Saturday, May 21, 2016

Upper Columbia Hairwing Dryflies



October Caddis ~ mixed black & tan moose hair wing


    Those who follow SHJ will know that I spew quite a bit concerning regionality & tying local as a process through which we, the tiers of flies, are informed by what the trout & our environment are cueing us to – the process possibly resulting in a recognizable regional style of fly pattern.


Green Drake ~ mixed pearl-gray, black & yellow kip wings
 I saw this process illustrated some years ago when I stopped in to visit Jack Mitchell’s Evening Hatch outfit at their new lodge, downriver from my beat. And at that same occasion Justin Hotchkiss of North River Charters stopped by the lodge, & for the first time all the local guides operating on the American Reach of the upper Columbia where assembled at one table. There were four of us. None of us were aware of what the other guys were fishing. Black Quill (UC ‘Drakes’) & Green Drake where hatching then, & we started talking about flies, so naturally fly boxes were presented & opened around the table. And to my surprise, & to everybody else’s surprise & amusement, it came to light that we’d all arrived at the same conclusion regarding what worked best fishing over the big mayflies – we were all using Wulff-style hairwings tied to resemble the local drakes. Justin Hotchkiss’s superbly tied renditions sporting mixed hair wings were stunningly realistic. The dictates of our trout & water, our needs, & a lot of trial & error, had brought us to the same place. It was clear: from the conflicted currents of the upper Columbia a distinct regional style had developed, ‘organically’, if you will. We dubbed Justin, native son, Master of the UC Hairwing Style.

Black Quill ~ black with shorter yellow kip wings
I’ve featured some UC hairwing wetflies in earlier posts, but scratch the paint of a canny wetfly angler &, chances are, an opportunistic dryfly practitioner will be revealed. Though not as finely turned as Justin Hotchkiss’s hairwing dries, the ones featured here serve as examples of what works well in the upper Columbia/West Slope river system. The style isn’t particularly innovative but, rather, based on more traditional designs like the Wulff hairwing dries & western downwing patterns like the old Sofa Pillow & Elk Wing Caddis. The most defining characteristic of the UC style is the mixed hair wings found on many local patterns, particularly those meant to fish for larger insects like drakes, stoneflies & October caddis.        

Of course, you might find such flies in use anywhere, & particularly on the big rivers of the West Slope. Form following function, their main function is to float well during extended drifts on fast & rough water. Yes, foam floats, but native UC redband, ever behind the times, seem to prefer hair to foam. Regional preference, if you will. No accounting for taste. Though I do suspect there are explainable factors involved, including, maybe, that natural materials recreate most living things better than plastic foam does. The working elements that apply to good wetfly design: light; motion; obfuscation, apply to effective dryfly design as well, in my own experience.

CDC & Elk Sedge ~ tan CDC & speckled elk wing
Though most UC hairwing dries are imitative of larger insects found in the drainage, hairwing designs imported from outside the region have adapted to meeting the smaller mayflies of the upper Columbia as well – notably, the Al Caucci-Bob Nastasi Comparadun style, developed to meet the mayfly hatches & selective trout of the upper Delaware (probably inspired by the Haystack patterns of Francis Betters, created to float well on the swift freestone water of the Ausable). A simple Haystack is my favorite for meeting #14-#18 mayflies. And, as most everywhere, the ever-present wee sedges are effectively matched with simple downwings of deer or elk.

Royal Wulff  ~ white kip wings

When I first met the American Reach of the Columbia in 1973, the Royal Wulff was a standard among the few local fly anglers, & for good reason, & it is still the best pattern I know for exploring the top of the water column. (If the situation calls for a bobber, the Royal Wulff is usually my choice for the purpose. A soft-hackle dangling under a RW  is a killing combination.) And I’ve no doubt the construction of the Royal Wulff provided the prototype for the more imitative UC ‘drake’ designs that followed.       

UC Royal Wulff  with tailing of moose mane & golden pheasant tippet



2 comments:

  1. Steve - The CDC and Elk (Coastal Deer for me) did wonders this past weekend. Love the buoyant effect. Pops right up even after being dredged. Lovely. Thanks!

    My browns were relatively uninterested in anything sub-surface in runs but caddis on the surface were the trick for browns and brookies. Gravel bars were hard to come by where I fished this past weekend. Nice fishing the caddis upstream, though. Surely the cure for a long slow spring.

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  2. Spike, good to hear that one turned the trick for you. Right now, it's the ticket here as well. You'll never hear me complain about catching trout on dryflies. Don't remember the quote exactly, but I think it was Nick Lyons who said that fishing wetflies is like something you do while waiting for your wife to get ready to go out to dinner.

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