You Keep Turning Me Upside Down

I have spent the best summer seasons of my life as a field fisheries biologist collecting data and observing fish and aquatic insects in thier natural habitat. In that time, I have snorkeled numerous rivers counting and identifying fish and benthic macroinvertebrates. My most memorable time was watching insects behaving naturally under water. On a few occasions, I was blessed to have taken a front row seat in witnessing emergence activity and how fish feed during a hatch. In all that time I have spent spent underwater, I have seen very few living nymphs drifting upside down for more than just a few seconds in the current. Living naturals of most species of aquatic insects are remarkably adept at remaining in a dorsal up position despite the heaviest of currents tossing them about. If naturals do get inverted, they are quickly self righted. However, giant Salmonfly nymphs are the most prone to prolonged inverted drifts. More on that later.

A completely round fly displays the same color and profile despite its orientation in the water.

A completely round fly displays the same color and profile despite its orientation in the water.

I have heard there is a video floating around out there somewhere illustrating jig flies tumbling in the current in all orientations. However, physics will dictate a jig weighted with a slotted tungsten bead will remain in a mostly hook point up position while occasionally tumbling along in the current. This of course depends on current speed, line tension and bead weight.  

Because weighted jigs can be prone to a limited degree of tumbling -- depending on where and how you fish them -- I have gone back to the “tied in the round” philosophy adopted almost a half century ago by Major Charles E. Brooks who also observed salmonflies in the Yellowstone River occasionally become inverted and fish avoiding them. Subsequently, Brooks came up with his tied in the round patterns such as the Brooks Stone Nymph

My pet peeve is focused on perdigon jigs that are tied upside down with the wingcase painted on the side of the fly that is going to drift in a dominant downward position. Brooks observed fish will refuse upside down nymphs. It just makes no sense and entirely unnatural to me to present an upside down fly to the fish based on my field observations and that of my elders.

To ameliorate my pet peeve of upside down jigs, I have omitted the wingcases altogether and have done away with the issue of fly orientation altogether. Problem solved!

Now, let's talk about all those videos documenting unusual hominids meandering around leaving giant footprints in the woods…

You can read a short info on Charles Brooks in the round philosophy here.

Note: Perdigon nymphs are designed to fish the fast turbulent sections of rivers where naturals are most prone to tumbling. So in all fairness, it doesn't really matter how the fly is oriented as the fish only have an instant to decide to take the fly or not. I would just avoid using them in the slower sections of rivers where fish can have a better look.

Signature Fly Tying Deal

I am pleased to announce that starting in 2018, many of my signature fly patterns will become available at select fly shops around the the world. I have teamed with Catch Fly Fishing as a signature designer providing them recipes and instruction for over a couple of dozen of my most productive fly patterns. Ask your local dealer about the patterns offered by Catch Fly Fishing or stock them in your shop.

 
 

Rest assured my fussy angler friends, the fly patterns that I am selling on this website will still be exclusively tied and field tested by me. If you wish to carry my patterns in your fly shop, please contact Catch.

My Top Winter Patterns

Glenwood Springs Winter Morning

If you are fortunate enough to have a local river that has an endless season, and possess the mental fortitude to suffer through numb fingers and frozen toes, then winter fly fishing season is a great opportunity to fill your fishing logs with additional entries.

Fish and thier prey are still active throughout the winter months -- albeit with slower metabolic rates --  allowing for additional fly fishing opportunities. Only during the coldest spells of deep winter can conditions truly get bad out there leaving the most attractive option to stay home to restock fly boxes. What I find amazing is that when the mercury drops into the teens and below, a few die hard individuals will gleefully brave the elements to chase fin with a fly rod.

The following selection of fly patterns are frequently added to my winter fly box that have served me well throughout a variety of winter fly fishing conditions. 

Cased Caddis

While midges, aquatic worms and baetis dominate the buffet line when sustaining fish through the long dark winter months, cased caddis are a frequent food source. Caddis larva will engage in behavioral drift in search of fresh food supplies or to redistribute the population for better genetic diversity. This behavior makes them vulnerable to easy predation. I often find cased caddis in gastric samples beginning in the late fall and throughout the winter months. 

I often employ a heavy tungsten bead jig as an anchor fly in a multiple fly rig in tandem with an aquatic worm or midge larva imitation. Pictured left is a simple cased grannom with a trailer hitch for adding a dropper behind the fly. What better way to get down deep than with a cased caddis pattern that will both serve to look like a typical stream resident and a likely food source?

Banded Breadcrust Nymph (not available in store)

Brachycentrus Cased Caddis

Hook: Hanak 400BL #14-16
Bead: Raw tungsten.
Tail: Green Antron burned on the ends to make a small head.
Rear Collar: Grizzly hen hackle, 1-2 turns.
Body: Blended Hemingway's Frosty Dubbing, brown, black, gray.

 

 

Breadcrust Jig

Hook: Hanak 400BL #8-12.
Bead: Black or gold tungsten.
Band: Optional - metallic orange.
Underbody: Uni-stretch.
Body: Red phase grouse, split and trimmed.
Collar: Hen grizzly.

Aquatic Worms and Larva

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The Big Pink Worm

I learned to love the Big Pink while winter steelheading in the Pacific Northwest. I used to tie up six inch long rabbit strip versions of this to swing in front of winter steelhead. My largest, a 20+ pound steelhead was taken with a pink MOAL articulated pattern. 

For trout's sake, we don't have to anger them by intruding thier personal space with a massive swimming Mother of All Leeches dressed in pink. Instead, a reasonablly sized pink tungsten beaded version does nicely.

Hook: Firehole Sticks 316 #14.
Bead: Pink tungsten.
Thread: 50D GSP.
Collar: Hemingway's Pink Frosty Dubbing.
Not available in the store until spring 2018.

Midges Midges and even more midges

One can never have enough midges in thier fly box, nor have enough variety of patterns. Midge patterns are like the little jewels of a fly box with beads, wires and a variety of colorful tinsels all adorning the smallest hooks. Aside from tying such small patterns, I love the creative license when tying attractive midge patterns.

Gun Metal Shop Vac

Hook: Firehole Sticks 316 #18.
Bead: Killer Caddis gun metal glass bead.
Body: Dyed adams gray pheasant tail (Nature's Spirit).
Rib: SemperFli .1mm ice blue wire.
Wing: Hemingway's white frosty dubbing, clipped short.
Thorax: Black hares mask.

The Gun Metal Shop Vac is a cross-over pattern that does well at imitating both midge pupa and baetis emergers.

 

D'Bling Midge

Hook: Midge hook #18, 24.
Body: D-rib, Olive green, black, tan or gray.
Flash: Small Pearl mylar tinsel, coated with UV resin.

Super simple and most effective.

 

Zebra Blood Midge

Though frequently referred to as a bloodworm for its worm like larva, the zebra blood midge is actually a chironomid, or a true midge fly. These active 1/4-1/2" or larger larvae are found in almost all water types all year long, but winter finds them more abundant than other available foods. Blood worms prefer soft sandy or silty substrates often found near back eddies or along stream margins to colonize. After a freshet, blood worms are often dislodged from these soft areas and sent adrift making them available for trout. 

Hook: Firehole Sticks 316 #14-18.
Bead: Iridescent Silver glass bead. silver tungsten for heavier patterns.
Body: Red thread.
Rib: Small silver wire.

Ble Mercury

Ble Mercury

Blue Mercury

The color purple and blue perform wonders in the winter because the low angle of the sun allows the blue wavelengths of light to dominate. This allows the cooler spectrum of colors to radiate nicely, especially when sunk deep into a trout filled pool.

