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:

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:         

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    

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: