Sunday, September 22, 2013

Soft-Hackle Yellowjacket – Sympathy for the Devil

     Late summer & fall, the terrestrial patterns come more into play. It’s grasshopper season, up until the first frost knocks them out of commission. And where grasshoppers are scarce, ants & beetles fill the bill for many of us – & that while the most ubiquitous insect of the season orbits our sweaty heads or fishy hands menacingly, or perhaps, landing on our exposed calf to incise a V-shaped chunk of meat & delivering a painful sting on top of the wound when swatted.

     I suspect it might be the devilish nature of yellowjackets, & our stand-offish attitudes toward them, responsible for the wasp’s lack of consideration as good bait. We don’t like to think about them. Most of us see no poetry of grace embodied in a fat insect sporting electric prison stripes, an aggressive attitude, working mouth parts & a stinger. That’s not to say we ignore the yellowjacket entirely, we don’t. The McGinty, a cute rendition in most of its incarnations, is still fairly well-known, though I doubt it gets nearly the play it got in the last century. In their writings, Ray Bergman & Roderick Haig Brown noted the importance of yellowjackets as trout food, & offer imitations, as have other observant writer-anglers  – yet the yellowjacket still remains largely unconsidered & absent from fly boxes, & that may be due to those nasty habits I mentioned, I don't know. I want to say I think them the most reliable trout stream terrestrial to imitate, while I (regularly) struggle to avoid those kind of empirical remarks reflecting no other but my own experience.    

     (The largest trout I ever caught on a dryfly was on a floating yellowjacket imitation.)

     Yellowjackets are common around water, particularly in late-summer through autumn, pretty much everywhere trout are found. They hunt other insects over the water & the wind knocks a lot of them down while they struggle to fly holding their prey. Periodic checks of stomach contents show evidence that trout like to eat yellowjackets & do so whenever the opportunity shows itself. I’ve often found multiples, indicating the wasps are fairly available in the water at times, particularly when it’s breezy. And yellowjackets have a long season, so no doubt trout are used to seeing them.

     Being heavy, wasps don’t float well, usually breaking the surface tension while struggling on the water, & drowning, making them available to trout throughout the water column. I suspect trout eat more drowned yellowjackets than they do live ones. Though I fish both wet & dry versions, the wet version presented here gets the nod as a staple pattern for fishing the water in fall, East or West, September into October. I tie these unweighted & fish them with a floating line, most often cast upstream & drifted, high-stick style, but also quartered & swung.


Hook: #8-#10 I prefer a #8 caddis style, which imparts the characteristic bend of a disabled wasp

Thread: yellow

Ribbing: black 3/0 uni-thread

Abdomen: I build a tapered ‘dumbell’ shape with yellow sewing thread, then tie in with yellow tying thread & wind to the tip of the abdomen well down the hook bend, form a little stinger, then tie in the rib & yellow floss, finish shaping the abdomen with the floss, then wrap the rib forward, seven turns, over the abdomen – once the rib is formed, I continue, solid through the girdle area & onto the thorax hump with the black thread. Coat the abdomen with two or three coats of Loon Hard Head for a durable, realistic abdomen.

Thorax: black rabbit dubbing

Wing: a tiny clump of puff taken from the base of a dyed-brown mallard flank feather, CDC or marabou – when wet, this reduces to just a hint of color, simulating the brownish coloration we see at the base of yellowjacket wings – the glassy puffs found at the base of mallard flank feathers are my favorite material for imparting the hint of wings or creating miasma – bags of dyed mallard flank are available at low cost & have a lot of uses

Hackle: soft grizzly, dyed yellow

Head: black dubbing in front of the hackle – & finish

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