Friday, October 5, 2018

Super-Brahma Welsumer Hen Soft-Hackle Available

Ever since my daughter-in-law gifted me with a couple Welsumer hen capes I’ve wondered why nobody has them available for the fly-tying trade, as I’ve found them to be the finest brahma I’ve seen, & indispensable to my own fly dressings.

 Unlike India hen or commercial domestic capes, Welsumer coloration & markings are reliably uniform in the breed – they look alike.

Backs are a striking red-brown brahma, the black barring distinct, as with partridge.

Neck hackles are elongate; a beautiful bright yellow furnace, suitable for Greenwells, palmer hackle & streamer wings. Feathers at the edges of the capes are honey dun, ginger & red-brown in color. Also quite a bit of excellent chickabou. Capes are about twice the size of a full commercial cape, & yielding a lot more usable hackle in a variety of colors. 

Wing sets & tails feature larger brahma spades good for larger sized spiders, wets & streamers. I use these on Hair & Hackle Sculpins, October Caddis, spiders & dabblers for Trout Spey. Lots of great application for Trout Spey flies in these.Wing secondaries also yield mottled brown quills for matched wings – good for October caddis, March Browns & grasshoppers.

Used up the capes my daughter gave me, & decided I can’t operate without them. Faced with the fact they are not available for purchase, we raised some. This worked out pretty good & I ended up with a small flock of excellent, uniform coloration & hackle quality. Have enough hackle to last indefinitely &, in order to offset the cost, to make a limited quantity available. Offering the whole bird: cape, wings & tail, @ 75.00 a set. That includes shipping. If you are interested, email me at: I’ll leave this post up until all are gone.        

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Hair & Hackle Sculpin

      Considering freshwater sculpin (Cottidae) inhabit nearly all trout streams in North America – where they are preyed upon by trout, and especially larger trout – then it stands  as a good idea to carry a few ‘muddlers’, particularly during those times when insects may be scarce, or whenever it might be good to swing or strip a streamer. If you fish big rivers where large trout are likely, then it’s good to have some sculpin patterns in the kit.   

Though there are some species that may reach six inches in length, across the board, the average stream sculpin will be about two inches long. One and a half to about two and a half inches is the size we most often find in trout stomachs. And that size-range of imitations seems generally the most productive, most places we fish in the lower ’48. 

Original Muddler Minnows tied by Don Gapen.
No arguing the effectiveness of Don Gapen’s original Muddler Minnow, maybe the first fly pattern in history dressed to imitate a freshwater sculpin – which Gapen found giant Ontario brook trout feeding on. Unlike the slick, paired-wing version later popularized by Dan Bailey, Gapen’s original was dressed with a natural hair winging (body) extending back beyond the hook bend. 

Gapen tied a lot of versions of the Muddler Minnow, incorporating various types of hair into the dressings – bucktail, bear, squirrel tail, fox – and no doubt the pulse and shimmy of natural hair contributes much to the pattern. Natural hair is formed around a spine which serves as a spring to snap the hair back into place when activated. Natural hair provides more action than artificial hair, which may have a tendency to plaster and mat.

Though a hair body is a good choice in imitating sculpin, I strongly suspect it is the profile of Don Gapen’s pattern, created by the clipped deer hair head, that accounts most for the pattern’s success.  I’ve come to believe that the Muddler’s sculpin profile is more important than matching the natural’s coloration, this evidenced in the fact that the pattern works well dressed as a ‘lure’, in colorations never seen in life yet known to trigger a reaction strike – a blue and purple, or all-black, for example. And I’ve done well on a fire-tiger version.    

The spinning and clipping of deer hair isn’t one of my favorite tying operations, and if I can find a faster and at least equally effective way around it, I’m all in. Having cycled through a fanciful array of sculpin patterns through the years, the one featured here has risen to the top of my favorite list. The simple dressing provides the sculpin profile and great motion, and invites unlimited creativity blending the spectrum of dyed and natural color choices available.  

Basic construction of the Hair & Hackle Sculpin:

Hook: #2 Mustad 3366-BR (this size works for patterns 2” to 3” long).

Thread: UNI 8/0 or your choice.

Gills: Red tinsel wound over the hook shank.

Body: Tied in as winging. I generally apply at least two layers of bucktail, a few strands of flash tied in between as a lateral line. The Natural Sculpin in the photo is dressed as follows, in order tied in: white bucktail, olive bucktail, 4 strands of copper flash, and topped with fox squirrel tail. The Blue/Purple is blue bucktail, 4 strands of blue/copper flash, topped with purple bucktail. Stack one color on top of the other, each tied in with about six turns of thread and head cement applied to the thread turns each time. Tie in the bucktail about a third of the hook-shank length behind the eye, leaving room for the head. Keep bucktail and hair sparse enough that light will pass through (avoid making a stiff shaving brush out of it).

Head: Kip tail. Apply 3 clumps to form a collar – one on top, and one on each side of the hook shank, tips extended to almost half the body length, the top clump slightly longer.  Tie in each clump with 6 turns of thread and apply head cement to the thread at each tie-in. Trim hair butts to a taper, wind over with thread and apply head cement to the thread wraps. Tie in and wind 2 hackle collars ahead of the kip, the first extending back about half the body length, the last, slightly shorter, wound behind the hook eye. The Natural Sculpin is tied with brown kip fronted with hackle collars of brown pheasant rump and dyed rust-brown pheasant church window body feather. The Blue/Purple is the black-dyed-purple taken from the base of a kip tail, fronted with black hen and natural guinea hen.

I like to fish the Hair Sculpin on a sink-tip, swinging, deep, tickling over the bottom. It is a workhorse pattern for Trout Spey on larger streams. Makes a good bass fly too.     

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Wee Softies at the Bitter End

     Nero fiddled while Rome burned. The ship’s band struck up a tune while the Titanic surrendered to the cold Tao sea.

In NE Washington we’re into a third week of daily temps ranging into the low 100’s. There are a great number of forest fires burning in the region & some of them are very close.  Lots of smoke in the air; the sunsets cooked to a bloody medium-rare. I worry about our ten acres of pine, thickly assembled like a thirsty army waiting beneath a hubcap-bright sun.

In addition to unrelenting high temperatures, the entire State of Washington is being visited by a plague of wasps. Never seen so many yellowjackets, & they’ve become aggressive in the heat. It’s dangerous to sit outside on the porch – & too hot anyway.

The large mayflies of early summer are long gone – & the smatterings of wee mayflies disappeared with the onset of July’s full moon. All that are left to get trout up & visibly feeding are the ever-present, reliable Spotted Sedge, their peak emergence season also past, though they will persist until the end of August, the daily emergence shrunk down to a spotty shooter at twilight.

The trout are edgy & light sensitive, not feeding until the evening sedge emergence gets underway. Even then, there aren’t a lot of them showing –  one here, a couple there – on the eddy seams trailing from the points. Having seen a fanciful assortment of imitation insects at this point in the season, & a good many of them hook-stung, the trout are hyper-wary, their lateral lines functioning as bare-wired bullshit meters so sensitive they can detect even the most innocuous ghost of a presence, & that sure to put them down.

When the world is on fire it’s good to live beside a river. You can fish. You can fish that last hour. If you are careful & do everything right there is time for one trout – maybe two on a good night. They are close, a long cast isn’t required. But the presentation must be perfect, a barely perceptible whisper of a presentation, the wee softie placed well above the working trout. I’m down to the 6’ 3wt glass, matched with the little Pflueger I acquired in 1963, a cooler year. Though just long enough, the 12’ leader is about as long as the 6-foot rod will comfortably handle. The 3-pound test tippet is as light as I dare go, but is okay in the near dark. Considering the size of the trout heavier would be better, but any heavier brings noticeably fewer takes, even in low light.

A wee soft-hackle fly will turn the trick alright, though it must be the same size & profile as a natural sedge emerger. The Hares Ear variant pictured at left has been the choice fly lately. It is tied on a #14, 1x long hook, so it is about a standard #16. It is dressed with a bit of gold antron mixed with natural hares mask, the thorax dubbed over with straight hares mask. The color closely matches a Spotted Sedge pupa – & it looks like a lot of other things too, including small mayflies. Hard to improve on the Partridge & Hares Ear, though the addition of gold antron to the dressing does make a killing version.

There is a lot of fire, & feet must be held to it. That one good trout in the evening is a fun & satisfying game, yet it is a game we are within sight of losing, & it may be the least of what we stand to lose – I hope you are aware dear readers. If you think eliminating world-destroying activities & policies will cause you to lose money & result in all of us living a lower standard of life, then you need to rethink that shit. I promise you the contrary.

I hope, as we go through another round of elections, that you will engage & hold prospective leader’s feet to the fire regarding the affects of climate change. Past time we need to bring this issue to the fore. There is nothing more important. We fiddle & faff & catch the last trout at the bitter end. Or we assume sane stewardship of the living world. Not trying to overstate or be righteous, just trying to be real in light of things as they are.                            

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Steal This Book

     Back in 2010 Amato Books published something I wrote about my home water, namely the book pictured on the left, a collection of essays & short memoirs with a section on fly patterns that pretty much reflects what I was thinking, tying & fishing twenty years ago.  Recent evidence indicates the book is still in print & available from Amato or Amazon.

I know the book is still in print because, a few days ago, curious, I checked. I was curious because in accord with my contract with the publisher I’d received a modest royalty check about six months after publication, but have never received one since. Hey, proof I’m not in it for the money.

Have you ever googled yourself? I never had until curiosity about the book got me searching for reviews of it &, surprised, I found a few.  Also surprising, the reviews are pretty good. I’ve never heard of any of the reviewers, & wondered if the publishers had actually paid these people to write these things. One reviewer found the prose “cinematic” & “immersive” & wondered out loud if the author wrote that way intentionally (as if the writing is unintentional & accidently affecting). Most interesting & mysterious though, was the latest review, which wasn’t really a review but a mention in a piece about cult fly fishing books. Apparently, at least according to the writer, my book has achieved ‘cult’ status.

That all got me thinking. Is ‘cult’ a label we give to obscure movies or books that do not sell very well though a few people like them, or are there actual fly fishing book cults who are privy to a secret network known only to initiates of the cult?

Jack Mitchell, owner of the Evening Hatch guide service, bought a copy of the book & added it to the library at Black Bear Lodge on the upper Columbia. The book occupied a wee niche on the lodge’s bookshelf for six or seven years & was read then returned by numerous guests. Then, last season, the book disappeared. Jack informed me of the book’s mysterious disappearance. He suspected it had been stolen. I let the news sink in for a few moments, grimaced, put on a shocked & disappointed expression & shook my head, all the while secretly delighted & proud that somebody would like my book enough to put virtue, fear of getting caught & fear of hellfire aside to steal it.

Maybe the person who took the book was a member of The Cult. Perhaps entry into the cult requires one to steal the book. A pact sealed with a crime. Who knows. Maybe everybody but me is in on it ~         

Thursday, June 14, 2018

March Browns of June

     The spate has gone by & the home water is finally clearing & coming into shape. The native redbands, most of them thinking only of sex for the last two months, are now done with spawning & looking around for something to eat. With abiding synchronicity nature has timed the end of the spawning season to coincide with the onset of the year’s heaviest insect hatches.

As the spate diminishes, the bugs get going. If you watch it daily you see the progression. At first a spritzer of sedges. Some BWO’s on cloudy days. Nothing but a handful of tidlers up & going on them. It feels dead, but don’t be fooled, the clouded silt is a veil hiding the river’s secret doings while rising pregnant in its season. It is about to give birth. Daily, hatches of wee bugs increase until about the first or second week of June, when March Brown mayflies appear. March Browns are just the thing needed to put some fat back on haggard post-spawners, & these really get things going.

A gently swung softie will generally outfish a dryfly, where I fish. Here’s one that is turning the trick right now.

UC March Brown

Hook: #10 Mustad 3366-BR (equal to a standard #12), the fly dressed small on the hook, about #14

Thread: rust-brown UNI 8/0

Hackle: partridge

Tails: bronze gadwall flank

Rib: burnt-orange floss, twisted

Body: hares mask with a bit of Hareline UV Pink Shrimp Dub chopped in ~ & finish.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

High Water Mickey Finn

     Record spate coming down the upper Columbia this year. Up to 200% above average snowpack in some places on the higher mountains to the north & east – the Kootenays, the Cabinets. Still more to come. Water coming in from the Pend Oreille, carrying topsoil from the Flathead & Pend Oreille valleys, is dang near like chocolate milk. The river is flooded into the trees & there is a concerning amount of logs & debris coming down the American Reach-Columbia mainstem.

The nutrients carried in the spate will replenish the reach. Too bad they can’t make it past the dams to the sea where they are necessary in the chain of life. If we were to be made truly great again, then imagine the great wealth & job-creating project it might be to remove the dams, restore the fish, & get going providing the grid for sustainable, low-cost power. If it is really true that “Americans can do anything,” then why do we continue to support the world-destroying status quo? I’m afraid we’ve a long, long way to go toward greatness from where we are now.

The U.S. & Canada Columbia River Treaty is up for re-negotiation in Washington D.C. this week. At nearly the last minute, in a unilateral move, it has been decided that the Columbia River Tribes on both sides of the border, & all other fisheries stakeholders, will be left out of the talks. Apparently the only legit stakeholders are the power consortiums operating the dams.

Once in a while in a fisherman’s life he must fish.

And fish have to eat. No matter how high or dirty the water, no matter how inane & short-sighted the policies of men. There are places where the determined can hammer it out. The bugs haven’t really got going yet, so I’m swinging things large-ish in visible colorations. The old Mickey Finn is a good one. I love bucktails. Bucktail has great action & allows a large pattern that is easily cast, the material providing the illusion of mass without actual bulk. Everybody knows the dressing. I like UV treated bucktail for these. 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Tampering With the Royal Coachman

Playing with some patterns to swing in the high, off-color water. As a lure, there's no denying the killing attractiveness of the Royal Coachman. Of course, the old dressing begs tampering with. This one is dressed on a #4 TMC 200R hook, camel UNI 8/0 thread, golden pheasant crest tail, golden pheasant tippet wound as a collar, peacock herl body, red tinsel girdle, brown marabou rear collar, brown hen front collar, white goose Dee-style wing.