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:

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:

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:                

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:

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: