Getting Hitched

Do you ever lie awake at night thinking about all those little ideas churning around in your head? I am plagued with them almost every night. Some ideas are jotted down on a note, and others keep rattling around for years. Like a pestering earworm whose record keeps skipping over that same chorus over and over again in your head, listening to the song in its entirety is said to be the remedy. Chasing a persistent idea just might get it out of your head. Such was the case back in 2004 with the trailer hitch.

My home water for many decades was Oregon's Metolius River. Managed as a wild river the Metolius is for fly fishing only. In addition to being fly fishing only water, regulations prohibit the use of additional weight attached to the fly line or leader. This regulation posed a problem for me, as I discovered that the fish in the Metolius are primarily hiding in the deepest darkest pools and rarely out in the open riffles. Getting my patterns into the depths required copious amounts of weight tied into the fly.

 Newburys Stinger Stone version 2.0

Newburys Stinger Stone version 2.0

The Metolius river has an abundance of golden stoneflies dwelling amongst the cobble and stones. Imitating these large nymphs provides the perfect substrate in which to tie anchor flies for use in the forbidden depths. A 4mm metal bead and 15 wraps of .20 weighted wire were sufficient to bounce bottom in 4 feet deep water. Life would be perfect if all I ever had to fish were this one pattern alone, a fly pattern I developed on the Metolius for getting deep the Stinger Stone.

The Stinger stone was my first pattern that employed the addition of a mono loop in the rear of the fly. In its first incarnation, I did not initially tie the fly as a stinger style pattern, just a bead-headed stonefly on a curved shank grub hook. I found the grub hook to be problematic in that the point was too long and had killed a few fish. Pinching the barbs also caused the droppers I used to slip off the bend of the hook. I had to remedy the hook problem, so I cut off the bend of the hook and added a short shanked egg hook instead. One thing led to another, and I further complicated the pattern for Umpqua Feather Merchants who picked it up for commercial production. After sales declined from a design we all considered a failure, I kept the mono loop and started using it in my other anchor patterns.

Laying the foundation for anchor jigs

The trailer hitch has stuck around in the guiding boxes providing me with a tool in an arsenal of tactics to accomplish a task: fishing a multiple fly rig with a dropper affixed to another fly that will not slip off a barbless hook.

I have had no documented failures in the loop itself breaking or coming untied. The knots are no more vulnerable than any other knot you can use. I once had a commenter on a social media post about mono "cutting" mono. If that were the case, your poorly executed tippet repairs would all fail. No sir, you CAN use a mono loop and not have it fail if you practice good knot tying skills. The only issue that plagues me with the hitch is that I have to check it for fouling frequently.


Here is a post that SwittersB wrote a few years back about the mono loop I use .
 

 
 

A pile of Copper Johns sporting the hitch

 

My Top Winter Patterns (updated)

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?

Update: I often have mallards and other dabblers feeding in the shallow riffles above the pools that I like to fish. The dabblers feed on cased caddis and often knock them loose in the drift. if I have feeding ducks upstream of me I will use a cased caddis imitation.

Brachycentrus Cased Caddis

TubedCasedCaddis.jpg

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 Nymph (not available in store)

Breadcrust Jig

BandedBreadCrustTRailerHitch.jpg

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

BigPinkWorm.jpg

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 #8-16.
Thread: pink.
Bead: Pink Tungsten.
Rear Collar: Pink frosty dub.
Body: Pink micro chenille.

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OSS (Oh So Simple) Blood Worm

Blood Worms are found in the sand/silt margins of all bodies of water. After a freshet, sand/silt pockets become perturbed and blood worms can end up in the drift. This is a great fly to have on hand to use after a pulse disturbance in the flow regime. You may want to try one of these if you are fishing downstream of another sloppy angler. Think San Juan shuffle?

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 thorax area before winding thread forward.

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.

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#1 Holographic Warrior

A spin off of Lance Egan's rainbow warrior which is a spin off of the Lightning Bug which is a spin off of...

Hook: Firehole Sticks 316 #18.
Bead: Silver tungsten.
Tail: Dyed red hackle fibers.
Body: Veevus holographic rainbow tinsel.
Rib: Small silver wire
Thorax: 16/0 Veevus red thread.
Note: By far my most productive fly over the last two winter seasons.

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.

 
 

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 (not pictured)
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

NewburyOnCrystalMill.jpg

I have scoured many famous fly fishing blogs in search the ten best fly patterns that are popular today. Many lists I have found, favor traditional 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 save them for when something goes wrong with my personal A-list. You see, I am an out of the box, square peg in a round hole kind of guy. I hate convention and stagnation, and I am a progressively minded explorer of possibilities always on the lookout 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 instead 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 their blog (yawn). Sure, those flies will always catch fish because they elicit 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 everyone's list.

A fly pattern must imitate many possible food forms to earn its keep in my guiding box. Every fly in this list has been in service because of its multiple possibilities AND functionality. You see, not only do they fly have to look edible, it has to have a tactical function. A tactical role for the fly is the weight and depth that it is designed to be presented 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.