While on the Owyhee River last June I exchanged reports with another flyfisher. We agreed that the fishing had been challenging, but each had experienced some brown trout success on different streamer patterns we had each been using. I traded one of my Unbalanced Leeches (a Mitch Moyer pattern) for one of his Slumpbusters (a John Barr pattern) and both of us left happy with the exchange. My new acquaintance related that he had fished the Owyhee for many years and the Slumpbuster had always been a top producing pattern for him, so I felt good about adding this new fly to my arsenal.
At first, the name of the gentleman that came up with the Slumpbuster didn’t register with me, but it should have. John Barr is the same guy that came up with the widely popular fly called the Copper John, along with other well-known flies like the Vis-A-Dun, the Meat Whistle, and the Barr Emerger. He is a long-time signature tyer for Umpqua Feather Merchants and currently has twenty three of his patterns listed in the Umpqua catalogue. In 2011 Fly Tyer Magazine named John Barr a recipient of their Life Time Achievement Award for his contributions to fly tying. Our club library has a book, cleverly titled “Barr Flies”, where you can learn more about John Barr and his fly patterns. It has great step-by-step instructions, both for tying and how-to-fish his patterns, along with terrific photos by Charlie Craven, another well-known fly tyer.
A fisheries biologist once told John Barr that when brown trout get to be about 16 or 17 inches long their diet shifts from mainly insects to include baitfish (meaning any fish they can swallow). Of course they continue to feed on nymphs and adult insects but, when given the opportunity, large trout will prefer going after a big meal they can get while expending less time and energy. And at the same time fishermen are going to have a greater chance of catching large trout when fishing streamer patterns that mimic baitfish.
Barr designed the Slumpbuster to have a baitfish profile. It doesn’t have as much glitz or flash as some other streamer patterns. (However, you could always come up with your own variation by adding flash, legs, brighter colors, etc). But Barr’s theory is that streamers that have a lot of flash will often get follows or passes from fish that turn away at the last moment or eventually seem to lose interest, as if they sense that something is not quite right.
As far as streamers go, the Slumpbuster is relatively easy to tie and is quite durable. It has a type of uni-body construction with the tail, wing, and collar all tied from the same material, a narrow zonker strip of pine squirrel hide and fur. Barr found that when wet, a Slumpbuster tied with squirrel strips, had a perfect baitfish profile that he preferred over flies tied with the more commonly used rabbit zonker strips.
Depending on the water you are fishing, the Slumpbuster could be fished on a floating line, sink-tip, intermediate sink, or full sinking lines. As always, the type of retrieve should be varied until you find what is working. Sometimes long and slow strips will work, and other times short and fast, or erratic strips may be the answer. Barr says he likes to fish two Slumpbusters at a time, with a smaller one tied off the bend of a larger one with 18 inches of tippet. (With each fly weighted at the front, that combination must be a challenge to cast!?)
If you have ever felt like your fishing success was in a slump, perhaps you should try a Slumpbuster! Join us for our next Fly Tying Night on Wednesday, March 25th at the Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn. We’ll be tying up some Slumpbusters in a couple of colors. Bring your vise and tools if you have them, or we can loan you some. The fun will start at 6:00 pm and will go to about 7:30. Hope to see you there!