Thursday, December 10, 2015

Twist Beetle

    Been on a twisted body kick lately & playing with them a lot. Don’t worry. The fly kind. I get excited about something & I go on a roll.   

I love the striking effects created twisting varying materials – tail & wing swords, herl, threads, tinsels, floss – together into a rope & then winding it as the fly body. The wee beetle presented here represents the austere side of the spectrum of possibilities, using a single material, made from twisted swords taken from a bronze/black turkey body feather.

There’s nothing new about the idea of making a simple beetle pattern from twisted herl. My beetle was inspired by the Bracken Clock, a North Country beetle pattern made from peacock herl twisted with red silk. The Bracken Clock was described by William Brumfitt in an 1875 text, so has surely been around longer than that. Unlike the Americans who are always looking for something new, The Brits refine a fly pattern to ultimate usefulness, then they all tie it precisely that way, fish it for 300 years, & do fine.

Wanting to make a smaller beetle than peacock herl allows, I chose a bronze/black body feather taken from a Merriam turkey, twisting the feather barbs, or ‘swords’, with the tying thread to form a rope of herl for the body. The dark, iridescent, turkey body feather reflects green & copper highlights, & these subtly hinted in the twisted fly body.

The pattern makes a fine tiny beetle &, turns out, serves well to cover wee freshwater snails as well. Some places, it might even be more useful as a snail pattern most of the time.

Twist Beetle

Hook: #12-#18 (photo fly is tied on a Mustad 3366)

Thread: black UNI 8/0

Body: bronze/black turkey body feather barbs or ‘swords’ (about 8 for a #14) twisted with a tag of the tying thread – use more swords or build up an underbody with thread for a rounder body

Hackle: black hen or starling ~ & finish.          

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Twisted Logic ~ Lemon Twist Spider

     Most have heard, or surmised, that the color of The Universe is brown. We see the prevalence of brown in nature. I see it in my flybox, rows & rows of drab variations of brown. We see it reflected in the colorations of stream nymphs: brown, tan, olive, yellow. (Black is not a color.) Mix them all together & you have brown. 

Combine all the people of the world into one person & you will have one, large, brown person. (How do we treat others? There are no others.)

Of course, regarding simulation, we prefer to cover the spectrum. Sometimes starkly obvious variety is what we need to turn the trick.

Aside from being a good attractor in general, his one will cover a lot of specific insects – Yellow Sally & Pale Evening Dun come immediately to mind. Good to have something all-yellow in the box.

Lemon Twist

Hook: #12-#16 (foto is #12 Mustad 3366-BR)

Thread: yellow UNI 8/0

Body: yellow goose primary swords twisted with the tying thread (3 for a #12), & a short thorax of pale yellow yarn, loosely dubbed

Hackle: yellow grosbeak body feather (flew against the window with bittersweet result)(yellow hen will substitute) ~ & finish.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

An Old Thorobred

     Cruising by a yard sale I notice what looks like flyrods poking up above the assemblage of stuff. Curious, I pull over.

The rods are a Wright & McGill bamboo, & a glass Heddon Thorobred, bunched with a set of rusty golf clubs.

I look the rods over.

The guides & guidewraps are degraded & missing on both. The bamboo would need a lot of work… but do-able.

Other than needing a guide set, the Heddon blank is pristine & straight; the grip & reelseat in good shape. A two-piece, 8’, D-HDH. Considered an all-around trout rod in it’s time. It would throw 5wt or 6wt lines. I like its tobacco color – the color of old mojo.

The ferrules are good. I put it together & wave it, shaking a parabola into the air. It feels good. A lot like bamboo. At the time of its making, probably around 1952, parabolic split-cane actions were the model for Heddon’s newly introduced line of glass rods. It is surprisingly light. I picture it restored & doing business again, trying to imagine a suitable color change for the guidewraps.

 Among the items on display atop a retired coffee table are two Ocean City Wanita flyreels, the same vintage as the rods. The smaller of the reels features a mummified silk line & I presume it is mated to the old bamboo Wright & McGill. I pick up the larger reel & wind on it & it works fine. A perfect match for the Heddon glass.

A guy comes out of the garage. I try to act uninterested. The rods were his dad’s, he says. He doesn’t fly fish & he needs to make room in the garage for his monster truck.

I probably could get it for less, but my mouth jumps ahead of my brain & I hear myself offer 100 bucks for the two rods & reels.

Done deal.

Though an earlier issue, the Heddon Thorobred is very similar to the 8’, 6wt Heddon Pal my grandfather gave me in 1960. That one lived up to its name, truly a pal, until meeting its demise in the early ‘70’s when it bounced out of the bed of a friend’s pickup strapped to my backpack frame, shattering on the road. It still haunts me.

Anxiously awaiting the new guide set & some A thread for the Heddon. I’d like to fish it before the end of the year, new again. To be continued.   

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Love Pink

     There are some every year in fall. Yet it is every other year, during odd-numbered years, pink salmon, or ‘humpies’, ascend the river systems of northwestern Washington in numbers great enough to humble even the thickest among us, crowding portions of the rivers, delighting snaggers & vexing fly casters challenged to make them bite.

     The humpbacked bucks run about 3 to 6 pounds, & the autumn colored hens about 2 to 4 pounds. The hens, to my eye, are among the most beautiful of salmonids. With broad, powerful tails, humpies are strong, active fighters. Pound for pound, I’d give them the nod over chinook.

    And humpies will bite. They aren’t eating, but they are a primitive, automatic kind of fish, & they will bite the fly if the angler can figure out where their trigger button is that day. Oh, it is true that on some days, lucky days, & for mysterious reasons, humpies will go on the bite – & bite anything. But, everybody knows, that is usually not the case. Most of the time you’re left to cipher exactly how they want the fly presented.

     Fortunately, fly color is no great decision, as the humpy’s penchant for prawn colors -- combinations of red, orange, pink & white -- is a fair constant, though they do seem to appreciate a nicely detailed pattern.

   Presentation is what they’re really picky about. Common knowledge has it that humpies like the fly jigging (Clouser-style patterns are popular), & that’s true, though not always the case – & wasn’t the case on a recent trip to the Skykomish, where, I eventually found out, they wanted the fly swinging, dead-drift, tickling the bottom. Swinging. Not jigging. That made me happy.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

October Caddis ~ For Swinging

      I love September – crisp mornings & the aspens flaring like yellow candles on the higher slopes. For those of us afflicted with melancholus habitus, September is the most exquisitely melancholic month of the year. Life has emerged from summer’s oven & cooled to a glorious apple cake that will, all too soon, become a memory in winter.

For trouters, the emergence of giant, pumpkin orange Dicosmoecus (fall sedge, fall caddis, October caddis) are right up there with the best of reasons for loving September, in my neighborhood & to my mind. This is my favorite insect. With a five eighths to three quarter inch body & the wing around an inch to one & a quarter inch long, it is a large, handsome bug, lending itself to a number of imitative possibilities. I play with these through the season. Wet versions work well as swung flies &, for me, these most often out-fish dry versions of October caddis.  The one featured here has been working well on the swing.

Hook: #6 TMC 200R

Thread: rust brown UNI 8/0

Body: Umpqua October caddis blend dubbed on a loop of the tying thread – & a bit of squirrel dubbed over the thorax area

Wing (optional): turkey tail

Hackle: gadwall/orange dyed guinea hen/brahma hen ~ & finish.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Great Gray Spotted Sedge Variants

     As the ancient Egyptian seers predicted, the last full moon of August was certainly the transition moon. Weather patterns have rearranged favorably. A few nights ago, under the porch light, I discovered the first great gray spotted sedge (Arctopsyche grandis) of the season.

Great gray spotted sedge show at the end of August on the U.S. upper Columbia, just prior to the larger October caddis (Dicosmoecus); & although Arctopsyche grandis produces great hatches on some western rivers, it emerges sporadically from my home water, more a seasonal presence than a meetable hatch.
GGSS is a large insect, the body about 5/8 of an inch long & the wing about an inch long. The wing is thick & waxy, like October caddis.

Just as anglers keep a mental catalogue of the larger fish they’ve caught, so do trout keep a catalogue of the larger insects they’ve caught – drakes, salmonflies, carpenter ants, wasps, grasshoppers – & eat them (& the artificial) opportunistically through the big insect’s respective seasons. The big ones are memorable.

So it is on my home water. And even though GGSS pupae & adults are most active around dark, the imitation generally fishes well all day when these insects are present.

 As with October caddis, winged wetfly variants of great gray spotted sedge fish best for me.

For swinging:

Hook: #8 TMC 200R

Thread: camel UNI 8/0

Abdomen: 50/50 blend of Wapsi Superfine BWO & Hareline Light Olive on dubbing loop of Pearsall’s primrose yellow silk

Thorax: 50/50 pine squirrel & Hareline Brown on dubbing loop of tying thread

Wing: turkey tail (alternate wing: pine squirrel tail)

Hackle: brahma hen ~ & finish.

Soft-hackle variant:

Hook: #8 TMC 200R

Thread: camel UNI 8/0

Rib: copper wire

Body: green tinsel/thorax: 50/50 pine squirrel & Hareline brown on dubbing loop of tying thread

Hackle: gadwall/brahma hen ~ & finish.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Transition Moon~Two More Diving Sedge

     This last full moon of August truly is the transition moon, bringing blessed rain to wet the fires & clear the air, finally. There are no insects under the porch light tonight. The woods are silent. This is The Moon Of Sleeping Trout, the fish shifting feeding mode, transitioning from the wee summer sedge now dwindled to an echo, ambiguous, hidden for a time, anticipating the larger sedge of autumn that will fatten them for winter – great gray spotted sedge & October caddis – due to show, on the waning of this moon.

It's time to dispense with the summer patterns, so, in tribute to their hard work, I post the last of the diving sedge, as an addendum to my last post & a sort of end-of-the-skein for the summer season.

 In the last post, Diving Sedge, I suggested it’s a good idea to carry more than one pattern for simulating the spent sedges of late summer, as trout do exhibit regional & daily preferences, for reasons known only to their kind, for the most part. In addition to the variant of my last post, I find these useful as well for covering spotted sedge & grannom.

Though both of these patterns exhibit a different style altogether, they are both tied with a light olive silk abdomen, which serves well to simulate the shrunken abdomen of the spinner.

The first is a simple spider, the hackle, swept back when the fly is swung, serving to simulate the wings; the other, a hackle-less pattern with CDC wing. And these both have their day.

Diving Sedge Spider

Hook: #12-#18 (#14, mostly)

Thread: camel UNI 8/0

Abdomen: olive Pearsall’s silk

Thorax: pinkish-brown dubbing taken from the base of a hare’s ear

Hackle: light brown speckled hen ~ & finish.

CDC Diving Sedge

Hook: #12-#18

Thread: brown UNI 8/0

Abdomen: olive Pearsall’s silk

Thorax: squirrel dubbing

Wing: brown CDC – a single feather tied flatwing style (it will behave better if moistened with some spit & trained back before tying in) ~ & finish.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Diving Sedge

      Full moon. It will be a transition moon this month. You can feel it. At last, there’s a front moving in from the coast bringing low, heavy clouds. Strong winds ahead of the front are clearing the smoke away & bending the pines, & bursts of swallows buck the wind gathering the last of the summer caddis blown from the trees. There won't be many left for the trout. I won't fish tonight. I'll stay in, maybe tie some October Caddis, as I'm hoping to see them after this moon.

Caddis. Though it is true that trout prefer eating mayflies to caddis, mayflies (& stoneflies) aren’t nearly as available as caddis (sedge). And I believe it is true, as Gary LaFontaine sagely observed, that caddis are the most important streamborn insect to anglers. And I would add: particularly to soft-hacklers.

That is certainly true of my home water, where, with a few seasonal exceptions, mayfly hatches are stingy, sporadic affairs, rarely meeting the hopeful angler’s expectations, while caddis are on the menu April to November, with spotted sedge, the most prolific, providing reliable fishing almost daily, June through August.

Spotted sedge (Hydropsyche) is the most prolific caddis of the West. On my home water spotted sedge peak in early July & by late August emergers have diminished to a sprinkle just before dark, while, simultaneously, egg-layers & males emerged from previous nights assemble to deposit eggs, or, in the case of males, programmed for daily flights over the water at dusk, fly around until spent enough to fall (dive) into the water, as if, in their final moments of life, seeking to return to their place of origin.

Living beside the river, a lot of what’s hatching from the river is attracted to the house lights & ends up in the house. The kitchen is a convenient place to observe insect behavior. If there is water left in the sink basin caddis will invariably be attracted to it, hover above it, then plunge in, breaking the surface film. These seem perfectly at home under water, able to scoot rapidly, expertly kicking their legs & gliding, & able to keep that up for several hours without breathing air, just under the surface film. Once breaking through the surface tension they never regain the air. And though they are able to swim in rapid spurts, the buoyancy of the wings seems to prevent them from diving to a greater depth.

Which leads me to question the ‘diving down to lay eggs’ behavior often described by angling writers. I’ve not seen it. I’m seeing females dapping eggs on the water, to my mind a safer adaptation than having to dive down where there is danger of being eaten, not to mention the realistic hydrodynamics involved getting so light a being down more than a few inches in a 6-knot current. I’m just not seeing it. I may be wrong (& as a human being I reserve the right to change my mind) but my own observations lead me to think that the ‘diving’ behavior is simply the result of spent adults going for a final swim. Whatever the case, there are live adult caddis swimming under the surface film, usually enough to get a handful of trout up & going, a happy circumstance for the soft-hackler looking for a thrill on an evening during the dog days of August.

In the early season, trout prefer emerging pupae to winged adults, but in the late season, with fewer pupae available, the balance shifts to those spent adults that have been accumulating around the river, living for up to a month (or more). So late season is when ‘diving’ patterns come into play. As soft-hackle designs, these aren’t much different than the emergers I tie. The dark wing holster of the emerger is a prominent feature of the natural, so I hackle emergers with a darker wing, a dark brown brahma with heavy black mottling, or a dark mottled feather taken from a ruffed grouse, meaning the hackle to simulate the wing holsters as well as an emerging wing & legs. As adult caddis age their coloration fades somewhat (& the abdomens shrink), hence, I choose a lighter hackle on flies meant to be fished as an adult spotted sedge, a faded mottled brown or dun hen.

I carry several variants to cover adult or ‘diving’ sedge, as trout do exhibit regional, seasonal & even daily preferences for this one or that one, however, the version featured today is usually reliable & probably the most universal, as it serves to simulate a number of species, East & West. The material list for this pattern has been around for a long time. Ray Bergman described it, & it was probably in use before his time. I recall John Merwin, writing in the early 1970’s, extolling the virtues of this pattern fished in the rivers of Vermont. I consider this one an essential bait.  Any serious trouter anywhere will do well to carry these in #12-#18, & #8-#10 will cover many of the larger sedges as well.

Diving Sedge

Hook: #14 Daiichi 1150 (most used, a #15-#16 can be tied on this short-shank hook)

Thread: tan UNI 8/0

Abdomen: light olive rabbit dubbing

Thorax: pinkish-brown fur dubbing taken from the base of a hare’s ear

Hackle: watery-brown speckled hen, grouse or partridge, trained back & tied down ~ & finish.   

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Soft-Hackler’s Fly for the Apocalypse

     The Old War God Of The Desert continues to heap apocalypse upon the Far West, & in addition to record high temperatures, rampant forest fires, inescapable smoke, low stream flows/high water temps killing salmon & steelhead, He has seen fit to loose a dreadful plague of insects upon the land – yellowjacket wasps! 

Nothing left to do but imitate the plague insects & swing them in the river at smokey dusk.

Winter is the great killer of insects, & during these times of mild winters there are fewer killed, resulting in an abundance of breeding females whose bodies produce more eggs in response to warmer temperatures. Hence, the wasps are thick this year, & aggressive in the heat. They are attracted to water, where they hunt other insects, & are common around all trout streams East & West during high summer. 

In the hierarchy of summer terrestrials I would place the yellowjackets right up there with grasshoppers. Really, other than this insect’s off-putting reputation as a nasty customer, I can think of no good reason for the wasp’s lack of popularity as bait, as, due to their attraction to water, a lot of them end up in the water, & occasional checks of stomach contents in late summer reveal that trout eat quite a few of them.

Yellowjackets exhibit a strange behavior in hot weather. The brighter & hotter it gets, the more aggressive & reckless they become. And I don’t know if they are trying to drink, or are attracted to the coolness, or, possibly, they become so aggressive that the scent of the water causes them to lose whatever cautionary instincts concerning water that they might possess, but, it is a level fact that many end up in the water on bright/hot days.

We see wasps at dusk hunting sedges over the river. I watched one bumble along trying to carry two captured caddis at once, which proved too much weight, & the wasp, refusing to release the brace of caddis, fell to the water. I watched it buzz & struggle mightily, carried down the seam where I knew trout to be lurking – big trouble – yet nothing rose to take it…

Though I’ve often observed wasps struggling on the surface film, I’ve never seen a trout rise to eat a live one. Then, trout aren’t that dumb & it stands to reason if you try to eat a live one you’re probably going to get stung (though, I’d bet a bass will eat one). My observations lead me to believe that trout prefer drowned or nearly-drowned wasps. They are heavy insects & their raucous struggle on the surface film soon breaks them through it & they drown, slowly, hanging on to the wet side of the film. A happy circumstance for the soft-hackler savvy enough to be carrying the imitation, late July into early September.

Walked down to the river & fished the Yellowjacket for about an hour last night, took some photos & released a couple fair trout. Muffed a third one when it jumped & shook the fly. There was no surface feeding evident, yet the Yellowjacket high-sticked under the surface film turned the trick. 

(Reviewing the photos I had to shake my head at my own appearance while angling these days. I get loose when nobody’s around. Forgive me. I probably set a bad example in post-apocalyptic garb – scruffy beard, dirty fingernails, morning coffee evident on the t-shirt, ubiquitous tear in the tattered work shorts – no fashion plate for anglers seeking to meet the auspicious Fiery Apocalypse in glorious full uniform.)

 The rod is an older 9’, 6wt Orvis Clearwater that I upgraded with a better reel seat & guides. It has a slower, glass-like action that I like, though it is much lighter than glass, which I also like. Those who love grass & glass take note: graphite really comes into its own in rods over 8’. And the slower actioned graphites often billed as ‘beginner’ rods usually cost much less than fast models, while affording the graceful action we like in a trout rod. (Fast-action graphite rods set a pace too frenetic for observant, introspective, satisfying, killer-effective trouting. Just saying. Take it for what it’s worth. As you can see, I am an ambiguous example.)            

The reel is a 1952 (same age as me) Ocean City Waneta, about as basic as you can get. The paint is almost completely worn off, yet the reel performs like new. No rim drag. You have to finger the spool on a big fish, which affords one the opportunity to master a whole new skill set.  

While writing this I stopped by the Flymph Forum & posted a pic of the wingless Yellowjacket, & there I was fortunate to receive a comment from Lance Hidy, son of Pete Hidy, who generously posted a photo of a leaf of wasp patterns taken from Pete’s fly wallet. There’s a variety there, which indicates to me that Pete Hidy gave this insect some importance. I am intrigued, though not surprised, that Pete understood the value of this streamside insect as bait, & also that it is better fished wet, as the soft-hackle versions in his flybook suggest – his flies reflect thought & observation, during an era when the mawkish McGinty was about the only wasp simulator apt to be found in a flybook.

And I remember my grandfather telling me that the McGinty fishes better when sunken.              


Hook: #8 Mustad R50-94840

Thread: yellow UNI 8/0

Abdomen: bright yellow UNI floss

Rib: black UNI 3/0

Thorax: black rabbit on tying thread dubbing loop

Hackle: yellow dyed grizzly saddle, 3 turns over the thorax

I coat the abdomen with Hard As Nails

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Notes from the Continuing Apocalypse

      As of this writing Fish & Wildlife continues to close the rivers & streams of Washington State due to low flows & water temperatures approaching the upper range of tolerance for salmonids. It’s not as bad as Iran where, I’ve heard, deadly temperatures of up to 150 degrees have been recorded lately, nonetheless, 100 degree temps add up to less than pleasant trouting, so we’ve canceled all guided trips for this season, & we pray that next year is different.

The upper Columbia, my home water, is a tailwater, & water temps are still within the tolerance range, yet insect hatches have been nil & concentrated into short bursts right up against dark, so with no clients & not much fishing to do, we’ve been beating the heat working hoot owl hours upgrading the Boundary fish camp. A friend, David Mills, & I, just completed the new roof & corbels on the loft. We’re calling the architectural style Northwest Gothic (sort of a cross between Craftsman & Chicken Coop). 

The recent Blue Moon did bring a short respite from the heat, giving us a couple days of light rain showers, only enough to dent the dust, but cooler temperatures inspired a fairly decent showing of spotted sedge one evening, & I managed a few trout on an olive & brahma soft-hackle, at sunset. Click on the picture to enlarge it, look closely, slightly to the left of center there is a head & tail rise form left by a nice trout. Casting in the direction the rod tip is pointing & letting the fly swing through the vicinity of that rise, the fish took.

 The rod is a Cabela’s LSi, 11’6” switch, billed as a 6wt, yet I’d rate that as actually the lowest end of its grain window, & a more accurate rating, according to my own tests, more like 160-250 grains – very trouty – action is semi-parabolic & on the slow graceful side, which I like. It is throwing a 28’ floating head made from an 8wt, double-taper line attached to Amnesia running line, & the whole thing works swell, fishing everything from wee soft-hackles to large muddlers. You might be able to tell from the size of the water why such a rod comes in handy.

Footwear for the Apocalypse

I’m loving the Simms wet wading shoes. Nicely designed & perfect in those situations too hot for waders. The Vibram soles are almost as sticky as felt, providing excellent traction & protection on the UC’s loose, stoney banks. They are light weight, dry quickly, & make good boat shoes as well. Best all-around fishing shoes I’ve tried. 

Smoke from B.C. fires darkens the American Reach of the Columbia

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Riff on the Landlocked Salmon Isonychia

Landlocked Salmon Isonychia tied by Mark Hagopian
     The Relentless One, SHJ New England Liason, Mark Hagopian, offers us this take on the Landlocked Salmon Isonychia pattern tied by William, of the FlySpoke blog. William’s version calls for a body of red thread, which might be okay if one has William’s particular (unspecified) brand of red thread, ensuring it will turn the right color when wet. Mark, wisely, to my thinking, substitutes Pearsol’s Claret Silk, a proven match for Isonychia, in tying this version. This one speaks to me in that way good patterns do. And even though Isonychia doesn’t occur in my home water, I’m going to tie some & add them to my box just so I can look at them. I like the way the silk is built up through the thorax area to create the classic Isonychia silhouette. And I see this design approach lending itself to simulating emergers, cripples & drowned adults of a number of medium sized mayflies.

Beautiful pattern , Mark. Thanks for sharing it.

Landlocked Salmon Isonychia

Hook: #10 Orvis Tactical Barbless

Thread: Pearsall’s Claret Silk

Tail: lemon wood duck – curved upward

Body: Pearsall’s Claret Silk – build up through the thorax area

Wing: lemon wood duck – curved upward

Hackle: partridge center feather – one turn ~ & finish.        

Friday, July 10, 2015

Apocalyptic Black Quill Flymph

     Some things are ever changing, while others remain, seeming always constant.

There is that which abides longer, though, in truth, all passes eventually. All.

Meantime, planet enfolding carbon particulate matter takes its toll on the Pacific Northwest, which went from a dry winter, skipping spring, moving straight into a summer of blazing, hubcap-bright 100-degree-plus days. The trout lakes of my region, usually fishing fairly well at the beginning of July, are as warm as bathwater, the heat-stressed trout trying to hold on, close-mouthed, a mystery at the deepest depths. Fish & Wildlife has already closed some of the popular summer steelhead & salmon streams, & there will be more closures, certainly. And if we don’t get the miracle of rain during July & August, normally our driest months, there is a chance that all the rivers will be closed by fall.

Barely into July, there are over a hundred fires burning in Washington State. Two hundred in British Columbia.  There is no escaping the smoke – the pink tinged light hinting of fire. Passing clouds emit no moisture, only lightning.

Wonkiest year I can remember – it’s like flyfishing on the verge of apocalypse.

Due to unusually high surface temperatures, the river’s black quill (leptophlebia) mayfly hatches, normally prolific through late-afternoon & evening, & all day on overcast days in this season, have boiled down to a short burst in the evening, right up against dark. Though compressed, the big mayflies & rising trout are a reassuring constant, a reminder of what should be. And there are some nice fish up & hunting for black quills in the near dark, taking both emergers & duns. I prefer the dry, but when it gets too dark to follow its drift I switch to the emerger, of which trout are more forgiving. I fish it drifted, swung & stripped, moving, on a tight line so that I might keep contact with it in the dark.

Black Quill Flymph

Hook: #12 TMC 200R (or standard #8)

Thread: rusty brown

Tailing: 3 or 4 pheasant tail swords

Ribbing: yellow floss, doubled & twisted, wound over the abdomen section

Abdomen: chestnut-brown rabbit (2/3) mixed with dyed red rabbit (1/3)

Thorax: black rabbit

Hackle: furnace hen – 3 turns wound over the thorax area ~ & finish.       

Friday, June 26, 2015

San Gabriel

     This is one I came up with back in the 7th grade, during my fanciful period, while still operating with the stuff that came in the Ken E. Bay fly tying kit, road kills, & my mom’s knitting basket. Back then my fly designs were mostly intuitive, chuck & chance propositions. (Not sure anything has really changed, there.) Sometimes I’d get lucky. Turned out, the little wild rainbows of the San Gabriel, where I was a regular at the time, loved this one. I still tie & fish it, & it is the oldest design of my own that I still fish. I like it for prospecting small streams. Brookies like it too.

San Gabriel

Hook: #10-#12 Mustad 3366

Thread: yellow UNI 8/0

Body: silver tinsel with a short thorax of dubbed gold yarn (try it with gold or copper tinsel)

Wing: golden pheasant tippet – about 12 fibers for a #10

Hackle: red/brown hen

Monday, June 22, 2015

Biotic Midge Emerger

     If one earned a sentence to Trouter’s Hell, confined to fishing only chironomids, day in, day out, the larval phase would get the nod for numbers. Around here, most dangle them under bobbers at the lakes. But I get fidgety, my concentration focused down to the pinpoint of a tiny static bobber adrift & lonesome on the vast water (it always goes down when you look away), so I seldom do it, though I do get in a couple rounds of good surface fishing with midges (without a bobber) twice a year – a blood midge emergence at a small lake near my home, in the early season, late afternoons, then again in early fall, when emergences of large #16-#18 buffalo midges will get trout feeding on emerging pupae up top, on the river. If you see a lot of fish rising on midges chances are it is not the adults they are after, but the helpless emergers in the surface film. Blood midge larvae/pupa look like red worms, ¼ to 2 inches long (!) & a simple Gray Hackle Peacock with scarlet tail fished in the surface film kills when meeting an emergence – the scarlet tailing serving to simulate the trailing pupa. During emergence, the pupa retains its coloration until after the adult has completely emerged & water rinses the husk out, so tailing meant to represent the trailing shuck of one caught in the act of emerging should be the color of the living pupa. Other than straight scarlet for blood midges, I like natural or dyed mallard flank or guinea fowl in charcoal, olive & brown for others. Choose the softer feather barbs for these, about a dozen so there's enough bulk to simulate the trailing pupa when wet.  

Biotic Midge Emerger

Hook: #18 Mustad 94842

Thread: gray UNI 8/0

Trailing pupa: olive mallard flank

Emerging wing: pearl midge flash, 4 strands, pulled over the top of the abdomen

Abdomen: tan turkey biot

Thorax: dark gray ostrich herl

Hackle: light brahma hen ~ & finish.         

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

M.H. Light Hendrickson Flymph

Light Hendrickson tied by Mark Hagopian ~ Mark Hagopian photo 
“Magic is supernatural, like talking trout. Do not confuse magic and art. Art escapes from the natural; magic interprets nature, venturing to explain what science cannot see.”    ~Datus Proper 
What the Trout Said’

Wetfly master Pete Hidy coined the term ‘flymph’, needing a word to describe a fly meant to simulate an insect in the process of transitioning from mature nymph to winged adult. Regarding the term, Ernest Shwiebert wrote: “…a creative bit of whimsy never quite accepted.” And that may be true, though I suspect it is the term’s awkward phonetics responsible for the lukewarm acceptance. However, the natural process & approach to meeting it that inspired Pete’s creative wordsmithing is still as important as ever. Nowadays most of us are familiar with the term ‘emerger’ used in describing a fly pattern fished to simulate an insect’s transition to adult, yet, in Pete Hidy’s day, that term had not yet entered the popular lexicon. Also, in the decades prior to the latter half of the 20th century, there were few writer/bait-makers on this side of the Atlantic tying imitations that were, specifically, emergers (really, we can only look back through the perspective of writers, as non-writer fly designers operate, mostly, in secrecy). But, accept his term or not, Pete Hidy was a gifted angler & was onto something that no serious trouter should overlook.

Of course, the benefits of tying wetflies meant to fish for specific insects in the emergent stage is not new, & was not new in Leisenring & Hidy’s time. G.E.M. Skues & other British writers had covered this, describing many patterns designed & fished as emergers, which were well-known in the British Isles, some tied as wingless spiders (‘spider’: a term, I would argue, at least as ambiguous as ‘flymph’) & some winged.

And there were well-known contemporaries of Pete Hidy who were also clued to the emerging nymph’s effectiveness. Polly Rosborough & Al Troth & their nymph patterns tied with half-wings of marabou or ostrich herl tips meant to simulate the unfurling wings of hatching mayflies come immediately to mind – very effective patterns that were a fair departure from earlier winged wetflies; & I think these patterns set the stage for the spectrum of emerger patterns being presented now.

New England compatriot, Mark Hagopian, generously offers us this version of a Hendrickson emerger/stillborn. Mark takes what is useful from tradition, while working from his own observations & creative instinct. His approach is informed, not dogmatic. I like the way he marries natural & synthetic materials while remaining true to the effective principles of the soft-hackle approach. Mark’s Light Hendrickson is foxy indeed. Makes me wish there were Hendricksons in my neighborhood, though his suggestion for a March Brown version is definitely on the ‘Must Try’ list.

M.H. Light Hendrickson Flymph

Hook: Hanak 550 BL

Thread: Pearsall’s silk in salmon or UNI non-stretch floss in pink or tan

Tail: bronze mallard flank

Rib: tan Benecchi 12/0

Body: dubbed red fox – guard hairs & gray underfur removed – as an option, mix in a bit of Spirit River UV2 Dubbing Enhancer (Mark suggests light or rusty brown rabbit with Benecchi tobacco rib to create a March Brown variant of this pattern) 

Wing: pinch of tan rabbit fur topped with a pinch of clear Zelon, available from Blue Ribbon Flies

Hackle: honey-dun hen ~ & finish.           

Friday, June 5, 2015

SHJ Reel Review ~ The Ocean City ‘Wanita’

Neoclassicism On-The-Cheap

Ocean City Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, made a broad spectrum of fresh & saltwater reels between 1923 & 1968, when the company was taken over by Tru Temper. Reel models ranged from affordable to top-end, & many, both well-made & affordable. Ocean City went big, modernizing the manufacturing & marketing process through the early 1900’s, & was prime on the scene mid-century when the growing middle class of America found itself needing more fishing reels. I suspect it is because Ocean City was able to supply affordable gear to the masses that O.C. fly reels are sometimes referred to as ‘blue collar reels’ – & funny, often, after the blue-collar rating is decreed, the rater will grudgingly allow that the reel is a “sturdy workhorse”. If ‘blue collar’ means reliable, sturdy-built & reasonably priced, then nothing wrong with that, though I’ve no doubt, if the Ocean City ‘Wanita’ fly reel had been born to a small maker in Britain, it would surely hold a more esteemed position in the hierarchy of reels.       

The ‘Wanita’ fly reel was introduced in 1924, & versions of it offered until the early 1960’s, with little change to its looks. In appearance, these harken back to an earlier era, looking very similar to the Meisselbach Rainbow & JW Young Condex. There are click-&-pawl versions, some with both click-&-pawl & a spring that provides drag pressure against the spool, & some, silent-operation, equipped with only the drag pressure spring. All are perfectly functional for trouting.

Post/drag spring assembly.
 The models NO.35 & NO.306 pictured here are the silent, spring-only type (same as JW Young Condex). About as simple as you can get. The spool tension spring is pre-set to provide some drag on a fish & to prevent backlash while stripping line from the reel for casting. Drag tension is usually still right on the old reels, though some might need tuning to give a bit more drag, & this can usually be accomplished by placing a shim washer under the spring. 

 For quality, I’d rate Ocean City’s ‘Wanita’ offspring, the NO.35, 36, 305 & 306, as equal to any 150-dollar reel made today. As good as some costing more. For style, I give them near-top rating. These are a meeting of timeless Old World style & American production know-how. Though the finishes may be nearly worn off, you seldom encounter an old one not serviceable, or easily brought back to service. For those who lust after one of the newer click & pawl reels featuring similar old-timey style yet don’t want to pay the big bucks, purchasing an old Ocean City might be a practical alternative.

The narrow, one-piece aluminum frames & spools were investment cast, buffed smooth & painted. Early models were gun-blued, a better finish that wears to a fine patina. Investment castings are high quality & precision, & actually stronger than machined bar stock. Strong investment casting frames can be made thinner walled than bar stock & still retain rigidity. These reels are surprisingly light, certainly not heavier than the comparable Pflueger Medalists. Two burly rivets fasten the nickel-plated brass reel foot to the frame. The round, nickel-plated brass line guide is retained by slots milled into the frame. On some of the old reels the guide ring may be a bit loose in the slots, but that is fine, it doesn’t affect the performance & the ring won’t come out. The guide rings on old reels are often grooved, particularly reels used with silk or Dacron lines, but these can be filed & sanded out. A steel bearing sleeve is pressed through the center of the spool, which turns on a generous 3/8 diameter oilyte bronze post. A bit of grease on the post now & then & you have smooth operation indefinitely. If you are a rock diver, this reel can take the punishment.

I like the worn paint finishes on the old, used reels, & these can be buffed with a fine polishing compound to achieve a patina-like finish similar to old bluing. Also, the old paint can be stripped & the reel sanded & buffed to a handsome ‘silver’ finish, or repainted with auto paint. I painted one, an old NO.35, a dark Lotus green, & a friend, a bamboo guy, fell so in love with it I had to give it to him. No problem. Ocean City made a lot of these & they are still fairly easy to find & fun to clean up & fish.

 My main beef with the Ocean City is that I’ve not found any but RHW & the reel’s line guide is not reversible. I like to cast with my right & wind with my left. However, click-pawl & spring drag versions work the same either direction, & the guide ring is not necessary, so the reel can be used LHW, though the guide ring does look a bit lame riding the back of the reel, out of commission. Still, for neoclassicists operating within a budget, these are cool reels. At 3” diameter, the NO.35 works for 5wt & under, & at 3-3/8” diameter, the NO.306 is just right for balancing an 8’, 6wt, glass or bamboo, as well as longer graphite rods, & at a blue collar price. These are old friends not ready to quit fishing. 

Son House sums up the way I feel about it: 

Monday, June 1, 2015

A Few Soft-Hackle & Wetfly Hooks for Trouting

     In building baits ‘form follows function’ is an abiding principle, though, taking the whole affair into consideration, particularly as regards hook choice, form & function often coalesce to equal importance & affect. We want a hook that’ll stick em & hold em throughout the battle, yet also possessing a shape suggestive & appropriate to the critter we seek to imitate.

Flinty old Yankee that I am, my third criteria in hook choice is price. Don’t usually buy a 10 or 25-pack of expensive hooks if I can find the same configuration in Mustad 100-packs at the same price. Guiding & supplying flies to clients we go through a lot of flies, so I tie on utilitarian hooks & fall short of being able to indulge in dropping the names of expensive Anglo hooks as my standard choices. 

The initiated have their decided favorites & for reasons only they can say.

My own choices, the hooks featured here, result from trials & the unique demands of my home water, the upper Columbia River, where wild redband trout average 19 inches & fight like pissed-off loggers on a Saturday night. They go bananas. And they will show you if your wee hook is any good, or not.

The hook choices listed here are based on the criteria laid down & none of these brands are sponsors (though, really, I would like it if they’d all send me some free hooks for the plug). You’ll notice that none of my choices are barbless, & there are some claw-point barbless hooks on the market that I really like the looks of & I’ve resolved to try some, yet, so far, using barbless hooks on my home water mostly results in long-distance releases. Very long-distance, denying anglers that pleasurable moment admiring a trout properly busted, in the net awaiting parole. Most of my hook choices possess mini barbs that back out doing little harm. When I fish water inhabited by a lot of small fish, or where it is required, I simply crush the barb down – & this saves me from having to buy & keep track of different hooks for duplicating the same patterns.   

Like I said, the initiated will have their preferences. My own, hopefully, might serve as a reference or starting point for those wondering what hooks to use in tying soft-hackle & wet flies for trout.

Daiichi 1150
Those who read SHJ have probably noticed that I use this hook a lot in tying soft-hackle flymphs & spiders. Though it is short-shanked with a wide gape & the overall shape lending itself to simulating the characteristic C-shape of caddis larvae, I don’t classify the 1150 as a ‘caddis’ style hook, exactly. In configuration it is, more precisely, an ‘octopus’ style hook, the same style popular with salmon/steelhead/trout bait fishers, & for good reason. The ‘octopus’ style is a faithful hooker & holder. When fishing precincts where large trout on wee flies is the game, the reliably strong Daiichi 1150 is a good choice for wingless patterns, #12-#18, as the short shank allows me a standard #16 on a #14 hook, affording a larger working end for maximum iron to hold larger, heavier fish. The short shank of a #18 works fine for tying midges down to about #22, while still allowing sensible iron for holding larger trout. The 1150 keels nicely, & the needle-sharp offset hook point makes it a consistent getter when fished on the swing. But for the tiny barb, the configuration is pretty much the same as the new barbless designs sold as ‘soft-hackle’ hooks. I prefer a straight or up-eye, & the slightly upturned nose of the 1150 is as elegant as it is utilitarian.

Mustad 3366-BR
A sproat style all-purpose hook, heavy wire, with a straight eye, short shank & wide hook gape with a deep, fish-holding pocket in the bend. The 3366-BR is a classic configuration for soft-hackle flies & winged wets. This style is a favorite of North Country traditionalists, who claim it tracks like the eyeless hooks of old, considering it preferable to modern down-eye styles for tying Tummel & Clyde style wets & North Country spiders. Its spacious, straight eye is easy to thread in failing light. A straight eye & wide gape ensure the hook keels smartly. In shape, it is identical to the Alec Jackson ‘traditional’ soft-hackle hooks, at about 1/10th the cost. Mustad hooks aren't heat-treated as brittle hard as a lot of the English brands, so the barb can be crimped without fracturing the hook point, & when crimped, the generous barb maintains a good, fish-holding hump. These are sized smaller than standard wetfly, a #10 equal to a standard #12. I tie #12 & #14 on a #10, & #14-#16 on a #12 3366BR If I could have only one hook for tying soft-hackles & winged wets, this would be my choice. Good for nymphs, terrestrials & too. The Mustad 3366-BR is a good-looking, well-tempered, reliable hook at a bargain price.

Mustad R50-94840
The classic sproat, down-eye hook many prefer for soft-hackle & wet flies. Though billed as a dryfly hook, it is heavy-wired (& well-tempered) by modern dryfly standards, the configuration identical to the Tiemco 2487 & Gaelic Supreme Jim Bashline wetfly hooks, at a fraction of the cost. If you like the down-eye style, the Mustad R50-94840 is a good one for the money.

Mustad 3906B
An old style wetfly sproat with a slightly longer hook shank than the Mustad R50-94840. Good for winged wets, stoneflies & patterns requiring a bit more body length. Also good for wee flies meant to be swung in fast water, tied short on the hook shank with a lot of hook extended behind. Some tie North Country spiders on these, the heavier iron fishing them deeper in the water column.

Mustad 94842
This is the graceful, old-timey up-eye sproat style James Leisenring, Pete Hidy & Sylvester Nemes favored for soft-hackle flies. I used to tie on this one a lot before switching to the stronger, shorter shanked, wider-gaped Daiichi 1150 & Mustad 3366-BR, which are more reliable against the hook-bending trout of my home water. Still, this hook makes any fly look good – & hooks as good as it looks. My choice for wee flies fished in the slow clear precincts of discerning, educated trout.

Tiemco 200R
An elegant hook, similar to Spey/salmon hook designs. The dropped, York bend of the 3x long 200R creates a deep keel to keep the fly tracking upright while swinging. I like this one for winged wets & bucktails. I also like the 200R for stonefly, dragon & damselfly imitations, Carey Specials, leeches & buggers. Marabou tailing doesn’t get wrapped as much with the dropped bend out of the way.

Daiichi 1120              
A caddis-style hook. Some like these for tying North Country spiders; though, as a hook for soft-hackle & wet flies, my only practical use for this design is in tying depthcharges meant to sink droppers bearing wee soft-hackles to the lower water column. If any weight is added to the curved shank it keels over & fishes point up, a desired posture in a weighted depthcharge, rending it less apt to snag obstructions on the stream bottom. For this purpose I use #8-#10, heavily weighted on the shank & dressed as a latex worm or nondescript-brown soft-hackle nymph.

And, naturally, SHJ's favorite catfish hook: