Monday, December 31, 2018

Soft~Hackle Journal January 2019

               Happy New Year

“…We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet…”

Hope somebody gave you some good sipping whiskey for Christmas, & that you haven’t made any overly brash & severe New Year resolutions.

Though not old enough to vote, the fine single-malt in the photo is as smooth as a dimpled glide, bearing haunting tones of peat, seaweed & furrowed earth, with melancholic undertones of dark moor, salmon water & the smoke of ancient battles.

Of course, one must be discerning. More than a wee dram may lead to shocking, salacious behavior.

Bill Shuck photo

                               Leisenring’s Cow Dung ~ Bill Shuck

Don’t know where he got the dung fly porn, & didn’t ask, yet the estimable Mr. Shuck arises presciently on-cue with an instructional/inspirational follow-up to the above whiskey passages. Bill, we doff our collective hat.

Not a very elegant fly? Hey it’s a dung fly.

Leisenring nailed the color & texture of the dung fly; his version serving as a better imitation than the dark olive, floss-body version common in fly bins not too many years ago. In the early 70’s I used to fish a creek that meandered through several miles of pasture abundantly mined with ‘meadow muffins’ loaded with dung flies. It was a breezy place & a lot of the weak-flying poop-flies ended up in the water & trout were used to seeing them. Being a severely indoctrinated Leisenring disciple at the time, of course I tied & fished his version of the Cow Dung, & it did turn the trick on that little meadow creek.  And really, I believe that was the only place I ever fished a Cow Dung with any success, certain that my fly was being taken for the natural. Still, if you fish such a place, this is a worthwhile pattern. Here’s Bill’s take on it:

Looking through various listings of patterns tabulated by fly fishing writers over the years, “Cow Dung” appears frequently, appearing in the literature at least as far back as 1836 in Alfred Ronald’s “Fly Fishers Entomology”. The insect it is intended to mimic is a true fly (order Diptera), which have a single pair of wings that originate behind the legs and lie flat and crossed when the insect is at rest. Despite this, all the images I have seen of dressings show the same profile as that traditionally used for winged mayflies, with only the concession of having the wing slanted back at a severe angle.

 Also, various dressings call for body color ranging from lemon to green, with materials varying from worsted (crewel) wool to peacock herl. This seeming discrepancy can be explained by the fact that while the male dung fly common in Britain is a yellowish orange, the female is a dull olive. There are also differences about the material to be used for the wing, with at least one specifying dark mallard wing slips. I attribute this to the fact that the wings of the dung fly are a color best mimicked by slips from the secondary wing feathers of the landrail, a bird that is today universally protected. (Until the starling was declared endangered in Britain and placed on the protected list, Veniard used to sell starling wings dyed brown as a credible sub for the landrail; even those are in short supply these days.)

I have relied pretty much on Jim Leisenring’s version of the pattern as put forth in “The Art of Tying the Wet Fly”:

Cow Dung

Hook: #12, #13 (I used a Mustad 94840, Size #12)

Thread: Orange silk

Hackle: Ginger similar to body color

Body: Yellow crewel wool, seal fur, or mohair mixed with a little brown fur to … give the whole a dirty orange tinge (I used a blend of 85% yellow wool, 10% medium orange seal, and 5% medium brown Aussie possum)

Wings: Landrail (slips) slightly longer than body sloping back close over body with glossy side out (I used Veniard dyed brown starling as sub) ~Bill Shuck

                       The Tying Of The Flies                                

#18 Greenwells ~Steven Bird

“We fish for pleasure, I for mine, & you for yours.”  ~James Leisenring

Angling writers are fond of creating dichotomy. Dryfly versus Wetfly, for example. You guys who’ve been around awhile may remember the famous Halford versus Skues ‘debate’, which outdoor magazine writers riffed off of for decades. There were even reenactments of the famous showdown. Trueblood versus Laycock, in Field & Stream, is one I recall reading when I was a kid. And more recently the Presentation versus Fly Choice debate. Somebody says: “Presentation is everything.” And somebody else says: “Sure. As long as you’re presenting the right fly.” This type of article creates a construct out of really nothing & attempts to conflagrate it to Cold War status. Division creates conflict/drama/tension/excitement - & that does entertain, hence, it sells. (Sound like a familiar tactic?)

“What’s better? Dryfly or Wetfly?

phffft  !

The very premise is shady to begin with. As if there was some static, empirical, absolute metric for better regarding fly-angling methods. No country for sane men. And the way I read the famous debate: Halford, the proselytizer-in-chief, revealed that he was for the most part an air-filled mo-mo, with little actual knowledge of streamborn insects &, in fact, a Presentationist, his reputation founded on that. While the polite, respectful, obviously more advanced & vastly fishier wetfly man, Skues, really couldn’t of cared less &, I think, would happily have done without the whole thing.        

Medusa float indicator tied by Mark Hagopian
I love a good article &, faffing through internut stuff on old flies, I came across this excellent 1957 Sports Illustrated article by John McDonald, titled: The Tying Of The Flies. Not quite five years old when this article appeared, I am impressed with both the quality of the writing, the subject matter, & how well it has held up. I’ve rarely found an article of this caliber in a contemporary outdoor periodical.  McDonald does not construct a dichotomy, the nexus of his subject is interpreting the text in an effort to recreate the ambiguous ancient flies described by Dame Juliana Berners, however in doing so the author posits & explores two schools of fly design: the Classicists & the Innovators. And no doubt these two schools exist today. There are those who tie & fish nothing but the old classics, & get a lot of satisfaction from that. Then there are those who incline toward the fanciful, operating outside of any frame & having a lot of fun with that.  

These things are to be taken with a grain of salt, but I would suggest a third school: the Neoclassicist. A category into which, probably, most SHJ readers fit. The Neoclassicist stands midstream in tradition, knowing & taking what is useful from the past & both defining & refining it in new ways. The Neoclassicist is versatile & flexible – good & useful attributes for one involved in the tying of the flies. I would put forth that there are probably a lot more innovative Neoclassicists than there are pure-D Innovators. No matter. Together we spiral toward good designs.

                                                The Reel News

Considering the planetary tipping point.

The key to having it made is being able to realize when you have it made.

Thought Mexico was supposed to be paying for The Wall… But do we really need a wall? Consider roughly half of the southern border with Mexico is the Rio Grande River (water shared by both countries) & that the Bush administration already built a wall wherever it is possible do so, short of building it down the center of the river.  So?…


                                       Winter/Spring Trout Spey Spiders

Like a lot of you I am at the Winter vise, dreaming of warmer months, sure, but not in any real hurry to get there. Savoring the last of the Christmas whiskey, the home fire, the slow pace, & the tying of the flies. Here’s a few lures I’ll swing in early Spring before the insect hatches get going. Plenty of red. Red’s a trigger on pre-spawn rainbows in the mood for a tussle.

          Spruce Spider

Hook: #10 salmon/steelhead

Thread: Wine UNI 8/0

Hackle: Furnace

Body: Pac Bay Ruby 'C' rod wrapping thread -- forward 1/3 peacock herl 


            Winter Fly

Hook: #8 TMC 200R

Thread: Wine UNI 8/0

Hackle: Brahma hen

Tail: Golden pheasant crest

Rib: Gold tinsel

Body: Olive rabbit; blue dubbing; claret dubbing

           Olive Gun

Hook: #8 salmon/steelhead

Thread: Olive UNI 8/0

Hackle: Guinea

Tail: black yarn

Rib: Silver tinsel

Body: Dark olive floss/peacock herl 

Red Ass Redux

Hook: #8 salmon/steelhead

Thread: Wine UNI 8/0

Hackle: Brahma hen

Tail: Red yarn

Rib: Red wire

Body: Red tinsel/peacock herl

Black/Red Spider

Hook: #8 TMC 200R

Thread: Black UNI 8/0

Hackle: Red Guinea

Tail: Golden pheasant tippet

Rib: Red wire

Body: Black rabbit/mixed red & black seal

Friday, November 30, 2018

Soft~Hackle Journal December 2018

Peace On Earth
                      Goodwill To Men

     Barred Surfperch Season 

    I admit to being a saltwater junkie & a frequenter of the wet sand. You’ve heard of the Fountain Of Youth? Right there. Over on the other side of HWY 1 spread out to the horizon like a spilled Margarita. Having settled in for winter on the Cali coast, where jowser barred surfperch hunt the surf line, I’m heading to the beach on days when the tides are right.

