Thursday, January 7, 2016

Hair & Hen Muddler

Natural Sculpin Muddler
          The importance of freshwater sculpin as trout food has become fully realized in our time, & that realization spawning the vast array of fly patterns meant to simulate them. Some of these are incredibly realistic, like dolls, some with doll eyes, the eyeballs rattling around in little plastic domes (even though the eyes of the naturals are generally mottled camouflage like the rest of the body & barely discernable). Many are bulky, ranging from awkward to dangerous when cast. (No problem, you stick a pin in the doll & fish simply float up!) 
Purple Muddler

Still, it’s hard to beat the original Muddler Minnow, tied by Don Gapen, & I’d place Jack Gartside’s Sparrow right up there beside it as a sculpin imitation. Considering that most species of freshwater sculpin are two inches long or less at maturity, Gartside’s Sparrow, generally fished in smaller sizes than the Muddler, makes perfect sense. Both of these killing patterns have two things in common: both offer the classic, big-headed, sculpin profile, & both are constructed of natural materials that blend together when wet, mimicking the blotchy coloration & texture of the naturals.
Chartreuse Muddler

If you’ve caught a natural & looked at it in hand, or if you’ve seen pictures, you might have noticed that the critter looks like primordial brown/olive camo ooze fashioned to an elongated teardrop shape, & other than the profile, the most outstanding characteristic, the dark barring on the body, usually three or four dark patches (& yes there are the large pectoral fins, but these are held close to the body when the sculpin is in motion). In designing the Hair & Hen Muddler I was looking for a version of about two & a half inches in length that, when wet, would closely imitate a natural in shape, movement & coloration. This one comes alive when wet, & worked very good for us this past season. I tie these in purple & chartreuse as well, & there are a lot of possibilities with dyed squirrel & kip tails. Works as a craw for smallmouth bass as well. 

Hair & Hen Muddler

Hook: #2-#4 Mustad 3366-BR

Thread: black, brown, tan or olive UNI 6/0

Tailing: squirrel tail

Gills: red tinsel wound on the hook shank

Body: in order tied in, on top of the shank: olive calf tail; squirrel tail; olive calf tail; squirrel tail; olive calf tail; squirrel tail; olive calf tail, on this last one, a pinch on top & a pinch on both sides of the hook shank (this will support a flared head shape once the hackle is wound in – each hair clump is placed a bit forward (shorter) than the one preceding it, I use the color bars on the hair as a guide, stepping the hair clumps forward a bar at each step 

Lateral Line: copper mylar flash, one strand, both sides

Head (Hackle): in order tied in: bronze mallard, gadwall flank or brahma hen, Coc de Leon is perfect if you have it; then work toward the eye with dyed olive grizzly hen (3 to 4 hackles) diminishing the size of the hackle slightly as you go forward ~ & finish    

Monday, January 4, 2016

Jim Leisenring’s March Brown

     Meant to simulate a number of Rithrogena (clinger) mayfly species emerging to speckled winged adults, ‘March Brown’ is a tag applied to nearly as many versions of the fly as there are fly tyers &, in some form, has been described since the earliest English literature.   

Rithrogena prefer streams with good flow, & larger freestones may produce great hatches. Those species we refer to as March brown begin emerging before spring run-off, as early as February in southern & coastal regions, later at higher elevations & northern regions. Generally, these appear around late April in NE Washington, & I see them on into June some years. Though they don’t produce great hatches on my home water as they do in many places, they are enough of a presence through their hatch season that the imitation fishes well through the period.   

Looking at naturals found at various locations, one isn’t surprised at the great variety of patterns meant to cover March brown. Adults may be #12-#16 (nymphs, a size larger). The color of mature nymphs may range from tan through all shades of brown, olive/brown, & olive, depending on location. Each stream holds its own color variant. (An aquarium net might satisfy the curious.) Considering the variety of colors & materials meant to simulate these, I am drawn, once again, to the notion that: presentation, size, silhouette, are primary factors, over color. And in this case silhouette is indeed important, by my own thinking, as the broad-thoraxed, teardrop shape of the naturals is a keying visual characteristic.

One of James Leisenring’s salient contributions to the soft-hackle style was his refinement of silhouette, which he considered important to the fly’s effectiveness, & for that reason many of his patterns call for a thorax, & though not his own invention, it is a fair departure from most of the older soft-hackle designs. Jim Leisenring’s well-thought version still stands as a killing pattern for covering March browns.

Neil Norman, author of Soft Hackles, Tight Lines, an Online Soft-Hackle Pattern Book, lays out an excellent historic profile of March brown, describing several notable dressings. For any interested in the history of our flies, Neil’s journal is an invaluable archive.                

Jim Leisenring's March Brown

Hook: #10-#14 (Mine is tied on a #12 Mustad 3906B)

Thread: orange silk (orange or rusty-brown UNI 8/0 substitutes)

Hackle: brown partridge

Tail: 3 cock pheasant tail swords

Rib: gold or silver wire wound over the abdomen

Abdomen: 3 or 4 cock pheasant tail swords twisted with a tag of the thread

Thorax: hare’s mask, dubbed fairly heavy