Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Season of Small Flies

     By the end of July we find ourselves immersed in the season of small flies. Every day is different. The river changes, rising & falling. Though evening sedge hatches are a constant, they are in flux. Hubcap bright days of 100 degree temperatures push the emergence, & the fishing, right up against dark. Mild, cloudy days are golden. Low light brings everything on, & in low light the trouting can be good all day. The major hatches of drakes & PMD have passed, though there are still some around & the bigger trout have good memory of them. There are some olive stoneflies. Smatterings of small mayflies. Several species of small sedges in all stages & in numbers beyond imagination.

Pinky - an all-purpose soft-hackle - when wet it looks like everything.
 There are a lot of spent insects, & many kinds, present in the water.

Trout are grazing the top of the water column & finding all they want.

This is, simply, the best time of year to swing small soft-hackle flies. Now is when the flies & the method really come together with the natural condition of things. This is a good time to fish those new designs we’ve been wanting to try out. And old stand-by, all-purpose simulators like the Hare’s Ear, Pheasant Tail, Turkey & Starling, Leisenring Black Gnat, Partridge & Orange, or any of the old Partridge & Whatever combinations in #16 will turn the trick.

Or maybe two to a cast will turn the trick even better. 

You can put away the bobber & jig. Time to flyfish, in the classic sense. High summer & it's time to swing.

Flyfish NE Washington with Steven Bird: 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Black Quill Emerging Nymph

The Black Quill (Leptophlebia) isn’t a mayfly that is usually considered among the great hatches of large western drakes, still, it can be important to trouters angling the rivers of the Columbia drainage – the Flathead – & also the Columbia mainstem above Lake Roosevelt, my home water, where it is, by far, the most prolific large mayfly species, producing the best dryfly fishing of the summer season. We usually begin to see Black Quill at the end of June – emerging through the day on overcast days, though generally evenings right up against dark, into early August. We anticipate this large mayfly, as it brings up some of the biggest trout of the year. 

Black Quill nymphs are active, long-legged crawlers & can also swim. Nymphs are #8-#10, uniformly mahogany-brown with bright yellow banding between the abdomen segments, a stand-out feature. Also prominent in mature pre-emergers are the large, elongated, black wing-pads & unfurling wing. Like March Brown, the wings of Black Quill begin to unfurl from the holsters prior to emergence, the unfurling wing aiding in buoying the emerger to the surface. The wings are striking, dark slate, almost black.

Black Quill UC Hairwing Dryfly
 In season, a heavily dressed western hairwing or Wulff style dryfly tied in appropriate colors gets the nod, & on evening excursions in summer I usually carry an outfit rigged with one. Yet, day in, day out, I take a lot more fish swinging the nymph. As trout are feeding wide open on sedges & digressing to eat the occasional big mayfly during the hatch period, I often swing the Black Quill nymph rigged tandem, a wee sedge pattern trailing. When it is too dark to see the dryfly on the water, I switch to the nymph, which is just as exciting as the dryfly, I think. A big UC redband wangs it at the end of a swing in the dark &, no question, the game is on. Adults are the same color as the nymph, conveniently, both top & bottom, so I believe the pattern is taken for a drowned spinner as well.

Though the Black Quill may be regional in importance, the elements of its design, particularly the emerging wing, are applicable (possibly fundamental) to many aquatic insects. Rabbit fur, when wet, serves to simulate the heavy wing-pads & wings of Black Quill (& also Green Drake), but CDC, marabou, hackle fuzz or fine poly work for smaller patterns. The winging of Black Quill & other half-wing designs can be dressed with floatant & fished on the surface as a cripple or stillborn. Let your imagination fly on winging material.      

Black Quill Emerger   

Hook: #10 TMC 200R

Thread: Rust brown UNI 6/0 - BQ are robust, create a cigar-shaped thread build-up as components are tied in

Tail: 3 dark brown goose biots, divided – the tails of naturals are thick & prominent, spread in a defined trident, a keying feature, I think

Rib: Yellow ‘D’ rod wrapping thread – after ribbing over the abdomen, wind to the hook eye & back to the base of the thorax to provide build up & under-color through the thorax area. (Rod wrapping thread holds its color when wet or greased & serves as excellent, almost indestructible ribbing – metallic wrapping thread, available in a number of colors and diameters, is less expensive & superior to most tinsel offered for fly tying – try a Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear ribbed with metallic gold rod wrapping thread.)      

Abdomen: Mahogany brown fur dubbing, tightly dubbed on a loop of the tying thread

Thorax: Dyed brown hare’s mask with guard hairs, twisted, shaggy, on a loop of the tying thread – spread winds slightly so that the yellow under-color winks through - or, as an alternative, the dubbing may be twisted into the yellow ribbing thread using the split-thread technique, & wound through the thorax area

Wing: Black rabbit, about a quarter-inch segment cut from a strip – measure the guard hair tips to extend to the tail, then tie in with the fur butt over the thorax, then fold back the tips & tie down spread over the top of the thorax

Hackle: Reddish-brown hen ~ & finish.