Barred surfperch here average 1 to two pounds, with a better grade in the mix during the Winter months, with occasional fish to 4 pounds. Adapted to life in the rough neighborhood of the surf zone, barred perch are incredibly strong fighters – & they eat the fly very well. A 2-pounder might rip you into the backing. A 3 or 4-pounder will jelly your knees & make a believer of you.

Long rods have always been the choice of surfcasters, & for wet sand fly casters, long, two-handed rods are a fun tool, able to throw heavy flies the necessary distance in the buffeting & often windy conditions encountered on the beach. I’m seeing increasing numbers of two-handed casters on the central & northern California beaches theses days, & a distinct methodology developing.  The beaches of Monterey Bay, with good fishing for striped bass, halibut, & surfperch, have probably inspired the greatest refinements to the game.        

The cast of choice is the two-handed overhead cast, or ‘switch’ cast. This is essentially the same as the ‘conventional’ overhead cast we make with a single-hand rod, but with the addition of a hand on the rear grip to lever the forward cast. Rods of 10 to 12 feet are best for this. The overhead cast is necessary for throwing the 15 to 30-foot fast-sinking heads needed to get a fly down & keep it down in the turbulent surf zone. It is extremely difficult to pick up & aerialize a 30-foot sink-tip & heavily weighted fly with an anchor-point cast, particularly in the waves – hence the switch cast. Open space for the backcast is not a problem. But watch for Cali mermaids walking their Labs.  

Light Spey or switch rods in the #3-#4 weight class are popular in the surf, though I prefer a little more rod, my favorite, a 12’6” #5 Spey. But any longer than that & it becomes difficult to throw the overhead cast.

 Sand, & micro-sand, are ever present in the surf environment, & it gets into everything. Having sacrificed a couple of expensive reels equipped with sealed bearings & disc drags, I’ve come to rely on inexpensive click-pawl models lacking those delicate mechanisms subject to ruination.

Though shooting heads are serviceable, most experienced surf casters come to prefer integrated lines. Surfperch are often very close in, requiring the fly to be stripped nearly to the leader connection, & an integrated line accomplishes this without the irritation of loop-to-loop line connections bumping & catching through the guides. Also, windy conditions on the beach raise hell blowing coils of light shooting line out of the stripping basket, & the heavier running sections of integrated lines stay put in the basket & are easier to handle with cold, wet hands. Though shooting heads generally cast farther, the difference in casting distance is negligible, I think. And a well-matched integrated line will cast better than a not-so-well-matched shooting head.

Remember, it takes a lot less weight to load a rod performing the overhead cast than it does to load a rod with an anchor-point cast, so it’s best to choose a designated surf line with a weight rating near the lightest end of a rod’s grain window. For example, my #5 Spey has a grain window of 350-550 grains. The Cortland Compact Type 9 (sink-rate, 9ips) with 30-foot sink-tip I’m using is rated at 375 grains.          

The leader is simple. I rig a semi-permanent, 2-foot leader butt of stiff, 20 pound test fluorocarbon with a small barrel swivel attached to the tippet end. (Seagar Red Label is the best I’ve used, & available at any Walmart). The swivel is necessary, as the surf will tumble the fly & twist the casting line without it. A 2 to 3-foot tippet of 12 or 15 pound test fluoro, depending on conditions, is knotted to the swivel. Though I’m not real fond of multiple fly rigs as they do tangle, I often prospect with a second fly tied dropshot style at about the middle of the tippet section. The dropper works best unweighted.

 Surfperch baits include Clouser types, Girdle Bugs, Surf Merkins, Mole Crab imitations, & Comet style flies. All but those used as droppers are weighted, either under the body, or with coneheads or dumbells. Shades of dark olive, blue, purple, rootbeer, red & pink, & combinations of these, are good perch colors.

Are surfperch good to eat? No fish better. Surfperch are the ingredient of choice in the original Baja fish taco. They are fairly plentiful & I drop a few in the pack & we enjoy a lot of fresh fish tacos while wintering in Cali.

Mark Hagopian

       Winter Spade Flies 
        ~ Mark Hagopian

Fellow saltwater junky, SHJ East Coast correspondent, & talented fly designer, Mark Hagopian, kindly shares these two elegant herl-body spiders with us. Though Mark tied them with Great Lakes steelhead in mind, I think they show promise as good bait for pre-spawn rainbows, cutthroat, & landlocked salmon as well. Combinations of various hackle & dyed ostrich herl create a spectrum of possibilities for colorations on these. Lots of enticing breathe & pulse in the materials. We all recognize the effectiveness of the soft-hackle design frame in simulating stream-born insects, but Mark’s flies serve as a good example of the simple spider design as a wee lure (attractor), an effective & often overlooked approach to soft-hackle designs. If trout aren’t eating bugs, try swinging a lure. The dressing is simple: a bit of imagination, an ostrich herl body, & a soft hackle or two.

                                                  The Reel News
Patagonia: A company above & beyond.

The Loss Of Animalness: Experiencing smaller & fewer insect hatches?

Bill Shuck
Tying With Rod Wrapping Thread

  Long a staple of soft-hackle tyers, Pearsall’s is no longer selling Gossamer Silk. Huge bummer, to be sure. But don’t worry, necessity is the mother of substitutions. Embroidery thread can be useful. And though it may not be the perfect substitute, I’ve found size ‘A’ rod wrapping thread to be a fine substitute for silk applications, & at a fraction of the cost. ‘A’ thread has the strength & gloss of silk, though slightly larger in diameter, & is available in every color imaginable. It can be dubbed on & is perfect for split-thread dubbing. I use it in ‘A’ & also the larger ‘D’, which is excellent for bodies or ribbing on larger patterns. And the metallic rod threads are as good as the finest French oval, yet less expensive & available in many more colors. Check out the threads from Pac Bay.

Bill Shuck
In a correspondence with the estimable Bill Shuck, I suggested rod wrapping thread for tying, but of course he was already on to it, & sent the two examples featured here, tied with ‘A’ thread. As you can see, the bodies are a bit heavier than those tied with Pearsall’s, though not overly fat to my eye, with a ‘juicy’, segmented look. Bill’s version of the Tup’s Indispensable looks like it’d be at least as effective as the original.

Fortunately for us, Bill picked up the cue &, in addition to the rod thread examples, sent along the following two articles. Bill is one of the great Mid-Atlantic tyers in the Leisenring/Hidy tradition. For those interested in how James Leisenring constructed his flies & the philosophy behind them, Bill Shuck’s flies serve as stellar examples. I’ll let Bill take it from here: 

  Baby Sunfly ~ Bill Shuck

An English clergyman, Rev. Edward Powell, fished streams in the Shropshire region in the Welsh borderlands of England on a regular basis during the 1920’s – 1950’s. He is credited by author Christopher Knowles in his book (Orange Otter, Medlar Press, Ellesmere, England 2006) and others with developing as many as 26 fly patterns that were especially killing on these waters. He named one of these the “Baby Sunfly” since it was a smaller, slightly modified version of a D. Lewis pattern called “Sunfly”. It was strictly a generic pattern, as Powell was convinced that fish mostly just wanted black and brown flies. The original dry fly pattern was (more or less) as follows:   

Hook: Sizes 12 – 18
Thread: Brown or black
Tail: Black or coch-y-bondhu cock hackle barbs
Body: Dubbed rabbit face, from triangle of nose & eyes, very dark, tied full
Rib: Brown thread, 3 turns
Hackle: Black or coch-y-bondhu cock hackle, as many turns as possible

It is interesting to note that the fur used for the body of the fly was the quite dark underfur found on the face of the English rabbit, not the better-known-to-fly-tiers English hare -- a different critter. It is necessary to trim away the grey/tan outer portion of the fur to get at the dark, bluish black underfur.

