Friday, May 30, 2014

Soft-Hackle Damselfly Nymph

     Damselfly nymphs are an abundant, staple forage of trout in the NE Washington lakes I fish. With several hundred species found in North America, damselfly nymphs are one of the most important still water insects to imitate; & I can think of no other that has been given more attention by fly designers. The damselfly nymph is a darling of the Realists, with some creations approaching dead-ringer realism.

I fish damselfly nymphs a lot through the season &, over the years, have tried quite a few approaches to the imitation including several time-consuming articulated models. But, all said & done, my favorite is a fairly conventional soft-hackle style that has been popular with lake anglers in my region since long before my time. I tie several color variants of this pattern, including all-black (the old Black Leech) & an all-vermilion (Stepchild) which has its day, stepping in during the the lake turn-over period when nothing else seems to work.

Damselflies have a one to two-year life cycle & a long emergence season, April through September, with heaviest emergences May through July, so nymphs of all sizes are available to fish throughout the season. Nymph coloration varies according to water, & with quite a bit of variety within the same body of water – ranging from shades of tan, brown & every shade of olive – so I haven’t found color to be a critical factor in imitation. Immature nymphs are lighter in color, darkening as they mature. As there are always the larger mature models around, I generally fish a #8, representing the fully mature nymph, but also carry them in #10-#12, as the smaller sizes (in lighter colors) sometimes work better during mid-season when trout may be cued on an abundance of immature nymphs.

Though most often thought of as a lake insect, damselfly nymphs are plentiful in spring creeks as well, & a damsel imitation is a good pattern for prospecting & fishing the slow water, capable of serving as a 'big fish fly' on spring creeks.  

Soft-Hackle Damselfly Nymph

Hook: #8 TMC 2312 (or TMC 200R)

Thread: Olive

Tail: Clump of ‘marabou’ (chick-a-bou) (a 3/8 to ½ inch section) taken from the base of an olive-dyed grizzly hen hackle

Rib: Chartreuse wire

Abdomen: Mixed olive-dyed hare’s mask & Wapsi superfine sulfur-yellow dubbing – about 50/50

Back/Tail: 3 strands of olive/pearl midge flash tied in ahead of the abdomen, then pulled back & over-wound with the wire ribbing – leave the three ends just slightly longer than the marabou tailing

Thorax: Same dubbing as the abdomen

Hackle: Olive-dyed grizzly hen -- one turn (olive-dyed partridge is a good substitute)

Head: A couple of turns of dubbing ahead of the hackle – & finish.

Flyfish NE Washington with Steven Bird:          

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Bunny & Tinsel Leech

     Leeches found in Northwest lakes are smallish, an inch & under, for the most part. Simple mini-leech patterns have become staples for lake fishing in my neighborhood – a favorite alternative for midge anglers who like to fish small stuff – & tiny leeches can be fished all the ways that one might fish a midge larva.

I like to fish these when trout are fairly shallow – 10 feet deep or less – using a floating line with 15 foot fluoro leader. Dress the leader with a sink potion. The floating line is the indicator. Trout often hit the leech on the sink, so I watch the line for a tell-tale wake. A hand-twist retrieve with pauses is good. Several short, rapid strips, then a long pause, often turns the trick.

The Bunny & Tinsel Leech recipe given here can be tied with any tinsel coloration. Also makes an excellent bluegill fly.

Bunny & Tinsel Leech
Hook: #12 Daiichi 1150

Thread: Grey UNI 8/0

Underbody: Blue mylar tinsel (or choice) -- coat with Loon Hard Head or thick dope

Overbody: Pinch of black rabbit fur taken from a strip (guard & underfur), tied in as a wing & pushed down around the sides of the hook shank (tinsel should show through), extending back about twice the length of the hook

Hackle: Dark bronze hen (starling or dyed-black soft hackle can substitute) – & finish.

Flyfish NE Washington with Steven Bird:

Monday, May 26, 2014

Pheasant Rump Craw

If the Great Spirit was to tap me on the shoulder & say: ‘Harken! Thou shalt possess no other animal but one for use in the construction of flyes.’

I would not be dismayed. I would procure a complete cock ringneck pheasant cape with tail & go my way, content.

Pheasant Rump Craw

Hook: Plastic worm style –  wrap the hook shank with lead wire

Thread: Camel

Claws: Mixed, pale orange, & mottled-olive/brown rubber – 2 equal clumps tied in, one on both sides of the hook shank – apply a couple turns of brown yarn or synthetic dubbing at the hook bend prior to tying in the rubber, then a couple turns of dubbing over the tie-in point after the rubber is tied in, which aids in keeping the ‘claws’ somewhat separate – the separation won’t be well-defined, but that is okay, we don’t want them widespread, as that might cause the imitation to propeller

Body: Mixed rump hackle taken from a cock ringneck pheasant – begin with a ‘church window’ hackle taken from the top of the cape, just above the tail – I clip the hackles where the stem starts to get too fat to wind (don’t strip the ‘marabou’ off), tie in at the base end of the hackle stem, grasping the tip, fold back the barbs from both sides of the stem while winding forward toward the hook eye, each turn snug to the prior – alternate the church window hackles from the back of the cape with the marabou-like rump hackle taken from the sides, for the first half (thorax) of the craw, then the rest of the way to the hook eye with the shorter rump hackles taken from the sides – depending on the hook size, it may take 6 or more hackles – after winding the first hackle, tie in 2 strands of  3/64 UNI-Mylar blue/copper tinsel, extending back to just beyond the rubber.  

Flyfish NE Washington with Steven Bird:     

Saturday, May 24, 2014

It’s All Angling, Isn’t It?

Odds & Ends – & a few new things.

Answer to a question that has been asked a couple of times recently:

Q: “Do you fish beadheads? I notice all your flies are tied without bead heads.”

A: “I think the reason beadheads are currently popular is because they fish well under a bobber, a method that is currently trending – though not without a legit place, to be sure – albeit overused, by my own reckoning. On those rare occasions I do fish with a bobber, I’ve found that the nymph will sink equally well weighted with a bit of lead or copper wire wound under the thorax section of the fly, thereby saving me the added cost & confusion of beads that may serve to make my flies look & fish like jigs – which might reflect a lack of confidence & commitment to the pure, spotless ‘D’. But okay I admit I’m aesthetically biased, somewhat. Joking aside, I do like those versions of the Pheasant Tail Nymph tied with a colored bead thorax. Everything has its day. And to each his own, I say. Anybody so inclined is perfectly welcome to affix a bead to any of the patterns featured here. Feel free to bead, or simply envision the flies with beads on them, as you like, without fear of retribution or ridicule from the staff.”

As there are a bazillion angling/fly blogs out there, I’m surprised at how much SHJ readership has grown over the past year, & I’m also surprised who is reading. I am humbled & thankful. It is my idea to produce an online journal that is zen-free of extraneous clutter & entirely useful. I am slow to add content, as I am fairly discerning of what material gets included in SHJ. Though I tie a lot of experimental flies, most of the designs featured here are the tried & true. I mean this to be a journal of workhorse patterns &, for the most part, I keep the fanciful to myself until the time comes it is fairly realized.

For those who haven’t checked it out, but may be interested, I’ve added some new content to the right-hand column (in addition to the old stuff which is still cool & still there) that I think is entertaining & worthwhile. Beginning at the top & working down:

The Spring (or seasonal) pic links to my guide site & a monthly profile of conditions & hatches for the upper Columbia & NE Washington lakes.

The Seasonal Favorites pic links to SHJ articles featuring those patterns most relevant to the season.

Under Genesis is a Subscribe box, for those who’d like to receive email notification of new posts. 

Under the Journal Archive, you will find The Bookshelf, each book pic a link to where the book may be purchased.

Under the books you will find the insignia of the International Brotherhood of the Flymph, which links to the Flymph Forum, a major archive of all things related to the soft-hackle approach. I know of no better inspirational/technical source than FF, & the tyer/anglers who hang out there are, to my mind, among the most knowledgeable & creative fly designers around. If you’d like to see state-of-the-art soft-hackle designs, check out the pattern index at Flymph Forum & be inspired.

Proceeding down, you will come upon Our Heroes, G.E.M. Skues, James Leisenring & Charles Brooks. The pic of Skues links to his complete masterwork, Minor Tactics Of The Chalk Stream, which you may read for free. The pic of Leisenring links to an excellent 1960 article by Vernon ‘Pete’ Hidy, outlining Leisenring’s approach & tying technique. The pic of Brooks’ book The Trout and the Stream links to a 1988 audiotape of soul-man Brooks reading & answering 12 questions posed by Rick Hafele. You don’t want to miss question #6. Charlie was formidable.

Hope everybody enjoys the new material & finds it useful. Some have written me with good ideas, & that is inspiration to make Soft~Hackle Journal better. Your comments are welcome & appreciated.  

~Your Compatriot                

Friday, May 23, 2014

Leopard Dace Flatwing Streamer

      Currently, there seems to be two major schools of thought operational in the design of streamer flies meant for trout fishing: The school of Less-Is-More; & the school of More-Is-Mo-Bettah. A glance at those catalogs coming in the mail seems to indicate a trend toward the latter mode of thought. And in that we see how trends are market-driven, for better or worse, yet in the end have little to do with what our local water & fish are telling us; & knowing that helps give us realistic perspective. Of course, this is one of the reasons we tie our own.

Generally, I hang loose with the Less-Is-More school. The big, mechanically-articulated, plastic-eyed, stuffed-animal sculpin simulators so popular in the catalogs do have their day (or night!), I'm fairly certain. Yet, sculpin & dace are important forage in the water I fish & I fish the imitations a lot, & I've yet to have somebody show up, pull out a goggle-eyed, articulated double bunny, then clown me & my old-timey notions with it. Aint saying it can't happen. Just hasn't happened yet. But I'm starting to brag & rant, & that's not the point.    

Always those ambiguous dualities…

Remember, as a general rule-of-thumb: the more there is for trout to look at, the more there is for trout to be suspicious of.   

Though it is true there are some that straddle definition, there are, basically, two types of streamer flies:

Attractors: which are lures, or ‘reaction baits’, to borrow from bass fishing parlance, tied in color combinations known to ‘trigger’ fish to strike. The Mickey Finn (see my last post) is a good example of this type.

Imitator/Simulators: which seek to imitate or simulate a particular species of baitfish. The flatwing sculpin of recent posts, & the dace pattern featured in this post are examples of this type.

The Leopard Dace is a basic Rhody bucktail-flatwing style, tied to simulate leopard & speckled dace, a couple of western species common to my neighborhood. As is, or with slight modification, the pattern might serve to cover other chubs, trout parr, or yellow perch fry. Note that it is tied fairly sparse. Bucktail is a tried & true fish getter in all mediums, & there is no synthetic substitute for bucktail. Unlike natural hairs, synthetic fibers possess no ‘spine’ or shape-retaining ‘memory’, nor does plastic approach the nuance of coloration possible with natural hairs. When dry, bucktail might seem a fairly stiff material to those concerned with action, yet it softens when wet, breathes & produces a subtle waving movement that fairly simulates the motion of real baitfish. And it might do well to note that baitfish & sculpin do not wriggle through the water like snakes, in reality, they kick & dart, they pulse, with very little discernible wriggle. To my mind, a streamer constructed of materials that breathe & pulse serves to more closely simulate the actual movement of baitfish than a fly articulated to swim like a water snake or a pollywog. The key to constructing an effective bucktail streamer is to not overdress it. The completed fly should not resemble a shaving brush, the bucktail sparse enough for light to pass through the construction, the hairs not bunched, but separated so that their movement is not impaired. Living minnows reflect their background, so ideally the background will show through the bucktail construction. For trout flies, choose the finer hairs from near the tip of the tail for backs & bellies, reserving the thicker hairs from the base for use as lateral lines (the middle color).

Leopard Dace Flatwing

Hook: #6 TMC 200R

Thread: Olive or brown

Rib: Gold mylar tinsel

Body: Silver mylar tinsel (The durability of fragile mylar tinsel bodies can be greatly enhanced by applying a coat of Loon Hard Head over the finished body)

Belly: White bucktail – a pinch tied in beneath the hook shank, extending about twice the length of the hook

Overwing (back): In order tied in: a pinch of *yellow bucktail; a single *olive dyed grizzly saddle hackle tied in flat, concave side down; 2 strands of pearl midge flash; a pinch of mixed shades of natural brown bucktail – all winging materials extending about twice the length of the hook shank – the overall result, tied on a #6, 3x hook, is about 2.5 inches long. I like to finish these with jungle cock nail eyes.

*Substituting pink for the yellow bucktail produces a trout parr imitation. I also tie a version substituting red for the yellow bucktail, combined with a solid black saddle hackle, to produce a ‘spawning dace’ pattern. Possible riffs on the basic design, three layers of bucktail & a single saddle hackle, are endless.               
Leopard Dace flatwing streamer tied by Steven Bird

Friday, May 16, 2014

Mickey Finn Flatwing Streamer & The Internet

     I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Bud Bynack for California Fly Fisher magazine; & Bud asked some pointed questions which got me thinking about my roots & those who have influenced me, & how that affects my ideas about fly design. And we also talked  a little bit about the influence of the internet on fly design, & if there might be the possibility that influence could adversely affect the progression of tradition & the development of regional, or what Scott Sadil calls ‘indigenous’ fly designs.

The internet… well, there is everything from A to Z. If one tends to wade more online than in real water holding real fish, then I can see the chance one might lose perspective & balance & be carried away on the market-driven waves of trends. But there have always been & always will be trends. The authentic usefulness of trends eventually find perspective & a place in tradition, or not. I don’t figure it’s my place to judge good or bad & I don’t. We each find our own pleasure. Tradition is the vast archive of what worked. And the internet holds the archive in a fairly convenient location, where we might easily access its useful elements.  

As a native New Englander & early constant companion of my grandfather who was deeply acquainted with the Northeast tradition &, already a flyfisher when I was transplanted to the West Coast at a fairly young age, I’ve found that my approach to fly design reflects both East & West. Yet – and most importantly – it’s not the dictates of tradition that determine what I tie & fish, as that would be inhibiting & self-defeating. My primary goal is to hook & fight fish. So of course, to meet that goal, we must let the conditions & the fish dictate what we tie & angle with. I let the useful things learned from tradition inform my fly designs & the variants of classic designs I tie, yet never dictate them.

Authentic tradition, by my own definition, is an organic & ongoing process.

It is the useful forms taken from tradition that assemble into good fly patterns. That is a thing Ken Abrames, a fellow Yankee, understood as he approached the challenge of developing more effective striped bass patterns. Abrames, familiar with the tradition of his region, was well aware of the effectiveness of the old Nine Three (the creation of Dr. J. Hubert Sanborne of Maine) & other early flatwing or 'biplane' designs, developed & fished in the Northeast since the 19th century, meant to simulate freshwater smelt, the primary baitfish of New England lakes. The Yankees are a practical people, not given to foo-foo or excess – only the practical enters into the New England tradition, which has its roots in the British Isles. That the flies are beautiful is secondary to their function. And we see in the flatwing designs all of the sound, fish-attracting elements of soft-hackle design: the nuanced colorations of natural materials, motion, obfuscation, relative simplicity.  

We find housed within tradition, & the internet, the archive of proven fly patterns that have survived generations on their merit as getters, & the Mickey Finn streamer (the creation of Quebec tier Charles Langevin, sometime in the 19th century, & rechristened 'Mickey Finn' by outdoor writer John Alden Knight sometime in the 1930's or '40's) is a perfect example of that. And as well, the Mickey Finn serves as an example of an indigenous pattern that has proven universally productive. It is a simple lure, elegant in its killer yellow & red dress. The Mickey Finn is a good streamer on the UC, but also good stripped, mooched or trolled on the NE Washington lakes I fish. Though many tie their own variants, it’s hard to improve on the original Mickey Finn. But of course, never being content to leave well-enough alone, I thought the action might be improved tying the MF as a flatwing, & am satisfied with the result. This one is easy to tie, & a good choice for those interested in learning to tie the flatwing style.

Mickey Finn Flatwing

Hook: I use a #8 steelhead-style, or TMC 200R, which I like better than a traditional streamer hook for freshwater flatwings, as the heavy wire hooks with drop-bends keel the fly, keeping it from rolling

Thread: Black

Rib: Oval silver tinsel (metallic rod-wrapping thread, size D, is good)

Body: Silver tinsel (I tie some with gold, & a copper version seems to work best on my home water)

Wing: Pinch of yellow bucktail (choose the finer hair from near the tip of the tail); a couple of turns of red dubbing to create a pillow, to bed a single red saddle hackle tied in flat, concave side, down – while holding the hackle in place, wrap the tying thread loosely toward the hook eye until it comes off the hackle stem, adjust the hackle with your thumbnail, then wrap back to the tie-in point at normal tension; top with a pinch of yellow bucktail; add jungle cock nail eyes (optional) – & finish.   

Flyfish NE Washington with Steven Bird: