All posts by Brian

Brian Nelson was born and raised in western Colorado. In his younger days, he worked as a whitewater rafting guide and fly-fishing guide. He no longer guides commercially, but enjoys teaching fly tying classes to local kids. When he was seven, he tied his first fly when his father put him in front of the vise--and has been fascinated with this art ever since!
Winter Blues

Winter Fly Fishing – Observations From This Year

Winter Blues

A recent trick to winter flyfishing depends simply upon the weather. For instance, last winter there was hardly any snow—so little, in fact, that I’ve never seen a winter that dry in the central Rockies in my lifetime. I’d call it a drought. This year’s winter started with parallel results, but finally it began to snow, albeit a couple months later than usual. But once it got going, it snowed every few days—through December & January. By the middle of January, it seemed like the foremost trick to winter flyfishing was simply finding some open, un-frozen water to fish. We did have a dry spell at the end of January through mid-February, but the idea still amounted to finding fishable water.

Does fly selection make a difference? Maybe…research in recent years points out that black, blue, and fluorescents are the most visible colors in deep water; many winter anglers will testify to the effectiveness of patterns in these colors. Biologists do not exactly understand what trout see, but what I find truly interesting is that trout not only see color—they can identify some colors that are beyond human visualization. In particular, trout can sense shades of red and ultra violet that we cannot, and in lower light conditions. I used to think that blue was a nonsensical fly color, since I have not seen blue insects on the streams I fish, other than adult dragonflies/damselflies. However, scientists report that the fish’s capability to distinguish minute pigmentation differences is greatest within the blues.

A lot of experts say that trout seek deep water and become less active in the winter, which may explain (at least in part) why highly visible flies are effective. However, Levi, a buddy of mine who has been ice fishing for years says trout can actually feed aggressively; you just have to hit it at the right time. He also says Pam cooking spray helps de-ice rod guides, and advises to prepare for extreme weather. Cold winter weather might seem like common sense, but as I said—he’s been doing it for years, and hypothermia is a very real danger.

Winter flyfishing can be a great way to discover secrets about your favorite trout stream, and offers a change of pace from the tying bench. Flies tied in outlandish, unnatural colors might be the ticket to get strikes, and may shift your thinking about the appearance of your favorite patterns. Who knows, maybe someday research will show that fishing blue flies will reduce cabin fever!

Greenback Habitat

The Green Fish

I passionately enjoy catching genuine, pure-bred cutthroat trout.  Regarding the Greenback, there are places where this is possible, albeit catch & release–which suits me just fine.

Oh, wait—the Denver Post said a study of cutthroat genetics revealed that “pure greenbacks” only exist within a four mile section of Bear Creek, near Colorado Springs.  Which means…all other greenback populations are…lowly hybrids! Additionally, greenback cutts are native to the South Platte, but Bear Creek is a tributary of the Arkansas.  This fact alone calls into question whether or not they really are “pure greenbacks.”  The Center for Biological Diversity circulated a press release that says “some scientists believe [this population] to be a long-lost subspecies known as yellowfin cutthroat.”  Well, after more than two decades of recovery work and millions of dollars expended to save what turned out to be hybrids, we apparently know only one thing for certain—Greenbacks: the name fits!

 

So now, the Forest Service, Division of Wildlife, the City of Colorado Springs, Trout Unlimited, and a host of other interested parties are trying to figure out what to do next.  Motorcycles, mountainbikers, and trailriders can still use the trails, but fishing Bear Creek apparently is illegal.

Apparently, previous rescue efforts used cutthroat populations that were thought to be greenbacks, but were actually western slope hybrids.  My question is what happens now with these fish…we’ve already spent so much time, effort, and money on them.  Bill Edrington of Royal Gorge Anglers in Canon City, Colorado, says that the forest service now refers to these hybrid trout as “The Green Fish.”  This may be a wordplay referring not only to their color, but to cutthroat that were reared in the 1990′s in a tailwater creek of Fort Carson’s Townsend Reservoir.  When I served in the military, my unit camped near this reservoir during a training exercise.  I remember a senior officer told me that greenbacks had been stocked in the creek, but then a drought wiped out the population—all that greenback recovery time & money, erased.

As I recall, pretty much everyone was excited about the earlier greenback recovery efforts.  The general public seemed to think of this as a means to “give back” to the environment, to the cadence of the “go green” motto.  But Adrian Stanley relays in the Colorado Springs Independent that U.S. Fish & Wildlife’s Leith Edgar “…says the findings go to show that the moment we think we have nature figured out, science proves otherwise.”  It’s true; we must be good stewards of our fish & game, but what do we do now with “The Green Fish” hybrids?  After all, they may be small fish that rarely exceed 12 inches, but at least they’re pretty!

CDC & Quill Parawulff Fly Tying Tutorial

The idea of using tying materials to enhance a fly pattern’s effectiveness is as ancient as the inception of fly tying.  In fact, it could be argued that the practice of manipulating both old and new materials in different ways into both old and new fly patterns comprises a large part of modern fly innovation.  Considering this, one might ask, “How many ways can you tie fluff on a hook?”  Good point; but personally, I am continually surprised by new innovations in fly tying.  For example, consider the CDC & Quill Parawulff.  Quill bodies have been around for a long time–and still are, because they catch “both fish and fishermen.”  Two other notable influences of this pattern stem from Hans Weilenmann’s CDC & Elk Caddis and Jack Dennis’ parawulffs.  It seems that Weilenmann prefers caddis.  I like them too–but prefer to fish mayflies; so I followed his lead and incorporated CDC in my mayfly designs.  In other words, none of the components in this design are original.  However, the pattern combines such trout-catching triggers as the distinct hair-wing profile with the wispy movement of CDC.  The parawulff style hackle allows the fly to ride flush in the surface film.

I believe that a large part of my enjoyment of fishing comes through sharing my experience and knowledge with others.  Subsequently, maybe these ideas will spark an interest in you to make pattern modifications of your own, because I believe more interest in the sport will ultimately benefit fly fishing as a whole.

Tying Guidelines:

Tie in some calf hair wings in the Jack Dennis Parawulff style.  The wings in this illustration were tied in order to exaggerate this innovative wing style.

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Next, tie in the tail and secure a quill for the body.

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Wrap the quill body and secure & trim the excess.  Sparingly place a couple drops of cement over the quill.  Then make a waxed dubbing loop, insert some CDC fibers, and twist this into a rope.  Weilenmann uses the whole CDC feather, and this is an outstanding method for imitating caddis.  However, mayflies usually have slim abdomens, but the bulging thorax–where the legs are–is a good place to integrate CDC.  Besides, I believe the loop creates a little less bulk.A

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Wrap the CDC loop on the thorax to the wing, but no further.  Then secure a hackle.

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Wrap the hackle down the post like a parachute pattern, and secure it in front of the wing.

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Finish the thorax with a couple turns of the CDC loop in front of the wing and tie it down.  Wrap the head and whip finish.  CDC notoriously soaks up head cement, so cement the head sparingly and carefully.

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Dressing:
Hook: your favorite dry fly hook, 10-18.
Wings: white calf tail tied in the parawulff style.
Tail: hair or hackle fibers; color that matches the naturals.
Abdomen: Quill fibers that match naturals; soak them overnight before tying.
Thorax: Influenced by the Hans Weilenmann CDC & Elk Caddis.  Secure some CDC fibers in a waxed dubbing loop and twist this into a rope, then wrap the thorax.
Hackle: Use your favorite color, or match the naturals.  Make a few wraps around the wing post in the Jack Dennis parawulff style.

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Nautical Attitude

Nautical Attitude

I had a lot of success with Magpie Nymphs.  However, unlike its dry counterpart; the mosquito, a Magpie Nymph does not imitate a mosquito very well.  But this got me to thinking, “What wet fly does?”  Besides, the best places I knew of to fish for trout had lots of mosquitos.  I noticed in the horse trough that the larvae had only a few distinguishable features.  For example, the ones near the surface had a visible gas bubble, and they also had segmentation, but were so small that there didn’t seem to be much else to them.  Nevertheless, I observed that many larvae would hang vertically from the water’s surface, but I knew my Magpies did not.  I wanted a pattern that could mimic the larvae’s nautical attitude in the water.  By nautical attitude, I mean how the fly may float, drift, navigate, or is positioned in the water column.  I also liked the effectiveness of bead heads, but was uncertain with how the heavy weighted bead on a BH nymph may cause the pattern to ride with the head in a downward bearing, and the aft end slanting up.  I wished to maintain the effectiveness of a bead head, but I also wanted to manipulate its up-and-down position, thereby more closely imitating a natural.

