Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Bringing A Kid To The Game

     In the year I was born, automobiles had been available to the general public for about forty years, and in many regions of the rural U.S. the roads were so bad that it was still easier to travel by horse. Television was just coming in, and you had to live near a big city with broadcasting towers to get any reception; and for those who did get reception, programs about pioneer outdoorsmen on horseback were among the most popular. Subsistence hunting and fishing were still fairly common in rural areas. The newly spreading urban landscape was populated with grandparents who’d arrived by wagon or clipper ship; and their children, the young parents of the baby-boom, were still more connected to an agrarian past than they were the Post-WWII oil-fueled boom culture accelerating through the Jet Age ‘50’s and into the Space Age ‘60’s.  Kids played outside. When we misbehaved, we were kept inside as a form of punishment. We roamed the parks and neighborhoods, the nearby woods, ponds and streams. Outdoors was considered the province of independence, and a very desirable place to be.  

Most boys where I grew up fished, (sadly, funny ideas about gender roles prevailed in those days, and girls, though not entirely left out, weren’t generally encouraged) even if only on Opening Day of fishing season. Everybody fished Opening Day, which was right up there with Christmas in popularity. But those were different times.

The population of the U.S. has almost tripled since the year I was born. Urban sprawl has taken much of the woodland we used to play in. Per capita, fewer of us fish, and those who do, increasingly, come to it at an age somewhat beyond grade school years. And that’s probably a good thing, because if fishing was as popular now as it was through the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, with our present population, our resources probably wouldn’t hold up to the pressure – frankly, I am not a zealous recruiter of new anglers. On the other hand, I love nothing better than to observe a kid learning and putting that knowledge together to achieve a pleasing result. As the father of four sons, and grandfather of a mixed bag of five grandkids, I am constantly involved in the process, and I’ve outlined a loose working method, of sorts.  

A prospective mentor might ask: What is the best age to start a kid fishing?

And I’ve found no firm answer to that question. It is a thing that needs to be intuited as you go along. Each case is different. Indeed, I think it best to not ‘start’ at all, but rather, phase into it – ‘acculturate’ the young prospect to it through immersion. Set the scene before engaging in any activity afield. I call this stage ‘The Pump, and it may be the most important stage, particularly if your prospect is very young. Of course, this process is far easier accomplished in rural families where there might be one or more adult anglers in a child’s life, and fishing junk decorating the living room walls – though more difficult in urban families where there is little angling extraneii or even conversation about angling. But that can be remedied, and the fix will do the instructor some good as well. Exercise your storytelling talents. Kids, no matter how jaded by media, still need and love stories and mythology. A good thing. As all that is worthwhile in tradition is passed down through stories and myth. And remember: its okay to stretch the truth with kids provided it serves our purpose. Supply your prospect with natural history books aimed at their age level, and make sure those books have a lot of cool illustrations of fish. And, along with the books, supply outrageous fish stories.  

So, we see, the act of angling need not be the initial activity. I almost ruined my first son starting him too early and keeping him out too long. I think it better to foster a curiosity for the outdoors and nature before tackling the mechanics of angling. It is an easy thing to play outdoors with your three year old. Pack a lunch or some snacks and go to the beach or lake or stream on a nature expedition. Kids are naturally militaristic and love an official mission, so prepare for the outing with a sense of gravity. Let your young compatriot know that we are going on a special mission – and appoint each trooper involved a particular job integral to the mission. And of course you’ll need some weapons. A good sized aquarium net or pool skimmer is the weapon of choice for these early missions. Kids are born naturalists and I’ve not met the child yet who doesn’t enjoy catching nymphs, crayfish, frogs and minnows with the net. Explain that fish eat the little critters, & they make good bait. Keep the trips afield short and fun, only stay as long as your protégé is energetic and interested – never pressure a kid to stay afield. While you make these trips, talk about angling. Let the child know that to be among the fraternity of anglers is a special thing. Plant seeds. But hold off, at least a few trips, before putting a rod into the kid’s hands. Let them anticipate that.

I was given my first fishing rod, one of my grandfather’s old bamboo flyrods, at the age of four, which I think might be a little too young for most kids these days. I had the advantage of living on a lake heavily populated with bluegill that were easy pickings from the family dock. I’d started hand-lining at three. I was a lake kid with a lot of fishing mentors living around me. So environmental factors do come into play. And keep in mind that some kids possess more natural adeptness than others. Generally, from my own experience teaching kids, somewhere between the ages of six and eight seems about the best time to start them, again, depending on the kid.

There is very little I remember from my fourth year, yet receiving my first rod was a right-of-passage I remember vividly. I see a lot of young kids receiving cheap “Snoopy” poles with push-button reels as their first rod – and you’ll often see the thing in the spidery corner of a garage or even tossed into a toybox with a bunch of other plastic ‘toys’ – and this gives me pause to look back and appreciate the wisdom of my grandfather, a halo of cigar smoke around his head, who presented me one of his old bamboo flyrods (which smelled like brook trout and was imbued with the mojo of a hundred streams and ponds) with much gravity, impressing upon me that it was not a toy. He showed me how to set it up, applying nose grease to the ferrules. He tied a short mono leader with a bait hook to the old silk line, clipped on a bobber, and we headed to the dock. On the way down he instructed me in the proper way to carry the rod, cautioning me to mind the delicate tip. At the water, he showed me how to cast, peeling some line from the reel then swinging it out there, the weight of the bobber and doughball-baited hook easily pulling the line through the guides for a cast that was more than sufficient. When I wasn’t fishing with it, that rod hung in the rack with my dad’s rods, and my folks made sure there was no lapse in the rod’s care. I fished with that old bamboo until I was nine, when it met its sad end broken twice over the knee of an irate Millbury cop who’d already busted me twice down at the pond, ditching school (and then he ran my bike over for good measure, throwing a massive but temporary wrench into my action).

To my mind, there is nothing better than an old (or new) flyrod as a kid’s first rod. The flyrod is actually more foolproof and much easier to use than the troublesome push-button rod decorated with cartoon characters. The flyrod will teach a kid the basics of rod handling, tosses and simple casts. My grandfather and I trolled with streamer flies a lot, a game that is easy and fun for kids, and an effective method on early season trout lakes, usually providing a lot of action, so a great way to start a kid out. But, in those early years, other than trolling flies, I used my flyrod to fish bait, mostly, and it was through presenting live baits that I learned the nuances of presentation. Rigged with a splitshot and a hook baited with a garden worm, grasshopper or caddis larva, a flyrod is the ultimate stream fishing tool. If your student is squeamish about pinning live critters on the hook, salmon eggs or cheese bait might be a viable alternative, though usually not as effective on wild trout. That said, if you know of a stream or pond where a kid can catch them on flies relatively easy, then fish the fly. But I suggest not playing the purist with kids. Again, keep it fun. Mix it up using both flies and bait, as you ascertain the situation justifies. And this will teach your protégé the valuable lesson that a fly is really no different than a bait. Take it slow, keep it fun, and you will find yourself at the game in the company of an enthusiastic fishing buddy. ~

Friday, December 5, 2014

Trigger Flies For Pre-Spawn Rainbows

     Yes, I mean these as trout flies. Sure, they may look like salmon or steelhead flies, & I wouldn’t hesitate to fish them thus, but they are new recruits into my line-up of attractor wets for swinging on winter pre-spawn rainbows. I suspect I might be a born anarchist. Boundaries have sometimes been ambiguous I admit. And I hate trends. I like to work from tried & true core principles, so I am a fairly disciplined anarchist. I respect tradition & endeavor to tweak it lovingly. I figure that’s what it’s for. Are these over the top? O probably. But they were fun to tie & I like looking at them. I’m hoping the trout will too. They are small lures, really, smaller than, say, the doll-eyed, articulated streamers currently trending in trout fishing (when wet they have less mass than a small ¼ ounce spinner or spoon), so fill a niche during those times when trout might be triggered by something fanciful but not too large. These are tied on TMC 200R #4 & #6 hooks, but a fancy approach can be reduced to a #10, smaller than that the fancy flies start to look clunky with too much bulk at the head & the materials (appendages) not draping properly.

As landlocked rainbow trout progress into the pre-spawn mode they become more aggressive, developing a predilection to bite at certain trigger colors, just like steelhead. And, as with steelhead, red, orange, pink, chartreuse & blue serve as effective trigger colors for pre-spawn rainbow & cutthroat trout. It should also be said that all species of trout & salmon will strike certain color combinations when in the pre-spawn (generally beginning a month prior to spawning). Brook & brown trout seem to trigger on more subdued shades of red, olive, orange, yellow, copper & gold. Pink salmon show a remarkable preference for pink. For trout, preference will vary from water to water, & chances are, if you have a home water you fish a lot, you’ve noticed which trigger colors stand out as attractive there. And there are some fairly universal pre-spawn attractor patterns – the Mickey Finn & hairwing Royal Coachman come immediately to mind.   

Though these resemble steelhead flies, they are actually closer to the designs used for fishing sea-run cutthroat in the Pacific Northwest. The patterns presented here are not rote, they work on my home water, yet the style is best informed by your own water. Experiment, alter, refine to suit.          

For fishing.

Blue Ghost (top)

Hook; #4-#10 TMC 200R or steelhead style
Thread: black
Tag: blue tinsel
Tail: dyed blue squirrel tail
Rib: blue tinsel
Body: black rabbit dubbing - apply a short thorax or ball of dubbing, foreward
Topping: blue squirrel tail topped with 2 strands of fine blue tinsel, then a 'flag' of stripped guinea hen feather - strip the barbs from the stem, leaving a spade-shaped tip - tied in flatwing style
Hackle: guinea hen ~ 

Northern Girl                                     
Hook: #4-#10 TMC 200R or salmon/steelhead
Thread: wine
Tag/rib: silver wire
Body: red tinsel - make a short, heavy thorax of red dubbing foreward of the body & pick out
Topping: half-wing of pink calf tail (kip) topped with a pinch of fine red flash
Hackle: red dyed mallard flank/orange dyed guinea hen ~

Curly's Envy

Hook: #4-#10 TMC 200R or salmon/steelhead
Thread: dark olive
Tail: olive partridge
Tag: yellow floss
Body: green tinsel/chartreuse-yellow dubbed thorax
Topping: chartreuse dyed squirrel tail
Hackle: olive partridge ~

Spruce Variant

Hook: #4-#10 TMC 200R
Thread: wine
Body: copper tinsel - red tinsel - peacock herl - coat tinsel with hard dope
Tail: golden pheasant tippet, tied in ahead of the tinsel
Topping: yellow dyed squirrel tail
Hackle: brahma hen ~ I've found this one to be good near every place I've tried it. Good on brookies & browns as well.

Flyfish NE Washington withSteven Bird http://ucflyfishing.blogspot.com        

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Squirrel & Brahma Muddler

     As a nearly universal food item of stream trout, & larger trout, I can think of no more important form than the freshwater sculpin, or muddler. Don Gapen tied the original Muddler Minnow in 1937, to simulate the sculpin big Ontario brook trout were feeding on. Gapen’s muddler patterns were entirely innovative, tied with a heavy squirrel tail topping extended well beyond the hook bend, & a turkey quill over-wing nearly as long. It looked like something the cat dropped on the porch & was not the neat, trimmed, bullet-headed rendition popularized by Dan Bailey, the version common in catalogs today, short winged & nearly or altogether devoid of the trailing squirrel tail. Bailey wanted to give the fly more floatation so that it would fish as a grasshopper, the story goes. Gapen did not pack or trim the deer hair head, which no doubt aided in sinking the fly. The original Muddler Minnow, in form, more closely resembles the creations of Kelly Galloup than it does the neat, sparse, Dan Bailey version.

A few of the things I think contribute to the effectiveness of Don Gapen’s original Muddler Minnow:

It is not overly large, generally tied in #4 & smaller. Using traditional wetfly standards of proportion, more or less, a #4 3xlong hook produces a one & three quarter/two inch long fly, the size of many species of freshwater sculpin at maturity. That & smaller are the sizes most often eaten by foraging trout. O sure. You’ll catch a big brown on that four inch long doll-eyed bunny version, put in the time, or you live in Big Trout Paradise. But in the places most of us fish, most of the time, a less invasive muddler will catch everything, while still possessing enough ju-ju to entice the big boys – & is a lot more pleasant to cast.       

The simple gold tinsel body of Gapen’s design is genius, the designer understood that, in this case, the sum of the components, altogether, comprise the actual ‘body’ of the muddler. The tinsel wound hook shank adds flash, & also becomes the lower flank lateral coloration, which is often pale gold through shades of yellow/bronze in natural sculpin – & less bulk to buoy the fly, helping it sink & stay down.

Excellent material choices & coloration withstanding, probably the most effective feature of the Muddler Minnow is its profile. The squirrel tail hairwing of the original provides action & mass, as well as the barred pattern displayed on naturals. The broad pinto pattern on the turkey quill overwing (which used to puzzle me, for want of something to better match the sculpin of my home water), perfectly matches the girdled patterns found on many sculpin species, & probably the one Gapen meant it to fish for. But the prime element is the flared deer hair head, which, when wet, serves to give the Muddler Minnow the characteristic sculpin profile, which I believe, is the key to the success of the muddler-style patterns.

