distant past, from what I can learn of it.
Chauncey Lively wrote glowingly of it in the 60's. That's pretty big, in itself. It had a loyal following in the Northeast, and has been adapted to every size hook imaginable.
It has caught bass, trout, pike, and panfish of all kinds.
Your great grand-dad may have known of it.
Even so, like so many good, older flies, it has disappeared from the modern fly box... An internet search of the pattern turns up nothing.

We are here today, friends, to usher in a Gill Bug revival, albeit a small one.
So gimme an, “AMEN,” and lets get into it!


                            


What It Is And The Materials

The Gill Bug can loosely be called a moth-type pattern. This idea, a big moth or butterfly as artificial lure, was a common notion through most of the 20th century.
It's logical, I suppose, if somewhat fanciful to my mind.
And to be honest, the idea hasn't survived too well here in the 21st century, although a few patterns bow to the concept....
There's the old Neversink Skater.
The White Deer Hair Moth, and The Spruce Moth come to mind, too.
And now and then, someone hits on something similar to the Gill Bug... although they never quite get there.  

But, this doesn't really matter all that much, as bass don't know or care about all that.
To them, it just looks like something good to eat, and it appeals to our imaginations.
In the end, both are good enough.


The Materials

For materials, the original Gill Bug uses only chenille and a clump of deer hair.
Can it be simpler than that?!
But don't be fooled - under that label of, “simple,” is a bit of magic that may not be obvious. The magic is hair taken from a deer... good ol' deer hair.

                       
I don't know what it is, but there is just something almost bewitching about deer hair in a fly pattern. Fish just seem to fall for it, like you or I might fall off a log.
If I see deer hair in a fly, I'm automatically confident with it.

Another feature of the deer hair wing on the Gill Bug is its dihedral spread. It is angular, in a “v-shape,” and spread up and above the body and hook.
Dihedral is the same aerodynamic principle that helps model aircraft fly right side up, and in the Gill Bug, it allows the thing to land on the water in the proper orientation

                                       
                                        Wing dihedral



Gill Bug Dihedral

The deer hair in the Gill Bug can be coarse, and this actually works best in the larger sizes. To get an idea of the quantity of deer hair used, you want enough deer hair to pinch solidly between thumb and the first two fingers, for a #4 hook.

For thread, you want something strong to bind the deer hair to the hook - I suggest something along the lines of 6/0, 210 Denier, etc.
A little cement during construction can't go wrong, either.

Hook sizes for bass are in the #6-#4 range, and they should be relatively light, but long enough to give you a decent body length. I like an Aberdeen, but anything along these lines is good. Just not too heavy; the Gill Bug is intended to be worked as a surface pattern, after all.

The chenille is your choice. I left it out of the materials foto above, because I immediately started looking for alternatives.
But the original pattern from Mr. Young used two strands of chenille in alternating bands - black and orange.

I've also seen reference to them in black and white.
Other good colors are white with natural deer hair, and yellow body/black hair.


Tools
Listing the tools used in tying a fly is a new feature I'm trying on these pattern reviews.

The tools used here aren't anything unusual – here's the list:
(from L to R in the foto)

Scissors (3) - fine point, fine point curved, serrated
Bodkin
Hair stacker
Thread holder (bobbin)
Hollow punch
Hair comb
Super glue
Cement, black
Dubbing
Deer hair
Foam
(not shown - chenille of your choice)

The serrated deer hair scissors are maybe the most unique item. Everything else is standard stuff, and is seen in the foto.

Variations, Sizes
You can, of course, tie the Gill Bug in sizes more in keeping with its name sake...bluegill sized, in other words. It makes a dandy panfish bug.
For smaller fish like bluegill, hook sizes #8-#12 would be right. For these, finer deer hair is called for, simply to maintain proper proportions overall.

An interesting variation is to tie the your Gill Bugs inverted, with the hook point up. This way, when it comes gliding down on that V-wing, it will land with the hook pointing up. This is ideal for fishing in lily pads, where you can gently walk the Gill Bug across the top of the lily pads, until open water is reached.



Upside Down - gotta work on that head

Probably the best adaptation I've found for the Gill Bug is to make the body out of foam. The original chenille had to be well greased with fly floatant and will become water logged, eventually. Not so EVA craft foam!
The foam can be applied as wound-on strips, or my favorite, as a disc, folded around the shank, taco-fashion. This method was something I picked up from one of the unsung innovators in fly tying, Harrison Steeves III. You can see a couple I did with these foam discs in the opening foto; some super glue holds them together.

