The BC Flyfishers Chapter of IFFF recently welcomed Pennsylvania fly fishing guide, Joe Ackourey, with a big turnout from chapter members. An audience of over 50 packed the Endicott Library meeting room to the gills – no pun intended – to watch Joe tie some flies and to hear his presentation on nymphing.
The fly tying demo portion of the program started off with Joe tying a woven golden stonefly nymph. It was obvious from the start that Joe is an very experienced commercial tyer – his speed and consistency at the vise was impressive to witness. As Joe tied this pattern, he talked about his start in fly tying at the age of 6 and how he began to tie for his father, Dick Ackourey, himself a commercial tyer for the likes of Orvis and fly fishing shops. This was back in the day when tying had not yet moved offshore and when flies were expected to be tied to very high standards. As he would do often throughout his tying demo and presentation, Joe described his father in heroic, almost mythic terms. It was obvious that he both deeply respected and loved his father, a true fly fishing legend in Pennsylvania.
After tying the golden stone with a unique weaving technique, Joe moved on to comparaduns. He tied hendrickson, quill gordon, blue quill, and march brown comparaduns. Ackourey favors comparaduns over the more traditional hackled dry flies. He followed these beautiful comparaduns with his two favorite nymphs: the hare’s ear and pheasant tail. Joe considers these two classic patterns his “go to” nymphs and compared fishing them to “putting cheese out for the mice”. Ackourey ties these nymphs with his own special dubbing blend and then teases the dubbing fibers out of the fly for movement in the water. He ties them in a flat profile and likes to tie in pearl crystal flash as ribbing on his hare’s ear and copper wire for his pheasant tail.
Joe Ackourey talked a good bit about nymphing. He started by describing his approach to each water he fishes, comparing it to that of a blue heron. What was most noteworthy was his infusion of “confidence” throughout his presentation. “When I go fishing, I become the predator”, he stated, quite boldly. He apologized for sounding a bit arrogant, but said years and years of time on the water allowed him to fish this way. He’s paid his dues, so to speak.
Ackourey set up his typical nymphing rig to start his nymphing demo. He fishes a 9 foot 4 or 5 weight rod with matching floating weight forward line. He uses a 7.5 foot 3X leader and to that attaches 4X tippet that is always 20″ – 22″ in length (he stressed this – echoing his father who would insist on this set-up every time they fished). He ties the 4X tippet to the 3X leader with a blood knot, and uses the 3X tag end as a dropper – always 4″ – 5″ in length. As he tied his rig up, he interjected wonderful bits of rigging wisdom such as always wetting knots as they are tied. Ackourey fishes his hare’s ear nymph as the point or bottom fly with the pheasant tail tied on as a dropper above. He does not use an indicator for his own fishing, but if guiding a beginner will use one for its ability to aid in strike detection. He places his split shot above the dropper, spaced 1″ apart. He spaces his shot apart in order to eliminate a “hinge” in the line.
Joe then actively demonstrated how he fishes his nymphs. Using his fly rod and casting in front of the audience, Ackourey discussed the following:
- He tries to keep his line off the water.
- He fishes his flies 1+ rod length away and upstream
- As his flies dead drift or swing toward his position, he retrieves slack line using a figure 8 weave (see the accompanying video clip).
- He takes his time (“be the predator”), wades very slowly, and likes to pick apart every area of the water that might hold fish.
A video of Joe fishing a local Pennsylvania creek was shown that demonstrated all of the techniques and tactics covered in the meeting. The highlight of the video was watching him fish a nice pool just below a riffle. After a few casts, Ackourey neatly hooked and landed a fat brown of 16 – 17″.
Joe’s first love is teaching, so expect to learn a lot if you book a guided trip with him. Like his father, Joe is happiest when on the river with an eager student or behind the vise during one of his fly tying courses. Opening new doors for beginner and experienced fly fishermen is what keeps Joe motivated. Judging from the excitement and chatter after his presentation, one could tell Joe Ackourey’s drive, enthusiasm, and love of fly fishing definitely hit home with the BC Flyfishers!