Answering the challenge of a fellow member on the Flymph Forum site, I’ve attempted to tie this pattern as a soft hackle wet fly. I’ve tied it on a vintage Herter’s 423 TDE hook, Size #14 using Pearsall’s Gossamer #17 brown thread. The tail whisks were taken from an iridescent black feather found at the back of a coch-y-bondhu hen saddle and the collar is a combination of that same black feather and a black and 'red' feather from further up the saddle. Since I do not have an English rabbit mask, the body is a blend of hare’s poll and black wool spun in #17 Gossamer on a Clark block.
 ~Bill Shuck     

 Hen Saddle Palmer ~ Bill Shuck

Hen ‘saddle’, or elongate hen neck hackle, is a choice feather for dressing flymphs or palmered flies. Bill gives us a fine example serving as a short tutorial on how it’s done. The method Bill describes here is the basic palmering method I use for all types of flies.  

The nondescript brown buzz-hackle looks like a lot of things one might encounter on a freestone, & a worthwhile type to carry. These fish well drifted or swung. Also a good pattern fished deep to simulate medium sized stonefly nymphs. Bill describes the dressing:

 Hook: Vintage Mustad 38932 #10

Thread: Pearsall’s Gossamer #6a, light orange; leave long (6” or so) thread tag for use as reinforcing rib over the palmered hackle.

Hackle: Tip section from webby, pointed hen saddle feather (base of hen neck) tied in slightly behind the hook eye, by the stem w/tip extended out over the eye. Wrap tying silk to rear, leaving the tag hanging at the start of the hook bend.

Shank Tag: Tying silk wraps

Tail: Light ginger cock hackle barbs, longish

Body: Blend of 80% hare’s poll dyed gold and 20% brownish-orange wool spun on #6a on Clark’s block; tie in just in front of tail and bring tying thread forward to just behind the hackle and tie off/trim excess hackle – wind thread tag forward as a rib over (through) the palmered hackle to the front.

Head: Thread wraps, preferably conical shape per Leisenring/Hidy
~Bill Shuck

See more examples of Bill’s fine work here:

Thanks for sharing, Mark & Bill.

Wishing all of you & yours health & happiness through the Holidays & in the coming New Year.       ~Steve           



Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Soft~Hackle Journal November 2018

     At left, a 30” redband that ate a swung Ginger Dabbler up on the Canadian Reach of the Columbia River, in September. It went bananas & took me almost to the spindle, twice.   

There are several engaging projects in the works for the coming year & I’ve promised myself to parcel time better, so have decided to try running SHJ as a monthly online magazine, wherein I dump accumulated angling eclectica. If anybody would like to contribute – a story; a useful tip; a killing fly pattern; a photo; a poem; art; a good joke – contact me at Payment is ambiguous but may come in unexpected ways. Contributors retain sole rights. Also, if you have a question or would
Ginger Dabbler
like to start a discussion, feel free to use the comment box at the bottom of each post. SHJ averages about 200 readers a day & you might be surprised who reads it, or who might pop up for a discussion. I admit the comment box isn’t very user friendly & many have trouble with it. Here’s a tip if you’re having trouble: the fast-lane is to comment as ‘anonymous’. Then sign your comment with your name, handle, or not at all, as you like.   

Kirk Storer
   Kirk Storer Brahma Spider    

Glad to say I’ve sold out of the welsumer brahma hen capes we raised this year. Response from those who bought them was very good. One guy wrote to tell me he was so excited about the feathers he was wearing the cape. I didn’t ask where he was wearing it, assuming maybe dangling from his neck as a frontal ornament? a chest-piece maybe? A head-dress? I cackle to myself thinking what else. Another tyer, Kirk Storer, went straight to the vise. Along with a few other samples of his elegant work, Kirk sent me the photo of his quill-body spider dressed with the brahma. We have no doubt that one will hunt. Thanks for sharing, Kirk. Good looking softie. 

              Swing The Fly Magazine

Contrary to what electronic propaganda may indicate, real ink is not dead. True, competition from online media has diminished the number of print magazines in recent years, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. To be able to survive, print magazines have been forced to bear down & get better. There are a few angling magazines actually doing very well, & that’s because they offer authentic content that looks good, reads well, is both entertaining & useful. There is still truly quality content that you just can’t get online, & that is in print. And I still love the simple, tactile portability of a good magazine – relaxing in a favorite chair; placed on the nightstand; waiting within reach of the john. I admit to being a devoted fan of Swing The Fly magazine, creative brainchild of Northwest writer/guide/competitive Spey caster, Zack Williams, along with an able cadre of other writer-guides. STF may be unique in that it is assembled & written almost entirely by professional guides who also happen to be writers & artists. The content reflects the depth of knowledge that combined time on the water imparts, & shares it in an inviting, inclusive way. Going into its fourth year, STF keeps getting better, offering artful, eclectic content including stories, poetry, photography, fly tying, how-to features, environmental news, & everything to do with angling with two-handed rods (fresh & salt water), as well as swinging flies. And you need not fish with a two-handed rod to appreciate & learn from STF’s emphasis on swinging flies. As soft-hackles & trouty wetflies are standard baits for Trout Spey, there’s a lot here for soft-hackle, wetfly & streamer swingers. In layout & ethic, STF manages to bring the latest while deftly remaining detached from the lame hyperbole of the latest marketing lingo, staying rooted in & ever true to the authentic tradition of our game – what works. Swing The Fly is the real deal. If you’re considering subscribing to a quality magazine that will entertain, inform, & improve your game, you might want to check it out:

Salar's Nemesis
                Salar's Nemesis

I learned about Sylvester Neme’s salmon fly, Salar’s Nemesis, when Bill Shuck posted his redux of it on the Flymph Forum. The much-respected Mr. Shuck is one of my favorite fly tyers & some of his fine soft-hackle designs have been featured here in SHJ. The pattern caught my attention as a likely wee lure for trout, so I tied some in #8 & #10, altering the original dressing somewhat, adding a bit of antron to the dubbing. These proved worthwhile for local rainbows last Spring. The Nemesis is a passing match for an October caddis pupa, & the fly worked well through the Fall OC season too. Most impressive though, was when I traveled to the Stehekin River in August, where the cutthroat were all over it.

                                            The Continuing Breakdown

Lots of political opinion on the major networks, both fanciful & considered, but you have to dig some to find the real news. The real world issues that seriously need to be addressed. Here’s a few things that worry me:

The broken nuclear power plant at Fukishima is being kept from meltdown by continually pumping seawater through the hot, radioactive core, & the radiated water flowing back into the Pacific Ocean, & this will go on indefinitely until another solution is found. Radiation from Fukishima is being measured in the kelp forest off California beaches.

Educated, trained, well-intentioned scientists without political/cultural agenda are warning us that ocean temperatures are rising at an accelerating pace. West Coast albacore sport & commercial catches have sharply declined over the past ten years, & fish more concentrated in the northern reaches of the historical range. And everybody in the Pacific Northwest is aware how low steelhead returns have become. One of my sons, a commercial fisher, says the schools of baitfish are getting harder to find.

Everything’s connected.

The World Wildlife Federation now estimates the planet has lost 60% of the  number of mammals, birds & fish, it had in 1970. Seriously concerning, if not alarming, at even half that percentage.

Parts of India, Africa & Iran once habitable, are now uninhabitable due to sustained, dangerously high summer temperatures, up to 150 degrees recorded.

The only rational way I can think of to fix these things is to vote in leadership who are committed to fixing them. Hold feet to fire. Lest everything burn. I don’t think voting has ever been more important than it is right now.

