Friday, April 6, 2018

Blue Sinixt ~ For Trout Spey

Blue Sinixt for Trout Spey ~ Steven Bird

    Been working up some lures for swinging this Spring. Pre-spawn rainbows, like steelhead, react to certain color combinations & are incited to grab (fun when they do it). The classic Atlantic salmon design frame, which has contributed much to the sea trout & steelhead fly traditions, applies to create killing wetflies for inland trouting as well. Studying classic dressings reveals creative material applications that may be applied to defining Trout Spey designs. For tiers compelled to exercise fanciful imaginations, attractor wetflies offer a satisfying outlet.

For swinging:

Blue Sinixt  

Hook: #6 TMC 200R

Thread: black UNI 8/0

Hackle: church window body feather taken from a cock ringneck pheasant

Tailing: Hareline UV Shrimp dubbing fibers

Body: rear to front – tip, blue tinsel; butt, peacock herl; girdle, blue & silver tinsel; thorax, blue dubbing

Topping: golden pheasant tippet (I dye it with an orange marker), splayed ~

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Hairless Muddler

   Designed to simulate sculpin, there’s no denying the effectiveness of Don Gapen’s original Muddler Minnow, a pattern that has spawned countless variations tied with heads of clipped deer hair or wool to create a fat-headed sculpin profile.  

Though quicker to tie, I’ve found wool-head versions not as killing as I’d like; & though there aren’t many fly-tying operations I don’t enjoy, I’m not that fond of spinning & clipping deer hair – mainly because it is time-consuming, hence frustrating when the Muddler snags the bottom & is broken off, or otherwise lost by any means (these work best fished with a sink-tip, tickling over the bottom).

Because it is such an important & wide-ranging trout food form, I’m always experimenting with new sculpin patterns & have had good results with several hackle-headed versions, employing multiple brahma hackles to effect the wide-headed profile. However, those versions use up a lot of brahma hackle in the process.

My recent fascination with the dabbler design frame has led me to realize how well it serves to create a sculpin profile, giving the illusion of mass without a lot of material build-up. The hackle version breathes & pulses; the hackle head providing a more realistic color blend with the rest of the fly than one might achieve from hair. Here’s the dressing for one I like:

Olive/Brown Muddler

Hook: #4-#6 TMC 200R

Thread: camel UNI 8/0

Hackle: front collar: olive guinea hen; rear collar: brahma hen

Tailing: brown over olive marabou, topped with a pinch of olive guinea hackle barbs

Rib: copper wire

Body: dark olive hare’s mask blended with a pinch of lighter olive antron & a pinch of chopped Hareline UV Shrimp dubbing for highlights – build the body heavier toward the front of the fly

Palmer: brown or brown-grizzly shlappen, 5 turns over the body (counting the initial collar) – wind a collar of 3 full turns of the hackle before palmering back to the hook bend

Wind the ribbing wire forward to cinch down the palmered hackle, tie off the wire in front of the palmer hackle collar (having left room to wind the 2 collars in front); wind the brahma hackle back to the palmer collar, 3 full turns, apply a turn of thread over the hackle tip & wind the tying thread forward over (through) to the front of the hackle (then trim away the hackle tip); & then do the same with the guinea hackle behind the hook eye.             

Monday, March 26, 2018

Henry Loiseau ~ Rookskull Graphics

Knowing that those who read SHJ are inclined to appreciate art, I thought to give a plug for Henry Loiseau, a close associate & talented graphic designer. When Andy Warhol advised aspiring artists to approach the work as an eight-hour-a-day job, Henry took that seriously. He is available for work. I love the two Trout Spey fly illustrations he did for me, featured here.

In addition to graphic art services, Henry is offering a line of quality hats, T-shirts and sweatshirts emblazoned with his unique graphics. Shirts may be printed with graphics on the front or back, as desired.

If you would like to immortalize a couple of your favorite fly patterns, or need graphic/illustrative work for your business or project, contact Henry Loiseau via email:

You can check out & order his graphic clothing line at:

Beautiful, creative graphics, sans brand advertising. I'm getting the hoody with the bear wearing a feathered headdress.   

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Old School Guys

Steven Bird & Jeff Cottrell
Time for a story. This one appeared in The Drake magazine last year. A true story. Jeff Cottrell called me, expressing the opinion that I should post it on SHJ. So here it is.

A Full Circle

For a lot of years after I met Jeff I would have said Bear Creek was the best small stream I’ve ever fished. A secretive tributary of the San Gabriel River not far from the troubled sprawl of the L.A. basin, it was the kind of place fishing kids knew about and escaped to. Bayonet sotol, nettles, rattlesnakes, tarantulas, scorpions and despairingly steep canyon walls helped to ensure light traffic – alder and willow overhanging the creek served as vexing deterrents to reasonable fly casters. A few miles upstream from the confluence with the West Fork, away from the mainstem and its deformed hatchery trout, you got into the good fishing. 

Rare to meet anybody up there. It was wild and lonesome enough you met another angler it just seemed natural to stop and compare notes. I’d been camped for a couple days five miles upstream from the confluence and had it all to myself. Lots of fish – wild rainbows on small soft-hackles and wetflies – bright leaves of trout. And though the memory of it is no longer vivid I remember it well enough.  


I’m fishing downstream, on my way out. He’s working his way upstream, a tall kid, about my age. I note the seven-foot Fenwick he’s carrying. Lucky, I think. I’m fishing the one-piece, six-foot, four-weight I built from a noodly nondescript glass blank I found in a discount bin. It’s not bad, perfect for Bear Creek. He greets me with a wave and a broad smile, openly delighted at meeting another fly fisher so far into the isolation of the canyon. I stop and return the greeting. Tacitly, we find seats on the stones beside the creek. We both light cigarettes.

His name is Jeff Cottrell and he’s from Whittier, downstream from my home in Glendora, at the base of the mountains. Like me, he is a regular on the San Gabriel, a Bear Creek backcountry camper. He likes my rod.

“Perfect for Bear Creek,” he says.

Examining the wee soft-hackle fly riding the stripper, he asks, “You into Leisenring… soft-hackles?”

I pull out my childhood Perrine, flip it open and hand it to him.

He scans the clips loaded with flymphs and wetflies and nods appreciatively. “Man, really nice. Bet you catch a lot of trout on those.”

“Vacuum them, sometimes,” I reply, feeling leather-backed with recent success.

He takes out the box he’s keeping his big stonefly nymphs in, opens it. Some of the nymphs are hackled fore and aft of the thorax, in the style of Charles Brooks, his recent hero. They are beautifully tied. “Hey, have you read Charles Brooks? Nymph Fishing for Larger Trout?” I’ve been catching a lot of the bigger fish up here – sixteen, seventeen inches – using the big nymphs.” He selects a couple flies and hands them to me, studies the contents of his box, then selects a third, one with a peacock herl body. “Oh man… this one…,” he says, handing it to me.

I give him a few of the soft-hackle flies that have been working for me. That seems to please him a lot. We share an enthusiasm for wetfly design. Turns out, we are zealots for the cause and soon we are excited and both talking at the same time, the fly talk punctuated with gesticulating tales of our angling prowess meant to illustrate and emphasize the killing effectiveness of favorite patterns. He reads a lot and fishes a lot. Says he caught a steelhead out of Sespe Creek. We smoke a deuce of cigs apiece before finally packing it up. We shake hands, wish each other luck, then he goes his way and I go mine, and we don’t meet again for another forty years.


I bought a copy of Nymph Fishing for Larger Trout. Found it one of the most useful and influential books on flyfishing for trout I’ve ever read. I still have that copy on my bookshelf, a reminder of that meeting in the sun flecked shade of Bear Creek canyon. A compatriot met in a lonesome place had given me the product of his art and pointed the way to knowledge that would change my game – and that given freely, for the sake of the game, a game Jeff Cottrell played so well that it became his occupation, as it eventually became my own.

A lot passes in forty years. Families built and kids raised. Lifetimes lived. Folks gone down paths in twisty, seemingly random directions. Yet I suspect there’s really no such thing as randomness or coincidence. There seems to be a synchronous purpose to it all, though I can’t for sure say what that is, or why.


I’ve been living beside the upper Columbia since the early ‘70’s, having moved there not long after meeting Jeff on Bear Creek.

Jeff started guiding in California, the private water Arcolarius Ranch section of the Owens River, then moved on to a long stint in Colorado where he met Jan. And that led to a long tour out of the country, guiding on the Rio Grande in Tierra del Fuego. Wanting to eventually retire from guiding and make a home in the Northwest, he’d made a go at a fly shop in The Dalles, but, turned out, traffic was light there, and then the economy tanked. Now I meet him again, in another secretive place, on a much larger river, far from Bear Creek in southern California, managing Black Bear Lodge for the Evening Hatch, downriver from my fish camp on the American Reach.

