Fly tying is a hobby that has grown for me over the years. It started out of necessity and developed into an enjoyable way to spend cold winter days inside. The desire to be better at the craft than I was is something that just happens with any pastime that you are passionate about.
Over the years, I have sold trout flies, Salmon flies and even some saltwater flies for fishing bonefish and jack crevalle, among other shallow flats prowling game fish. I continue to learn as I go.
The Still Water Olive Nymph
There are various shades of olive dubbing that make up some great still water or lake nymph patterns. The wing case can be dark in color or lighter, depending on what the trout will take more expediently. I personally like to have both light and dark olive nymphs on hand, in case I need them. Sometimes trout will key in on these shades of color dubbing, so you must have something ready to use. A lake fly fishers fly box and what is in it can be very significant for success.
As long as you don’t spend your time tying on different trout flies when you should have your patterns working for you in the water. Don’t get lost in your own confusion. It does happen when you are trying to find a successful trout fly. The heavy application of both tail and legs is to imitate motion. I also like to strip this fly through the water, shallow or deep.
The S&M Nymph
The first fly fishing and tying book that I bought, was “Matching The Hatch”, by Ernest G. Schwiebert. The book was first published in 1955, and at the time that I got mine, it was a very popular choice for those interested in fly tying and matching the hatch. In the book, Ernest goes to quite an extent, describing how many of the patterns are tied with a variety of fur, for dubbing. The use of fur has stuck with me over many years of fly tying.
The following nymph pattern is tied with both squirrel and mink, thus the name S&M nymph:
The Squirrel is dubbed onto the abdomen and the thorax is mink fur dubbing. The ribbing is a brass wire (34 gauge). The tail and legs are Indian Hen Saddle. The wing case is the underside of pheasant tail, primary tops. All of this is tied on a size 14 -2x nymph hook.
The color of the S&M nymph can be a variety of shades or blends. some Mayflies are light and some are dark. The same holds for damselfly nymphs, they can be olive, tan or grayish-green. The varnished french tinsel makes a perfect ribbing material.
You will notice in the photos of most of the nymphs that I tie, multiple legs are tied in on both sides of the thorax. On a natural mayfly nymph, there may be only three legs on each side of the body. So why are multiple legs used on my patterns? I am a firm believer in the concept of multiple legs giving a nymph pattern an appearance of motion.
For example; when Charles Brooks tied his first stonefly pattern, using a number of wraps of neck cape hackle on the thorax, he intended to create an appearance of motion on the leg hackle. It worked and for years the Brook’s Stonefly nymph has been a very popular choice for fishing the early stages of the Salmon fly nymph. In the early stages, the nymph was all black.
Bottom line: I know that using a heavily legged hackle on the nymph patterns always catches trout!
Natural Alberta Red Squirrel is quite dark in color when you blend it and use it as a dubbing material. This is why I experimented lightening the fur, years ago. By using hydrogen peroxide, this can be achieved. I use varying shades of lightened squirrel fur dubbing in my nymph fly patterns. I love the effect that the guard hairs in the fur add to my nymph fly patterns.
Indian Hen Saddle Hackle
You may notice that I like to use Indian Hen hackle fibres for the tail and legs on some fly patterns, mainly nymphs. It is a great alternative to some soft hackle feathers and other wild bird feathers used in fly tying. I personally like to use it in place of partridge and grouse, when I can. The fibres are not as soft, but they are very durable. The feathers can be used for both leg, tail and wing case applications.
This chicken feather is derived from the Cornish Hen, which is also known in fly tying circles as Indian Hen. The bird was first imported into Cornwall Britain in ancient times and eventually picked up the name Cornish Hen and Rooster. The chickens were first exported to the USA in the late 1800s, and from that point in time, the feathers were a cheap tying material that was quickly adopted by American fly tiers. My guess is that the chicken originally was imported from India, and this is why it is called Indian cape.
Ribbing Wire or French Tinsel
I use brass, copper, gold and silver tinsel, or brass, copper and silver wire, for a ribbing material on my nymph patterns. I also use Mylar in different spectrums, for ribbing. There is definitely a noted difference on some days when the color of a certain type of ribbing is preferred by the trout. On some of my darker patterns, I like to use either brass or copper rib wire. For the lighter tones of dubbed bodies, a silver wire works nicely.
It seems that some fly tiers and fishers have their own favorite color, but for me, I have been fortunate enough to experience good fishing on all of the different types of ribbing.
If you read books about fly fishing in Ireland, Scotland or the chalk streams of England, you may notice some new types of fly patterns, or interesting terminology describing fly patterns. The Irish have all kinds of different terms to describe their sport and trout flies. With the trout flies, you may read the words; Dabblers, Longshanks and Bumbles, when it comes to fly patterns. Their lakes are referred to as Loughs and the Scots call their lakes Lochs.
Recently, I decided to tie up some Irish (lough) fly patterns to try them on some of our area lakes. The Bumble fly patterns caught my eye, in some of my research into UK patterns. A bumble is a heavily hackled trout fly. It is often fished dry on the surface, until the fly sinks, it is then retrieved in a stripping or slow pull, just below the surface. No fly floatant is used. The fly can also be used on a fast sinking line and fished deep.
I decided to tie up a large quantity for my fly boxes that I use to sell flies in, at the small store next to Kananaskis Lake. Some of the regular lake fly fishers can do the experimenting with this classic fly pattern, if they happen to stop in at the Boulton Creek Trading Post and see them in my trout fly selection. They should work pretty good, because they are not too far off in design, from a wooly bugger trout fly.
Above: These black bumbles were tied with the Kananaskis Lakes in mind. I tie these and some other varieties of bumbles on size 10 fly hooks. I think they should work just fine.
Another fly pattern that caught my attention is the Peter Ross wet fly, from England. This fly pattern is well known by reservoir and lake fly fishers across the pond, but little known out west, here in Canada. I tied up a bunch of Peter Ross wet flies in size 10, to see if they work on our area trout lakes.
The combination of red, silver and black should make this English wet fly pattern an effective one on some area lakes, here in Alberta. The Peter Ross is a very old fly pattern, but still commonly used in England in modern times. The teal wing on the pattern can be less prominent than some other wet fly designs. I like tying my wet fly attractor fly patterns, such as this one, on a size 10 – 1X or 2X hook design.
Tying The Doc Spratley Trout Fly
As is normal for my winter pass times, I have been spending a considerable amount of time on the fly tying vise. Stocking up on fly patterns for summer sales and a few for my own personal use. One pattern that I really enjoy tying is the Doc Spratley trout fly. I have fished this pattern often, over the years, and it is also a great seller at one of the stores that I supply on a nearby trout lake. That store is the Boulton Lake Trading Post, on the Lower Kananaskis Lake. The Doc Spratley is a great lake fly pattern.
Spratleys come in a variety of colors, so it is a good idea to have a number of different body colors in the selection. Some of the most popular colors are black, red, olive, green and the royal spratley body type, with a royal coachman designed body. Having a few odd colors included, provides the fly fisher with some rare options for a personal fly box selection. The key to this fly pattern is too pick the right color for the right time on the water. But this is usually a case of trial and error, when you are not sure of which color to pick.
Above: This is a display of a number of color options that I provide for the fly fishing customer. There are other colors not shown, like purple and dark cobalt blue, etc..
Other Trout Fly Patterns Using A Pheasant Tail Wing
For years now, I have been tying variations of Doc Spratleys and other pheasant tail winged patterns. The pheasant tail wing is a great wing material if tied properly and other effective trout streaming wet fly patterns can be tied and fished with surprizing results. I have fished for cutthroat trout, rainbow, brown and brook trout with pheasant tail wing wet flies and this gives me confidence in saying that this wing design should be used, especially on still water wet fly patterns.
The pheasant tail wing patterns above are – From Top Left:
The Purple Penash; Royal Spratley (Dark Grizzly); Ruff McDuff (Spratley variation); Gold King; Pearl King; Lady Claret; Royal Spratley (Brown Hackle); Silver King
This winter I did a pretty good job of stocking my fly boxes with both Doc Spratleys and other pheasant tail wing patterns. They are good sellers at Boulton Creek Trading Post and also Highwood House on the Highwood River Junction. Give them a try on the vise or if you happen to see some Doc Spratleys in your favorite fly shop.
The Trude Wing Dry Fly
In the last week I have managed to restock my supply of Trude wing dry fly patterns for this summer’s sales up in the mountains. They have been selling great over the past few years and it was time to replenish my supply for the next season. Most of the flies that I tied in this design were done so on a size 12 dry fly hook.
The Trude Dry Fly has been around for many years and it is often overlooked for its effectiveness as a perfect surface lure. The white wing is easy to see from a distance and the trout seem to love it on some days. The three favorites are the Black Trude, Rio Grande King and the Coachman (in both solid peacock and the royal coachman red band).
The Giant Wood Ant Dry Fly
Another pattern that is doing well on both mountain streams and lakes is the Bullet Head Dry Fly Ant pattern. I tied up a lot of these over the years, but in the last few years it seems to be catching on. The most popular size is a size 10 and 12 1X thin wire dry fly hook. The hackle that divides the head from the abdomen creates the perfect appearance of a segmented body of the large winged wood ant. Trout relish this tasty treat, when they are available on the surface.
The wing is tied in as a bullet head pattern, using deer hair folded back over the body. A brown hackle is used to segment the black dubbed body into the head and abdomen of a large wood ant.
A size 10 or 12 dry fly hook is what I commonly use on this pattern. I like the float ability of a heavily hackled dry fly, especially on the fast flowing riffles of mountain streams.
Tying Caddis Fly Imitations
This week I have been busy tying more trout flies, during the cold days of the past few weeks. It is far easier to get motivated when the temperatures drop down below minus 30 degrees or close to it. My latest interest is focused on tying a good supply of caddis pupa and caddis larva patterns, for my fly boxes. Caddis and Mayfly imitations are the most fished trout flies, when the hatch season is underway on local trout waters. It is a good idea to have plenty of great imitations on hand for the area insect hatches. The Bow River has some great caddis fly hatches, in the spring.
Above: This is one of the caddis pupa patterns that I like to have in my fly boxes. I make use of the D Rib vinyl that makes a great abdomen tying material. When it is tied over a yarn underbody, you can see the fussy strands of the yarn showing thru the transparent amber D Rib. This see thru, final product, gives the fly abdomen an interesting texture appearance. The slotted tungsten bead will get this fly pattern down deep in a few seconds of sink time. The bead is a 3.3 mm and the hook size is a size 10.
The Deer Hair – Bullet Head Hopper
Next on my list of ties for this winter, is the grass hopper dry fly. Hopper patterns are the best seller in my sales of dry flies, so I need to have plenty of them available for those fly fishers that are interested in my patterns. I like to tie them in a variety of colors and sizes. Even imitations of the rock hoppers that you see on the steep clay and sandstone banks of the Bow River. These gray mottled hoppers make a loud clacking sound that we all related to the hot days of summer on the river.
The rock hopper, shown to the left, is very well suited for life on dry clay and sandstone banks. They blend in so well to their environment, making them visible only when they move. Trout love these large hoppers, when the wind blows them into the river on strong windy days. Their under body color is a drab gray/olive, even blueish in tone some times.
The bullet head dry fly, tied with deer hair, is a great and easy grasshopper dry fly pattern. The deer hair tied in at the tail and the wing provides plenty of buoyancy, along with a thick wrapping of hackle to add to its flotation.