            Hero Shots

One last thing: Read a very informative article in Swing The Fly regarding research on the affects of catch & release, wherein I learned that trout removed from the water for even ten seconds may suffer neurological damage that can result in slow death. Hence, I have sworn off taking any more hero shots, holding trout out of the water. If you’re planning a hero shot then I hope you plan do get it done in well under ten seconds. But I’m drawing a line – it’s okay if you’re 16 & under & do it swiftly & gently. Other than that you are a grownup & no longer have the need to show off your angling prowess with a silly photo of you & the fish. That’s not to say a photo of the fish by itself, in water, is a bad idea. In water the fish becomes art. Instead of gasping for its life while we mug, we see the undefeated beauty of the fish itself, like art, evoking importance, & meaningful memories. Please keep ‘em wet.  


Thursday, September 6, 2018

Hair & Hackle Sculpin

      Considering freshwater sculpin (Cottidae) inhabit nearly all trout streams in North America – where they are preyed upon by trout, and especially larger trout – then it stands  as a good idea to carry a few ‘muddlers’, particularly during those times when insects may be scarce, or whenever it might be good to swing or strip a streamer. If you fish big rivers where large trout are likely, then it’s good to have some sculpin patterns in the kit.   

Though there are some species that may reach six inches in length, across the board, the average stream sculpin will be about two inches long. One and a half to about two and a half inches is the size we most often find in trout stomachs. And that size-range of imitations seems generally the most productive, most places we fish in the lower ’48. 

Original Muddler Minnows tied by Don Gapen.
No arguing the effectiveness of Don Gapen’s original Muddler Minnow, maybe the first fly pattern in history dressed to imitate a freshwater sculpin – which Gapen found giant Ontario brook trout feeding on. Unlike the slick, paired-wing version later popularized by Dan Bailey, Gapen’s original was dressed with a natural hair winging (body) extending back beyond the hook bend. 

Gapen tied a lot of versions of the Muddler Minnow, incorporating various types of hair into the dressings – bucktail, bear, squirrel tail, fox – and no doubt the pulse and shimmy of natural hair contributes much to the pattern. Natural hair is formed around a spine which serves as a spring to snap the hair back into place when activated. Natural hair provides more action than artificial hair, which may have a tendency to plaster and mat.

Though a hair body is a good choice in imitating sculpin, I strongly suspect it is the profile of Don Gapen’s pattern, created by the clipped deer hair head, that accounts most for the pattern’s success.  I’ve come to believe that the Muddler’s sculpin profile is more important than matching the natural’s coloration, this evidenced in the fact that the pattern works well dressed as a ‘lure’, in colorations never seen in life yet known to trigger a reaction strike – a blue and purple, or all-black, for example. And I’ve done well on a fire-tiger version.    

The spinning and clipping of deer hair isn’t one of my favorite tying operations, and if I can find a faster and at least equally effective way around it, I’m all in. Having cycled through a fanciful array of sculpin patterns through the years, the one featured here has risen to the top of my favorite list. The simple dressing provides the sculpin profile and great motion, and invites unlimited creativity blending the spectrum of dyed and natural color choices available.  

Basic construction of the Hair & Hackle Sculpin:

Hook: #2 Mustad 3366-BR (this size works for patterns 2” to 3” long).

Thread: UNI 8/0 or your choice.

Gills: Red tinsel wound over the hook shank.

Body: Tied in as winging. I generally apply at least two layers of bucktail, a few strands of flash tied in between as a lateral line. The Natural Sculpin in the photo is dressed as follows, in order tied in: white bucktail, olive bucktail, 4 strands of copper flash, and topped with fox squirrel tail. The Blue/Purple is blue bucktail, 4 strands of blue/copper flash, topped with purple bucktail. Stack one color on top of the other, each tied in with about six turns of thread and head cement applied to the thread turns each time. Tie in the bucktail about a third of the hook-shank length behind the eye, leaving room for the head. Keep bucktail and hair sparse enough that light will pass through (avoid making a stiff shaving brush out of it).

Head: Kip tail. Apply 3 clumps to form a collar – one on top, and one on each side of the hook shank, tips extended to almost half the body length, the top clump slightly longer.  Tie in each clump with 6 turns of thread and apply head cement to the thread at each tie-in. Trim hair butts to a taper, wind over with thread and apply head cement to the thread wraps. Tie in and wind 2 hackle collars ahead of the kip, the first extending back about half the body length, the last, slightly shorter, wound behind the hook eye. The Natural Sculpin is tied with brown kip fronted with hackle collars of brown pheasant rump and dyed rust-brown pheasant church window body feather. The Blue/Purple is the black-dyed-purple taken from the base of a kip tail, fronted with black hen and natural guinea hen.

I like to fish the Hair Sculpin on a sink-tip, swinging, deep, tickling over the bottom. It is a workhorse pattern for Trout Spey on larger streams. Makes a good bass fly too.     

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Wee Softies at the Bitter End

     Nero fiddled while Rome burned. The ship’s band struck up a tune while the Titanic surrendered to the cold Tao sea.

In NE Washington we’re into a third week of daily temps ranging into the low 100’s. There are a great number of forest fires burning in the region & some of them are very close.  Lots of smoke in the air; the sunsets cooked to a bloody medium-rare. I worry about our ten acres of pine, thickly assembled like a thirsty army waiting beneath a hubcap-bright sun.

In addition to unrelenting high temperatures, the entire State of Washington is being visited by a plague of wasps. Never seen so many yellowjackets, & they’ve become aggressive in the heat. It’s dangerous to sit outside on the porch – & too hot anyway.

The large mayflies of early summer are long gone – & the smatterings of wee mayflies disappeared with the onset of July’s full moon. All that are left to get trout up & visibly feeding are the ever-present, reliable Spotted Sedge, their peak emergence season also past, though they will persist until the end of August, the daily emergence shrunk down to a spotty shooter at twilight.

The trout are edgy & light sensitive, not feeding until the evening sedge emergence gets underway. Even then, there aren’t a lot of them showing –  one here, a couple there – on the eddy seams trailing from the points. Having seen a fanciful assortment of imitation insects at this point in the season, & a good many of them hook-stung, the trout are hyper-wary, their lateral lines functioning as bare-wired bullshit meters so sensitive they can detect even the most innocuous ghost of a presence, & that sure to put them down.

When the world is on fire it’s good to live beside a river. You can fish. You can fish that last hour. If you are careful & do everything right there is time for one trout – maybe two on a good night. They are close, a long cast isn’t required. But the presentation must be perfect, a barely perceptible whisper of a presentation, the wee softie placed well above the working trout. I’m down to the 6’ 3wt glass, matched with the little Pflueger I acquired in 1963, a cooler year. Though just long enough, the 12’ leader is about as long as the 6-foot rod will comfortably handle. The 3-pound test tippet is as light as I dare go, but is okay in the near dark. Considering the size of the trout heavier would be better, but any heavier brings noticeably fewer takes, even in low light.

A wee soft-hackle fly will turn the trick alright, though it must be the same size & profile as a natural sedge emerger. The Hares Ear variant pictured at left has been the choice fly lately. It is tied on a #14, 1x long hook, so it is about a standard #16. It is dressed with a bit of gold antron mixed with natural hares mask, the thorax dubbed over with straight hares mask. The color closely matches a Spotted Sedge pupa – & it looks like a lot of other things too, including small mayflies. Hard to improve on the Partridge & Hares Ear, though the addition of gold antron to the dressing does make a killing version.

There is a lot of fire, & feet must be held to it. That one good trout in the evening is a fun & satisfying game, yet it is a game we are within sight of losing, & it may be the least of what we stand to lose – I hope you are aware dear readers. If you think eliminating world-destroying activities & policies will cause you to lose money & result in all of us living a lower standard of life, then you need to rethink that shit. I promise you the contrary.

I hope, as we go through another round of elections, that you will engage & hold prospective leader’s feet to the fire regarding the affects of climate change. Past time we need to bring this issue to the fore. There is nothing more important. We fiddle & faff & catch the last trout at the bitter end. Or we assume sane stewardship of the living world. Not trying to overstate or be righteous, just trying to be real in light of things as they are.