I love tying, looking at, & fishing muddlers. The style is effective in a number of variations, & in colorations ranging from realistic to fanciful. I would elect Don Gapen’s Muddler Minnow as one of the most out-of-the-box, influential fly patterns of all time. Though the Squirrel & Brahma Muddler featured here is a departure from the original, it remains true to the original design values. I’ve had very good results with this one – UC redband, steelhead & smallmouth bass too.

Squirrel & Brahma Muddler

Hook: #4-#6 3xlong or up-eye salmon/steelhead style (I like TMC 200R as well)

Thread: Tan UNI 8/0

Tail: Two coq de leon hackle tips

Body: Copper tinsel with a short thorax of dubbed squirrel – then add a turn of dubbing after the toppings are tied in, which is essential to flare the hackle collar for the muddler profile

Topping: Olive bucktail topped with squirrel tail, a bit shorter than the bucktail – then two coq de leon hackle tips tied in as a cheek, one on both sides of the wing             
Head: One brown pheasant rump hackle, then four brahma hen hackles, then a nose of dubbing taken from the base of a squirrel tail, dubbed in a loop of the tying thread ~ & finish.

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

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Green/Blue Spider

     Those of us who like to swing flies are fortunate that pre-spawn salmonids, even if not actively feeding, develop the propensity to attack fancifully sexy fly designs – so our tradition of creative salmon & steelhead flies. And as it is with salmon & steelhead, so it is with landlocked trout, though that is an angle many of us don’t often consider.

There was a time when highly detailed quill winged attractor patterns served a trout fly tradition as rich as the anadromous side of things, & those flies worked well on pre-spawn trout – & that is the baby in the proverbial bathwater, I think, the fact that those flies worked very well at certain times of the year. Yet the development of attractor flies for trout fishing has been mainly truncated since the late 1950’s, as the imitative wave rolled in to sweep away the old wetfly patterns of Ray Bergman & those who came before us. Sadly, in the process, it even became tacitly understood (in some circles) that the imitative approach was somehow morally superior to other methods, & that served to diminish an artful branch of our sport, & a useful, fun approach as well, as any steelheader can tell you.

There is a lot of room for good lures in our trout fly boxes, as the purpose for them will exist as long as there are trout. And designs meant to be swung (as opposed to dangled under a bobber) will always fill a sporty niche. 

Fortunately, savvy, creative anglers serve to show us new directions to take the classic concepts. Hairwing attractors are finding popularity among those who like to fish flies that do not resemble jigs, & we are seeing designs from both East & West that are simply exquisite. Along with hairwings, the wingless, low water spider designs popular for sea-run cutthroat & skinny water steelhead, provide a killing model for trout lure designs. Anywhere trout will strike a tiny spoon or spinner, they will find a swung & stripped fancy spider irresistible. The elegant LW spider might fill the bill when a larger streamer is just too much.             

Green/Blue Spider

Hook: #8-#10 TMC 200R or salmon/steelhead style hook

Thread: black UNI 8/0

Body: copper tag, green tinsel; blue tinsel; peacock herl 

Hackle: golden plover 

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

Friday, November 28, 2014

Dark Cahill ~ Morphogenesis of the Western Hairwing Wetfly

     Some writers seem fond of theorizing that the popularity of hairwing designs in the West came about as the result of the unique demands of “big, brawling Western freestones”, holding “big trout”, & the need to imitate “big Western insects”. Sounds good, at first, yet just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. It is true that a clump of hair exhibits more action & will take more abuse than a paired quill wing, & that is a thing that was known before flyfishing arrived in the West. But, if hair has more action than quill, then wouldn’t it follow that hair is not a necessity of swift freestones, & in fact might even be a better choice than quill for quieter water as well? And isn’t it true that there are big freestones in the East & upper Midwest, & baitfish & large insects as well? Nope. Not buying the ‘big brawling freestone’ theory.

As one who has lived quite a few years in a remote region of the PNW, beyond the power lines for a time, I’m fairly convinced the hairwings came about out of necessity & convenience. Sure, there are wood ducks in the West, but they are elusive & seldom around when you need one, & the West is a big place. However, the country abounds with cow tails, buck tails, pine squirrel tails, ground squirrel tails, skunk tails & the tails of hairy critters of all types. In 1900 there were no cars & few roads in the West & even fewer places to buy exotic feathers shipped from London & New York. Sure, rich sports from the East visited the Far West, but the pioneer Western flyfisher had to make most of his own gear, & I’m fairly certain there were few who could afford to spend money on fancy quills &, instead, worked from the lush indigenous palette regarding toppings – fur was near to hand, easy to tie with & most importantly, effective, & the hair wing eventually became a distinguishing feature of the Western style.          

The 1973 edition of the old Veniard’s Fly Dresser’s Guide (already more historical than current at the time of the 1973 revision) lists twenty hairwing wetflies as trout flies, & out of that number about half might be considered steelhead flies, though at the time of original publication most trouting in America was done using #6 wetflies, so there probably wasn’t much distinction in the old days, the attractor-style patterns used for both sea-run & landlocked trout in the Far West. Most of the patterns listed are hairwing conversions of old favorite quill-winged wets, & most are of the fancy attractor type; yet there are a few drab patterns representing flies originally meant to fish for specific insects, & among these the Cahill, & the recipe given in Veniard’s not in the least resembling the original tied by Don Cahill of Port Jervis, New York, in 1887, to simulate the Pale Morning Dun & Pale Evening Dun mayflies of the Catskill region. Yet the pattern given in Veniard’s exactly matches a variant I found in a Colorado fly shop in 1973 – which I think is interesting, as Veniard does suggest that hairwing trout flies are mainly indigenous to the American West, & I now suspect that all the hairwing patterns given in the Fly Dresser’s Guide are actually patterns that were in general usage for trout fishing in the West in the early through mid-1900’s, as that appears to be the case.

I can see the possible genesis: The original Don Cahill pattern, with its characteristic wing & tail of lemon wood duck, became very popular in the East, so popular that a version with dark tan body, the Dark Cahill, soon joined the original tied with a light cream body, & then there were more offspring, including variants with gray or pink bodies. Pioneer flyfishers carried these patterns west, fished them, & morphed them to the Western hairwing style.  