Flyfish NE Washington with Steven Bird:

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Jimmy’s Inner Light Sedge Emerger

Inner Light Sedge Emerger tied by James Veenstra 
     There is always room for improvement. Everything changes. And there is outrageous fun & gratification in the process, sometimes. We are lately seeking a spotted sedge emerging pupa fly pattern that will stand out attractively enough to compete against the impossible numbers of naturals raining from the home water on summer evenings, something with just a hint more flash than the naturals, something with an ‘inner light’ winking from beneath the flowing hackle – hence the idea for the Inner Light Sedge Emerger with tinsel abdomen. 

I recently had the pleasure of fishing with Jimmy Veenstra, a talented fish bum from California, who wanted to tie some ILSE’s for his trip but had no green tinsel, so substituted caddis-green diamond braid for the abdomen, & the result turned out to be the fly-of-the-week. I see the braided material as an improvement over tinsel which turns dark in low light, while the sparkling braid is multifaceted, gathering & reflecting more light, hence more visible up near total darkness. The diamond braid material is extremely durable, & creates a pleasing segmented effect wound as an abdomen.

He brought a good fly pattern, & he also brought a sweet rod to swing it. Jimmy’s Meiser 2/3 trout switch is a gentle cannon able to reach out over the conflicted currents of the American Reach & touch someone. The lithe two-hander is a thing of awesome utilitarian beauty, the nearly perfect fly swinging tool, a coup stick for tagging big trout on big water.

Live big.

Jimmy’s Inner Light Sedge Emerger

Hook: #12-#14 caddis style

Thread: Camel

Abdomen: Wapsi olive pearl braid

Thorax: Brown hare’s mask with a bit of black mixed in – a few turns

Hackle: Brahma hen (brown partridge is a good substitute)

Head: Brown hare’s mask – a few turns in front of the hackle ~ & finish

Flyfish NE Washington with Steven Bird:

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Turkey & Starling Nymph

     Though I find the study of waterborn insects fascinating from an angler’s perspective, & I think I have a fairly good handle on the important bugs present in my home water, I’ve come to the conclusion that exact identification of an insect contributes very little to creating an effective fly pattern for meeting it on the water. And knowing the exact taxonomy of what is there will not necessarily get you a long way toward determining what the trout are preferring to eat during an evening offering a spectrum of choices. Tonight there was a blitz of spotted sedge coming off the river, & a lot of fish, backs & tails out of the water, revealing that they were feeding on emergers under the surface film –  & the sedge pupa emerger patterns have been working good – yet tonight they (the fish) wouldn’t touch a sedge imitation. A break, & a closer look at what was on the water revealed that the spotted sedge were masking a hatch of little black sedge, & also baetis (PMD), blue winged olive & a #16 gray mayfly whose identity I’m not sure of. While I sat watching the water, an olive stonefly landed on my ear. I picked it off, a #12. So, I determined that the classic ambiguity of the situation might be properly met with an equally ambiguous fly pattern, something impressionistic to simulate the emerging nymph stage of at least a couple of the insects the trout might be eating. This simple, all-purpose soft-hackle flymph (emerger) proved to be the mojo needed to turn the evening around. What were trout taking it for? I don't know. Never figured it out. In #16, I suspect it is taken for spotted sedge, baetis, or the emerging nymph of the unidentified gray mayfly. Main thing is, whatever the trout were eating, this one covered it nicely.   

Turkey & Starling Nymph

Hook: #14-#16

Thread: Wine UNI 8/0

Body: Mottled turkey tail – choose a secondary feather with close mottling – (6 swords for a #14) twisted with the tying thread (I leave the tag end of my tying thread long enough to twist with the feather swords)

Hackle: Starling ~ & finish

Flyfish NE Washington with Steven Bird:   

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Inner Light Sedge Emerger

     It usually takes a few seasons to develop a new fly design to the point I feel confident about it – & some never get there, the idea discarded altogether as ill-conceived. But I love it when one works out to take a place among the distinguished company in the box, as a member in good standing. It is only when one makes it to the stage that I am able to regard & fish it without reservation that a fly design is given a name, & a spot in the box that is more than temporary. The Inner Light Sedge Emerger is a version of the Bunny Sedge tied with a tinsel abdomen that I started experimenting with last season. The design showed some promise last year, though I didn’t fish it much, favoring the old stand-bys. This year, as the sedge emergence season gains momentum, with spotted & grannom sedges coming off the river as of this writing, I thought to include the ILSE in the rotation of usual stuff, & over the past couple of weeks it has emerged as the bait of choice. The trout’s preferences for imitation (of the same insect) does trend then change, but for now this one’s having its day (note: it's been mostly cloudy); swung & dangled.

