Fly Tying: April, 2017

The Soft Hackle Fly

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Partridge and Green

To say that this month we are going to be tying The Soft Hackle Fly would be a bit misleading because the term “soft hackle” refers not to a single fly pattern but to a whole family of flies. Soft hackles have many forms and variations but they tend to have a few common characteristics, employing a minimum of materials. In fact, a recipe for tying a soft hackle fly in its most basic form would look something like this…

thread: 6/0, 8/0 ; color of your choice
hook: style of your choice, #12-18
body: thread or floss
hackle: partridge

That’s it! Of course, if you search the internet you can find lots of innovative variations of the basic soft hackle with added bells and whistles because, as fly tyers, that’s what we do.

The history of soft hackle flies goes back at least 500 years to the earliest recorded history of fly fishing. If you want to really get into the details of these flies you can refer to many of the books that are specifically dedicated to soft hackles. Sylvester Nemes is often credited with reintroducing soft hackle flies to the modern world of fly fishing after these flies had lost their popularity over the years. One of his books, not surprisingly named The Soft-Hackled Fly (1975), is considered a classic. Dave Hughes has written two versions of a book titled Wet Flies: Tying and Fishing Soft-Hackles, Flymphs, Winged Wets, and All-Fur Wet Flies (2015).

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Partridge and Orange

Soft hackle flies get their name from the soft hackle feathers that are used in place of the stiff rooster hackles that are seen in traditional dry flies. Partridge is a favorite, but tyers also commonly use grouse, hen saddle, starling, and others. As the soft hackle fly hits the water and begins its descent the hackle fibers fold over the body of the fly and tend to trap air bubbles, simulating an adult insect’s wings,legs, and antennae emerging from the transparent shuck. Many soft hackle patterns employ a dubbing ball right behind the hackle that helps to keep the hackle barbules from completely flattening against the body, thus aiding in trapping the air bubbles. Most patterns are tied without weight but some tyers like to lightly weight their soft hackles to help the flies break through the surface film. Traditional soft hackle flies are generally tied without tails, while adding a tail changes the name to “flymph” or “soft hackle nymph”.

There is hardly a wrong way to fish a soft hackle. Perhaps the technique most often used is the classic wet-fly swing where you cast down and across, letting the water move the fly, usually just under the surface, across the current until it is hanging down below you. I recently saw a video of Simon Gawesworth where he mentioned that, because of its simplicity, swinging soft hackles was his favorite way to introduce a beginner to fly fishing. More advanced presentations would involve controlling the speed of the fly by using upstream or downstream mends, according to the action of the current, in an effort to keep your fly in obvious feeding lanes. And imparting a light twitch or a lifting motion to the fly has been known to be irresistible to fish during a hatch where emerging insects are struggling to get to the surface. Fishing the soft hackle fly as a dropper below a dry fly can be very productive, especially during caddis hatches. Although soft hackles are considered wet flies, many anglers report that applying floatant and then fishing the fly in the surface film is definitely worth a try. Apparently it gives a pretty good representation of an emerger or a cripple that didn’t make it off the surface of the water. Good results can also be achieved with soft hackles in still waters.  Cast out and strip your line back, varying your retrieves until you find what works best on a given day.

I will have to admit that I have generally been a creature of habit in my trout fishing, concentrating either on dries or nymphs and emergers fished under indicators, while ignoring the wet fly option. In researching the soft hackle fly I have come across testimonials from fly fishermen/fly tyers who state “ this is my favorite fly”, or “If I could only fish with one fly for the rest of my life…”.  I suggest you click on the following link for an article called “Lessons From A Simple Fly” in the online Fly Fisherman (July, 2016) magazine to read the words of Yvon Chouinard, the outdoorsman extraordinaire and founder of Patagonia, the outdoor clothing and gear company.

http://www.flyfisherman.com/fly-tying/yvon-chouinard-lessons-from-a-simple-fly/

chouinard soft hackle

Chouinard’s Pheasant Tail

Chouinard tried to simplify his fly fishing by fishing for a year with only one fly pattern, a pheasant tail soft hackle. In using a range of sizes of just that one pattern he was able to land an amazing variety of fish, including salmon, trout, atlantic salmon, steelhead (up to 37 inches), as well as bonefish and many other saltwater species.  Despite all of the fishermen that swear by soft hackle flies, and fish them religiously, there seems to be many more anglers that rarely, if ever, use them. So, even though we have countless modern materials and fly patterns that we have at our disposal today, you would think that we could find a place in our fly tying arsenal for a simple pattern that has withstood the test of time for half a millennium. Perhaps you can join me in setting a goal for this season to stop ignoring those soft hackles in your fly box, and to start experimenting with different presentations in order to discover why these flies have been so successful for hundreds of years.

Join us at the Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn on Wednesday, April 26 to tie up some soft hackle flies. These are flies that are suitable for tyers of all levels of experience. Our friends at the Royal Treatment have some equipment to loan you for the evening, so come even if you don’t have your own vise and tools yet. We’ll be getting started at 6:00 pm. Hope to see you there!

starling and peacock

Starling and Peacock

Fly Tying: March, 2017

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Fly Tying 101:  Tools, Tips, and Techniques–Part 2

Last month we held a class for beginning fly tyers titled “Fly Tying 101: Tools, Tips and Techniques. We had a large turnout and those in attendance had a good introduction to fly tying and hopefully left with a Wooly Bugger(s) that will see some action in the coming months.

This month we would like to continue helping novices get off to a good start as we further explore the basic tools and techniques for tying flies. We will focus more closely on the use of a whip finisher, as most of those in attendance last month had not quite mastered that skill yet. (Yes, it does take some time, so don’t get discouraged!) We’ll also give some new instruction on learning to apply dubbing correctly, a skill necessary in forming the body of many artificial flies.

The fly we will be focusing on will be The Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear, or just Hare’s Ear as it is commonly called, arguably the most popular trout nymph pattern in the world. The Hare’s Ear is said to be an impressionistic nymph as it can imitate many forms of insect life in the trout’s diet. It can be tied weighted or unweighted, in an unlimited variety of colors, and in a wide range of sizes, typically from 8 to 18. Historically, Hare’s Ears were tied with fur from the face, or mask, of hares (and not the hair from just the ears). You can buy packaged hare’s ear dubbing which often blends natural furs with modern day synthetics. But many tyers still prefer to purchase a whole hare’s mask and use the guard hairs and underfur, mixed together by hand or by using an electric blender.

Some anglers like their Hare’s Ears to be tied slim and streamlined.  Others anglers prefer the flies to be bushy, and the more scraggly looking the better.  Compare the two flies below, both Hare’s Ears, but each having a distinctive profile:

Whatever your preference, you can never have too many Hare’s Ears in your fly box. In fact, with all of the color and size variations possible, and bead head/no bead head choices and weighted/unweighted options, and with different wing case materials being used, it is possible to fill up whole fly boxes with just Hare’s Ear variations and nothing else!

Our next Fly Tying Night is Wednesday, March 29. We’ll be meeting at the Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn at 6:00 pm. Bring your own fly tying tools if you have them. If you don’t have any equipment come anyway. Our friends at The Royal Treatment will loan you everything you need. Hope that you can join us!

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Fly Tying: February, 2017

Fly Tying 101:  Tools, Tips, and Techniques

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Do you have an interest in fly tying but you don’t know where to start and the terms whip finisher, dubbing loop, bobbin, and hair stacker make your head spin because they sound like part of a foreign language? Or have you attended a previous fly tying night and went away discouraged as you came to the quick realization that you were in way over your head?

It has been over two years since we have offered a night of fly tying specifically aimed at folks that are really novices, including those that have never tied a single fly. So we will be going back to the basics in February, covering the standard tools and techniques that you will need to get started on a very interesting and rewarding hobby. Fly fishing is a great pastime and there are few things in the sport as satisfying as landing a fish on a fly that was created by your own hands.

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It turns out that February is an oddity this year, regarding Fly Tying Night. Normally we meet on the Wednesday one week after our general meeting. But there is no Wednesday in February the week after our meeting, so join us for an evening of beginning level fly tying on Wednesday, March 1st. We’ll be meeting at The Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn at 6:00 p.m. Bring your own fly tying tools if you have them. If you don’t have any equipment come anyway. Our friends at The Royal Treatment will loan you everything you need. Hope to see you there!