Fishing notes
The time honored way to fish a “moth fly” is to skitter, or skate it across the waters surface. You either grease them and the leader well, or use foam and a greased leader, so everything floats high on the water. Then, pick up the rod tip, like you're going to start a back cast, and once it starts moving – you twitch the bug across the surface in a waking, skipping kind of retrieve.
Waggling your wrist at the same time can make the fly dance a little on the surface, another way to make it work its magic.
The big scoop-shaped head is there to help the fly scoot up out of the water a little better.

Both of these techniques work best without having too much line out..., the line drags the fly and reduces the control you might have over the Gill Bug if its too long.
But after a little experimentation, you'll get the hang of it, and you're in for tons of fun..., and the bass find it irresistible.

Regardless of whether you use chenille or foam for the body, don't skimp on the floatant. You want the fly barely in the surface film, to pull off these antics.

Of course you can also just fish the Gill Bug like a regular surface fly, without all the gyrations. It is similar to another Harrison Steeves pattern I love - the Fliegermouse.....



The Fliegermouse

You can see that one here, and will no doubt notice the similarities between the two:  The Fligermouse

As a purely motion based surface fly, just a quiet mover, the Gill Bug will work just fine to get the fish's attention, and the magic deer hair will lure them in for the take.

But no matter how you fish it, Paul Young's Gill Bug is due for a revival.

Thanks for reading and Tight Lines,


David

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Saturday, January 23, 2021

Bass Flies You Can't Imagine

Simple Bass Flies
Dec 17 2020

A favorite avocation of mine is reading old fishing books.
Not new ones, (although I read those, too) but old ones, in particular.

I see much of their information as something people used to know - but today it's forgotten.
Some will call me a bookworm, I suppose...

                     
The Bookworm
 Carl Spitzweg. ca 1850

...and, after reading these books for a while, I start talking like they did a hundred years ago, which is kinda weird.

But, I think about it like this...
"People have been fishing for thousands of years, and each age had practices that worked in its time.
Maybe there is something to be learned from them...and maybe an edge that no one else knows."


With this in mind, let's take a look at some fly patterns for bass, possibly the most popular sport fish in America... and maybe the world.

Now, the bass is not much thought of as a fly fishing quarry except by a dedicated cadre of anglers. 
But, it has been considered one of the gamiest fish on this continent for a couple centuries... back when all they had were flies of some sort. 

So, here I got to thinking again, "Just what did they use to catch bass, before we had modern soft plastics, zippy crankbaits and a million different baits and lures.
More specifically, what flies did they use?" 

I've previously written a few articles that answer that question, and you can check those out, starting here: Bass Flies of A. J. McClane, pt 1


But, fishing books have been popular with publishers for centuries, and I recently found another vintage book that covers the topic of bass flies in a way that we can use.

Its called, "A Boys Own Guide to Fishing, Tackle Making, and Fish Breeding," by John Harrington Keene.
  
Published in 1894, it was meant for a youthful audience and was intentionally simple, easy to follow, and full of practical tips that wouldn't break a boys savings...at a time when that might only be a dollar or two!

I find this uncomplicated approach appealing, but I want to warn you: if you picked up fly fishing for bass anytime within the last 4 decades, what you find here won't be what you expect.

We join our narrator, Mr Keene, as he  leaves trout fishing behind, and moves to a discussion of bass on the fly...

============================================

"...If you have carefully followed the directions for fly-making for trout, you do not need them repeated here, for bass fly-making is identical in principle and practice, except that a larger hook and stouter gut are used. (1)

A few of the best bass flies I know of may be described, and with these you will probably catch as many fish as someone with a $500 collection.
These have the merit, also, of simplicity.

The Flies


1. Brown Hackle, — body, peacock herl; legs, webby saddle hackle of brown, reddish-brow
n.
No. 3 or 4 hook.

2. Brown Moth, —body, brown worsted wool yarn (cinnamon brown); tail, a few hairs from tail of brown squirrel; legs, brown hackle; wings, turkey tail. 
No. 3 hook.

3. Coachman - a Brown Hackle Fly with white goose or duck slip wings, laid on reverse style and tied backwards toward tail. Small white feathers may be substituted. 

No. 4 hook.

4. Royal Coachman, — made same as ordinary Coachman, but the body is divided in centre by a band of scarlet silk.
No. 3 or 4 hook

5. Gray Hackle, — made same as the Brown Hackle, but the body is of grey wool; legs, webby dun or barred rock rooster saddle hackle  
No. 3 hook.