Inner Light Sedge Emerger

Hook: #12-#14 Daiichi 1150

Thread: Camel UNI 8/0

Abdomen: Green mylar tinsel – coat with head cement

Thorax: Brown hare’s mask

Hackle: Brahma hen (brown partridge or grouse will substitute) – one turn

Head: Brown hare’s mask twisted in tying thread – split-thread, dubbing loop or twist-dubbed so that the ‘head’ (actually a continuation of the thorax) appears fairly shaggy – about three turns in front of the hackle ~ & finish

Flyfish NE Washington with Steven Bird            

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Black Carpenter Ant

     I’ve come to think of the large black carpenter ant as one of the most important trout stream insects of late spring & early summer, as it is certainly true in the forested region I fish. The first ant flights of the season occur during the warmest days of May & continue into July – & altogether there may be a dozen major swarms during the course of the May-July hatch season.

The large, clumsy ants are weak flyers & a great many end up in the water on both lakes & streams, bringing up the largest trout to feed. The wings break away easily, & during the struggle on the water the ants often shed their wings, hence, in my own experience, a winged imitation is not necessary for fishing the water (though I do carry winged floaters during ‘hatches’ when a lot of ants are present on the water & fish are actively feeding on them – I’ll take dryfly action whenever it presents itself). If you’ve ever squashed one, you may have noticed that carpenter ants are juicy, & they must taste good too, because trout take the imitation readily through the hatch season.

(Smart trout feeding on tiny mayflies can sometimes be diverted to a well-presented #8 black ant.)

Carpenter ants in my neighborhood are a healthy ¾ of an inch long, they are heavy & don’t float for long, drown, & are tumbled throughout the water column. I’ve found that a wet version of the ant fishes at least as good as a dry in any circumstance, but for fishing the water when no surface activity is apparent, the simple thread-body version tied with a turn of soft hackle is still my favorite.

Black Carpenter Ant

Hook: #8 TMC 2312

Body: Black UNI 3/0 tying thread – build up thread to shape, beginning at the abdomen & working forward

Hackle: Dark bronze hen – one turn over the center of the thorax section – after winding the hackle I coat the entire body with a couple coats of thick head cement.

Flyfish NE Washington with Steven Bird:      

Monday, June 2, 2014

UC Partridge & Peacock Soft-Hackle

  The Brown Hackle Peacock, descended from an ancient line, was the first soft-hackle fly I tied & fished. The simple pattern was perfect for a novice tier, & proved an instant hit with trout in the small creeks I fished as a kid in the 1960’s. That was the fly that provided the direction of my approach to designing & tying flies, & I’ve been tying & fishing variants of the herl-bodied, soft-hackle fly ever since – the pattern’s usefulness undiminished.

There are dozens of riffs on the basic peacock herl body design (everybody ties a slightly different version), every kind & color of soft hackle, variations of thread & ribbing, some with tinsel tags, some with tails. I used to carry a lot of variants, but in attempts to move toward an ideal (visualized more than practiced I admit) of zen simplicity, I attempt to refine & narrow down.

In the early 1970’s I started tying a version using a brown-phase roughed grouse shoulder covert as the hackle, & thought the mottled grouse hackle an improvement over the original brown hen hackle. The variant shown here is one of my staples for meeting the mixed hatches of the Upper Columbia, late spring through early summer when there are daily hatches of sedges & mayflies, & a major portion of the adults are a #16 – spotted sedge, march browns… lots of stuff mixed in the slick. And a #14 UC Partridge & Peacock, with its broad, enticingly ambiguous identity, serves to simulate a lot. Though I use spotted sedge emerging pupa patterns that look, to me, much closer to the naturals in appearance, the simple UC P&P seems to turn the trick as well as any of the more imitative patterns during spotted sedge hatches.

As tying material for trout flies, partridge & peacock herl possess time-proven mojo. As an all-purpose nymph, I rate the Partridge & Peacock right up there with the Hare’s Ear, Pheasant Tail Nymph & Leisenring’s Black Gnat.    

UC Partridge & Peacock

Hook: #14 Daiichi 1150 (I tie these in #8-#18, though #14-#15 seems to cover the broadest spectrum of summer insects on my home water.)

Thread: Rust-brown UNI 8/0

Rib: Copper wire

Body: Peacock herl, twisted with the tying thread – not too fat, 2, or 3 fine herls for a #14

Hackle: Brown-phase roughed grouse shoulder covert or brown partridge, one turn – & finish.

Flyfish NE Washington with Steven Bird: