Tuesday, February 9, 2016

A Modern Soft-Hackle Archive ~ Win a Book

Upper Columbia Flyfisher ~ Steven Bird
The Patterns of Natural Men    

   I don’t believe the old saw ‘there is nothing new under the sun’ to be precisely true. As regards fly design, it is true that those who came before us were no less canny & did a pretty thorough job of covering nearly everything. More than once I’ve come up with a pattern I thought I’d invented, only to learn later somebody already tied it 100 years ago & nearly everybody in Britain ties & fishes it.

The stream & its trout often point us in the same direction.

For that reason, I’ve gotten into the habit of seldom naming flies, unless I’m fairly certain I have an original design, & even then I might just stick with giving the two main ingredients as the name, just to be on the safe side. In no case would I name one after myself. Not for lack of hubris, more out of caution, call it a superstitious fear of jinxing the pattern, if you like.

Nor would I give a fly a kinky sex name. Not a prude, but ladies & kids do use these things. ‘Sex Dungeon’? ‘Butt Monkey’? What is Kelly Galloup thinking?

“Think I’ll tie up a dozen Butt Monkeys & a few Sex Dungeons.”


Anyway. Getting to the point: Though most (certainly not all) of the flies featured in SHJ are my own designs, or ones I think are mine, I’d like to create an archive of the modern soft-hackle designs tied by SHJ readers. This journal averages over 100 readers a day, so I suspect there’s a lot out there. We’re all familiar with the flies designed by famous guys, but what about the great flies tied & fished by canny anglers who don’t write about it? So my idea is to have a contest of sorts. No, not a judged contest. I’m not a trout, so not qualified to judge. That we might approximate trouty behavior, we'll pick the winning presentations by seemingly random chance.  

Here’s how we’ll do it:

Email me a photo of a soft-hackle wetfly of your own design. No beadheads or fanciful experimental patterns, please. (Imagine beadheads if you like.) Share a pattern that you consider tried & true. Can be your personal variant of an established pattern. Wings?… let’s draw the line at half-wing patterns & leave full winged wets out of it. Along with the photo, include your name, a few lines about the fly, & a material recipe for the fly – no need for detailed tying instructions, just the recipe. Yes, you may present as many patterns as you feel worthwhile.                  

I’ll create a page, post it in the right-hand column, & keep it running, adding new entries as they come in. Then, on June 1st 2016, I’ll write the name of each presenter onto slips of paper & drop them into a hat (got a topper for the purpose), then have my lovely assistant choose two. 

The winners will be awarded signed, hard cover, limited edition copies of my book, Upper Columbia Flyfisher (Amato Books). (Destined to be a cult classic.)

Put ‘SHJ Fly’ & your name on the title line of your entry. Email entries or questions to: columbiatrout@sbcglobal.net 

Looking forward to seeing the great patterns we’ve never heard of. After the drawing, we'll leave the Modern Soft-Hackle archive page as a permanent reference. If we get a lot of entries, this could be an amazing, unique reference. 

The Archive is located beneath this post, or can be accessed through the link located at the top of the right-hand column. Click on the photos for an enlarged view. 

An Archive of Modern Soft-Hackle Wetflies

Present a fly in the archive by June 1, 2016 & qualify to win a copy of Upper Columbia Flyfisher. Learn about it here:  http://soft-hacklejournal.blogspot.com/2016/02/dont-believe-old-saw-there-is-nothing.html

Modern Soft-Hackle Designs

Biot & Plover March Brown ~ Bill Shuck
Biot & Plover March Brown ~Bill Shuck

Hook: #12 Vintage Mustad 38932

Thread: Pearsall's Gossamer 6a, light orange

Hackle: Golden plover from neck area

Tail: Bronze mallard whisks

Abdomen: One tan & one sulfur turkey biot, wound together over the hook shank

Thorax: Natural hare's ear, twist dubbed

Spring Grey Tenkara ~ Bill Shuck
Spring Grey Tenkara ~Bill Shuck

Hook: #14 Daiichi 1530

Thread: Pearsall's Gossamar #3, primrose

Head: Thread wraps

Hackle: Waterhen covert tied Kebari style

Abdomen: Two strands of heron herl wrapped together

Thorax: Natural mole in dropped loop (or pre-spun on Clark block)

Monday, February 1, 2016

Grannom Sedge Emerger

     Time passing swiftly, I’m getting to work on refreshing my supply of spring & summer trout flies. Looking through the boxes it occurred to me that: even though I tie & carry a considerable assortment, only about a half dozen patterns account for most of the trout I caught last season. And one pattern in particular stands out, my log indicates, a simple olive sedge emerger, this one pattern accounting for about a third of the trout I catch in a season.

That says something about the importance of caddis as trout bait. And particularly the emerging pupa phase.

Admittedly, my home water is a caddis river, its mayfly hatches sporadic & mostly unpredictable. But isn’t that the case in a lot of places? And no matter, as, spring & summer, the sedges produce daily hatches serving to get trout up & going. Mayflies are the occasional steak dinner, while sedges are the daily ration.

On a lot of streams, East & West, grannom is the first reliable hatch of spring. Following grannom, in the West, are the more prolific spotted sedge, so similar they are often mistaken for grannom. The pattern featured here covers both of these species, & tied in sizes #10-#18, will cover many others one might encounter anywhere.

The version featured is tied on a Mustad 3366-BR, a hook I like a lot. This straight-eye sproat design is popular for tying North Country wetflies, traditionalists claiming it tracks & hovers like the eyeless hooks of old, the performance preferable to modern down-eye designs. The Mustad 3366-BR is very inexpensive, about five bucks for a 100 pack, & I don’t know why, but that is good. These are sized smaller than standard wetfly, a #10 equal to a #12 standard wetfly. I tie standard #12’s & #14’s on a #10, & #14’s & #16’s on a #12 3366-BR. These aren’t heat treated as brittle-hard as English hooks, so the barb can be pinched down without fracturing the hook point – & the ample barb leaves a generous fish-holding hump when pinched.

Grannom Sedge Emerger

Hook: #10-#18 (natural grannom is about #12 – nymphs are a size larger than adults)

Thread: camel UNI 8/0

Rib: olive-pearl krystal-flash, 2 strands, twisted, & wound over the abdomen as a rib – then wind solid through the thorax area, providing a ‘light’ base that will show under the thorax dubbing

Abdomen: light olive rabbit, touch-dubbed on a strand of light olive Pearsall’s silk, or light olive tying thread

Thorax: brown-dyed hares mask, short, loosely dubbed

Hackle: brown partridge, grouse or brahma hen ~ & finish.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Hair & Hen Muddler

Natural Sculpin Muddler
          The importance of freshwater sculpin as trout food has become fully realized in our time, & that realization spawning the vast array of fly patterns meant to simulate them. Some of these are incredibly realistic, like dolls, some with doll eyes, the eyeballs rattling around in little plastic domes (even though the eyes of the naturals are generally mottled camouflage like the rest of the body & barely discernable). Many are bulky, ranging from awkward to dangerous when cast. (No problem, you stick a pin in the doll & fish simply float up!) 
Purple Muddler

Still, it’s hard to beat the original Muddler Minnow, tied by Don Gapen, & I’d place Jack Gartside’s Sparrow right up there beside it as a sculpin imitation. Considering that most species of freshwater sculpin are two inches long or less at maturity, Gartside’s Sparrow, generally fished in smaller sizes than the Muddler, makes perfect sense. Both of these killing patterns have two things in common: both offer the classic, big-headed, sculpin profile, & both are constructed of natural materials that blend together when wet, mimicking the blotchy coloration & texture of the naturals.
Chartreuse Muddler

If you’ve caught a natural & looked at it in hand, or if you’ve seen pictures, you might have noticed that the critter looks like primordial brown/olive camo ooze fashioned to an elongated teardrop shape, & other than the profile, the most outstanding characteristic, the dark barring on the body, usually three or four dark patches (& yes there are the large pectoral fins, but these are held close to the body when the sculpin is in motion). In designing the Hair & Hen Muddler I was looking for a version of about two & a half inches in length that, when wet, would closely imitate a natural in shape, movement & coloration. This one comes alive when wet, & worked very good for us this past season. I tie these in purple & chartreuse as well, & there are a lot of possibilities with dyed squirrel & kip tails. Works as a craw for smallmouth bass as well. 

Hair & Hen Muddler

Hook: #2-#4 Mustad 3366-BR

Thread: black, brown, tan or olive UNI 6/0

Tailing: squirrel tail

Gills: red tinsel wound on the hook shank

Body: in order tied in, on top of the shank: olive calf tail; squirrel tail; olive calf tail; squirrel tail; olive calf tail; squirrel tail; olive calf tail, on this last one, a pinch on top & a pinch on both sides of the hook shank (this will support a flared head shape once the hackle is wound in – each hair clump is placed a bit forward (shorter) than the one preceding it, I use the color bars on the hair as a guide, stepping the hair clumps forward a bar at each step 

Lateral Line: copper mylar flash, one strand, both sides

Head (Hackle): in order tied in: bronze mallard, gadwall flank or brahma hen, Coc de Leon is perfect if you have it; then work toward the eye with dyed olive grizzly hen (3 to 4 hackles) diminishing the size of the hackle slightly as you go forward ~ & finish    

Monday, January 4, 2016

Jim Leisenring’s March Brown

     Meant to simulate a number of Rithrogena (clinger) mayfly species emerging to speckled winged adults, ‘March Brown’ is a tag applied to nearly as many versions of the fly as there are fly tyers &, in some form, has been described since the earliest English literature.   

Rithrogena prefer streams with good flow, & larger freestones may produce great hatches. Those species we refer to as March brown begin emerging before spring run-off, as early as February in southern & coastal regions, later at higher elevations & northern regions. Generally, these appear around late April in NE Washington, & I see them on into June some years. Though they don’t produce great hatches on my home water as they do in many places, they are enough of a presence through their hatch season that the imitation fishes well through the period.   

Looking at naturals found at various locations, one isn’t surprised at the great variety of patterns meant to cover March brown. Adults may be #12-#16 (nymphs, a size larger). The color of mature nymphs may range from tan through all shades of brown, olive/brown, & olive, depending on location. Each stream holds its own color variant. (An aquarium net might satisfy the curious.) Considering the variety of colors & materials meant to simulate these, I am drawn, once again, to the notion that: presentation, size, silhouette, are primary factors, over color. And in this case silhouette is indeed important, by my own thinking, as the broad-thoraxed, teardrop shape of the naturals is a keying visual characteristic.

One of James Leisenring’s salient contributions to the soft-hackle style was his refinement of silhouette, which he considered important to the fly’s effectiveness, & for that reason many of his patterns call for a thorax, & though not his own invention, it is a fair departure from most of the older soft-hackle designs. Jim Leisenring’s well-thought version still stands as a killing pattern for covering March browns.

Neil Norman, author of Soft Hackles, Tight Lines, an Online Soft-Hackle Pattern Book, lays out an excellent historic profile of March brown, describing several notable dressings. For any interested in the history of our flies, Neil’s journal is an invaluable archive.                

Jim Leisenring's March Brown

Hook: #10-#14 (Mine is tied on a #12 Mustad 3906B)

Thread: orange silk (orange or rusty-brown UNI 8/0 substitutes)

Hackle: brown partridge

Tail: 3 cock pheasant tail swords

Rib: gold or silver wire wound over the abdomen

Abdomen: 3 or 4 cock pheasant tail swords twisted with a tag of the thread

Thorax: hare’s mask, dubbed fairly heavy

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Twist Beetle

    Been on a twisted body kick lately & playing with them a lot. Don’t worry. The fly kind. I get excited about something & I go on a roll.   

I love the striking effects created twisting varying materials – tail & wing swords, herl, threads, tinsels, floss – together into a rope & then winding it as the fly body. The wee beetle presented here represents the austere side of the spectrum of possibilities, using a single material, made from twisted swords taken from a bronze/black turkey body feather.

There’s nothing new about the idea of making a simple beetle pattern from twisted herl. My beetle was inspired by the Bracken Clock, a North Country beetle pattern made from peacock herl twisted with red silk. The Bracken Clock was described by William Brumfitt in an 1875 text, so has surely been around longer than that. Unlike the Americans who are always looking for something new, The Brits refine a fly pattern to ultimate usefulness, then they all tie it precisely that way, fish it for 300 years, & do fine.

Wanting to make a smaller beetle than peacock herl allows, I chose a bronze/black body feather taken from a Merriam turkey, twisting the feather barbs, or ‘swords’, with the tying thread to form a rope of herl for the body. The dark, iridescent, turkey body feather reflects green & copper highlights, & these subtly hinted in the twisted fly body.

The pattern makes a fine tiny beetle &, turns out, serves well to cover wee freshwater snails as well. Some places, it might even be more useful as a snail pattern most of the time.

Twist Beetle

Hook: #12-#18 (photo fly is tied on a Mustad 3366)

Thread: black UNI 8/0

Body: bronze/black turkey body feather barbs or ‘swords’ (about 8 for a #14) twisted with a tag of the tying thread – use more swords or build up an underbody with thread for a rounder body

Hackle: black hen or starling ~ & finish.          

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Twisted Logic ~ Lemon Twist Spider

     Most have heard, or surmised, that the color of The Universe is brown. We see the prevalence of brown in nature. I see it in my flybox, rows & rows of drab variations of brown. We see it reflected in the colorations of stream nymphs: brown, tan, olive, yellow. (Black is not a color.) Mix them all together & you have brown. 

Combine all the people of the world into one person & you will have one, large, brown person. (How do we treat others? There are no others.)

Of course, regarding simulation, we prefer to cover the spectrum. Sometimes starkly obvious variety is what we need to turn the trick.

Aside from being a good attractor in general, his one will cover a lot of specific insects – Yellow Sally & Pale Evening Dun come immediately to mind. Good to have something all-yellow in the box.

Lemon Twist

Hook: #12-#16 (foto is #12 Mustad 3366-BR)

Thread: yellow UNI 8/0

Body: yellow goose primary swords twisted with the tying thread (3 for a #12), & a short thorax of pale yellow yarn, loosely dubbed

Hackle: yellow grosbeak body feather (flew against the window with bittersweet result)(yellow hen will substitute) ~ & finish.