The Dark Cahill with its universally buggy coloration is one of those nondescript patterns that mimics a broad spectrum of insects, add a wing of squirrel tail & it serves to simulate both emergent & drowned mayflies, a stillborn or drowned stonefly, or an egg-laying sedge, or maybe a terrestrial. This  pattern, with its natural coloration, may have filled an important niche in the West during an era dominated by fanciful attractor patterns, & worked well enough to remain in general usage in the Rocky Mountain region into the early 1970’s, an era when the old wetflies were increasingly replaced with evolving, species-specific type nymphs & dryflies. The ones I purchased in Colorado worked well on the small mountain streams west of Denver, where I spent one year. And also turned the trick on an incredible stream that we crossed in the wasteland of Wyoming traveling from Colorado to Washington, & then again on the Clearwater in Idaho during that same trip. Later, the Dark Cahill hairwing proved useful during upper Columbia spotted sedge hatches.

Veniard gives the instructions thus:

Tail. Brown hackle fibres.
Body. Grey fur.
Hackle. Brown *cock.
Wings. Barred brown squirrel tail.

*Most of the old wetfly patterns called for cock hackle, & it should be noted that the cock hackle of the old days was not the stiff, spiky dryfly hackle that we see today from birds bred for the purpose. The cock hackle of the old days was more similar to the bred hen necks available today. Winged wetflies were meant for fishing freestone streams, & the cock hackle was thought to be superior to softer hen. Theoretically, it would maintain its flare in faster water. But the problem I have with barnyard cock is that it often has a soft webby center which causes the hackle to hinge at the base, laying back over the fly while otherwise maintaining its stiffness. To my mind not as good as a soft hackle undulating & flared over a short thorax of dubbing. I’ve found the Whiting Hebert Miner hen to be a better choice for hackling winged wets.  

The example featured here is tied as Veniard describes it – with hackle installed in-the-round, same as the ones I found in 1973 Denver. A #12 is as small as I generally go. The previous posts in this hairwing series have featured some of the larger patterns I tie & fish for trout, so now I’ll post some of the smaller ones. I found some old Mustad 3906B wetfly hooks that I bought back in 1973, which is what the Dark Cahill is tied on.

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Low Water Spider

     I’ve been posting a series of hairwing patterns lately & will continue, as I’m planning to post some smaller versions, but while I’m in the groove featuring mostly larger hairwing attractor patterns, I thought to put up a wingless type most often seen on streams holding sea-run fish, yet, like the hairwing wetfly, mostly overlooked as a trout lure. But spiders can be good when swung on pre-spawn trout that are not in the mood for anything fat yet inclined to bite something fancifully sexy – the same as their sea-run kin. I love tying low water spiders. They are like soft-hackle nymphs on hallucinogens. The possible creative variations are limitless. The pattern featured here is the basic formula. Typically, I use two contrasting hackles for the collars. I usually tie these in #6-#8 for fishing smaller coastal streams & upper Columbia trout, but the concept can be scaled down to as small as #12 (reasonably) to meet smaller streams holding smaller fish. Freestone brookies & cutthroat love these in the smaller sizes.

Low Water Spider

Hook: #6-#10 TMC 200R

Thread: Orange UNI 8/0

Tail: Golden pheasant tippet

Body: Orange Pearsall’s tying silk underbody & butt, copper tinsel, peacock herl twisted with the orange silk

Hackle: Orange guinea hen / gadwall ~ & finish with jungle cock nail cheeks. 

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

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Camp Dog ~ Hairwing Wetfly

     Though there are some stand-out examples from the Northeast & upper Midwest, there is no doubt that hairwing flies have earned their place in the West, where they flourish & their development still ongoing. We see two distinct lines in the West: the Trude style of the Rocky Mountain region, tied with cock hackle, a sort of combination pattern fished both wet & dry; & the Western salmon/steelhead hairwing style, with roots in the Atlantic salmon traditions. But it is interesting, I think, that the style/approach hasn’t been widely applied to trout flies, & for no good reason, in my own experience. Probably due to trends. About the time quill-winged wets were vacating fly boxes in the 1960’s, they were replaced with wingless nymphs of all types, popularized by writers at that time. And now the bobber & bead-head trend. The style has not been abandoned altogether, but its development has been truncated somewhat in the trout fly department, most anglers busy concentrating on the presentation they know.

The Camp Dog & other hairwings posted here are swinging flies, & come into their own when that presentation is called for. Trout like the swing & dangle every bit as much as salmon & steelhead do. At times, it is all they want. These are perfect for delivery with two-handed trout rods on larger freestones; filling a niche where large streamers don’t fit the bill &, in my own experience, more often than not the more demure hairwing will out-fish a big streamer, while being more pleasant to cast.

I mean the Camp Dog as a lure. Combinations of copper, orange, red, yellow & black work as a trigger on my home water, as evidenced by the success of the Thomas Buoyant spoon here, in copper with red, yellow & black spots. No, it’s not the action. The same model & weight in another color doesn’t work nearly as well. I played with the colors, arriving at this version, which killed UC redband & cutthroat for us this Fall after October caddis faded. I hope somebody will try this one on sea-run cutts & give me a report.

Camp Dog

Hook: #8-#12 3x wetfly style (I tie these in mostly #8-#10, on TMC 200R or salmon/steelhead style hooks)

Thread: Orange UNI 8/0

Tail: Golden pheasant tippet

Body: Tag of orange tying thread; copper tinsel; a short thorax of red fur dubbing

Topping: Stacked: yellow calf tail; squirrel tail; red yak underfur (fox or calf tail may be substituted) -- apply a drop of Loon Hard Head or thick dope to the thread wraps holding the wing

Hackle: Natural black/bronze hen ~ & finish.

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

Sunday, October 19, 2014

October Caddis Hairwing Wetfly

     This is the basic Western hairwing wetfly that I tie for October caddis. It is an indigenous fly in both function & form. I developed this one to fish for October caddis on the upper Columbia, but it travels well, & is also a basic for coastal cutthroat & steelhead. 

Unlike the last few hairwings featured in this series, it seeks to imitate a certain insect, covering two stages of October caddis: either a winged emerger, or a drowned spinner. I find this style most useful in simulating the emergent phase of drake mayflies & October caddis, larger insects that rise from the bottom fully winged or wings unfurling. Particularly October caddis & black quill (Leptophlebia), an important large mayfly in the Columbia drainage which unfurls its wings prior to emergence, the large black wing a standout feature of the natural. 

A hairwing, in the right size & color, functions as an effective emerger when fishing over black quill, in fact, essential, in my own experience. I spent a lot of frustrating seasons unable to conceive a satisfactory emerging nymph pattern to meet the great black quill hatches of my home water. Until I met some fisheries biologists setting traps for sturgeon larvae. Sampling in about ten feet of water, the traps, set on the bottom, kept plugging up with large nymphs, & the crew showed me their haul & asked me if I could identify the nymphs. They were mahogany all over in coloration, with a striking yellow banding between the abdomen segments, & I was able to identify them because they looked just like the adults. I was surprised that the nymphs were found so deep, but most surprising were the wings unfurling from the distended, black wing pads of the fully mature nymphs. 

