Small Stream Commando Raid

(A detailed look at my experience with an OPST Commando Head…)

Earlier in the spring, I returned to Minnesota – perhaps the walleye capital of the Union – to fish for trout in a small stream. It was a return engagement with the Clearwater River, just outside of Bemidji. A previous article I wrote in this blog describes my initial visit there.

Fly fishing in Minnesota

The Clearwater River averages about 30 feet across. Parts of it are tight and brushy and you can forget about actually casting. Combat fishing with about 3 feet of line, and sometimes only 3 feet of leader, is the standard operating procedure. Other sections of the Clearwater are what I would call a confined meadow stream. In other words, you can cast, but you better know where your back cast is going. I thought it would be the ideal place to test out some single handed spey tactics with an OPST Commando Head.

Disclaimer: My spey game is very much a work in progress so “single handed spey tactics” can be interpreted as “roll casting with some lifting and dragging.”

Regardless, I was fishing a 7′ 10″ Sage TXL 4 weight with a 175 grain Commando Head. The head was 13 feet long and I had a 5 foot Airflo polyleader on the end.

Fly fishing in Minnesota

Then came 3 feet of 8 pound mono and a size 8 marabou leech. On the reel side of the head, I had 60 feet of 30 pound OPST Lazer running line. If you email the folks at OPST and tell them what you are fishing for and what kind of rod you have, they will gladly make appropriate recommendations regarding heads, running lines, and leaders.

For what I wanted to do, my set up was amazing. I could roll cast across the stream and swim my fly down and across, imparting a jigging action as it went. Sometimes I would angle the cast slightly upstream so the fly gained some extra depth with its initial drift. On a larger pool, after I was finished fishing it, I let loose with some roll casts just to see how far I could stretch everything out. It was not as pretty as what you might see on the OPST promo videos, but with the entire head outside the guides to start, I could comfortably shoot about 30 feet of running line. I was ecstatic, having never before shot so much line with a roll cast.

Fly fishing in Minnesota

If I weren’t confident about hitting a distant target with a roll cast, I would cast the fly with a conventional overhand cast. The beauty of overhand casting a heavy Commando Head is that the rod loads deeply with only a few feet of line out and the running line leaps through the guides as it gets pulled down range. It might make casting instructors cringe, but I can see handing a beginner a Commando Head and having them get some decent distance almost immediately.

But what about the fish? At this point, you may deservedly be asking, “Yeah, but did you catch any fish?” You bet! The Clearwater has a good population of stocked rainbows. Being in central Minnesota, not Montana, wild trout are hard to come by, but those pan-sized stockers put on a great show. Many of the takes, and near takes, were incredibly visual. By the end of an afternoon, I had released about a half dozen and also moved another half dozen or so. Not spectacular numbers but certainly a great day in the middle of the prairies.

Fly fishing in Minnesota

It must be pointed out that Commando Heads are not a be-all-and-end-all fishing tool. For presenting nymphs and dry flies upstream, the heavy head and super thin running line makes mending difficult. Naturally, if you are talking about dries specifically, the head lacks a great deal in the finesse department.

Nevertheless, I think every angler should consider adding an OPST Commando Head to their arsenal. They certainly helped me out and made my fishing more fun.