Less is More - You Need to Put Your Flies on a Diet.

You are tying your flies too fat!

As the euro-nymphing revolution sweeps across the landscape, a revolution in tactical fly design is taking a free ride. There will be some tying adjustment for fly tyers who are accustomed to attaching split shot to their tippets to get the fly into the zone. Without split shot dragging your offerings into the abyss, you will need to re-think your fly tying designs.

 
John Newbury Tactical FLies
 

I started my journey into the European nymphing scene back when I discovered Oliver Edwards Fly Tyers Masterclass and the Czech Nymph trend of the mid-1990s. Back then, we didn’t have the tungsten beads and new hook designs to design our imitation’s. Creativity was required to tie a fly that you could fish without weight attached to the tippet. Oliver used the leaded foil from wine bottles to build the weighted underbody on his nymphs. Czech nymphs do not require much weight to sink the fly if they were thinly dressed without bulk. If you do need weight, you can add a thin layer with flat lead-free wire at the tying vice.

Fly patterns designed for optimal sink rate and swimming action lack buoyant materials and require various tungsten or brass beads for weight.

The Czech nymph has fallen to the wayside in favor of all the sexy new jig patterns we are tying. However, it was my experience tying and fishing Czech nymphs for so long that made me keenly aware that a well tied, thinly dressed fly pattern will outperform everything else in your box.

Overdressed flies will not sink as rapidly as a thinly dressed fly and tend to clumsily roll around in the current at less than optimal buoyancy. I am sure your overdressed Frenchie will catch many fish, as will your mop fly; however, you may never realize how many more fish you could catch simply by using much less material on your fly patterns. Let the weight of the bead and hooks do their job, to sink the fly. Let the dressing come along for the ride without slowing things down. Too much material on your fly can inhibit sink rate and action.

The next time you sit down to tie a fly, practice tying with the least amount of thread wraps and materials. You may be surprised by how little dubbing and other materials you need.

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

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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

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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 #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.