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There isn't a fisherman on the planet who won't ask "What are they hitting?" when first meeting another angler on the water.  In the Fly Box Porn series of articles, Fly Fish Ohio persuades some seriously talented fly fishers to give us a proper peek into their "confidence" boxes.  We'll show you ours if you show us yours!


Fly Box Porn — Part Nine

A Rough Recipe For Success...

Fly Box Porn From A Consummate Brown-Liner

 Photos by Jean-Paul Lipton


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.  It took 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 them.

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 brethren.

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?

JP - 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 the hardest?

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 fish. 

FFO - How much do you think color matters?  What are the key trigger elements you design into your flies?

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 rods.

FFO - Which species are missing from your life list that you're chasing?  Which one haunts you?

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 still hope.

FFO - What's in the future for the Rough Fisher - both your blog and you?

JP - 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.

Keep it rough.

San Juan Worm – Armored Car Version


Hook: Tiemco 2457, size 8
Thread: UNI-thread 6/0, Red
Weight: 3/16” Bead, Brass or Tungsten
Body: Micro Chenille, Red
Rib: Ultra Wire Medium, Red


I set out in search of a more durable San Juan Worm one that would hold up to over a dozen fish, have enough weight to get down in moderate river currents, and would still be effective long after the chenille had worn from the body

Carp Assassin
Hook: Tiemco 2457, size 8
Thread: UNI-thread 6/0, Red
Weight: 3/16” Bead, Brass or Tungsten
Body: Micro Chenille, Red
Rib: Ultra Wire Medium, Red
Gills: Marabou, Red; Krystal Flash, UV Pearl


Carp Crack

Hook: Mustad 34007, Size 8
Thread: UNI-Thread 6/0, Red
Tail: Medium Centipede legs, Hot Orange
Body: Roughfisher’s custom spectral seal sub dubbing, Burnt Orange
Thorax: Ruffed Grouse or Hungarian Partridge, dark/brown
Head: #8 Orange Beadchain


This pattern can be tied in any variety of colors, with peacock, olive, orange, rust, and grey being the most popular.


Dragon Slayer

Hook: Mustad 34007, Size 8
Thread: UNI-Thread 6/0, Black Tail: Wild turkey marabou (or dark gray commercial marabou)
Body: Roughfisher’s custom spectral seal sub dubbing, Peacock Power Thorax: Ruffed Grouse, dark Head: #8 painted bead chain, green


This pattern can also be tied in the Damsel Slayer variation, substituting Roughfisher’s custom spectral seal sub dubbing, Yerba Buena for the body.


Admiral Akbar

Hook: Mustad 34007, Size 8
Thread: UNI-Thread 6/0, Red Tail: Fox Squirrel Body: Roughfisher’s custom spectral seal sub dubbing, KB “Kind Buds” Thorax: Ruffed Grouse, light; Roughfisher’s custom spectral seal sub dubbing, KB “Kind Buds” Head: #4 beadchain, orange


The Admiral Akbar is a tongue in cheek reference to the admiral from Mon Calamari portrayed in the Star Wars saga, Admiral Ackbar. The profile of the pattern resembles a micro squid, hence the reference to calamari.


Boreal Bomber

Hook: Mustad 34007, Size 8
Thread: UNI-Thread 6/0, Black Tail: Moose mane Body: Roughfisher’s custom spectral seal sub dubbing, Peacock Power Thorax: Ruffed Grouse, dark; Roughfisher’s custom spectral seal sub dubbing, Peacock Power Head: 4mm tungsten bead, unfinished


The Boreal Bomber is an all purpose attractor nymph, designed for dredging the bottom of deep pools and rocky riffle runs with its tungsten head.


Hook: Mustad 34007, Size 8
Thread: UNI-Thread 6/0, Black Tail: Moose mane Body: Roughfisher’s custom spectral seal sub dubbing, Peacock Power Thorax: Ruffed Grouse, dark; Roughfisher’s custom spectral seal sub dubbing, Peacock Power Head: 4mm tungsten bead, unfinished


CZE Scud

Hook: Extra Strong Curved, barbless, or Tiemco 2457, Size 8,
Thread: 6/0 UNI, black
Underbody: 0.20" Lead wire wrapped around thorax
Case: 1/4" strip latex, clear; color thorax area with permanent brown marker
Body: Brownstain dub
Rib: Copper Ultra Wire, Medium
Thorax: Supersonic Scud or Brownstain dub
Head: tapered thread


A Czech style scud pattern.  Heavy Metal!  Sleek profiled and heavily weighted to dredge the deepest depths of Davy Jones' Locker.



Hook: Mustad 34007, Size 6
Thread: 6/0 UNI, red
Body: Roughfisher's custom spectral seal sub dubbing, various colors
Thorax: Ring-necked pheasant rump, natural; matching dubbing to match body
Head: #10 Bead chain, brass

A general attractor pattern that can simulate anything from a crawfish to a minnow.


Darth Clam

Hook: Mustad 34007, size 6 or 8
Thread: UNI-thread 6/0, Brown
Weight: 6mm gunmetal bead
Body: Furry Foam, Brown
Siphon: Ultra Chenille, Pink


The clam fly [emerges from] the desire to target those big carp who voraciously feed on freshwater mussel beds, as well as other molluscivorous fish like freshwater drum, redhorse, and other sucker species.


Darth Clam 2.0

Hook: 2X strong curved, e.g.: Tiemco 2457, size 8; Mustad C67S, size 8
Thread: UNI-thread 6/0, Brown
Weight: 6mm gunmetal bead
Body: Furry Foam, Olive
Siphon: Ultra Chenille, Tan
Foot: Antron/Zelon, Amber

Updates to the pattern [above] include the addition of an Antron/Zelon foot and a much shorter, almost incognito siphon. The pattern is also tied on a heavy, curved hook shank instead of an O’Shaugnessy style salt hook.



Hook: Mustad 34007, size 6 or 8
Thread: UNI-thread 6/0, Brown
Weight: 6mm gunmetal bead
Body: Furry Foam, Tan


Diet studies conducted in Lake Erie with native fish species like Freshwater drum, have shown a significant portion of their diet consisting of zebra mussels. Other molluscivorous fish that have observed feeding on zebra mussels are the Greater Redhorse, Common Carp, White Sucker, Shovelnose and Lake Sturgeon, and Lake Whitefish.


You can purchase materials mentioned in this article directly from www.Roughfisher.com. For those of you who don't tie your own flies, Jean-Paul also ties these patterns commercially and offers them for sale in the Roughfisher on-line store..

Would you like to have your fly selection featured as an installment of Fly Fish Ohio's Fly Box Porn series?  Contact us


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