Hook: Firehole Sticks 316 #16-18.
Bead: Iridescent silver glass.
Body: Blue and silver small uni-wire.
Thorax: Teal blue Veevus holographic tinsel.
 

 
Opal Midge

Opal Midge

Opal Midge

Hook: Firehole Sticks 316 #16-18
Bead: Iridescent silver glass
Body: Opal tinsel
Collar: Peacock herl
I found this pattern floating around on the internet and gave it a try. It has a lot of qualities that I look for in a fly pattern: simplicity, flash and iridescent qualities.

 

OSS (Oh So Simple) Blood Worm

Hook: Firehole Sticks 321 #8-16.
Thread: Red 14/0.
Body: Small blood red D-rib, wind forward leaving a distinct gap between wraps. Mark the thread with a gray marker at the throax area before winding thread forward.

 
 

Barking at the Moon

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Today was one of those days I was skunked. It doesn’t happen all that frequently, but when it does happen, it stings. It had already been a rough week with several lackluster guiding trips in the books. Luckily, the guests that I took out this week were new to fly fishing so just catching their first fish was the goal of the day. It wasn’t easy for one particular guest who fished all day, working every inch of every productive run to catch her fish. Reports from other guides indicated I was not alone in having a difficult time.

As a skilled angler, I have an extensive portfolio of tactics from which to choose when the fishing gets difficult. For me, the most important skill is to know why fishing might be difficult and then how overcome it. In the spring, the challenge might be high dirty water with the tactic being heavier flies to get deep or searching for fish along the margins of the river where fish seek rest from the nagging current. In the late summer when water is low and clear, it might mean fishing smaller, less flashy patterns with lighter tippet. Winter may require small midges, egg and worm patterns.

This week has been an enigma to me, as I had no idea why the fishing was so difficult. I simply could not recognize the cause for my failure. I tried large searching patterns in the deep slots, small dark patterns on the edges and shiny emergers in the film. I tried the finest tippet I could use on the longest leaders that I have. I eventually started blaming the full harvest moon shining a bright light on the water allowing fish to feed at night and rest during the day as cause for the difficult week on the river. I am not one to dive into folklore, legends and myths, so I remain keen to dismiss lunar phases having an effect on fishing, as easily as I dismiss the notion that being a capricorn makes me an asshole solely based on the location where Jupiter and Saturn were located on the day I was born. 

Today, I am blaming the full harvest moon because I have also experienced dismal fishing on other days immediately following the light of a full moon keeping the river illuminated all night long. I have stayed awake late at night to watch blizzards of caddis or aquatic moths emerging and fish feeding in the lunar glow, only to catch nothing the following day. Is it possible to have good fishing during a full moon when the night sky is darkened by overcast conditions? In other natural systems, many species of fish and amphibians time thier spawning cycles with specific lunar periods. Is it likely that the moon can affect fish beyond illuminating the night sky? The scientist in me is beginning to wonder. I’m now interested in overlaying the lunar cycles on top of my catch data charts to see if the peaks and valleys in my data can correlate to lunar cycles, including moonrise and moonset. Maybe the fishing will be better tomorrow as the moon wanes?

Addendum: I added a chart with full moons overlaid on top of catch data and see no relationship between full moon and effect on fishing success.

My current season catch data with full moons indicated with dates. 

My current season catch data with full moons indicated with dates. 

A Gentle Plea

A gravid female Oncorhynchus mykiss exhibiting a pronounced urogenital pore indicating she is ready to spawn.

A gravid female Oncorhynchus mykiss exhibiting a pronounced urogenital pore indicating she is ready to spawn.

This very healthy girl is ready for a spawn. O.mykiss spawn all season long as a survival strategy. She was not touched and fully revived before being allowed to swim off on her on volition.

Tactical barbless hooks often fall out in the net facilitating an easy release. I implore you to please stop using barbed hooks. I’ve seen a lot of needles injuries lately caused by barbed hooks and excessive handling of fish during release. As a guide, I inform my guests that they may lose a fish or two. I also teach them how to fight a fish using barbless hooks. My guests appreciate our efforts to protect our resources. Your guests will also appreciate it. Just get over your fear of losing a fish or two and you will be fine. You will still get handsome gratuities if you keep a positive and energetic attitude as stewards of our fisheries. 

If you look at my previous blog entry, you will see that I actually land more fish with barbless hooks than I did with traditional hooks.

Catch Statistics Comparing Two Seasons and Hook Changes.

I am a certified data geek. I log every fish that I catch and how I caught them. I can learn a lot about my sport by paying attention to data trends when I analyze the numbers in my log.

This year I switched out all of my hooks from TMC hooks to new tactical hooks such as Firehole Stix, Hanak and Moonlit. I was tired of losing so many fish on hooks that I had to pinch the barb or hooks that straightened out when I tightened the screws on a big fish.

I compared my 2015 season in which I used TMC hooks exclusively to my 2017 in which I am using tactical hooks exclusively. My 2016 season had a mixed bag of hooks with some tactical and some traditional so I discarded that data in this comparison.

I am not making any conclusions or inferences between these two charts that compare the two season. Instead, I will allow you to draw your own conclusions. Needless to say, I feel that things have improved for the percentage of losses.

A loss is defined by having a fish on the end of the line for at least three to five seconds. 

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summary20172.png

As you can see in 2017 I have fewer private fishing days than in 2015 but caught more fish. What's remarkable is that I went from losing 33.1% of fish to 12.59% of fish in 2017. As in data science, there can be many variables at play including tactics used, but I will leave that discussion alone. Let's just say I love the new range of tactical hooks now readily available on the U.S. market.

Fishing The edges - Reading the water Pt IV

When I guide with guests who wish to learn more about fly fishing or to sharpen their skills, I teach them two mantras: fish the edges & the foam is home. Finding fish is the most important part in fishing. However, you would be amazed at how many times I show up to a crowded beat on a river and see people ignoring the prime water, and instead, fishing water because they are observing an occasional fish feeding here and there. They are fishing with their eyes and not their river reading skills. Knowing how to find hidden fish in heavy water can yield big results.

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Recently, I was on a popular beat of the Yampa River in downtown Steamboat Springs. I have a favorite spot that conceals a lot of very nice fish. My river log will tell you my success on the Yampa and much of it can be correlated to this particular spot among just a handful. The froggy pool above me had two anglers swinging patterns to no avail and the pool below me was occupied, as it usually is on a daily basis. Yet, right smack in the middle of the river lays my favorite spot hidden in plain sight.  I wade across to begin my approach while thinking to myself that surely, someone had to have pounded this spot and my efforts might be to no avail. I made my second cast and hooked and landed a nice 18" brown. I hooked and landed a few more fish and broke off a large gator rolling rainbow. I know that this spot does get fished as I have removed many flies that have broken off in the snouts of fish here. Perhaps these fish had been hooked elsewhere and sought refuge in this rarely fished spot?

What makes that particular spot on the Yampa and other similar spots unique is that it contains well defined edges and foam lines. An edge is where differing current speeds slip past each other and are often bordered on one or both sides by heavy water. Steelheading anglers know this as a current seam and that is where steelhead like to hold or travel along. Edges can also be defined by channel morphology such as gravel bars and drop offs or converging currents. In short, it gives fish structure both above and below the water surface.

Fish need three conditions for basic survival. Cover from above, a steady predictable food source drifting within close proximity and respite from the current. Edges usually provide all three of these conditions. If you find edges that contain a bubble line or a foam line you have found an ideal location to probe with a tactical nymph. Bubble lines are a clear indication of a current feature that funnels everything drifting downstream into a reliable path and if one is located near an edge you have eliminated a lot of guesswork. You can read about foam lines here.

The image below is perhaps one of the best examples of what a very "edgy & foamy" section of river can look like. On the left is a gravel bar forming an edge with a heavy section of current forming the other edge. A foam raft near the top provides cover for fish and the bubble lines gives us a clue that there is a food path for the fish. This pool also provides cover from above and bowling ball sized boulders on the bottom providing a buffer from the current. You can see the size of the boulders middle upper right. I watched two anglers fish this pool before I reached it and I managed to catch a few more fish out of it before calling it a day.

Gravel Bars

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Green areas are the prime spots within the confines of this edges to pay special attention to. Don't forget to fish both sides of a heavy current edge and any pockets whereabouts additional fish might be found.

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Hydraulic Edges

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This pool is another example of an edge. Here, converging currents create a hydraulic edge thus defining a feeding lane and cover from above. Fish will hold very near the fast water slipping away to intercept anything edible that might be coming down the pipeline. There is a special spot near the top center of this riffle where the fish are protected on both sides from current cover allowing them to move either left or right in search of food. Can you find the sweet spot?

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It's worth attempting to fish the near side of this current edge however, heavy angling pressure will likely cause the fish to concentrate in the water seeing less pressure. I landed a 21" rainbow and 18" brown rainbow out of the green section of this beat.

This beautiful bow was pulled from the sweet spot within a hydraulic edge.

This beautiful bow was pulled from the sweet spot within a hydraulic edge.

Have fun out there looking for those edges both obvious and more subtle.

My Top Ten Flies for Autumn

Photo: David Lambroughton

Photo: David Lambroughton

Autumn is the most spectacular season in Colorado. The dogs days of summer are over. Angry August gives way to the mellow days spectacular September. Monsoons are slowly fading out while the daytime temperatures become reasonable again. It is worth bringing along a pack jacket or venture out in a comfy flannel plaid shirt. Ambient mid day temperatures may require you shed a layer to stay cool. 

Aside from the weather being agreeable to us bipedal terrestrial pescadores, the cooler water temperatures bring fish back within the optimal range for thriving instead of just surviving. As the water temperatures drop, many find that wet wading is still very pleasant.

You can count on new cast of characters as well as some lingering summer hatches to comprise the bulk of your fishing options.

On overcast days or early in the morning, streamer fishing is a very popular tactic. Bring along two rods, one with a sink tip for chucking streamers and your 10' nymph rod.

Below is a short list of likely insects that make the A list throughout most of the west.

  • Slate Wing Mahogany Dun
  • Black Drake
  • Red Quills 
  • September Stone AKA Short Winged StoneClaassenia sabulosa
  • Little Black Sedges
  • Micro Caddis
  • Black Midges
  • Hoppers and Beetles
  • Streamers
  • Eggs
 

Orange Ribbed Sexy Walt's

Hook: Hanak 400BL, 450BL (pictured)
Bead: Round slotted tungsten bead, black nickel
Body: Hares mask dubbing
Rib: Uni-Mylar peacock/orange
Note: covers so many bases I don't know where to begin. I've used em during the red quill and PMD hatches but almost any time is a good time.


Zika Jig

Hook: Hanak H400BL Jig Classic 16-18
Bead: Round slotted tungsten silver.
Abdomen: Black and silver uni-wire
Thorax: Black Hare'e Ice dubbing


Flashback Black Pheasant tail

Hook: Firehole Sticks 633
Bead: Round black nickel tungsten
Tail: Dyed black pheasant tail fibers
Abdomen: Dyed black pheasant tail fibers
Rib: Small stainless steel wire
Thorax: Black hare'e Ice dubbing
Wingcase: Peacock uni-mylar and UV epoxy


Possie Bugger

Hook: Firehole Sticks 839
Bead: Black Nickel Tungsten
Tail: Australian opossum
Abdomen: Australian opossum
Rib: Small oval gold tinsel
Thorax: Tan Brahma hen followed by black hares mask fur.
Note: Makes an excellent imitation for the September stones.


Sexy Betty

Hook: Hanak H400BL
Bead: Painted fluorescent pink tungsten
Tail: Australian opossum
Abdomen: Australian opossum
Rib: Small UV blue mylar (flashabou)
Thorax: Adams gray hares mask fur
Collar: Black hares mask fur
Note: Brown trout, brook  and cutthroat trout spawn in the fall. Think eggs?


Black Foam Caddis

Hook: Hanak H130BL
Body: Black foam wrapped
Hackle: Black micro saddle, slightly undersized
Wing: Natural elk


Thread Quill UV RS2

Hook: Firehole Sticks 315
Tail: Medium pardo Coq de Leaon
Abdomen: Olive, tan & black 8/0 uni thread treated with UV resin
Wing: Dun CDC, clipped short
Thorax: Olive gray superfine dubbing.


Gray PT Frenchie

Hook: Hanak H400BL
Bead: round slotted tungsten, black nickel
Tail: Medium pardo Coq de Leon
Abdomen: dyed gray pheasant tail
Rib: Small stainless steel wire
Thorax: Adams gray hares mask dubbing
Collar: Optional, pink Veevus stomach body thread
Note: Red Quill, Slate winged mahogany and a host of many other aquatic edibles.


Traditional Olive Czech Nymph

Hook: Hanak H300BL
Abdomen: Light Olive, dark olive hares mask dubbing
Rib: Fine oval gold tinsel
Thorax: Dark olive hares mask dubbing
Counter Rib: Small stainless steel wire
Shellback: Olive scud back
Dorsal Markings: Dark gray Copic marker
Note: The net spinners get bigger in Autumn. I carry sizes 8-12 with me


Beadhead Miracle Nymph

Hook: Firehole Sticks 316
Bead: round tungsten silver
Body: White thread
Rib: x-sm copper wire
Collar: Black marking pen on thread.
Note: Sometimes a small white shiny thing gets the job done.

My Top Ten Flies of Summer

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I have scoured the popular fly fishing blogs in search of top ten fly pattern lists and found that most, if not all of them, favor commercial shop flies and lean heavily towards a predictable collection of pheasant tail and hares ear nymphs. Sure, we should carry many of those with us as we head out in search of fishing action. Personally, I rarely use many of the most popular fly patterns and saving them for in case something goes wrong with my personal A list. You see, I am out of the box, square peg in a round hole kind of guy. I hate convention and stagnation, I am a progressively minded explorer of possibilities always on the look out for the next best killer fly pattern. I have spent the better part of four decades refining my top ten list throwing out less productive patterns in lieu of better designs.

I have tied and fished with the Prince Nymph, Pheasant tail, Adams, Elk Hair Caddis and the other top ten patterns that everybody has listed on thier blog (yawn). Sure, those flies will always catch fish because they illicit a strike response from curious or hungry fish. Sometimes they even imitate what the fish might be eating at the moment you are using them. Most of all they look a lot like something edible but not like anything in particular and that is why they end up on everyones list.

To get into my guiding box, a fly pattern must imitate many possible food forms. Every fly in this list has been drafted into service because of its multiple possibilities AND functionality. You see, not only does they fly have to look edible, it has to have a tactical function. Tactical function of the fly is the weight and depth that it is designed to be fished at and what life stage it might be imitating.


Dirty Hipster, Natural Hares Ear

When just a spot of color is needed to invoke a curiosity response but anything more flamboyant would turn off the fish.