I sought to employ my patterns’ nautical attitude as a “trigger” for its effectiveness, and this gives the design its name.  I also enjoyed the success of the old miracle nymph, or the more modern zebra midge or snow cone, but I wanted to modify my patterns to more closely imitate a mosquito or chironomid larvae.  The nautical attitude of the naturals is often in the noted vertical position.  In the article, Midge Fishing in Paradise, Brant Oswald agrees that, “…midge pupae often rise to the surface at dusk and hang vertically just under the surface film…”  Apparently I’m not the only one that has contemplated strategies for imitating surface-hanging midges.

Some of my more recent patterns employ a plastic bead for the gas bubble (which floats), with an ultra wire rib and/or a metal bead on the rear for my deep patterns; but a horse hair or thread rib for the surface-hanging pupa.  Consequently, I found that the plastic beads do not float well enough to consistently hold the pattern near the surface, so I’ve been experimenting with different materials for some time.  Subsequently, while browsing through the bait section at Wal-Mart, I spied some 1/8” diameter bobber stops.  Understand now that I was merely walking THROUGH the bait section–not shopping, so I don’t want to hear it.

Nevertheless, the old standbys—spun deer or antelope hair, continue to be a viable solution.  So, these alternatives will have to suffice until I can talk Brian Westover and Westwater Products into making Unibobbers specifically for tying small flies…

A key feature of some of these designs incorporates one wrap of ultra wire on the rear of the hook for nautical ballast.  The remainder of the fly is then ribbed with a lighter material.  The weight of the hook bend also serves as counterweight.  When cast, this pattern plops down under water, then the floating bead “bobs” it back to the surface, which effectively imitates an emerging insect.  The bead in one of the photo examples is a painted bobber stop.

Hook: Mustad 94842, TMC 101 or similar work well.
Bead(s): use a plastic bead or bobber for the head, and/or a metal bead for the rear.  The theory is that this configuration gives the pattern its head-up and tail-down nautical attitude in the water column.
Abdomen: White or translucent thread
Rib: One wrap of ultra wire on the rear, and thread or horse hair for the rest of the fly.

The Magpie Nymph

The Magpie Nymph Fly Tying Tutorial

I enjoyed a lot of success as a kid one summer with a traditionally tied mosquito dry fly, but then one day it stopped working, just like that.  Ah, such is trout fishing!  Further observation revealed that the fish had switched to sub-surface feeding, so I was forced into fishing nymphs.  I caught a few fish with a hare’s ear, but thought that I could have achieved more success with a nymph that featured the same color scheme as the mosquito dry, since the trout were already keyed into that.  Therefore, I designed a nymph that was comprised of white and black, like the dry.  I used to call it the Grizzly Nymph, which delineates the color scheme of the popular barred rock feathers, as well as the colors of the traditional dry mosquito dressing.  More recently I refer to it as the Magpie Nymph, since these birds offer good wing case material.  The design is actually the same as any other nymph pattern, aside from color.  Consequently, I think the eye-catching color contrast is what makes the pattern successful.  Since a standard nymph pattern does not look much like a mosquito larvae, I did not want to call it a mosquito nymph.  I’ve been fishing with this fly since the 80’s.  Subsequently, the pattern is so simple and effective that I’ve often wondered why it had not been popularized much earlier.

Dressing guidelines:
Hook: your favorite nymph hook
Bead: (optional) white, black, or silver bead.
Thread: Black with white bead, or vice versa; 6/0 or 8/0.
Abdomen: white and black ultra wire, wrapped together; or one strand each of black and white dubbing.
Ribbing (optional): silver wire or tinsel
Thorax: white and black dubbing mixture; maintain either mostly white or mostly black in the mixture, or, like the abdomen, twist a white and a black dubbing strand separately, then wrap them together.  If black & white are blended 50% each, the outcome tends to be more gray in appearance than grizzly.
Wing case: white & black barred feather section; or latex or other synthetic material speckled with a permanent marker.
Hackle/legs: (optional) grizzly hen, or another black & white barred feather such as guinea, starling or partridge.
Author’s note: I have also found it useful to focus individual patterns with either the white or the black.  For example, a predominantly black pattern should be highlighted by white streaks, or vice versa.  Along these lines, a mostly black wing case should be contrasted against a white thread head.

 

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Bridle Path Emerger Tying Directions

Bridle Path Dressing:

Hook: 10-18 TMC 205 BL or similar; a slightly curved, down-eye hook works well.
Head: Spun, clipped deer or antelope hair.
Wings: tie calf body wings with the tips pointing forward, towards the hook eye; spun hair forms a base in front of the wings.
Tail: antron or similar for trailing shuck, or mono dropper loop.
Thread: Use your favorite thread color and body material; they should match the naturals.
Body: Use your favorite thread color and body material; they should match the naturals.
Hackle: Color should match naturals; wrap it as illustrated, through the trimmed path, behind the wings, and under the hook—in front of the clipped hair.

Step 1: Mount and wrap the thread; then spin a clump of deer, elk, or antelope hair on the front of the hook as shown. Trim the hair to imitate the bulging thorax of an emerging insect.

Step 2: Tie a pair of calf hair wings behind the spun hair. After separating these with figure 8 wraps, instead of standing the wings upright, let them slant forward over the spun deer. The wing angle is a key for the configuration of this pattern.

Step 3: After trimming the wing butts, cover them with thread wraps. Tie in the tail. Since this is an emerger, I like an antron trailing shuck. In this instance, I tied in yellow mono which doubles as a dropper loop.

Step 4: Attach and wrap the body material.

Step 5: Tie off the body and complete it with a whip finish near the base of the wings. Cut the thread. Dab a little head cement over the knot at the wing base for stability.

Step 6: Carefully trim & part the hackle path through the spun hair on both sides of the fly, from behind the eye under the hook, toward the back of the wings as shown.

Step 7: Re-attach tying thread just behind the hook eye. Then secure the hackle under the hook & in front of the spun hair.

Step 8: Wrap the hackle two or three times through the near path, behind the wings, through the opposite path, and in front of the spun hair. The angle in which the hackle is secured positions the fly in the surface film with a bearing or nautical attitude that imitates a natural emerger.

Step 9: Wrapping the hackle through the path creates a durable, highly buoyant emerger pattern, as can be observed from the underside view.

Step 10: Secure & trim the hackle, then build a thread head.

Step 11: Whip finish and apply head cement.

 

An Emerger That You Can Actually See!

Remember the emerger pattern craze that erupted in the 90′s? Me too! I jumped on board with everyone else, tying and fishing emergers–catching trout that had become “standard-dry shy.” However, after a few years of this, I grew tired of rigging a two-fly setup, or managing strike indicators, for an emerger pattern that sat partially on the surface. I yearned for the old days when I fished a dry fly on top, where I could see the fish take the fly. Fly fishing has always been very visual to me. I found myself drawn by memories of seeing a trout inhale a dry attractor pattern off the surface.

Therefore, I set out to design a pattern that combined the effectiveness of an emerger with the visibility characteristics of a dry fly. My first few designs worked well, and I have seen similar ideas from other tiers in magazines and on the web. After years of experimentation, including several as a professional river guide, I had an epiphany for a design that fit the bill, and it has been very effective for me. I coined the design the Bridle Path Emerger, because of its similarities with manipulating horse hair to accommodate the animals’ bridle.

Tying tip: under sizing the hackle one hook size will compensate for the bulk of the spun hair for more refined patterns.

 

Recipe:

Hook: 10-16 TMC 205 BL or similar; a slightly curved, down-eye hook works well.

Thread: Use your favorite thread color and body material; they should match the naturals.

Head: Spun, clipped deer or antelope hair.

Wings: tie calf body wings with the tips pointing forward, towards the hook eye; spun hair forms a base in front of the wings.

Tail: antron or similar for trailing shuck, or mono dropper loop.

Hackle: color should match naturals; wrap it as illustrated, through the trimmed path, behind the wings, and under the hook—in front of the clipped hair.

Remember the emerger pattern craze that erupted in the 90′s? Me too! I jumped on board with everyone else, tying and fishing emergers–catching trout that had become “standard-dry shy.” However, after a few years of this, I grew tired of rigging a two-fly setup, or managing strike indicators, for an emerger pattern that sat partially on the surface. I yearned for the old days when I fished a dry fly on top, where I could see the fish take the fly. Fly fishing has always been very visual to me. I found myself drawn by memories of seeing a trout inhale a dry attractor pattern off the surface.

Therefore, I set out to design a pattern that combined the effectiveness of an emerger with the visibility characteristics of a dry fly. My first few designs worked well, and I have seen similar ideas from other tiers in magazines and on the web. After several years of experimentation, including several as a professional riverguide, I had an epiphany for a design that fit the bill, and has been very effective for me. I coined the design the Bridle Path Emerger, because of it’s similarities with manipulating horse hair to accommodate the animals’ bridle.

An Emerger that you can actually see!