Monday, July 28, 2014

Black Quill Emerging Nymph

     The Black Quill (Leptophlebia) isn’t a mayfly that is usually considered among the great hatches of large western drakes, still, it can be important to trouters angling the rivers of the Columbia drainage – the Flathead – & also the Columbia mainstem above Lake Roosevelt, my home water, where it is, by far, the most prolific large mayfly species, producing the best dryfly fishing of the summer season. We usually begin to see Black Quill at the end of June – emerging through the day on overcast days, though generally evenings right up against dark, into early August. We anticipate this large mayfly, as it brings up some of the biggest trout of the year. 

Black Quill nymphs are active, long-legged crawlers & can also swim. Nymphs are #8-#10, uniformly mahogany-brown with bright yellow banding between the abdomen segments, a stand-out feature. Also prominent in mature pre-emergers are the large, elongated, black wing-pads & unfurling wing. Like March Brown, the wings of Black Quill begin to unfurl from the holsters prior to emergence, the unfurling wing aiding in buoying the emerger to the surface. The wings are striking, dark slate, almost black.

 In season, a heavily dressed western hairwing or Wulff style dryfly tied in appropriate colors gets the nod, & on evening excursions in summer I usually carry an outfit rigged with one. Yet, day in, day out, I take a lot more fish swinging the nymph. As trout are feeding wide open on sedges & digressing to eat the occasional big mayfly during the hatch period, I often swing the Black Quill nymph rigged tandem, a wee sedge pattern trailing. When it is too dark to see the dryfly on the water, I switch to the nymph, which is just as exciting as the dryfly, I think. A big UC redband wangs it at the end of a swing in the dark &, no question, the game is on. Adults are the same color as the nymph, conveniently, both top & bottom, so I believe the pattern is taken for a drowned spinner as well.

Though the Black Quill may be regional in importance, the elements of its design, particularly the emerging wing, are applicable (possibly fundamental) to many aquatic insects. Rabbit fur, when wet, serves to simulate the heavy wing-pads & wings of Black Quill (& also Green Drake), but CDC, marabou, hackle fuzz or fine poly work for smaller patterns. The winging of Black Quill & other half-wing designs can be dressed with floatant & the fly fished on the surface as a cripple or stillborn. Let your imagination fly on winging material.      

Black Quill Emerger   

Hook: #10 TMC 200R

Thread: Rust brown UNI 6/0 - BQ are robust, create a cigar-shaped thread build-up as components are tied in

Tail: 3 dark brown goose biots, divided – the tails of naturals are thick & prominent, spread in a defined trident, a keying feature, I think

Rib: Yellow ‘D’ rod wrapping thread – after ribbing over the abdomen, wind to the hook eye & back to the base of the thorax to provide build up & under-color through the thorax area. (Rod wrapping thread holds its color when wet or greased & serves as excellent, almost indestructible ribbing – metallic wrapping thread, available in a number of colors and diameters, is less expensive & superior to most tinsel offered for fly tying – try a Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear ribbed with metallic gold rod wrapping thread.)      

Abdomen: Mahogany brown fur dubbing, tightly dubbed on a loop of the tying thread

Thorax: Dyed brown hare’s mask with guard hairs, twisted, shaggy, on a loop of the tying thread – spread winds slightly so that the yellow under-color winks through - or, as an alternative, the dubbing may be twisted into the yellow ribbing thread using the split-thread technique, & wound through the thorax area

Wing: Black rabbit, about a quarter-inch segment cut from a strip – measure the guard hair tips to extend to the tail, then tie in with the fur butt over the thorax, then fold back the tips & tie down spread over the top of the thorax

Hackle: Reddish-brown hen ~ & finish.

Flyfish NE Washington with Steven Bird:


  1. Quite a bit bigger than our E. Sierra 'bows. Nice fish, Steve.


  2. Bad foto, Keith. That is a 27 inch redband approaching 7 pounds. It was dark & my wife, who took the pic, is shaky & slow on the draw. The trout wouldn't hold still either. I finally gave up on getting a good foto, not wanting to kill the fish in the process. But yes, a good trout, anywhere.