I was in search of a tactical jig that I could use as an anchor fly anytime, anyplace that would also function as an effective attractor nymph. I tie these in a wide array of sizes and bead weights to get to the depths I need. Even if this fly is not on the fishes menu, which is very rare, the somber tones and buggy appearance will not put the fish off. I tie in a trailer hitch in the back for attaching a dropper fly.

available in the store.

  • Hook: Tactical Jig.
  • Bead: Black nickel slotted tungsten.
  • Thread: Hot orange.
  • Tail: Dark pardo Coq de Leon.
  • Tag: Optional, hot orange lite bright or stomach body thread.
  • Rib: Small oval gold tinsel.
  • Abdomen: Dark hares mask fur.
  • Thorax: Dirty spike blend (Black rabbit and fox squirrel body hair 50/50).
  • Legs: Rootbeer barred grizzly micro legs.
 

Bank Maggot

Several decades ago a horse had died at the head of a riffle in my favorite beat of the Deschutes River. I fished below that carcass for an entire season using a simple white maggot pattern. Historically, fish hatcheries used to hang carrion around the raceways allowing the maggots to fall into the water thus feeding the fish. Fish relish delicious ripe maggots.

I had forgotten about the maggot pattern for a very long time until I relocated to the Roaring Fork valley. As is customary, I take a gastric lavage to determine what food items are currently being ingested. **Relax my friend, I'm a trained fisheries biologist that has spent years conducting field research, I know what I am doing and do not harm our fish.** In several gastric samples, I had observed opaque white body parts of benthic macroinvertebrates. It is likely that what I was seeing was the effects of gastric juices denaturing the proteins of the insect or that the fish had taken the insect during a molt into the next instar. It did spark a memory of fishing the maggot patterns below that horse carcass on the Deschutes. I went home and whipped up a few of these bank maggot patterns.

I have discovered that when I am having a slow day and none of my usual patterns are turning the fish on, I found that the Bank Maggot works. Mostly, I found this patterns works best in low light conditions such as on overcast days, in the shade or early morning. I like to use these when the water is stained from run-off and following a monsoon that can cause increased turbidity. In my forthcoming book, I reveal why this pattern works well in less than optimal lighting situations.

I have since found aquatic sowbugs of a similar shape and color in my river that this pattern mimic nicely..

Available in the store.

  • Hook: Firehole #633 #8-18
  • Bead: White tungsten or brass
  • Thread: Veevus white (only this brand has a nice UV quality)
  • Rib: White Uni-Flexx floss
  • Abdomen: Light gray, tan and white hares mask fur.
  • Thorax: White hare'e ice dubbing
 

Pautzke Hares Ear AKA Sexy Walt's or the Pink Bunny

What started off as a Sexy Walt's Worm and a metallic pink bead has morphed into a local favorite dubbed the Pautzke Fly. That big pink bead affixed to the anterior portion of the fly looks like a Pautzke cured fish egg that you can buy at local bait shops.

Fish have an innate strike response when encountering eggs drifting downstream. Not only do eggs provide a nourishing snack, free drifting eggs are a danger to other redds as they can spread fungus. I have observed fish in my hatchery devour eggs that are denaturing (becoming opaque) in order to keep the remaining eggs from becoming infected. This also provides a clue as to why the white bead of the bank maggot works so well as they look like unfertilized fish eggs.

I've heard from the typical naysayer, "I've never seen an egg eating nymph before". You are anthropomorphizing things friend, the fish aren't thinking to themselves, gee that looks like delicious egg eating nymph. In fact the fish aren't even thinking. Fish are only biological machines having several separate innate, unconscious neurological triggers occurring concurrently. Who are we to argue with what the fishes brain might interpret what out fly looks like?

Note: I add a trailer hitch to this pattern for use as a dropper rig.

  • Hook: Moonlit ML058 #10-14.
  • Bead: Large metallic pink tungsten.
  • Tail: Dark pardo Coq de Leon.
  • Abdomen: Natural hares mask fur.
  • Rib: Fine opal tinsel. (optional, include some without for wary fish)
  • Thorax: Dark spike blend.
 

Goa Larva

This pattern imitates so many things living in the depths of a trout stream. Caddisfly larva, cranefly larva, Athericidae larva, riffle beetle larva an all be imitated with this one simple fly. My best summer searching pattern in low water bright light conditions.

  • Hook: Firehole 633 #8-16
  • Bead: Black nickel tungsten
  • Thread: 50D GSP.
  • Abdomen: Dark olive hares mask.
  • Rib: Uni-Mylar clear.
  • Thorax: Hemmingways peacock UV bronze dubbing.
 

Green Papaya Czech Nymph

I am not sure when I first started tying this color combination, but ever since I did, trout have been in love with it. I use it all summer long, but especially during the yellow sally hatch of summer. Again, this fly works at drawing the attention of trout by representing multiple food items.

Available in the store

  • Hook: Hanak H630BL  #8-16
  • Thread: 50D GSP.
  • Weight: Flat tungsten tape
  • Abdomen: Light olive, yellow and sulphur hares mask dubbing in three separate sections.
  • Rib: Fine oval gold tinsel, counter rib GSP thread.
  • Shellback: Semperfli bug shell back thin skin golden brown.
  • Dorsal markings: Brown copic marker.

 

 

 

Drowned Spinner

Never overlook the importance of having a drowned spinner imitation in your box. Many important mayfly species have rusty colored spinners. I often fish these early in the morning when spinner falls may have occurred overnight. One way to find out if a spinner fall has occurred is to find a back eddy where debris accumulates and look for dead spinners being conveyed about. Chances are trout will still be on the lookout for these.

  • Hook: Firehole Sticks 633#10-18
  • Thread: 50D GSP.
  • Bead: Metallic brown tungsten in the thorax.
  • Tail: Dark pardo Coq de leon. 
  • Abdomen: Rusty spinner colored goos biot.
  • Thorax: Rusty spinner hares mask fur.
  • Wing: White organza.
  • Collar: Reddish brown cock hackle wound wet fly style.
 

Zebra, Zika Midge

Always affixed as a dropper on my multiple fly rig. Whether it is sunk under a dry as a dropper or as a brace of flies on a tight line. This fly has so much mojo that I use it year around.

  • Hook: Firehole Sticks 316#14-18
  • Thread: 50D GSP.
  • Bead: mercury glass.
  • Abdomen: Silver and black Uni-Wire sm. wound together.
  • Thorax: Ice dub peacock black.
 

Flashback Black Pheasant Tail.

I digress, I just had to add a variation of a Pheasant Tail Nymph because this is an all around good fly that I have relied on for many years. One of my top sellers too.

Available in the store

 

  • Hook: Firehole 633 #10-18.
  • Bead: Black nickel.
  • Thread: 50D black GSP.
  • Tail: Dyed black pheasant tail.
  • Abdomen: Dyed black pheasant tail.
  • Rib: Small stainless steel dubbing brush wire.
  • Thorax: Black hare'e ice dubbing, coarse.
  • Wingcase: Peacock Uni-Mylar and UV resin.
 

Yellow Sally Flymph

I have used this on picky fish taking PMD emergers and performs well as an emerging caddis or yellow sally. Yup, that yellow sally emergers mid-stream like a caddis, hence why this fly swung shallow at the end of a drift gets clobbered. Used primarily as a dropper behind a heavy jig or under a dry fly.

  • Hook: Firehole 633 #10-18.
  • Thread: White 50D GSP.
  • Tail: Medium pardo CDL.
  • Abdomen: Pale yellow turkey quill biots.
  • Thorax: Yellow hares mask fur.
  • Hackle: Dyed yellow grizzly hen, 3 turns through thorax.
 