6. Professor, — body, yellow silk ribbed with gold tinsel, and a tuft of red ibis feathers as a tail; legs, brown hackle ; wings, two breast feathers of the mallard. 
No. 3 hook.

7. Black June, — 
Body, peacock herl; legs, black hackle ; wings, crow. No. 3 hook.

8. Cowdung,— body, yellowish green wool yarn; legs, brown hackle; wings, from the brown hen. 

9. White Miller, — body, white wool and ribbed with yellow silk, or gold tinsel, or, orange silk; hackle, white; wings, white.

10. Seth Green, — body, green silk ribbed with yellow silk; wings, brown (buff turkey tail); hackle, brown. No. 3 hook.

These are sufficient to begin with.

In using the fly for bass, somewhat similar tactics to those in vogue for trout are employed. 

Of course, the thing to do first, is to ascertain beyond peradventure that bass are present. (2)

The fly is cast in precisely the same style as for trout; but it is allowed to sink several inches, at least, under water before it is drawn back by little jerks towards the caster.
In deep water, it is advisable to close a small split shot about 12-18" above the hook, so that the line is sunk a foot, or even two, beneath the water. (3)

The small-mouth black bass is usually found over a rocky bottom, near old submerged trunks of trees, and in deeper water generally than its confrere of the "large-mouth" species. 

But both take the fly greedily when its in their mood to do so; and when either is hooked, there is quite a "circus" on hand to deal with.
Especially is this so with the smallmouth.

He is the very bull-dog of the water. As soon as the hook pricks him, the line runs out with startling rapidity; then he leaps from the water, following this up with other leaps, sometimes to the number of six, or even more; and it is necessary to be patient and wary if you would secure the fish in the end.

I do not think any fish that swims is superior to the black basses in fighting-power on the hook.”

- J. Harrington Keene, Greenwich, Washington County, N.Y., 1894

NOTES
(1) 
* "gut" as used here, means tippet and leader... and
BOOM! ...He tells you right upfront that the flies you'll be using for bass won't differ from trout flies, except in size.

(2) (“beyond peradventure” = without a doubt)


Also, this point about fishing where the bass are seems obvious. He makes the observation elsewhere in the book that the local boy often out-fishes the well equipped stranger for no more reason than he knows from familiarity where the fish are. 
However, we seem to get the notion that monster bass are behind every log, rock, and bit of weed, just waiting for us to come along. 
Naturally, that is not the case, and this leads to much wasted time and frustration. 

The problem lies with our expectations, not with the flies, or even the fish.
We have to make ourselves remember that 90% of the water before us holds no fish, that the fish we seek have tails, and they use them.
Our main job is to be The Boy of this book, to learn where they have gone, and why. That way we spend our time on the productive 10% of fish-holding water.

 (3) 
You'll notice that subsurface fishing is the key here, not surface poppers or other floating patterns. 
They say that the difference between a good trout angler, and a successful one, are two split shot. 
So it might seem the same with bass...

You'll also see right off that the flies are not lurid, gaudy things designed to catch your eye, but are intended to catch fish.
They are not complicated, they use commonly found materials, and I tied them as a boy with limited means and experience might... which is pretty much how I tie all my flies.
So this was right up my alley.
Nonetheless, they all follow the consistent pattern of large, generic hooks to create big flies - these are all on #4 bait hooks.
Imagine yourself a boy in 1894, and you only have available the hooks carried by the local hardware store. Your materials are culled from local farmers, hunters, your moms knitting box, feathers from your own bed pillow, etc.
That is what we are aiming for here. 

Conclusion
Did you catch these terms: "Peradventure?" and "Confrere?" 
See what I mean about talking oddly after reading this stuff. Try 'peradventure' on your fishing buddies and see how that goes...

So there you have it, yet another dip into the pool of arcane lore. This old book has taught us one thing, at least: There are simple, familiar and easy-to-tie patterns that we can craft from common materials... patterns that will maybe catch bass when little else does.


It's kinda like those early GEICO caveman commercials...


"So Easy, Even A Boy Can Do It!"



Thanks so much for reading and,

Tight Lines,

David 

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Monday, January 18, 2021

The Colorado Spinner - It's A Winner!

PFnF Blog
Installment #101

The Colorado Spinner - It's  A Winner!


I've mentioned the Colorado Spinner before, and have had cause to revive the notion, today. This was thanks to one of my favorite guys, Damon Toney, on his You Tube channel, "Black Warrior Lures."
I'll add a link to him at the end, so don't miss it.*

Confusion
This is an old, old lure; it goes back into the early 20th century, as far as I know.
Now notice, when I say, "Colorado Spinner," I'm referring to a particular type of 
metal fishing lure  -
and I mean the entire lure itself.
It is NOT to be confused with the wireform "spinnerbaits," like Beetle Spins, which may use a Colorado blade...


NOT THIS

Likewise, it should not be confused with just the blade itself.


Not These, Alone

It is, in fact, a complete lure all its own, known by the name, "Colorado Spinner." You could use any other type spinner blade, and it would still be a, "Colorado Spinner."
It's a subtle, often confusing distinction, I admit, but it may be lost if it isn't reinforced.

Why Care?
The reason this precise identification matters to me is because I grew up with these things in the early 60's. 
My dad used them on the western rainbows for which we fished.
Today, they are mostly unheard of except by a few old-timers, and those who stumble upon them.
  
I think maybe only Hildebrandt still offers them on a commercial basis; and they are of high quality.
They may also be available in regional trout locales, mostly as a cottage industry product.
However, I've never seen one for sale on the shelf at my South Carolina WalMart, so they don't have what I would call a wide audience.
But, they are a reminder of my dad, Sidney Hutton (RIP), and what I look back on as happier times.
So, I care for the nostalgia they evoke.

Details
As a kid, I remember we festooned the hooks with bright red salmon eggs, or strips of red flannel cut from dads shirt.
Red seems to be an attractive color to the fish...or maybe its just something we did as habit.
Fishermen are like that; much of what we do comes because it may have worked once.
Or, maybe, it worked for some other guy and we heard about it.

It may be that red mattered very little, in fact.
Polka dots might have done as well. Movement and flash was likely the key element, in the end.
But WE used red because that's just what you did.
We anglers need little more prompting than that.

Ours had treble hooks, and I still make them that way, today.
I usually add a small section of red coffee stirrer to the shank of the treble hook, and maybe I'll add a few latex strips cut from a balloon... this being another old trick not much practiced today.

On some I add a Duo Snap clip to the swivel eye, which allows me to hang a hackled fly back there. Using a ringed, large eye hook, I can also add a natural bait or small twisty tail grub on the rear.

They were originally created back when fly rods were pretty much the only game in town for delivering lightweight lures.
There were many "lures" specifically created for casting with fly rods, in those days, and 
you can make these any size you want, from size 0, right on up to the big, 2" #8's.

But the Colorado Spinner is, in my opinion, best suited for light spinning gear, and the trusty old fly rod.
I use them with my “Palmetto Special,” U/L spinning outfits, and do well enough on the panfish, when they are in the mood for striking shiny little doo-dads. 
I tend to keep them around size 3, as I use them mostly on panfish.

In still water, cranking them in on a steady retrieve is about all it takes. The blade spins with very little movement, so they don't have to be zoomed along. You can stop them and let them flutter, too, or vary the retrieve any way you wish.

I find its best to give them a small, sharp jerk to get them turning, but after that, it's just swim them past where fish might be holding.
When fished in moving water, the current does most of the work for you.

I'm working off memory, next, as I don't fish running water these days, but I remember fish seemed to take them most of the time on the downward swing.

Where they crossed the stream on the down swing, and while transitioning from swing to upstream retrieve, that's where I remember most of the hits coming from.
Originally, I think they were intended to hang in the current, with the occasional pop-and-flutter bringing strikes.

DIY Spinner
The Colorado Spinner is something you should at least try.
You can buy the Hildebrandt versions - if you can find them.

But you'll probably be better off making them yourself, which isn't a bad thing. The lead photo should show you just how easy it is to make them.
They cost only pennies to create, and they are as effective as ever.
You can buy swivels and treble hooks anywhere.
The only "specialty" items you'll need are split rings and blades, and they're cheap and available at any tackle making supplier.

The Colorado Spinner just might even be a secret weapon in the battle for the, "The Best Fishing Lure Ever....."
Certainly it's a winner in the running for the simplest.
 
*DON'T forget to check out Damon on his channel and get involved with his efforts to educate and entertain. Many thanks to him... you can meet him and see his version of the Colorado Spinner, here:

Black Warrior Lures

Thanks so much for reading and Tight Lines,

David

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