Though the Evening Hatch crew might be considered my competition, there are no guide wars on the upper Columbia, and those of us operating there are friends. Their clients have left and the crew, CJ Emerson, Rial Blaine, the young guys, and Jeff are catching their breaths, waiting for the next round. I show up. Jeff pours me a cup of coffee. And we’re all sitting around the lodge’s big dining table. It’s October caddis season and we’ve been working up new patterns. Our fly boxes are open on the table and we’re comparing notes on designs. Even though he knows more than any of us on the subject, the history, Jeff is doing the least talking. He’s listening, pulling flies from his steelhead box and stacking them into a pile on the table.

He is old school. I’ve heard that said, and his flies might create that impression. But that description serves only as a shallow generalization, it’s not who Jeff Cottrell really is. It would be more precise to say he is well-schooled. He knows that ‘tradition’ is the archive of what worked. Like a lot of guides he is a closet intellectual. He is a ‘man of the country’, and though he lives immersed in angling there is nothing of the didactic fly-shop-pro about him. He is no self-promoter. Jeff Cottrell is having fun, and that is magnetic. Scott Sadil told me even the most hard-assed ranchers will give Jeff permission to fish on their property. “Jeff’s the guy to send in,” Scot says. Women like him too. Both of the girls on my crew lined up to hug him goodbye after first meeting him, a gesture they reserve for only dearest friends. He is confident, engaging and light with them – they like that. Jan, his wife and partner forever (also a hugger) knows him better than anybody, and she might tell you he is a stick and stay family man. Jeff Cottrell is not well-known in the way that writers archiving the life and times of our sport in front of a screen are known. He is practicing at a level where flim-flam does not pay off. He is a writer’s angler.           

Jeff and I like traditional elements, natural materials and soft-hackle flies. Rial tends toward synthetics, rubber legs, a ‘modern’ approach. Young CJ, guiding since high school, fiercely loyal to Jeff, his mentor, gives Rial some shit about rubber.   

Rial, laconic, spooning a cup of yogurt, rolls his eyes, says: “Least I don’t have to worry about being responsible for the extinction of silicon rubber.”

We all laugh.

Jeff, having assembled a generous pyramid of steelhead flies, pushes them over to me, smiles and nods, a signal to take them. They are beautifully tied. One with real jungle cock cheeks tied down-eye style. I recognize a couple ancient patterns, an exquisite Lady Caroline, but most are of his own design, reflecting his knowledge of Old World styles, yet, decidedly ‘West Coast’. In them I see the influence of Trey Combs, Jeff’s close friend. Jeff gives stuff away. He moves things toward you, those things he knows you like or need. I thank him for the flies, wanting to pass him my whole box to reciprocate. He’s got a day to kill, so I invite him to fish my secret lake.


The small lake is a perfect circle. Some say it was created by a meteor hit. It spans the meadowlands of a narrow valley, mountains on both sides framing a blue delta of long autumn sky. All is mirrored on the calm surface of the circular lake. An aureola of cattail reeds lines the shore and the water quickly drops off from there. We are in my jon boat casting sink-tips toward the reeds. We have it all to ourselves.

Every once in a while I give the oars a pull. The conversation is an easy back and forth while we chain-smoke and fish. The fish are wild redband rainbows with some shoulder on them, and every time Jeff’s rod bends into one of them his face opens to a smile. He enjoys every trout, marveling at the purplish-blue coloration the lake gives them. And he seems to enjoy the ones I catch even more. He is the best kind of fishing companion, still the adventurous kid I met up Bear Creek canyon, long ago.

He remembers. We recall that meeting. Jeff shakes his head and laughs, says, “We’ve come a long way, haven’t we Steve.”  He means it as an affirmation, not a question.

His words sink in. An osprey hovers in the arcing vault of sky over the lake, its head tilting. I entertain some thoughts about those born to be fishers, for who it is not a sport but a living and a way. And I think about arcs of trajectory and the eventual circularity of everything. I pull on the oars. Jeff lays out a cast. The osprey tucks its wings and stoops toward something hidden, falling toward the dark mirror of the lake, its reflection rising swiftly to meet it. “Yes,” I allow, “We have come a long way.”          

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Basic Method of Hackling a Soft-Hackle Fly

      There are a handful of ways to apply hackle when tying a soft-hackle fly, that evidenced in the many tutorials anybody with the brass & a Go-Pro might post online. Some do it horribly & some do it right. But is there a ‘right’ & proper way? Well, my dad, a master tool & die maker, used to say: “There’s always more than one way to do something, but usually only one best way.”

So, here I’ll outline the hackling method applied by many of the living & past Masters of the soft-hackle wetfly & the reasons for doing it this way. This is the basic method, & the one I use when tying Spiders, Jingler dryflies, Dabblers, Spades, Flymphs, or most any wetfly tied with a full (in-the-round) collar at the head of the fly. I’ll demonstrate the method tying a simple Hare’s Ear, which gives me an excuse to try the beautiful brahma hackle Bert kindly sent me.

Choose a hackle. Generally, the hackle barbs on a finished fly will be slightly longer than the body. Longer, or shorter, as desired. Gauge the hackle length by holding the center stem against the hook eye, the hackle barbs aligned parallel with the hook shank.

Prepare the hackle by stripping the stem up to the point you are into good, usable barbs of the length wanted. Tear away a few extra barbs from the side of the hackle that lays against the hook shank, creating a 'flat' to help seat the hackle properly when beginning to wind it.

Start the thread about five turns behind the hook eye & wind back toward the bend until about a third of the shank is covered, now wind forward all the way to the hook eye (I stay about a thread turn behind the hook eye). This provides a bedding for the hackle stem as well as some build-up through the thorax area. 

Place the hackle on the top of the hook shank, concave side up. Hold the hackle stem in place while applying a couple loose turns of thread, tightening while winding the thread back over the stem to about the center of the thread base. If the hackle pulls over to the side of the hook shank a bit, that’s okay, as long as the concave side remains facing outward.

Trim away the thread tag & remaining hackle stem. 

Proceed winding the tying thread back to the hook bend. Tie in the ribbing, apply dubbing to the tying thread & wind the dubbed body forward almost to the hook eye, then wind the thread back to about the center of the thorax. We want some build-up under the hackle, but not the clumpy amount of build-up we’d get if we wound the ribbing all the way to the hook eye, hence I generally end the ribbing at the center of the thorax area.

Cinch down & trim the ribbing, then spiral the tying thread back to the base of the thorax.

Dub forward over the thorax to provide profile & a bit of mass to keep the hackle flared. The ribbing under the thorax dubbing will provide enticing inner flash when the fly is wet. 

After dubbing the thorax, leave the tying thread positioned far enough behind the hook eye to provide a gap for the wound hackle, which will be wound back to the thread's position.

Pull the hackle back perpendicular to the hook shank & apply two full turns of hackle, winding back to the tying thread position. Holding the hackle tip at the top of the hook shank, apply a turn of thread over the end, then wind the thread forward two turns over (through) the hackle to the hook eye.


Trim away the hackle tip (or may be left to create a wing). Square away the hackle with your fingers. 

Gather & pull back the hackle & apply thread turns & whip-finish. Using this method there is little to no build-up in front of the hackle, so the head may be as small as you like. The hackle stem will be hidden; & do not wind the tying thread back over the hackle base intending to cover the stem, pinning the hackle to the body (unless you want something that looks like a diving caddis with a big head).

The hackle collar should have as much flare as lay-back. We cinched & locked the collar in place when we wound the tying thread forward over the hackle (it won’t unwind) & also, in essence, spring-loaded the hackle barbs. The water current will move them back against the body, but they will want to return to position, producing lifelike obfuscation & motion.

If you require a sparser hackle, remove the barbs from one side of the feather before tying in.

I’ve probably tried every hackling method there is for wetflies, but this basic method is the best I’ve tried, giving the best result, & also the quickest & easiest. Hope it serves to help anyone who may be wondering. Stay tuned. The next couple posts will outline hackling methods for flymphs & tiny soft-hackles.     

Saturday, February 10, 2018

A Few Jinglers For Spring

    Barring a catastrophic asteroid hit, Spring is right around the corner & we are getting ready. So thought to post a few Jingler patterns for meeting early season mayflies.

You could say the Jingler is a ‘cult fly’. Originated about 200 years ago to fish mayfly hatches on the River Tweed, the Jingler patterns have been in use for quite some time, having gained a reputation as a killing fly in the Border Country region of its origin. Yet I’m not really sure why the Jingler pattern, often called a ‘soft-hackle dryfly’, has never gained wide usage with American anglers. Being convinced of the pattern’s effectiveness, I’m left to suspect it might be the Jingler’s unconventional looks responsible for its relative absence from American fly boxes. ‘Looks’, everybody knows, will get you far, while unconventionality is no great booster. Some say the Jingler is downright ugly. And sure, the design may not reflect the refined elegance of a Catskill style dry, but to my own eye Jingler flies possess a certain utilitarian elegance that is lively, evocative and pleasingly abstract. It is interesting though, from what I can gather from the writings, in the Jingler’s long history the design has always been considered somewhat of an oddball, obscure, yet never without ardent fans. Some swear by it and will fish nothing else. 