Polish Quill Emerger

The RS2 and the Swiss Straw Emerger got together and had a baby. This is pattern is an amalgamation of so many patterns that it just has to work.

 

I describe my favorite French leader set up for long range nymphing large rivers.

I am often asked to demonstrate my favorite french leader set up for fishing the larger western rivers. Since I started using the Czech nymph method in 2001, I have experimented with a lot of leaders and how to build the ideal leader for the type of nymph fishing that I do. Many years of evolution and research has landed me on the french leader system described in Jonathon White's book, Nymphing The New Way.


 In this video I talk about how I rig up my tactical leader rig with 3 flies.

Lead Free Angling - Fishing with a conscience

We are faced with many social and environmental choices in our day to day lives. Do we throw that scrap of rubbish in the garbage bin only to be hauled off to the landfill, or do we place it into a recycling bin to be used again? Should we use chemical or organic fertilizers on our lawn, or should we even have a lawn in the first place? Do we avoid using red dye in our hummingbird feeders? Should we worry about lead in our fishing gear? After-all, I’m just one guy occasionally losing a handful of split shot to the rocks. What’s the harm in that?

So many of our actions may seem benign at first, but when you add up our small actions and then multiply them by the global population, our actions become amplified. If we consider the number of anglers fishing a popular destination river such as the Madison, Yellowstone or even the Roaring Fork Rivers, we might start to see our individual choices have a larger impact on the ecosystem as a whole, when we add everything up.

On a midsummer day in July, I counted 35 drift boats cruise by me on a stretch of the Madison River in an 8- hour period of time. In each boat, there were at least two anglers. Hypothetically, let's suppose each boat was fishing the traditional western nymph and bobber technique popular with rowing guides. I cannot ascertain with what technique they were fishing, but suppose for the sake of this argument that all of the anglers were fishing with split shot attached to their leaders. It is not uncommon for anglers to lose a lot of gear, especially new anglers.

Let’s assume that each boat that drifted by was using nymphs that day and that each angler in each boat all had lost 6 split shot each. A single BB sized split shot weights .02oz. There were 35 boats x .24oz lost in each boat = 8.4oz.

That is over half of a pound of lead in one day alone!

If there are 100 guide days per season and 35 guided trips per day, on average, that equals 840 ounces of lead, or 52.5lbs, in one single river in one single year. FIFTY-TWO POUNDS OF LEAD.

It is highly unlikely that 52lbs of lead was actually lost to the river bottom that year, however, because not every boat was fishing with lead attached to the split shot or lead based weighted fly patterns. Even if only 20% of the anglers used and had lost lead rigs, it's still a lot of weight donated to the benthic zone in that year alone - possibly ten and a half pounds of lead.

I have not even mentioned the use of lead anchors. I watched one guide lose 2 anchors in one day on the Yakima River many years ago. Heck! That’s probably 20lbs of plumbum on the bottom.

As we have seen in our natural world, lead lasts a long time in the environment and can possibly migrate throughout an ecosystem. A case in point might be the California Condors, who have been suffering lead poisoning near the Grand Canyon due to lead shot used in hunting.

According to the Arizona Game and Fish Department[1]:

Lead toxicity has been identified as the leading cause of death in condors in Arizona’s California condor reintroduction program, and high mortality rates are the primary obstacle to recovery of this species. Multiple condors have died of lead poisoning since 2000. Condors are trapped annually to have their blood tested for lead. Biologists began testing for lead exposure in 1999. Each year, 45 to 95 percent of the condor population tests positive for lead exposure. Chelation treatment is often required to reverse dangerously high blood lead levels.  Surgery has also been necessary in the worst cases. Without these treatments, more condors likely would have died.

A number of scientific studies collectively provide strong evidence to support the hypothesis that spent lead ammunition is the primary source of lead exposure in condors. The information gained from these studies can be collectively presented as a set of scientific findings or observations, linked together to create a logic chain. Individually, each link in the following logic chain has been demonstrated by a scientific study, and collectively the links form a logic chain that provides strong evidence that lead ammunition is the most likely source of elevated blood lead levels in free-ranging condors.
—   http://www.azgfd.gov/w_c/california_condor_lead.shtml

 

I am not entirely certain if, or how, lead migrates through the food web of trout streams. A possible hypothesis can be made concerning lead in our aquatic ecosystems by reviewing some scientific literature by Dr A Cristini [2].

More complex aquatic plants, such as the submerged aquatic vegetation that have roots and a multi-celled structure, appear to take up more lead than plants without roots; this may be related to their absorption of lead from sediments. Uptake of lead in aquatic systems varies with many different factors including the pH of the water, the presence of other minerals in the water, and the availability of organic compounds or other chemicals that may bind up the lead, making it less available for uptake on the one hand, or on the other, actually facilitating its uptake by the organism. In some aquatic plants, rooted in sediments, lead taken up by the roots can be translocated or moved to the shoot, although lead can also be directly absorbed from the water especially if the lead concentration is high there. Lead measured in aquatic plants may also include that adsorbed at the surface or taken up by bacteria that reside on the surface of the plant. In one study, 46% of the lead measured from the plants was actually in the epiphytic (surface-resident) bacteria. Certain bacteria can increase the toxicity of lead to aquatic plants by synthesizing methyl- or other alkyl-lead compounds. These are organic compounds consisting of one or more carbon atoms and associated hydrogen atoms; the organic compounds are more soluble in the fatty membranes of plant and animal cells and more readily taken up. Although these methyl-lead complexes are not nearly as important in food chain contamination as comparable organic mercury compounds, they can be as much as twenty times more toxic than an equivalent weight of inorganic lead.

 

It has been observed that some forms of lead do not migrate up the aquatic food chain, however one can make a simple observation that lead in plant leaves will get eaten by bacteria that then get eaten by benthic macro invertebrates which belong to the shredder/scraper functional feeding group. Fish will then consume the macro-invertebrates and consume quantities of lead.

Dr. Cristini continues:

Even at lead concentrations at or below the 50 parts per billion previously considered safe in drinking water for human consumption, chronic lead exposure to fish may bring about increased mortality rates, reduced hatching success and indications of neurotoxicity as indicated by higher incidences of black tails (darkening of the caudal area) and spinal curvatures. In a Colorado stream that received contaminants after a dam holding back tailings from a mining site broke, rainbow trout exhibited neurological damage, including spinal curvatures and blackening of the tail. The stream contained up to 50 ppb of lead per liter of water. Because of the sensitivity of these fish, a Maximum Acceptable Toxicant Concentration (MACT) of 7.2 mg/l (ppb) has been suggested for rainbow trout. Brook trout also showed scoliosis (bilateral spinal curvatures), an abnormality of the spine, and reduced growth after long term exposure to lead. These effects lasted over several generations.
— http://www.rst2.edu/ties/LEAD/university/resources/experts/leadinanimals/animal1.htm

 

Dr. Cristini's paper continues to discuss the effects on waterfowl, humans, amphibians and crustaceans. As sportsmen and women, we may not even consider other impacts we are having which include the impacts on birds, waterfowl and amphibians.

More and more, we are learning that we are having a greater impact on our natural world. Alone, each individual may not pose a substantial risk but en masse, we pose far greater risks to our environment than we realize. Perhaps we start to look for alternatives to using lead in our fishing gear. Fly companies are starting to sell lead free flies, or even better, tungsten beaded flies, which sink fast. There are tungsten weights and sinkers and tungsten putty that can be used as well as tin split shot offering a viable alternative to lead.

[1]           http://www.azgfd.gov/w_c/california_condor_lead.shtml

[2]           http://www.rst2.edu/ties/LEAD/university/resources/experts/leadinanimals/animal1.htm

 

Early Summer in the Roaring Fork Valley, scene 1.

What to expect when you are expecting

A seasonal forecast for the Roaring Fork Valley, Colorado.

Early Summer in the Valley means one thing, runoff conditions. As of the writing of this, it has not started yet. A spring snow storm brought new snow to the mountains that crown the Roaring Fork watershed. Unseasonal weather has delayed the onset of runoff allowing another week of fantastic fishing opportunities along the lower reaches of the watershed. If you can get out in the next two days, do so. Call in sick, quit your job...do whatever it takes to cash in on this bonus round of fishing opportunities before the big flush.

Future water for the lower Roaring Fork River is stored on Mt. Sopris. It will not take long for this snow to melt and fill the lower river with a vital flush of water to scour the river bed clean allowing for a healthy benthic macroinvertebrate habitat.

Future water for the lower Roaring Fork River is stored on Mt. Sopris. It will not take long for this snow to melt and fill the lower river with a vital flush of water to scour the river bed clean allowing for a healthy benthic macroinvertebrate habitat.

While my guests were busy honing thier angling skills during a recent wade trip, I took an opportunity to perform a benthic macro invertebrate sample. My kick seine sample from about a one square foot of substrate revealed final instar stages of Drunella grandis grandis, the green drake, Ispoerla mormonoma, the yellow sally with one or more instar stages yet to undergo before reaching maturity, Ephemerella dorothea inermis & Ephemerella excrusians, the PMD's. Two gastric lavage samples yielded green drake and mature stonefly nymphs which so happened to be the two fly patterns that we were using to catch these fish in the first place.

Finding so many mature green drake and pale morning duns caused some silent jubilation on my behalf. These are the dominant hatches that define summer fly fishing in the Roaring Fork watershed. Despite the recent snow, the presence of these insects gave me hope in warmer days ahead.

Contrary to the colorful name given to Drunella grandis, the Green Drake, these insects are not very green. If you collect a natural from a stream bearing these specimens, you will notice that they range from a dark reddish brown on the dorsal surface while the ventral surface can be a pale tan to tannish olive. These large nymphs are an example of the countershading that dominates aquatic habitats helping organisms to blend in with thier environment.

Flashback Drunella

  • Hook: Firehole Sticks 633 #8-14
  • Bead: metallic olive tungsten bead. Paint the top of the bead with a black marker prior to application of UV resin and coat with resin.
  • Collar: (optional) Veevus stomach body, small, chartreuse (M11) or a chartreuse Bug Band.
  • Thread: 50D GSP white thread.
  • Underbody: White thread.
  • Tail: Medium or dark pardo Coq de Leon.
  • Abdomen: Medium brown D-Rib, dorsal side colored with a dark gray marking pen (Copic W8). Dorsal surface coated with UV resin.
  • Thorax: Hareline Dubbin golden brown (HD38).
  • Legs: Micro grizzly flutter root beer.
  • Wingcase: Flash back olive brown. Make 1 coat of resin and color with marking pen, apply a second coat of UV resin.

As runoff starts to wane, the green drakes of the Roaring Fork begin to hatch. This is the best time of the year for Roaring Fork bound anglers to experience truly epic dry fly fishing. The water can still be running high so plan on floating the river in order to best fish the hatch and carefully plan your start of the float to coincide with the late hour that the hatch begins in the lower river. As the season matures, the rivers drop into normal summer flows, the green drake hatches works their way upstream and up into the Frying Pan River. The green drakes can hatch all summer long on the Frying Pan River and as late as October in some years providing dry fly anglers opportunity for *tactical surface action. 

* Long fine leaders 7-8x diameter, drag free drifts, and flawless imitations.

Don't forget that during the daytime hours, the yellow sally stoneflies stoneflies are active. This hatch can also last all summer with hatches occurring almost everyday. Be sure to fish a soft hackle wet fly for this hatch as the nymphs of the genius Isoperla emerge mid stream much like a caddis with the newly emerged adult swimming towards the surface. I like to use a small size #16 yellow foam Humpy with a trailer hitch for use as an indicator dry while fishing a Simple Sally or Sally Flymph as a shallow dropper. I often do well at the head of riffles with this combo for large predatory browns and bows.

If you are planning on visiting the Roaring Fork, be sure to keep an eye out on the hydrographs and plan your visit when the water level is dropping. I anticipate runoff to commence any possible day when the temperature and direct sunlight starts to melt the snow. Given the recent addition to the snowpack and a good overall snowpack, we could be in for an extended runoff season.


Knot Sense.

My top three knots

One of the many tips and tricks that I share with anyone that joins me on the water is a few of my favorite fishing knots. Over the past 40 years I have tried numerous knots. Some of the knots that I have tried have been a dismal failure and I wish everyone would stop using them such as the surgeons knot and the cinch knot. Sure, they are mindless to execute but would you trust a fish of a lifetime on a knot that saved you 10 seconds to tie? Both of those knots have failed me too many times to document.

My favorite knot to affix tippet to my leader is the figure 8 hemostat knot. In my practical field experience, I have found this knot to be easier to tie and stronger than a blood knot or surgeons knot. 

 
 

An almost identical knot as the previous hempstat knot that I use exclusively to affix my non jig patterns.

 
 

For affixing my jig flies I prefer the non-slip loop knot which allows my jigs suspend properly and bounce freely off the rocks. Have no fear dear friend that is cringing at the idea of putting an overhand knot in your tippet, when you pass the tag end back through the overhand knot, it is no longer an overhand knot.

 
 

Photography Tips

I get a lot of emails requesting that I put up videos on how I photograph my fly's. I am always in a quandary about this because it really is beyond the scope of anything that I have ever done yet. you see, I have been perfecting my art since 1986 when I started photography. I have since spent several thousands of hours and tens of thousands of dollars on pursuing a fine art degree, honing the skills required to produce the images by applying optics and color science.

Professional photographers, including myself, wish that people could understand that photography is not just a matter of taking a picture and having it come out of the camera ready for publication. There is a great deal of digital darkroom involved to sharpen images and correct contrast not to mention composition and lighting. 

As a professional photographer who's life work hangs in galleries, I just simply ask that people respect the labor and toil involved in creating these works of art. As a professional artist, my specific "how to" get images to look the way I do is not something that I am willing to give away for free. Not at least until I have recouped my investment in learning this craft. Most professional photographers cringe everytime someone asks them to give away thier work. Would you  spend your life learning how build a house, labor in its construction for 30 years and then just give it away for free to a complete stranger? 

To be fair and get you going in the right direction, I will say that you should perfect your in camera (DSLR) white balance, use good studio lighting such as soft boxes and quality optics including macro lenses. Learn your lenses optimal aperture for the sharpest image. You should also go to Lynda.com for tutorials on color correction, selective sharpening and other photoshop image editing procedures. The web also has tons of macro photography videos. I still go to YouTube and watch tutorials on a regular basis. After 30 some years, I am still learning something new every time I seek it.

Cutomer pix

It is always nice to see the fish that customers who have bought my flies have caught while using them. 

Kyle Lusk shows off an amazing specimen of Oncorhynchus mykiss. Give him a follow over on Instagram

Don't Get Punched in the Eye

As with all functioning society, a set of moral rules and conduct is in place to maintain common civility. Fly Fishing is no exception to the imposition of a moral code governing its rules and ethics. Various flavors of this code book have been authored from time to time leaving many confused as to the rights and wrongs of the sport. 

I would like to include a long forgotten but most important commandment: Never fish too close or violate the right of way of another fisherman. It is always first come first serve out there. To maintain civility between us all, you should always ask permission before entering another anglers beat, typically delineated by obvious structural changes in the water between riffles and pools. Otherwise you will probably get punched you in the eye or verbally humiliated in front of your wife and kids.

Read about the "Seven Deadly Sins of Fly Fishing" here.

Reading The Water Pt 3. Deciphering Laminar Flows

Not every river you fish will feature endless arrays of perfect pockets, pools, seams and structure in which to easily locate fish. Sometimes, we have to find fish in water that has less distinct characteristics. Rather than waste time blindly casting to empty water, possibly putting down fish with our efforts, stop and take time to observe the surface characteristics of the flow.

Laminar flow can be the most enigmatic water to decipher. It is water that flows at an even speed from top to bottom bank to bank. I normally walk by water that exhibits no obvious structure in which to target my effort. Smooth even currents from bank to bank merely bumping over the rubble is akin to fishing on the moon. I know fish are present, often seeing rises out in the nondescript waterscape, but fishing this water requires more time and effort than casting to fish around obvious structure. 

If you do chance upon a feeding fish in a section of river that is laminar in structure, spend some time observing where that fish is located. Even without the telltale signs of current seams, the location of drifting insects and fish are not left to chance. There is a structure at work that the fish use to thier advantage.

Fish will use whatever structure is available to them within the limited confines of a river. Sometimes we must look at less than obvious structures in the laminar sections of water. When looking at laminar flow, observe the structure of the river bottom and speed of the current. If the substrate consists of only sand, silt or very small cobble, with a flow that is walking speed or faster, you are better served moving along in search of something else. However, if you find laminar walking speed flow with a substrate that consists of bowling ball sized cobble you are in luck. You have found water that may contain fish. Small boulders create micro vortices that can hold a fish in the current, so the fish spends very little effort in maintaining its position. Deschutes River steelheaders know this when they fish those classic named mile long runs.

Figure 1. Laminar Flow

Figure 1. Laminar Flow

Before you wade into the river and start casting with the usual routine of starting in close working your way out in a clockwork shotgun fashion, take time to look at the surface of the water and try and find the “lanes” that do exist. Lanes are the micro seams that slip past each other funneling everything that drifts downstream into narrow bands. The best way to find the lanes is to find the bubbles. Are the bubbles accumulating in a concentrated area? If so you have found your lane. It may take some time to train your eye to look for a higher concentration of bubbles gathering in an inch wide seam amidst an even dispersion of bubbles, but when you do, you have found your area of concentrated effort. Fish will be located within close proximity of these micro seams in order to easily slip away from thier vortex and inspect a likely morsel. 

Figure 2. Lanes are revealed as white lines caused by the accumulation of bubbles in concentrated micro seams.

Figure 2. Lanes are revealed as white lines caused by the accumulation of bubbles in concentrated micro seams.

Figure 3. Orange lines indicate the location of the lanes within a Laminar flow profile.

Figure 3. Orange lines indicate the location of the lanes within a Laminar flow profile.

In the images above, I have used the tools of photography to illustrate where micro seams actually occur. In figure 1, we see a general random dispersion of bubbles on the surface in a section of laminar flow over bowling ball sized substrate. In figure 2, I exposed the image longer to blur the lines and now you can see the micro lanes as faint white stripes, so that you will know better where to concentrate your efforts.

Figure 4. Can you see it now?

Figure 4. Can you see it now?

Foundation Flys.

 

With a body and collar of hares ear dubbing, this tan colored jig fly is tied in the round and highly suggestive of many trout menu items. 

No greater endeavor connects to our sport as that of wrapping fur and feather upon a hook in an artistic fashion to imitate an insect or other food forms. From the short hair on a the ear of a domesticated hare to the synthetic yarn that carpets are made of, a plethora of materials can be manipulated in such a way as to look and behave like an artificial insect that fools fish. Fish foolery is my ceaseless preoccupation and conjuring more ways to do so provides me with endless hours of fascination, yet sometimes, I cannot escape the basics in which all fly boxes are built upon. Here I hope to share some of my favorite fly patterns with you and compare some modern patterns that have a very solid foundation in the classics.

I have adopted the common philosophy over the years that fly patterns that look like something edible to a fish but not little like anything in particular hold a greater appeal to me than fly's tied to imitate a specific insect. I know that I certainly am not alone in this philosophy. With that being said, I also have fly boxes loaded with specific patterns to imitate specific insects within specific spatial temporal instances so that I can accurately imitate when a mayfly is struggling in the surface film or the ovipositing female caddis dive towards the bottom to deposit an egg sac. There are times that either/or will be of importance, specifically, during times when fish are keyed into a specific insect or stages of emergence. This list will be focused on my favorite fly patterns that do not specifically imitate a specific hatch, but rather, if I were limited to only a handful of patterns in which to rely upon to carry me through the season and every situation I may encounter. This list is the foundation for discovery, you can alter each of these patterns in size color and materials to change them up and improve upon their efficacy.

I have chosen this list of patterns based on their ability to be modified in such a way as to cover more bases than the original. You can alter the size color and add various flourishes to each of these patterns so that you may end up with an entire array of fly patterns based on just a handful or recipes. Learning to tie each of these flys will put you in the upper echelons of fly tying masters.

Hare Ear Nymph

    The Hares Ear Nymph in its basic form is one of the oldest patterns in this series of short articles. Today, it is hard to keep up with the variations that exists. Stripped to its basic form with a just a simple hare's mask fur body blended with some antron at the factory, we have what is now called a Walts Worm. The Walt's Worm does a fine job of imitating a host of aquatic invertebrates and I believe it’s original intent by Pennsylvania angler Mr Walt Young was to imitate the aquatic cranefly larva. In its simplicity, the Walt's Worm earns the top prize in imitating almost anything and everything that a fish could ever wish to come tumbling into his feeding lane. Rib it with pearl mylar tinsel and add a hot spot of orange and you have a sexy Walt's Worm.

Classic western American Gold Ribbed Hares Ear

Sexy Betty, Light - a variation of a Walt's Worms which in turn is a variation of a Hares Ear Nymph.

Changing the size and color of a basic Gold Ribbed Hares Ear Nymph will cover all the rest of your bases. Large dark olive can imitate anything from dragonfly or damselfly nymphs, even green drakes nymphs and many caddis larva and pupa. Adding a brass or tungsten bead or adding weight to the fly can send the fly into the deep dark abyss. I now tie a size #10 tungsten bead head jig version in light tan and dark olive that I use as my anchor fly on a multi fly rig. Tied in a tan color, the heavy beadhead jig version does well at imitating the spring stonefly nymphs, while the dark olive just as likely imitates anything from cranefly larva to green drakes.

    Adding a flash back over the thorax and a collar of partridge hackle adds two more “strike triggers” to the fly. With these modifications, we now have a Guide's Choice Hare's Ear.

Is the Guides Choice more effective than a simple Walt's Worm? I have yet to decide in my daily angling, but, if professional fly fishing guides like it, why not throw it into your box? I tie this version in large tan, olive, golden olive and natural fro size #6 to #14

My version of the Copper and Hare is a hybrid hares Ear Soft Hackle with a furry collar. A variety of sizes and colors seem to cover an entire range of all possible food sources from large black stoneflies, golden stoneflies, caddis larva, caddis pupa to the full range of mayfly nymphs.