Dayum… I thought to myself, they’re swimming up from ten feet deep! trailing that big ol’ black wing! 

Needless to say, I was fishing a winged version of the nymph the following evening, & immediate results let me know I was finally on the right track. Wasn’t too unlike my experience with October caddis. Much as I love wingless patterns, sometimes there is no ignoring the wing as a stand-out feature that must be dealt with.      

October Caddis Hairwing

Hook: I tie these on a #8 steelhead style or TMC 200R

Thread: Rust-brown UNI 8/0

Rib: Copper wire

Abdomen: Umpqua Sparkle Blend October Caddis dubbing (rusty orange) on a loop of the tying thread

Thorax: Mixed, 3/4 natural bluish-gray rabbit with guard hairs, 1/4 Orange Sparkle Blend – don’t over-blend – dubbed on a loop of the tying thread   

Wing: Pine squirrel tail – tie in one mottled turkey tail feather fiber as a cheek on each side of the wing

Hackle: One turn of orange hen or saddle ahead of the wing, then to the hook eye with furnace hen ~ & finish.

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

Friday, October 17, 2014

Hairwing Wetflies ~ Kamiakin

     The basic form of the Kamiakin (named for the Spokane war chief who defeated the U.S. Army at the Battle of Steptoe Butte) is fairly typical of the hairwing style attractors I’m tying for trout, in sizes #8 to #12. The elements, material choices, color combinations of my flies are those things I’ve found to be attractive to the trout living in my home water (& you might recognize these to be attractive to trout, in general, more or less). Known (or suspected) trigger elements, if you will. I tie the bodies a bit forward on the hook, usually tipped about even with the hook point. Bodies might be anything. I tie some with tinsel bodies, & on those I apply a short thorax or ball of dubbing before tying in wings, providing a bit of bulk to lift the wing slightly & flare the hackle.  Tails are kept fairly short. Wings, or toppings, aren’t too heavy. Light should pass through. Too fat a wing will swim like a shaving brush. I like the wing to extend to the end of the hook bend, perhaps a whisper of hair tips beyond. I don’t even the hair in a stacker, just tweeze & even by hand. Unlike the old wetfly patterns tied for trout which called for cock hackle, tied bearded, I borrow from the soft-hackle tradition, using game & hen hackle, tied in-the-round. As these are fast-water flies, & often fished moving – swung, lifted, stripped – I hackle my wetflies somewhat heavier than I would usually hackle a nymph or flymph, folding back the barbs from both sides of the stem, together, & generally going for three, or four winds on larger patterns like the #8, 3x long versions I fish on my home water. Sometimes I use more than one hackle & mix colors. I’ve found that trout appreciate a highlight added to the wing, like the red mallard flank fibers tied in as a cheek on the Messenger, the turkey tail fibers on the October Caddis patterns, & the gadwall flank used on the Kamiakin.


Hook: #8-#12 TMC 200R, or choice

Thread: Black UNI 8/0

Tag: Black thread

Tail: Brown-dyed mallard flank (less expensive than lemon wood duck)

Rib: Fine silver wire

Butt: Bright yellow floss

Body: Peacock herl twisted with the yellow floss

Wing: Pine squirrel & 2 gadwall flank fibers per side, tied in as a cheek

Hackle: Furnace hen ~ & finish.

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

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Dark Spruce Hairwing

     A walk through the archives of ancient trout flies & we see hair was not that popular a material for trout flies in the British Isles. In an era when the Brits were still fastidiously marrying quills onto their trout flies, pioneer anglers of the American West were discovering that hairwings were more effective than the old quill winged wetflies, hair, a more suitable material for the larger sized flies needed to meet the big trout of the western freestones, & they were finding more creative ways to use it, developing new patterns that were uniquely American, like the streamer flies of Maine, informed by a regional need. Indigenous patterns. The earliest hairwinged trout flies of the West were simply favorite old-world wetfly & streamer patterns tied with hair wings, but things took off from there. The Trude, tied in 1901 by Carter Harrison for Alfred Trude, with some red yarn from the cabin rug & winged with retriever hair (as a joke, some say), was a landmark pattern, all the more so, as it is fished both dry & wet, foundational to an entirely new breed, now extensively fished throughout the Rocky Mountain Region & beyond. The squirrel-winged Picket Pin, tied by Montana tavern owner Jack Boehme in 1910, is another unique Western pattern that comes to mind. Meant to fish for stoneflies but also a good attractor. Like the Trude, the Picket Pin is fished both wet & dry – I’ve seen it classified as a streamer, & it does fish as a streamer, but I suspect its maker fished it in the Western style, as a dryfly, until it sank, then, a wetfly. The Godfrey Special, now known as the Spruce, is another Western design that proved, & survived as a favorite for over 100 years. Though originally tied as a streamer, not a hairwing, the Dark Spruce lends itself well to the style. Originally tied for sea-run cutthroat, I’ve found that inland cutthroat like this hairwing version as well. Brookies too. My brother caught a 9 pound brown on this pattern.

The original calls for a red floss butt, though the red mylar gives more flash. One can wind fine wire over the body, but having had trouble with it slipping down the mylar portion, I quit using it, instead, coating that portion of the fly with a thick, clear dope.

Dark Spruce Hairwing

Hook: I like TMC 200R, TMC 2312, & I still have some old-timey Mustad 3906B’s – ideally a wetfly/nymph hook 2x or 3x long, depending on design & size. In sizes smaller than #10, a 2x long or standard wetfly hook will give you more gape in the bend, which may be a better way to go in some waters. Paul Bruun, who also develops hairwings, & probably knows, tells me Jackson Hole cutthroats tend to twist off the TMC 200R. Which leads me to consider how various populations of trout have their distinctive fighting characteristics which, along with other variables, will dictate what the hook need be. In theory, the design functions much the same as a classic salmon/steelhead fly, & can be fished the same way. As the fly is often fished with quite a bit of movement, swung, lifted, stripped, I don’t want a lot of material trailing for chasing trout to snipe at. I don’t want to get short-bit. But, at the same time, the longer the wing the more action it has, so I want to maximize the length of the wing, which extends to the end of the hook bend.

Thread: Black UNI 8/0

Tail: Peacock sword tips

Butt: Red mylar tinsel

Body: Peacock herl

Wing: Pine squirrel tail

Hackle: Furnace hen  & finish

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

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Hairwings For Trout ~ Guinea & Squirrel October Caddis

     We’ve been having a superb October caddis hatch this season, lots of caddis & good weather. Daily opportunity to try out new designs. The hairwings are outperforming wingless pupa patterns, by far. On the upper Columbia, most October caddis hatch from the water, rising swiftly from the bottom as winged adults. Liking the looks of the guinea hackle of Ray Bergman’s Sawtooth, I thought to try guinea on my own version. Tied one up, walked down to the river & tried it this evening, & it worked good. Fished about an hour & a half right up against dark, working down the bank with an 11’3” switch rod rigged with a 210 grain head made from an 8wt double taper line carrying a 12’ sinking leader made from the running section of an old fast-sink line, the head backed with Amnesia running line.

Caught a nice redband, then came up empty on three hard strikes before checking my hook. I’d tinked off the point & better part of the hook bend on the rocks. By then it was too dark to tie on a fresh one & things were dying down anyway. Going to fish this one some more. I should note that they want it moving fairly rapidly, swung, stripped & lifted.

Guinea & Squirrel October Caddis

Hook: #8 TMC 200R (Or your choice. I like a 3x long hook for this pattern.)

Thread: Rust-brown UNI 8/0

Rib: Copper wire

Abdomen: Umpqua October Caddis (rusty orange) sparkle blend dubbing on a loop of the tying thread

Thorax: 2/3 natural bluish-gray rabbit & 1/3 orange sparkle blend dubbing on a loop of the tying thread

Wing: Pine squirrel – tie in a mottled turkey tail fiber on either side

Hackle: Guinea hen ~ & finish

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

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Hairwings For Trout ~ Messenger

     I’ve found that trout, generally, like a somewhat less flashy attractor pattern than their sea-run cousins. Still, they do appreciate a detail or two, something added to the fly so that the trout “might enjoy & appreciate it”, as Big Jim Leisenring prescribes.


Hook: #8-#12 TMC 200R

Thread: Wine UNI 8/0

Tail: Crimson cock hackle

Body: Black rabbit with guard hair, mixed with crimson chopped angel hair tinsel, dubbed on a loop of the tying thread

Wing: Black calf tail topped with four red mallard flank fibers – I pair the mallard fibers & tie one each side of the wing

Hackle: Natural black/bronze hen  

Sawtooth (Ray Bergman)

John Veniard opens the chapter on hairwing wetflies for trout, thus: “The use of hair instead of feathers for wings has become increasingly popular for use in fast streams, especially on the west coast of America, mainly because it has more “life” when wet.

I may have been mistaken thinking that only one (Cahill) of the twenty hairwing trout flies (wet) listed in the 1973 Veniard’s Fly Dressers’ Guide is a simulator type. When I glanced at the recipe I noticed it called for jungle cock cheeks, so I dismissed the Sawtooth as a cross-over seatrout, steelhead or salmon pattern, which is what most of the hairwings listed by Veniard as suitable & popular for trouting are. Also, the Sawtooth is the only pattern of the twenty listed that is not tied with cock hackle, but rather, it is tied with guinea hen hackle. A soft hackle. There is no picture of the Sawtooth in Veniard's, so another look at the recipe & I envisioned the fly, & I suspect Bergman fished this one as a salmonfly or October caddis, or for both. And I don’t think the jungle cock cheeks would hurt the pattern in either case. If it is true that Bergman tied this to simulate specific insects, then this is an innovative pattern from an era when there were only a handful of imitative hairwing designs tied specifically for trout. And the first recorded pattern, that I've found, which implements a soft hackle. Though Bergman probably tied it bearded, I couldn’t resist tying it in-the-round.   

Sawtooth (Ray Bergman)

Hook: #8 TMC 200R

Thread: Black UNI 8/0

Tail: Guinea hen

Rib: Oval gold tinsel

Body: Orange chenille

Wing: Pine squirrel tail

Hackle: Guinea hen

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Hairwing Wetfly For Trout ~ Curly's Envy

     Those who checked out the October Flame caddis pattern of my last post probably noted that it is constructed as a traditional hairwing wetfly, a type most often reserved for salmon & seatrout, yet in my own experience, also effective in sizes suitable for trouting. Here’s one of the attractor-style hairwings I like for fishing the water on freestone streams. This type works well swung & can be effective on water where larger streamers won’t produce. Depending on color choices, the basic pattern lends itself to two distinct modes: creating fanciful lures; & simulating winged emergers or drowned adults of specific insects. I like this style & give it a lot of play. Hairwings are built on the solid principles of the soft-hackle approach: natural materials, movement, enticing ambiguity (obfuscation) as prescribed by James Leisenring, who, incidentally, in addition to the flymphs, packed a few hairwing wets himself.  Though synthetic material might be used or incorporated as a topping, I still prefer natural fur for its taper, spine & action when wet, as well as the nuanced coloration it affords. Nature still does it better. Bucktail, squirrel tail & calf tail are indispensable basics, natural & dyed. Rabbit, skunk, raccoon, fox, mink, bear, angora & long, coarse underfur are also useful. A clipping from the kitty’s tail?… Well. Be gentle.

Over the next few posts I’ll run a series, of sorts, of hairwing wetflies tied for trout.

Curly’s Envy

Hook: #8-#12 TMC 200R

Thread: Yellow UNI 8/0

Tail: Golden pheasant crest feather

Butt: Yellow floss

Body: Green tinsel - wind a short thorax or ball of yellow dubbing before tying in the wing

Wing: Yellow calf tail topped with olive bucktail

Hackle: Olive grizzly hen

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

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

October Flame Caddis Emerger

    Gary LaFontaine wrote that October caddis are the most important ‘big fish’ hatch of the West, & I lean toward his point-of-view on that, at least as regards my home water the upper Columbia, where OC imitations take some of the best trout of the year. Interesting though, there seems to be widely mixed feelings about this insect, ranging from the positive Gary LaFontaine end of the scale, all the way to: “Aint wortha sh*t. Never caught a fish on one. They don’t eat em.” And I do admit to hanging near the cynical end of the fish-O-meter during my early years living in October caddis country. I’m a painfully slow learner, but, hammer long enough, something will break & the nut is revealed to even the thickest among us. Maybe confessing a couple of the things I know (now) I did wrong might serve to shed light on why others struggle when meeting the enigmatic Dicosmoecus.

My first mistake was allowing myself (for too long a time) to be influenced by the Great Big Fuzzy approach, as in great big fuzzy dryflies, always alluring, & sometimes effective, though day-in day-out not the best call, at least not where I fish. I was guilty of trying to make the trout conform to the way I preferred to fish, while the trout, for the most part, blithely foraged on subsurface pupae & emergers. The big dries do take fish & that is a happy occurrence, though trout seem more inclined toward them in the latter portion of the emergence season when a lot of adults have accumulated & colder weather starts to knock them down onto the water. Adults are strong fliers & you seldom see them stranded on the water during the early half of the season. On my home water, & I know this to be true of other rivers in the Columbia drainage, October caddis emerge early September through October, & though steady through the season, the ‘hatch’ is widespread & generally sparse, occurring from mid-day into dark. Dryflies tend to work best early morning & right up against dark, while wet imitations will take fish throughout the day. Don’t get me wrong. Not saying one should dismiss any notion of fishing dries except during those times I say. O no. Good to put a dryfly on them every now & then to keep things honest.

But, most of the time, wet imitations will produce more trout. And that was another source of vexation, I spent a long time experimenting with patterns conceived in fog, due to my lack of understanding the natural’s behavior & actual appearance in the water. Slowly, year after year, hammering away, observation & revelatory stomach content checks informing, my fly patterns for OC & method of delivering them improved, & I started to feel great fondness for this insect, & anticipation of its appearance replaced perplexity. Not saying I’ve discovered any be-all, end-all patterns. There aint no such thing. Just saying I’m up the road a little further than where I started out with October caddis & am having more fun than befuddlement when meeting them, which makes me glad. 

There are actually, to my mind, two subsurface phases of October caddis that are important on my home water. Though the imitation has merit on some waters, the cased stage is not a great producer on the UC, rather, it’s the uncased pupa & winged emerger that get the nod.

The cased larvae accumulate near the edge of the river in July, where they seal themselves off in the case & pupate until ready to emerge. When mature, the pupae chew through the seal & emerge from the case to clamber & swim near the bottom. This occurs throughout mid-day. The naked pupae are robust & active, many of them crawling clear of the flow to complete emergence on shoreline rocks & vegetation, but also a good number of them, their biological clocks ticking down the big event, emerge fully winged from the bottom of the stream & struggle to the surface – & a portion of those will be crippled & riding helpless in the flow. I carry both winged & wingless versions of October caddis, though, lately, winged versions like the one featured here are getting a lot play.

The October Flame is meant to simulate an emerging winged adult, & might be taken for a pupa or drowned spinner as well. Though the fiery orange thorax is a departure from stark realism, for reasons known only to themselves the trout are liking it. I tie these un-weighted, & usually fish them deep with a sink-tip line or splitshot on the leader. For deep, swift water like the UC, I fish this one on a 12’ sink tip, working downstream, quartering, dead-drifting, swinging, lifting, dropping back, dangling. As the naturals move swiftly up the water column, a fast strip often works really good with this pattern. Trout feeding on October caddis can be very specific about how they want it presented. If you are fishing over October caddis with a decent pattern & not catching, the problem is usually not be the fly at all, but rather, how it is presented. Mix up the presentation until you find it. And always try the fast strip with this one.                             

October Flame

Hook: #8 TMC 200R or Dai-Riki 889 (Depending on location, naturals are #8-#10 – #8, where I fish – For big water holding large trout I like a heavy wire steelhead hook to aid in keeping the fly deep, though a lighter hook might be more appropriate for skinnier water & smaller sizes.)

Thread: Rust-brown UNI 8/0

Rib: Fine copper wire

Body: Mix of  2/3 Umpqua orange sparkle dubbing & 1/3 Wapsi Superfine sulfur yellow dubbing, dubbed in a loop of the tying thread (Pumpkin orange on my home water, & that seems to be fairly common over the northern regions, though color will vary with location, pale orange to tan & yellow more common to the south into California. A wingless version of this pattern will fish for the pre-emergent pupae, but keep in mind that these are paler in coloration than the adults – a common mistake tiers make is representing the pupa with adult coloration – mixing in more of the sulfur yellow will give the lighter coloration.

Thorax: Flue taken from the base of an orange-dyed mallard flank feather – tie in around the center of the puff then fold back & arrange around the hook shank – the flue from one side of the feather tied in on top, & the other side tied in on the bottom usually does it, though it might take a bit more – this will extend over about half the body & when wet creates an enticing shroud

Antennae (Hind legs?): 2 mottled turkey tail fibers extending well behind the hook bend

Wing: Pine squirrel tail

Hackle: Furnace hen ~ & finish.

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

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Cedar Lake Dragon

     Dragonfly nymphs are a primary food source in virtually all of the trout lakes in my neighborhood, & I like to dredge the lakes, so I’m always messing around with approaches to simulating the big nymphs. The Carey Special style, in its many variants, originated in my region & the style works well here for lake-dwelling rainbows. My idea with the Cedar Lake Dragon is to achieve a bit more realism in the design employing a natural color scheme, highlighting the stippled barring of the natural nymphs using an over-body of olive-dyed mallard flank. 

Cedar Lake Dragon

Hook: #4-#8 TMC 200R 

Thread: Olive

Rib: Chartreuse or olive wire wound over the body

Body: Mix of dark & light olive rabbit dubbing, not blended too much, should look blotchy, mix in some chopped olive midge flash, dubbed on a loop of the tying thread

Over-body: Dyed olive mallard flank tied in as a clump wing – extending slightly beyond the hook bend – top with a couple strands of olive midge flash           

Hackle: Pheasant rump – mix 3 hackles of varied colorations ~ & finish.

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

Monday, August 11, 2014

Confessions of a Western Fly Troller

     Trolling with flies & fly tackle is a form of our sport that has long been practiced in the Northeast, & with great style. The artful Maine & Adirondack guide boats & the transcendental streamer fly patterns of Carrie Stevens reflect a rich tradition rooted in the Atlantic salmon tradition of the British Isles, yet adapted & evolved to meet the dictates of the unique brook trout, mackinaw, landlocked salmon fishery present in the deep, glacier-carved lakes of northern New England where trout grow to fine proportions feeding on freshwater smelt, the principle forage of the lakes. A practical people, the Yankees discovered that trolling with fly tackle & streamer flies designed to imitate the native smelt was an effective & fun way to go. And the fishing presented an opportunity to design some sweet boats for the purpose – resplendent with wicker-back seats so that the sport might recline in grand comfort, dragging the fly, while the guide rows. 

 So what happened to this entertaining branch of our sport in the West? It is true that there is a pocket of fly trolling in the waters around Puget Sound, particularly in B.C. waters, yet beyond that it seems trolling in the far West is, for the most part, the furtive practice of sore, tired, lazy (content), or half-froze kick-boaters who keep quiet about it, as dragging the fly is not generally regarded as “real fly fishing”. However, the West is full of irony, & based on the number of anglers I see doing it (dragging the fly) from their float tubes, I have to suspect that western folks must secretly think it is fun & sporting enough.

