Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Spey-Inspired Trout Flies

Copper Boss tied by Steven Bird
Professor tied by Steven Bird 
Royal Coachman tied by Steven Bird 
Coachman tied by Steven Bird

I suspect there are those who are traditionalists simply for the sake of being so. Being a traditionalist gives one the advantage of being able to pull a ready-made way of doing things, an identity, or even a persona, right off the shelf. The traditionalist stands beside all those who came before him; & that can be a lifetime study & review in itself. Flyfishing is packed with tradition for those who want it, & nothing wrong with that.

However, I confess, I’m no traditionalist. Though I do like the idea of tradition. When I break it down, I see that I actually love those authentic utilitarian elements that tradition is founded upon. Those things that have proven to work. Which leads me to consider: every thing that goes into building a tradition was once somebody’s new idea, & probably more frequently, a refinement on an older tradition.  So we see that tradition is really not static, but an unfolding process in which the best of innovations are approved in the court of user opinion, bookmarked, practiced & utilized. As artists, we use tradition as a starting point. Rather than stand beside those who came before us, we stand on their shoulders. We refine. We redefine. 

It's a stream.

One thing leads to another, & as often happens, & I became enamored of tying Spey style flies for salmon & steelhead; which led me to catch bull trout & sea-run cutthroat on them; which got me considering the working elements in the design that contribute to its success, with a mind toward developing pared-down versions designed specifically for trout & low-water summer steelhead, but more specifically the big-water trout of the upper Columbia.

One only has to glance at a catalogue of Spey & Dee flies to note that material/color schemes are endless, the design offering infinite opportunity for riffing. Spey flies were originally meant to simulate shrimp & still retain that basic shape, for the most part, yet the designs evolved to become so fanciful that they now more resemble strange, Kafkaesque shrimp that one might hallucinate while under the influence of a psychedelic enhancement, than natural shrimp. Exquisitely beautiful. These flies are meant to swing. The one working element they all have in common is the inclusion of a long, soft hackle palmered over the entire length of the fly, or through the thorax section, or at least a few turns as a collar. They are not weighted, relying on the weight of the hook to get them down, so for that reason bodies are fairly slim & sparse. (Because they aren’t weighted, they hover & dodge in the current, as a natural bait will, & with the natural movement provided by the ultra-soft hackling, the imitation can be fished slow, not having to rely on constant stripping to impart motion.)  

Rather than start with something fanciful right out of the gate, I decided to modify some classic, tried-&-true wetfly patterns with spey-style hackle, a fairly easy transition &, turns out, a good choice, as these immediately caught trout. When fished, they breath & move through the water with an enticing shimmy & kick, much more active than the fairly stiff, original, winged versions.

I found out a couple things: If you go smaller than a #10, 3x long hook, you will not have enough iron to sink & keel the heavily hackled fly & it will screw through the water inappropriately. All in all, I’ve found that #8 & #10 hooks seem to work the best for trout on most waters. I tie mine on TMC 200R or up-eye steelhead hooks & fish them as a small streamer, swung & stripped.  

Wanting to eliminate the added buoyancy of a wing, I looked for alternate ways of incorporating the wing coloration. For example, instead of winging the Professor I wound the winging material as hackle instead.

Professor is tied with black thread; red shlappen fibers for tailing; yellow floss body ribbed with gold tinsel; hackled with 4 turns of brown, very soft, almost marabou ringnecked pheasant rump feather taken from the base of the tail, fold the hackle back & wind forward, then two turns of natural mallard, wood duck or gadwall flank feather, stripped on one side, wound in front of the pheasant rump.

Coachman is tied with black thread; gold tinsel tag; golden pheasant tippet tailing; peacock herl body ribbed with fine copper wire; hackled with 4 turns of pheasant rump hackle.

Royal Coachman is tied with black thread; golden pheasant tippet tailing; peacock herl body with a red tinsel girdle; ‘wing’ (actually a half-wing) is a white puff taken from the base of a mallard flank feather; hackled with 4 turns of pheasant rump feather.

Copper Boss is my own creation, a color combination that works good on my homewater – tied with black thread; copper tinsel tag; dyed-orange mallard flank tailing; lightly dubbed orange fur, closely ribbed with copper tinsel; half-wing, an orange puff from the base of a dyed-orange mallard flank feather (tie in over the center of the puff, fold back & apply a few turns of thread); hackled with 3 turns of brown, pheasant rump hackle, then 3 turns of dyed orange mallard flank, stripped on one side.

Those who might be interested in the Spey approach to trout fishing, learn more here:
And check out Dave Henry's excellent 2 Handed Trout site, for all things spey trout:

Flyfish the Upper Columbia/NE Washington with Steven Bird: http://ucflyfishing.blogspot.com    

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