My thoughts on Hot Tags

I went back to college at an older age armed with mature ambition. I jumped head first at a small University as a double major in both science and art. At first, this academic load was intellectually stimulating with days spent at an easel painting and late evenings deep into math formulas.

Living the life of a nineteen year old while in my late thirties wore a hole into my double major dreams. Relenting to the 24 hours only a single day can offer, I had to drop the art major. However, that couple of years spent in art school was highly beneficial to my approach in all matters of design, including how I design my flies.

When I started designing and fishing jigs patterns, I noted a significant spike in my catch statistics with the new hot-tagged nymphs over the previous generation of flies I had been using. Looking at my journals with a modicum of scientific scrutiny, I had to discard any correlation in a spike with the use of hot tags due to too many confounding variables. I had switched to using jig hooks and modifying my angling methods at the same.

The first patterns I tied on jig hooks with hot tags were my original Dirty Hipsters from 2013. I continue to tie a couple of variations of this fly because it is so advantageous in early summer. The pattern has morphed into several pattern sets that I am currently stocking my boxes with such as the knuckle dragger style of rubber-legged jigs. The designs are continually being refined to imitate more specific nymphal characteristics such as size, shape, color, and action of each of the EPTC groups.

Original Dirty Hipsters

The Original Dirty Hipster

The Original Dirty Hipster

Newbury's Original Dirty Hipster Hares Ear,

The dirty Hipster marks my jumping off point where I left the common euro-nymphing patterns and technique and into a more “tactical” approach; imitative flies that combine a tungsten bead and thoughtful hook design to use in an intended water type. This methodology is still based on the European methods with the same gear but being more imitative with fly design.

My current approach to fly design borrowed the chassis from the original European fly designs, but tying more imitative patterns that incorporate the use of modern UV dyes. This approach has increased the effectiveness of my design over the traditional European hot spot patterns originally intended for grayling.

Many new patterns are now incorporating UV and hotspot qualities into the design of the fly.


Left - Yellow Belly Knuckle Dragger with UV glowing underbody.
Right- Riffle Drifter Perdigone with UV Orange hot spot as part of the thorax.

Having fished jigs exclusively for five years now, I can now make some meaningful comparisons between the use of UV materials, hot beads, and noticeable increases in fly effectiveness. My current conclusion, and subject to change at any moment, is that bead color is more important than hot tags. This bias is due to my preference for using hot beaded jigs in the water types and season that they are most effective, during spawning!

I keep a few hot-tagged jig patterns in my box to be fished in water that may be too clear or shallow for the use of hot beads, but the added allure of a hot tag may be just the ticket. Lastly, I am incorporating UV — not to be confused with fluorescing — materials in all of my new fly patterns.

You Keep Turning Me Upside Down

I have enjoyed the best summer seasons of my life as a field fisheries biologist collecting data and observing fish and aquatic insects in their 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 underwater. 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 was 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 through the dorsal light polarization phenomenon. However, giant Salmonfly nymphs are the most prone to prolonged inverted drifts but get soon oriented. 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 some folks out there seem to think that 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 (I do not support nor deny these claims). However, It makes little 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!
Note: I still use wingcases on non-jig perdigon.

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.

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 take the fly in water where good hook sets are more likely to occur. I would avoid using perdigons in slower sections of rivers where fish can have a better look and spit out the fly faster than the some of the best angler can detect the take. Tungsten beads are not a regular item on the trouts diet and are quickly ejected. For less turbulent water, choose a fly with some softer materials for the body or collar.

A tied in the round style micro jig #18.

A tied in the round style micro jig #18.