Friday, April 26, 2013

Favorite Salmonfly Nymph

Salmonfly Nymph tied by Steven Bird

     Probably everybody in the West who has fished a freestone stream has at least a passing knowledge of the giant stonefly, Pteronarcys californica, commonly known as the ‘salmonfly’. A close look at streamside rocks & bushes May & June will usually reveal the empty husks of recently emerged stoneflies, & some of these may be nearly two inches long.

Salmonflies inhabit well-oxygenated flows with gravel/rubble bottoms. Most any freestone stream in the West will harbor some, though medium to large rivers will produce the strongest hatches. I love fishing dry versions of this stonefly when trout are up & feeding on them, but, day-in, day-out, I take more fish on the nymph during the salmonfly hatch period. And not only during the emergence period, but as a big-fish pattern, year around. This stonefly species lives two to three years instream as a nymph before crawling out of the water to complete emergence to adult, so there are always at least three age groups of various sizes available to trout.

Stonefly nymphs are strong crawlers but lousy swimmers. Emergence occurs April-June, with May probably the most prolific month in most locales. For several weeks prior to emergence, nymphs become very active & bold, & trout will be taking advantage of the many exposed & busted loose drifting in the current. The imitation wants to be fished deep, dead-drifted or crawled on the bottom, so I weight them with copper fuse wire wound through the thorax area of the hook shank.

There was a time I fished a simple, large, black Wooly Worm to simulate the salmonfly nymph (still an effective pattern), yet when I read Charles Brooks, Nymph Fishing For Larger Trout, I became intrigued with his version of the giant stonefly nymph which utilizes two soft hackles installed fore & aft of the thorax. I tied some & fished them to excellent result on the Thompson River, in Montana. The pattern shown here is the one I’m using now, inspired by the Charles Brooks pattern. 

Soft-Hackle Salmonfly Nymph

Hook: #4-#6 TMC 200R

Thread: Black (I use 3/0 uni-thread to get quick build-up to form the body shape.)

Tails: Two dark brown or black goose biots, divided, one on either side of the hook shank – wrap a turn or two of black dubbing before tying in, to keep tails spread wide

Ribbing: Black D lace wound over the abdomen to create segmentation

Abdomen: Black yarn overwrapped with black D lace to slightly ahead of center – a considerable lump will be formed when the plastic lace is wrapped & snipped off, wind over the bump with black dubbing

Rear Hackle: One turn of bronze-black body feather taken from a cock ringneck pheasant (These are blackish with bronze & reddish highlights.)

Thorax: Black chenille

Front Hackle: Same as rear hackle

Head: A bit of black dubbing ahead of the front hackle – you may add a couple of biots or pheasant tail fibers here as antennae – & finish

Flyfish the Upper Columbia/NE Washington with Steven Bird:

Salmonfly Nymph - Steven Bird

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Jack Mitchell's Natural Sculpin Muddler

Jack Mitchell Photo - click to enlarge

As it is in politics, so it is in fly design: ‘obfuscation’ is a useful art. However, unlike in political designs, in wetfly designs it does serve us well as a prime element. 

I recently received a letter from writer Barry Craig, who makes the most artful stab I’ve heard yet at defining the end result of what I consider a good wetfly design. Barry describes it thus:

The flies you tie are a conundrum to me.  They combine elements of the redneck slime dripping Turtle Man holding a catfish in one hand, with the sophistication of James Bond checking his Omega clad in bespoke tuxedo.  They are rough shod, but not slip shod, part mongrel junkyard dog and part poodle with full AKC pedigree. Dry, they don't look like nothin' anything would want to eat, man or fish.  More akin to something badly in need of a shave. Wet, they resemble something the cat would dump on the doorstep after drowning it in the swamp.  No shave or a car wash could clean it up. Compare the classic Atlantic Salmon flies:  Some of Harry Lemire's or Haig-Brown's sold for $1,000 apiece, each in exotic case - they were too beautiful, too artsy to fish - and if you were to dangle one of them it would probably come back looking like Bond's car in Skyfall after it got shot up by Javier Bardem's helicopter.  Total loss.  Or just imagine Tammy Fay Baker washed up on the beach having been pounded by a tsunami.  There ain't enough therapy in a boatload of weed to make that image go away.

Say AMEN!”     ~Barry Craig

I couldn’t resist putting Barry Craig & Jack Mitchell together here, as they are both artists who share the knack for humor, & both are keen observers who possess a non-jaded childlike enthusiasm for our sport, which makes them pleasant to be around. That, & the fact I consider Jack’s Muddler a prime example of the utilitarian beauty of a well-considered, obfuscating, soft-hackle design meant to function as good bait, & appropriate to Barry’s description.   

As chief guide & owner of The Evening Hatch, Jack Mitchell spends more time on the water than most commercial fishermen I know, and there is no substitute for time on the water as inspiration to the creative fly-tying mind. As a fly designer, Jack is workmanlike in his approach, as his business/reputation depends on his ability to put his clients into fish. (This is a dude who clips the point off his dryfly hooks when he’s prospecting.) Jack designed his Sculpin pattern to fish steelhead, & fishes it swung, skated on top, or wet. I tried a version tied on #4-#6 TMC 200R hooks, without the stinger, & caught UC trout & Pend Oreille smallmouth with them.

I asked Jack Mitchell what he thinks makes a good wetfly pattern, & he graciously provides us with a succinct answer worth considering, & these elements are aptly reflected in the pattern he shares with us.

Elements of a good wet fly for trout:

-Realistic in size/coloration and at the same time impressionistic


-Combinations of natural and synthetic materials, of course with a bit of flash

-The ability to make sound/vibration utilizing spun hair; specifically on bigger flies

-Utilizing materials that trap air  - CDC, Antron etc...

~Jack Mitchell

Mitchell, we see, lines up with Leisenring on his first two points, which to my mind are the two most important elements of design. Jack Mitchell’s Sculpin Muddler illustrates his penchant for natural materials, yet he does not hesitate to expand on that, enhancing with synthetics. What Jack has to say about using spun hair to create sound & vibration gives rise to thought. I have long been convinced that the spun deer hair head of the Muddler Minnow is the key feature of that venerable pattern. And the Bow River Bugger is another great trout pattern incorporating a spun hair head…

Thanks for sharing those thoughts & the Sculpin recipe, Jack. And thanks for your thoughts on style, Barry. You are both saints standing in the same stream.

If you plan to fish steelhead or trout in Washington State & need a guide, Jack Mitchell will get you to the heart of the matter: www.theeveninghatch.comAnd if you are in the Seattle-Everett area finding it hard to stay in the game all day without downing a handful of ibuprophen, contact Barry Craig: