I have so much junk in my fly boxes. I have a collections of odd flies I have tied that have never been used, and unless I have a chance encounter with a trout that is fond of the works of Salvador Dali, it is doubtful that I will ever use them. Most of these freak show oddities were tied at the end of a late night when I was tired; and it shows. Flies tied with every type of material known to man, these missing links contain bits of Care Bear fur, Parakeet feathers, even some puffy stuff that fell off of one of my kids shirts. Like I said, these things are odd.
But occasionally, when the fishing has been so exceptional that it really doesn’t matter if I hook another, I will tie on one of these flies from The Island of Misfit Toys. And once in a very blue moon…one of them will actually catch a fish.
Case in point. I was on a trip to the Nantahala Gorge in western North Carolina and the fishing had been epic. Nearly every cast brought either a fish or a good natured attack. I had pulled the Nantahala Hat Trick (Brown, Bow, and Brook), and it was getting late in the day. As with most trips that I take with my friends, the point in the afternoon had been reached when the conversation started to override the need to catch anything. So, I tied on this ugly fly that was made with black Ostrich and hot pink marabou from a Barbie evening gown (the advantage of having three daughters) with a crystal flash beard and red rubber legs. Honestly, it was gaudy and gross. As I recall it was tied on a size ten hook. No weight.
I couldn’t keep the Brook Trout off of it. I guess they were trying to induce a mercy killing. Strikes prompted by pity. The fish hit it so hard, and so often, that by the end of the day it looked more like something that had been coughed up by a very sick cat than a fly. As a matter of personal principle, I did not tie another one. Actually, I don’t think that I could duplicate the thing. Sometimes when you play Dr. Frankenstein at the vise, you only get one shot.
I have a few other knick knacks in my box that have worked quite well. One is called a redruM (those who saw The Shining will get it) Black marabou tail, red wire body, black marabou at the head. That fly saved me from getting skunked on the Caney Fork River two years ago, and later on that year it hooked the largest brown trout of my fishing career (26” but who’s counting). People all around me were casting to these monstrous Browns with no success. I cast maybe three times and got the hook up. When they say that sometimes it is better to be lucky than good…they speak truth.
Then I threw together something that I called The Church Fly. I really don’t feel comfortable saying I came up with this pattern because it no doubt has other names and I have seen variations on the theme in fly fishing catalogs from everywhere. It’s nothing more than a soft hackle zebra midge using starling as the collar. This fly caught fish for me on a day when no one was catching anything. It was so successful that a gentleman came up to me on the river and asked me what I was using. I gave him a couple. He caught the heck out of the trout too. Several months later my buddy Brad called to tell me that some guy was in his fly shop asking for Church Flies or if Brad knew how to tie one. He laughed, told the gentleman that they were not a stocked item, but he was kind enough to provide the man with everything he needed to tie his own. Now my Church Fly is legendary, even if I can only take credit for the name. I first used it while fishing in front of a church on the Clinch River in East Tennessee. Not very creative in the naming department, but, for me at least, it fits. With this little fly I have pulled trout from nearly every tailwater in my area and in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Proof is in the pudding. I always have a bunch in my box. The odd thing about this fly is that I have experimented with different types of soft hackle material and not one time have I caught fish on anything but the original. If you are going to tie one, you must have Starling. If not, you might be in for a long day.
A local angler has a pattern he calls the Smoky Mountain Blackbird. He guides throughout East Tennessee and at some point in the trip, he’s bound to tie one on for his customer, and it isn’t often that they fish it without success. This fly uses the same theory as the Church fly, but still a different and unique pattern of its own merit. This gentleman is a master at the vise and he has created more original patterns than I could fish in a lifetime. The Blackbird and the Church fly both use Starling, it is in the application where the two diverge, but the premise is basically the same.
T-Dub, one of my fishing friends, fishes with flies he has made up almost exclusively. He will be catching fish like crazy and if you ask him what he is using, he won’t be able to give you a name. There are beautiful little twists in his tying that make them his own. The one fly that he has made legend is called the Pink Harlot and it is without a doubt one of the wildest looking fish attractors I’ve ever seen. Hot pink, body made of glass beads. Looks more like it should be hanging from a spinster’s ear as she sits in front of a slot machine in Vegas than in a mountain trout stream; catches some big fish though. He wisely maintains that as much pressure as the trout streams in the Southeast receive, you almost have to show the fish something it hasn’t seen before. T-Dub is an exceptional fisherman and I have watched him take these flies and absolutely rock the socks off the river.
The purist in me wants to fish only with tried and true patterns that are tied with the utmost of skill; flies that have earned their place into nearly every fly box in the known world. The purist in me wants flies that are proven and no matter where you are, if the water is cold and trout are on the prowl, you can take it to the bank that these age old fly patterns will work.
The Pheasant Tail nymph, The Hares Ear nymph, Adams dry, Blue Wing Olive dry, Elk Hair Caddis. If you were to go right now to your fly box and inspect its contents, I would venture to guess that you have some form of each one of these flies in stock, and in a variety of sizes.
“Nice fish. What do you have tied on?”
“Size 10 redruM”
It is at this point in the discussion that I free the fish and show the fly to them. I have heard the following statement several times on the stream.
“What in the world is that?”
I now have several fishing buddies who have redruMs and Church Flies in their boxes, which is something that brings an odd feeling of pride. It’s kind of like having a dog with three legs that is an expert at catching a Frisbee. It is doing what countless other dogs do…it just looks a little odd in the attempt.
In a recent discussion with some friends about our fly boxes and what we use the most, I commented that if I could boil my box down to what I use the most, I would have nothing but Pheasant tails- weighted, unweighted, soft hackle, Sulphurs- soft hackle and comparadun, Zebra Midges, Church flies, Adams and Elk Hair Caddis and a few redruMs. There are situations where I might wish I had something other than the aforementioned, but year in and year out I use these patterns more than any other.
I may, by this writing, imply that I am a traditionalist who does not deviate from the established form of historically productive patterns, but no matter what, I will always have the few odd balls. Who knows, one of those unfished oddballs may someday get rid of a skunk or become a local legend.
Dry flies are congruent, poised, and angelic. Nymphs and soft hackles are chaotic, archaic, and wild. Perhaps this speaks volumes about me.
A dry fly is pretty much predictable. It floats, with a few exceptions can only be fished one way, and represents the end game. Maybe that is why I have never been much of a dry fly angler. It requires a level of grace that I dream of but never quite achieve. Its movement across the water, barely dimpling the surface film, is a ballet of sorts. Nymphs/ soft hackles are always working under the surface. You can only guess what is going on, and the predictability of its meanderings down the river is purely conjecture. You can dead drift it, swing it, strip it, but in the end you have only limit control and you have to watch your line very carefully because anything could happen at any time.
Dry flies dance to Mozart, George Winston. Nymphs and soft hackles dance to Coletrane, Muddy Waters, and The Allman Brothers. And while I am making this comparison, it should be noted that streamers dance to anything that would be found in a mosh pit, college frat house, or sleazy strip joint.
I do not like streamer fishing. Perhaps it is just a little more aggressive than my style will permit. These flies, monstrous looking piles of fur and flash with hooks just come across as menacing. The unhidden splash they make as they find the water only to by yanked back to the rod tip. To be certain, if you want big fish, or if you want to cover a lot of water, streamers are the way to go. But for me…it’s just not my style. If I wanted to fish like that I would hang up my fly rod and throw jerk baits with a spinning rod.
I have fished Dries, and on some occasions I have fished them exclusively with much success, yet the whole time I felt like a kid in a new suit for Easter. I just never can seem to settle into the comfortable rhythm or pace of the dance. I have friends who, when fishing with a dry fly, look as if they were part of a painting by Michelangelo. I watch them and think to myself…”There can be no other way for this man to fish…he has reached perfection.”
I guess at the end of the day, I am a nymph/ soft hackle guy who hopes someday to have the grace to be a dry fly guy.
But then don’t we all?
Grace is a pursuit that we may touch, but will never fully achieve. It is the point where all the poor mechanics and technique are put aside. Grace is a gift. One we don’t deserve in our fallen state. But with a little help, we may find ourselves granted its music. And then we not only dance, we fly…..
For helpful hints, visit: Take Me Fishing (http://www.takemefishing.org/fishing/family/fish-with-your-kids)
Our friends in England have been fishing soft hackles since the late middle ages (medieval times) as some suggest they date back to the 1400’s or even earlier. The soft hackle was a little late in coming to the United States, the mid 1970’s to be exact, at least that’s when it was popularized, and like all new flies it was likely the “hot” fly for awhile. Fast forward to the present and you might get a response like this; “soft hackles, are you kidding??? Do they really work??? Everything’s wrong with the technique, I’ll stick with indicator nymphing”. Ok I’ll admit this may have been my own response several years ago. However, I have now realized that soft hackles are my friend and have solved the toughest hatches.
A few years ago the Double Whammy was born on the Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park. It was a miserable cold, snowy, gusty early June day, Blue Wing Olives were coming off in droves and I could not get a single fish to rise to my sparkle dun. I tried dead drifting nymphs to no avail, dead drifting emerger patterns in the surface film was hopeless as well. I was about ready to call it quits and was reeling in my emerger and “wham” a nice trout hit the fly. Suddenly the light came on….soft hackles … I looked in my box and hidden in the dark recesses was a single #18 PMD soft hackle. I tied it on and fooled a couple of fish before it broke off on an aggressive strike. That night I tied up several BWO # 20 Double Whammy’s, and enjoyed epic fishing the next day. The Double Whammy wasn’t officially named until a few months ago when I was fishing one of my favorite spots on the Middle Provo River. A Blue Wing Olive hatch erupted and what looked like a lifeless hole before, was alive with porpoising fish, some real hogs in the mix. Tried a dry…of course no takes (I’ll always try dries first). Next, tied on a Double Whammy and sweet success once again, and some of the bigger browns where pushing a respectable 18-19″. Early on, I broke off a fish on the swing; it happens when fishing soft hackles. Later I netted a nice brown, and while removing the Double Whammy I noticed a BWO in its mouth and thought to myself “no wonder they eat this fly it looks just like the natural, but wait. …that’s an artificial, hey, it’s my Double Whammy the one that broke off earlier”. I caught the same trout twice, same fly, (a Double Whammy so to speak), awesome. The fly is now officially named.
Here’s a little secret, tie the Double Whammy in white #20 and you’ll catch fish during one the toughest hatches I’ve ever experienced, the dreaded white drake hatch. The hatch is nicknamed the “white curse” and for good reason, many an angler has been humbled by that hatch. White drakes hatch similar to caddis; in that they explode off the surface, trout have little time to take the duns so in most cases they don’t even bother, however a white #20 Double Whammy is absolutely deadly when swung in front of feeding fish. Soft hackle technique is quite simple, cast down and across the current, mending to achieve a dead drift allowing time for your fly to sink slightly below the surface. Towards the end of the drift a belly will form in your fly line and pull your fly broadside across the current. This is most likely when you’ll get aggressive strikes so be ready. Keep a shock loop of fly line in your hand and let go when the fish strikes. It won’t prevent break offs on the strike, but will greatly reduce them. Also, use 4X tippet minimum, go with 3X on larger flies. A softer action rod is also beneficial in bringing more fish to the net and losing fewer flies. Once you get good at it, you can cast to individual fish, and can actually see the strike, much like dry fly fishing.
Double Whammy BWO recipe:
Hook: TMC 100#20
Tail: Brown or Golden Straw Brahma hen
Body: Olive Antron fibers tightly wrapped, (not dubbed) you want the body not much thicker than the hook shank
Thorax: Killer Caddis glass bead Light olive midge size
Wing: Golden Straw Brahma hen
While epoxy is a well known fly tying material, it has been scarcely used because it was a real pain in the you-know-what. It was like trying to juggle within a time limit. You have to mix it, hope you got the proportions right, then hurry and get it in place all the while keeping the fly spinning so that gravity didn’t mess up the application. Even if all that went right, often times the epoxy would yellow. No wonder we avoided it.
Enter Clear Cure Goo (CCG). It is hard to sit down at the vice and not use some form of it over the course of a tying session, whether it is filling gaps in a head, making a fly more durable or simply finishing a fly to have a nice clean look. This product is everything that you love about epoxy without everything that you hate about epoxy. There is no time limit, simply apply the product and get it into place, then when you are ready…hit it with the UV light and you are done. The epoxy is cured within seconds and you are free to keep tying!