March Brown Jingler

(I’m not that zealous. Live by only one pattern, no matter how good it is, there’s bound to be days you will die by it too).

Green Drake Jingler
Though a dryfly, the Jingler design incorporates the three pillars of good wetfly design: obfuscation; light; motion. Basically, it is a floating soft-hackle fly, buoyed with the addition of rooster hackle palmered over the thorax area. Tails are generally rooster or waterfowl flank. Bodies are usually dubbing or quill. Most often the soft hackle is partridge or hen, though not limited to that. The original pattern was wingless, though more recently some tiers add a CDC wing between the palmer and front hackle. Border Country tiers often add tinsel, as a tip, or wound over the thorax before palmering the rooster hackle. I like the latter method, the tinsel glinting through the hackle after it is wound.
Hendrickson Jingler 

Though it may look odd in hand, a Jingler is stunningly realistic when hunting on the water and difficult to discern from naturals drifting near it. The patterns featured here are untried originals of my own devise, but I'm fairly certain they'll do the job. I think the Hendrickson version on the left would serve equally as well for March Brown. 

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Low Water Spiders for Swinging & Trout Spey

#6 Dee Spider ~ Steven Bird

     Still thinking about larger patterns (#4 - #12) for swinging. My last two posts featured some examples of the Spade & Dabbler design frames, & having laid that down, I thought it might be a good idea to cover the topic by posting some examples of Low Water Spiders as well. 

#6 October Caddis ~ Steven Bird

Don't know why but I feel the need to qualify this by reminding readers that I am not the person who gave these types of flies their family names (Spider, Dabbler, Spade). If the labels seem arbitrary & fanciful, that is because they kinda are. Again, not my fault. But hey, ya gotta love language, & particularly naming things.

#8 Green/Blue Spider ~ Steven Bird

The angling lexicon & usage differs, depending on your side of The Pond. For example, what Americans commonly refer to as ‘soft-hackle flies’ are generally known as ‘spiders’ in Britain. Interestingly, both European salmon anglers & American steelheaders apply the term ‘Spider’ to a class of scantily dressed (more or less), wingless wetflies meant to trigger wary anadromous fish in clear or low water conditions – hence the term ‘Low Water Spider’. The Spade flies fit this category, though I’ve separated them in these posts as they represent a very specific type, tied with a single spade hen hackle & deer hair underbody & tailing. Though LW Spiders are dressed down by Atlantic salmon fly standards, they are decidedly fancy compared to the wee North Country Spiders familiar to most trouters.
#6 October Variant ~ Steven Bird

 My own experience leads me to believe there is potential for great trout flies within the LW Spider design frame. For the most part, these are tied as attracter flies (lures) designed to be fished with the classic wetfly swing & in all the ways that one would fish a streamer. Tied in sizes #4 through #12, the LW Spiders fill the niche between large streamers & wee flies. In natural colorations they serve to simulate minnows, larger nymphs, crayfish & sculpin. As lures, they afford tiers infinite variability to run wild mixing irresistible trigger-color combinations to create killing baits. 
#10 Ruby/Black Spider ~ Steven Bird

The Low Water Spiders are easy to tie, satisfying to look at & fish. They are tied with & without tailing. Bodies may be anything, generally sparse & not crowding the hook, ending at or ahead of the hook point. Unlike Spade flies, LW Spiders are often tied with multiple hackles, similar to the Dabbler designs, yet without the palmer over the body. Sized to meet the water & fish, these are effective on any stream, & perfect for Trout Spey.

#8 Plover & Partridge Hares Ear ~ Steven Bird

If you are interested in wilderness, rivers, swinging flies, two-handed rods, elegant useful flies, Trout Spey, or anything Spey, & if you like the portable ease & cozy satisfaction of a tactile magazine posted beside the recliner or on the night stand (or, as in my own case, on top of the water closet back of the john) you’d probably appreciate Swing The Fly magazine. In my own humble opinion, STF is a breath of fresh air – discerning, smart editorial & literary values, a soul commitment to our wilderness & fisheries, a keen sense of what is authentic & valuable in the tradition of our game, great photography, art & illustrations – in all regards the finest angling magazine in publication. The Spring 2018 issue will be totally devoted to flies & fly tying, & will feature Spade, Dabbler & Spider patterns for swinging &Trout Spey, as well as sea-trout, salmon & steelhead patterns from master tier/anglers. If you appreciate killing fly designs that reflect long tradition, Swing The Fly is the real thing. If you subscribe now you’ll get the Spring Fly issue, alone worth the price of admission.