The Pom Skater
Although my days out on the rivers and lakes have been sparse, hopefully you have been able to get out and wet a line over these summer months. And after a summer hiatus from our monthly fly tying nights, it is time to get back at it. October’s Fish-A-Long is scheduled to be in the Maupin area and it is hoped that with the cooling of temperatures the steelhead action will be picking up on the Deschutes. The thrill of catching a steelhead on a fly is what draws us to The D in late summer and fall. And to see a chrome and crimson beauty swirling onto a fly on the surface is enough to cause a fisherman’s heart to go out of rhythm. I recall it happening to me a few years back. A steelie caught me by surprise, taking a whack at my fly as it waked across the surface. After regathering my wits I put the fly back in the same area and the fish came back again, this time rewarding me with a good battle before I eventually released it. Whatever it is that makes a steelhead that aggressive, it is what steelheaders dream about. Since that memorable morning, if the conditions are right, I have tried to make it a practice to try a skating pattern when first swinging a fly through a good looking run.
Here is a link to some video footage on the North Umpqua showing some great spey casting as well as some aggressive steelhead coming to the surface for a skating/waking fly. Enjoy.
For Fly Tying Night this month we are going to be tying a popular high-floating pattern called The Pom Skater. In inquiring about the name, Pom is apparently short for pompadour, in reference to the shape of the head of the fly resembling the pompadour hairstyle which is characterized by the hair being swept upwards from the face and worn high over the forehead. Think Elvis Presley in the 1950’s. (A little history here… the pompadour hairdo is named after Madame de Pompadour, a mistress of King Louis XV.)
In researching this month’s fly I found that there is no single answer about the difference between “skating” and “waking” flies. On one hand, I have been told that they are essentially the same thing. And, on the other hand, I have been told that there is a distinct difference between the two groups of flies. In both cases the information was shared to me by people much more knowledgeable than I. So, to simplify things, for our purpose we will assume that the terms skaters and wakers refer to essentially the same thing… dry flies that are fished under tension as they as swung downstream, creating a disturbance on the surface of the water.
The Pom Skater is tied with thick sealed-cell foam that makes it virtually unsinkable. In the family of skating/waking flies the Pom Skater is one of the less complicated examples for us to tie. As with all skaters/wakers it is generally fished down and across under tension, creating a V-shaped commotion in the water, thus making it easy to see as it tracks across the water. The wake created by the fly is believed to be possibly more important to attracting an interested steelhead than is the specific pattern that you choose. These flies tend to fish better when tied on with a loop knot, resulting in the flies being able to move more freely, responding to subtle changes in the current.
The Riffle Hitch
In this discussion it would be appropriate to include some information about the “riffle hitch”, a simple knot that can be added to a streamer or classic wet fly, causing it to wake across the surface. The knot causes the fly to turn more perpendicular to the current, creating more tension and drawing it to the surface, where it will create a wake.
History of the Riffle Hitch:
Although Lee Wulff is often credited with inventing it, he really was apparently just the first to describe the use of the Riffle Hitch (or the Riffling Hitch, or the Portland Hitch) in his book The Atlantic Salmon. Wulff himself states that no one really knows who invented the hitch. One of the commonly told stories is that sailors from British ships anchored off Newfoundland and came ashore to fish with gut-eyed salmon flies. They gave the old used flies away to local anglers on Portland Creek. The locals, learning that the gut eyes were becoming old and brittle, added a couple of half hitches behind the eye for added insurance, trying to extend the life of the flies. This caused the flies to skate or wake and the local Portland Creek anglers started using the hitched flies almost exclusively as they found it more effective than fishing the flies wet.
(For those that want to learn more: in the fly tying tradition of less minutiae not being enough, believe it or not, there is a whole 120 page book on just the Riffle Hitch! It was written in 1998 by the well-known fly fisherman and tyer Art Lee and is called “Tying and Fishing the Riffling Hitch”.)
How to Tie The Riffle Hitch:
1. Tie the fly on using your usual favorite knot.
2. Make an overhand loop in the tippet in front of the eye. Slide the loop down over the eye, forming a half-hitch knot behind the head of the fly.
3. Make a second overhand loop and form a second half-hitch in front of the first one.
4. Adjust your half hitches so that the tippet is coming out of the side of the fly that is facing you in the current. (The half hitches would need to come out of the other side of the fly if you were fishing from the other side of the river.)
Here is a link demonstrating the riffle hitch:
All steelheaders should have a skater/waker fly that they have confidence in, especially in the summer and fall months. We’ll be meeting for our monthly Fly Tying Night on Wednesday, September 28 at the Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn at 6 pm. We will be tying up some Pom Skaters and also learning to add a riffle hitch to a fly to turn it in to a skater/waker. Bringing your own Super Glue or Zap-A-Gap would be helpful. Hope you can join us!