 Personally, I love to troll & mooch with flies. If & when my casting ability is lost & I am too feeble to clamber or wade, I’ll be content dragging my fly behind the pram, enjoying the scenery, musing on new, creative trolling fly designs to tie when I get home while anticipating that honking strike.

And to those who say it is not fly fishing, I say: It may not be fly casting, but it certainly is fly fishing, in every other regard – & also the opportunity to learn & expand our bag of entertaining & useful tricks. And with sinking line systems now making it possible to fish 60 feet deep fairly comfortably, & the advent of UV enhanced materials to make our flies more visible in the dark depths, we see the ability to use fly tackle as an effective method for taking deep-dwelling lake trout (mackinaw) & kokanee, species not often pursued by western fly anglers.   

Most of us prefer to cast & I am no exception. I love fishing the shoreline weeds in the early & late season when trout are shallow, casting & retrieving nymph, leech & midge imitations. But there are times & places trolling will prove the most productive method. Like when it’s too windy to do anything else. I’ve seen guys arrive at Eastern Washington lakes & be dismayed at the windy condition, seeking out protective coves where they might cast, or in some cases simply giving up & leaving, overlooking the opportunity to troll or mooch using the wind to advantage as propulsion. Trolling is a good approach mid-summer when trout are holding 20 to 30 feet deep or deeper. Trolling can be very effective on lakes where baitfish are a primary food item, as trout & salmon often follow baitfish for some distance before striking – too great a distance for a caster to cover – & trolling allows us to cover infinitely more water than we can still-casting.

 Northeastern anglers know that lake trout & landlocked salmon will be located fairly shallow in early spring following ice-out on the lakes & that is a favorite time to troll the shoreline with streamer flies in the Northeast. Yet we have a nearly identical situation at several of the lakes I fish in NE Washington which host mackinaw & landlocked kokanee salmon, & though the caliber of the fishing might inspire envy in a New Englander, it is extremely rare to encounter anybody pursuing these western fish with fly tackle.

And one more thing: Trolling is an excellent way to introduce kids & other non-casting novices to flyfishing.

Trolling Tackle

As an all-around trolling rod for trout, I like an 8 to 9 foot 7-weight. Of course one could go lighter or heavier as the size of fish one might encounter dictates, but the 7wt covers most of it. If you own a fast-action rod that you find a bit stiff for casting, you have a trolling rod candidate. For casting I prefer moderate/slow action rods, but for trolling, ideally, I want a fast-action rod that loads up & shuts off quickly toward the tip portion of the rod, which results in better hook sets.

Any fly reel will function as a trolling reel in a pinch, but as a designated trolling reel, a larger diameter, narrow-spool, large-arbor type is ideal. The reel I’m using on the 7wt rod is rated for 8wt lines, allowing a bit more diameter for quicker line retrieval.

The line system I’m using is simple & inexpensive. I use 30lb test mono for a backing/running line. The mono has a long enough loop tied into the end to accept a coiled sinking head for quick rigging. I purchase 30 feet of Rio T-20 (for about 30 bucks) which has a sink rate of about a foot per second – cut the 30 foot section into 2 equal 15 foot sections – then cut 5 feet from one, which makes 3 heads of 5, 10 & 15 foot lengths. I affix a camo loop to  one end for easy handshake loop connection to the mono running line. The 5 foot head fishes the top 10 feet of water; the 10 foot head fishes 10 to 20 feet deep; & the 15 foot head will fish 20 to 40 feet deep, & even down to 60 feet. I prefer the 30lb mono to braid as a running line, as it is easier to handle, doesn’t saw the guides, & provides shock-absorbing stretch when big fish hammer the fly – & it has much less water resistance than an integrated sinking line, so less line belly & buoying.

For leader, I nail-knot 3 feet of 15 lb test fluorocarbon to each head section & tie a tiny black barrel swivel to that for fastening the ‘tippet’ to, usually 20-30 feet of 8lb test fluorocarbon – though one might go lighter or heavier, depending. The long leader allows the fly to swing & swim free from line drag & angle. The little barrel swivel allows for easy tippet change & prevents line twist should the fly roll or foul.


Flippering from a float tube is fine, yet exhausting for the long haul. Rowing, with the rod set in a holder, or better still, holding the rod while somebody else rows, is the first choice. Trout are shy of motor noise, necessitating dragging the fly a long distance from the boat. Also, flies don’t require the speed it takes to buoy hardware (one reason they are usually more effective than hardware) & fish at slower speeds than hardware – an easy feathering of the oars is usually all that’s required to maintain the right trolling speed. An electric motor would be my second choice, & last, a low horsepower, 4-stroke gas motor. But the oars allow a more nuanced range of speed & motion in addition to stealthy silence.

Ideal speeds for dragging streamer flies are as follows: slow walk, walk, & fast walk – estimated by watching the shoreline.  

Dragonfly/damselfly nymph & leech imitations can be effective trolled at very slow speeds, a slow walk & slower, & are good choices for mooching (drifting, using the breeze for propulsion). Got mackinaw 40 to 60 feet deep? try mooching or slow-trolling a 4 inch long purple & black leech behind the 15 foot T-20 head.


Though not an absolute necessity, a depth/fish finder is a handy tool for trolling, particularly on bigger lakes. The advantage of having a meter is obvious, of course. My favorite is a compact, portable unit that runs on D-cell batteries & simply clamps to the rail of a pram, or any small boat. They sell for a little over a hundred bucks & perform very well to reveal the depth & location of bait schools & fish, eliminating a lot of guesswork on big water.

If possible, it’s good to have two lines out working at different depths until fish are located. Baitfish follow the contour of the shoreline & trollers should do the same. Don’t troll in a straight line. If you are consistently finding the fish suspended at, say, 20 feet deep over a 30-foot bottom, then follow that 30 foot contour line relative to the shore, using the meter to keep you over the right depth (30 feet) while your flies are working at 20 feet. If fish are concentrated in a certain area, keep turning back & trolling through, gridding the area.

Using an outboard motor requires trolling flies at least 70 feet behind the boat, but the use of an electric motor or oars will allow trolling at much shorter distance. That said, 70 feet behind the boat is about right to achieve the best hooking angle, the line angling down at between 35 to 45 degrees. A 15-foot T-20 head will troll at a 40 foot depth at ‘walk’ speed with about 70 feet of line out. I control the depth by counting the number of ‘pulls’ from the reel. Pulling the line from the reel to arm’s length gives me a little over 2 feet. When fish are in the top 10 feet, the 5 foot sinking head works fine at 12 pulls of the running line once the head & leader are beyond the tip, which puts the fly out about 50 feet.

Trolling with flies opens a whole new world of possibilities for western anglers. A fun game with no shame. Ask any Mainer.  

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