Pictured from left to right:

  • #8 Black
  • #10 Natural Tan
  • #12 Golden Tan
  • #14 Olive Green
  • #14 Pale Olive
  • #16 Yellow
  • #18 Caddis Green

 

Next time we look at the Pheasant Tail Nymph

 

The EPT Factor

 

Beneath the rippled current of a trout stream, a complex food web plays out far greater than many anglers realize. The basic biology of a trout stream is often hidden well out of our view unless we are willing to explore the depths, which often requires getting wet and cold. At the very bottom of a fluvial food chain is a bio-film - powered by sunlight and dissolved nutrients - that covers the rocks, plants and woody debris upon which benthic macro invertebrates feed. Slightly higher up the taxonomic ladder are the benthic macro invertebrates, underwater organisms which lack backbones. Macro invertebrates such as insects, worms, crustaceans and isopods feed on the bio-film, then become food for other insects, birds, small fish, and ultimately, the trout we love to pursue as a favorite game fish.

The Gold Ribbed Hares Ear meets a Kaufmann's Stone.

The Gold Ribbed Hares Ear meets a Kaufmann's Stone.

Taxonomists have divided the entire known biological world into eight categories from domain, kingdom, all the way down to genus and species. For a fly angler wanting to choose the right fly, it is important to know at least the family orders of the three primary aquatic insects. A familiarity with the three dominant taxonomic families is a must when choosing the right fly, as each family has its own distinct shape and life cycle.

The three families of aquatic insect that we must pay close attention to are: Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera and Trichoptera, otherwise known as the Mayflies, Caddisflies and Stoneflies (EPT). Each of these families of insect has its own unique life history and key role within an aquatic food system. Each EPT family category is not hard to recognize throughout the individual life stage. Mayfly adults have a distinct pair of upright wings with a variety of three tailed larva known as nymphs. Caddis adults have tent shaped wings, with the larva stage having tubular, worm shaped bodies, and often, external shelters they build and carry around with them. Stonefly adults have two pair of wings that fold flat over the back, and the larval form are often large and robust crawling about the rocks.

Keeping a simple collection of fly patterns to imitate these three categories is the very foundation of a quality working fly box. It is easy to get drawn into an endless array of fly patterns filling the bins of a well stocked fly shop, each fly pattern calling out its own special fish-catching allure. However, expert fly anglers know that simply a small collection of fly patterns always gets the job done. The reason only a few patterns are all that is really needed is that they imitate the three families of aquatic insects very well. 

Free living Caddis Larva

Free living Caddis Larva

I have selected a small handful of fly patterns that serve as a foundation to imitate the EPT families. The fly patterns are based on a general size and shape of each family with enough impressionistic qualities to possibly imitate more than one family by altering its size and color. Each season, I narrow down my collection of patterns based on general effectiveness. New patterns emerge from the vice that simply outperform old patterns from previous seasons. I noticed that if I focus more on impressionistic imitations with a focus on the EPT factor, the better my angling day.

Stonefly Nymph

Stonefly Nymph

Good science has no need to reinvent the wheel. The wheel is already perfect in its intended purpose: to roll. The same holds true for many fly patterns invented long ago. There is no need to reinvent something that is already perfect for its intended purpose. However, like the wheel, we can alter it to suit our intended use without altering its core functionality. When choosing a small collection of fly patterns that function to imitate the EPT group, I look at the so-called "wheels" of fly design to select the tried and true patterns to serve as the foundation of a fly box. Having selected a core group of fly patterns I can then alter their size and color to imitate even more possibilities. In most cases I have stripped the original fly down to its most common element, to impressionistically imitate the basic shape, size and color.

Common Mayfly Nymph

Common Mayfly Nymph

The following are my favorite patterns for each family, with a focus on patterns that can fall within multiple families. If a fly pattern can fall within multiple categories, it earns top spots in this collection. I am focusing on nymphs alone because the imitation of adults typically requires more exacting imitations rather than impressionistic fly patterns. I also spend 99% of my time searching the water with nymph patterns.

Ephemerella

Trichoptera

Plecoptera

Simplified Pheasant Tail Nymphs mimic mayfly nymphs very well and may even be taken for other food items.

Simplified Pheasant Tail Nymphs mimic mayfly nymphs very well and may even be taken for other food items.

If we break down the shape of each of the EPT group, the single common denominator for all of them is a round, tubular shaped abdomen usually tapered at one end. In fact, beyond the EPT group, other families also have the same simple tubular shape. While many mayflies have different shaped abdomens, differing from torpedo to suction cup discs, if we blur our eyes for a second like artists do while painting, we would lose detail and a general shape of form emerges. In most cases, a simple tapered tube shape is the dominant form most frequently observed in benthic macro invertebrates.

I have snorkeled many salmonid streams performing fish counts and identifications including benthic macro invertebrate sampling. I frequently see a behavioral pattern with fish holding in feeding positions within the stream channel. Fish will move from side to side and slightly upwards a few inches to take in any small object that has a cylindrical shape. Many times that object is just a broken twig or leaf stem that is then quickly ejected as a non edible object. The importance of this observation tells me that fish are prone to sampling anything that has a common cylindrical or torpedo shape common to most aquatic macro invertebrates.

Most of my angling time is spent fishing in a general searching pattern, probing likely fish-holding locations with these attractor style nymph patterns. This is the time I use any of the general attractors that I have mentioned, patterns that have the general size and color of many of the insects commonly found in my river. It is only when fish key in on a specific insect at a specific moment in that insect's life cycle that I will then fish patterns designed to specifically imitate that instance.

 
 

Reading The Water Pt 2. Seams and Bubble lines

There are a few basic visual clues one can learn to observe about streams in order to narrow the window of where fish are likely holding, especially on big rivers where fish could be anywhere; especially if you don't know how to dissect large parcels of water into smaller subsections. One of the most obvious and often overlooked indicators of likely fish locations are the bubble lines or bubble zones. Bubble lines occur where the current gathers together usually as a result of some instream structure funneling the surface bubbles into predictable locations which also funnels food into a small area making feeding easier for fish, thus expending fewer calories in an effort to feed. Instead of having to swim all over the place looking for food, a fish can hold in a preferred spot where the food is funneled directly to them. Current seams can also define the location of a bubble line or at least prove a location that can also funnel food into a narrow band. Though typically a bubble line is caused by underwater structure. Structure that gives fish a safe location in which to hold and feed. Usually, you will find current seams and bubble lines very near each other, 

In the images below, I illustrate some of the most obvious instances of water that contains bubble lines, current seams and structure. If you stumble upon a small section of water that contains all three, take a moment to analyze what you are looking at. Chances are there may be a feeding fish.

In figure 1. You can see several prime structures you should look for when searching streams for likely trout holding water. There is an obvious current seam defining the slow and fast water, obvious underwater structure fish can use to hide near and a bubble line funneling food into the best possible holding spot. Can you identify where the fish should be in this picture?

Figure 1. Typical Grade A trout structure. It has cover from above, A strong bubble line funneling food near structure with a quick escape route next heavy fast current.

Figure 1. Typical Grade A trout structure. It has cover from above, A strong bubble line funneling food near structure with a quick escape route next heavy fast current.

Figure 2. Current structure defined between current seams and foam lines or bubble zone.

Figure 2. Current structure defined between current seams and foam lines or bubble zone.

Figure 3. A trout revealing its exact location

Figure 3. A trout revealing its exact location