Here is a quick rundown of all the CCG products:
Clear Cure Goo Thick – One of the original CCG products, the Thick is awesome for building up heads, filling in gaps or any other time you need the epoxy to take up space. While it is thick, it will still lay down nicely to create very clean finishes. The original CCG Thick will have a slight tack to it, even after it is cured making it great for applying eyes, etc. Once the fly is done, a quick coat of Hard as Nails will make it complete.
Clear Cure Goo Thin – The perfect complement to CCG Thick, the Thin flows and spreads better than Thick. It is great for coverage (like big saltwater heads, poppers, etc.). I personally have used the thick to fill a gap on a big bucktail streamer head and then used the thin to complete the entire head. CCG can take a bad head and make it look great.
Clear Cure Goo Brushable – Similar in consistency to the Thin, the Brushable applicator brush makes it great for coverage situations, like Crease flies and other big poppers. It is also amazingly useful for epoxy back nymphs, etc.
Clear Cure Goo Flex – This is something that epoxy could never do! Apply CCG Flex anywhere you want, cure it and you now have a flexible shape that wants to return back to its original cured shape. Think about all the soft plastic applications with this one. Another amazing use I have found for it is making a foul guard on long materials. Simply apply CCG flex to the material from the bend of the hook to about and inch beyond and it will still move without fouling when cast.
Clear Cure Goo Curing Light – The piece that brings it all together. Simply work your CCG material of choice into place, then BAM, hit it with the light for a few seconds and you are done. The material will not move and you can go on with your life not stressing about your epoxy curing.
Clear Cure Goo Tips – Seems like such a minor thing, but these tips make a major difference. They help with finer applications and can also be used to move and smooth the epoxy into place. The tips are sold in sets with 2 straight, 2 standard curved and 2 fine curved.
Clear Cure Goo Kit – A great starting place for anyone looking to start using CCG. The kit includes the Curing Light, 2 Tips and Covers, 1 tube of Thick and 1 tube of Thin.
Clear Cure Goo Thin Squeeze – The great feature of CCG Thin in a hand squeeze applicator bottle.
Clear Cure Goo Tack Free Thin – All the same great features as the CCG Thin, but cures tack free!
Clear Cure Goo Tack Free Brush – Brushable CCG that lays down and cures tack free.
Clear Cure Goo Tack Free Flex – Flexible and tack free.
Clear Cure Goo Tack Free Hydro – Hydro has the same consistency of head cement, so it is a great material for securing the base of a large clump of materials (bucktail, etc.) or for giving your perfect head a nice clean coat for durability and presentation.
Clear Cure Goo Fleck – Now we are talking…want to give your flies a little more flash and sparkle? CCG Fleck has flecks of gold, silver, green and blue pearlescent glitter. All that and all the features of CCG. Awesome.
Clear Cure Eyes – The newest product. These look awesome and will likely cause a few more fish to fall prey to our streamers. Available very, very soon.
Any products that are not linked will be available in the next few weeks!
We know you have a lot to say about fly fishing and a whole lot of topics related to the sport we love. Fly fishing takes us to some of the most beautiful in the world and a lot of fly fishers are also great photographers. Here’s your opportunity to get your thoughts and photos out there – and to a lot of people!
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This is your chance to get something published on a legit fly fishing resource, but if getting published isn’t enough, we are going to sweeten the deal by offering a $50 gift certificate to be used at www.fishwest.com for any submitted articles that we use (see more detail below).
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Most importantly, have fun! We look forward to seeing all your great work.
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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.
Next, tie in the tail and secure a quill for the body.
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
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.
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.
It has been said that a dog is man’s best friend. Never has this adage been more true than with the relationship between an angler and his/her dog. Fishing dogs are loyal, willing partakers of the adventures we pursue as anglers. The connection is deep enough to wonder if dogs inherently understand angling. Most love the water, are seemingly oblivious to inclement weather, and are perfectly happy when wet, cold and hungry regardless of the fish count. When I begin packing for a fishing trip, my dog exhibits behavior that can only be described as sincere hope that her name and gear are on the packing list. If she gets to go she expresses something rare and precious in this world; pure joy. If she is left home she creates a list of her own, household items that must be destroyed before I return. Upon arrival at our angling location she will scout the immediate area while impatiently waiting for me to prep my gear. I must admit that I am a bit slow in getting ready to hit the water. My dog always gives me the look that says “c’mon buddy let’s go already!” When I sense that particular gaze upon me, I always reassure her that the better prepared I am now, the longer we can stay. She then sets about occupying herself with predatory preparations. Rolling in the nearest cow pie in order to disguise her scent is a favorite. The fact that trout don’t smell cow pies is somehow irrelevant.
The connection between man and dog runs so deep that we are inclined to anthropomorphize their thoughts. Below are some examples of “thoughts” that I’m sure have occupied my dog’s brain between squirrel sightings and manure anointings:
- You – Snag a tree branch on a back cast., Dog – Fishing a little high don’t you think?
- You – Snag and reel in a piece of driftwood., Dog – Nice catch. Can I keep it?
- You – Kerplunk, gasp! Followed by lying on your back, feet in the air, draining the water from your waders., Dog – Hey, now you smell like me. Now, shake off like this.
- You – Staring a a fly box trying to select the perfect fly for the situation., Dog – Who are you trying to fool? Just pick one and go!
- You – See a muskrat swim through the seam you are fishing., Dog – Did you see THAT?!!
- You – Another angler approaches., Dog – Shall I bite him? Swim through his drift? Go find his lunch?
- You – If approaching angler is female., Dog – Time to break out the puppy dog eyes.
Some people believe that the blank stare is all there is to a dog. Those of us with fishing dogs know better. Note, there is no such thing as a fishing cat, goldfish notwithstanding.
We enjoy our canine companions in nearly everything we do. We share our experiences, our food, our accommodations, our feelings, indeed our very souls. This connection runs so deep that when the tragic day we lose them arrives, we experience a profound sense of loss. We have truly lost something that is irreplaceable. When the editor of my favorite publication lost is four legged companion of 15 years, he wrote a wonderful tribute that touched the hearts of all who read it. He ended the piece with the words “We had a snowstorm a couple of weeks after his death. When I looked out the window that morning, there were no paw prints leading away from his doggie door. No paw prints at all, just perfect untouched snow in a suddenly empty world.” I’m confident that Tom will see Trask again, just as I believe I will see Boscoe, Sam, Jed and Maggie again. I have always said that if dogs don’t go to heaven, I don’t want to go either. After a time we start again, obtain a puppy, lose some furniture legs, boot linings, cork, and begin to embark on new adventures, despite knowing where it will ultimately lead. Why? Because it is worth it, totally worth it.
When asking anglers about winter fishing, one might encounter many different opinions. There are those that enjoy it immensely and those that believe winter fisherman are crazy. If you are of the latter opinion it’s in your best interest to make sure you understand how to dress for warmth and be comfortable on the river before you decide to spend the winter tying flies and hibernating.
Staying warm and dry by layering clothing is key to enjoying yourself while fishing on those cold winter afternoons. Layering gives you the option of adding or removing clothing based on temperature and activity level. Your basic layering categories are as follows:
Base Layer or “Next-To-Skin” is the first part and maybe the most overlooked part of staying warm. Base Layer clothing is designed to keep you dry by ventilation or by “wicking” way moisture. Not all Base Layers are made equal, material is what sets them apart.
- Wool – Best – Provides the best breathe-ability and insulation
- Synthetic – Good – Provides good breathe-ability and insulation
- Cotton – Avoid – Provides some insulation and very little breathe-ability
Insulator clothing should be worn over the Base Layer to provide warmth. This should also be non-cotton piece to still promote breathe-ability. The weight of your insulator pieces should be chosen by activity level.
Outerwear is the final piece you put on and provides protection from wind and precipitation. Choose your Outerwear based on conditions. If you are fishing in wet and humid conditions a heavy duty rain jacket will provide the greatest protection from the elements. If you are fishing in cold dry conditions a soft-shell jacket provides excellent warmth without bulk.
Gloves, Socks, and Hats
Don’t forget any of these. Your hands, feet, and ears are the first things to get cold. Taking care of these extremities will keep you noticeably warmer and on the water longer. Make sure you layer your socks by following the same Base Layer and Insulation system and discussed before, but still provide room for ventilation.
Winter fishing can be very productive and if nothing else it is a good opportunity to expose yourself to sunshine on short winter days. With the right clothing it doesn’t only have to be for the “crazies”.