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gold-sponsor Royal Treatment Fly Fishing   http://www.royaltreatmentflyfishing.com/

Fly Tying: January, 2017

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The Josh Linn Special

At our October, 2016 meeting Josh Linn gave us an informative presentation about steelhead fishing in the Columbia River basin.  Josh is an experienced northwest steelhead fisherman, having guided on the John Day, Sandy, Clackamas, Klickitat, and Grande Ronde rivers.  My ears perked up when he started describing a fly he had created that had become his go-to fly for winter steelhead.  I later talked to him at The Royal Treatment Fly Shop and got some details about his creation and decided that it would be a good choice for our monthly  fly tying night.  I asked Josh what he called his fly and he said I could call it whatever I wanted because it didn’t have a name.  So we’re calling it the Josh Linn Special.

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I think that fishermen would be foolish to disregard tips, tricks, and advice from those that are more knowledgeable than we are.  And like all of the people at The Royal Treatment Josh is very knowledgeable about all aspects of fly-fishing.  And it’s safe to say that he catches more fish than most of us.  (Of course he probably fishes more than most of us!)  So when he says this fly produces fish I think we should at least give it a serious look.

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I got the recipe from Josh and found that it is a tube fly much like Brian Silvey’s Silveynator that we tied last year, but with a few other innovations.  Josh ties them in numerous color combinations and usually with some weight.  He likes them large when the water is cloudy and ties them smaller when the water is low and clear.  One suggestion would be to tie them all on the large side and keep a pair of scissors available to trim the flies shorter as needed.  And there is no reason to not use them for summer steelhead as well, such as on the Deschutes when the sun is on the water and you are using a sink tip when the fish are no longer looking up.

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I tied up a few Josh Linn Specials and felt the need to test drive them on the Clackamas just after Christmas and was rewarded with my first winter steelhead of the season on the second day out on the water.  Not a large fish but it was a nice frisky wild steelhead.  The fly I used was  actually one of the flies shown on this page.  I’ll leave it to you to guess which one it was but they should all be productive.

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The winter steelhead season is just getting underway so think about joining us at our next evening of fly tying when we will be tying up some Josh Linn Specials.   The winter weather has played havoc with all of the club’s scheduled activities and Fly Tying Night has been moved to Wednesday, February 1st .  We’ll be meeting at The Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn at 6:00 pm.  Hope to see you there!

Flytying: October, 2016

The Kilchis Killer

It has been a club tradition the past few years to head to the coast for our November Fish-A-Long. Our target will be Chum Salmon, and it is hoped that by our November 12 outing we will have received enough rain (but hopefully not too much!) to draw these fish into our coastal rivers. The Kilchis River is our normal destination although the Miami River also has a run of chums. Chum salmon are much more plentiful in Washington waters. In fact, the WDFW website has a note indicating that Chum salmon are the most abundant wild salmon species in Washington State.

Chum salmon are sometimes regarded as the “ugly stepsister” of all of the species of Pacific salmon. They can be mint bright while still in the ocean but soon develop darker markings as they prepare to enter freshwater. After entering rivers chums are readily identifiable by their characteristic olive green coloration with purplish vertical striping and blotches along their sides. Chum salmon are sometimes referred to as dog salmon, with research showing two possible origins for that name. One explanation is that name comes from the impressive mouthful of sharp teeth seen in the males as they approach spawning time. A second explanation is that the reference to dog salmon comes from the habit of Native Americans feeding the flesh of the chum salmon to their dogs. Chums are not known for their aerial acrobatics but they fight like bulldogs and are not brought in easily, so don’t go light in selecting your gear.

This month we will be tying up a fly called The Kilchis Killer. Noted Oregon fly fisherman, author, and fly tier John Shewey is credited with coming up with the design for this fly. The name might be a bit of a misnomer, at least for the state of Oregon, as all fishing for chums is strictly catch and release. Just consider it a killer fly for attracting, but not killing the chums. There are many more opportunities for chum salmon in Washington waters so check the regulations if you are heading up there. The fly is normally tied in chartreuse. As Lane Hoffman says, in regard to chum salmon, “it’s no use if it ain’t chartreuse”, regardless of the specific fly pattern. However, many anglers report that if the chums aren’t responding to chartreuse flies it is time to switch to something that is hot pink. So hopefully, we will have both the time and materials to tie up both chartreuse and pink Kilchis Killers. And if something happens with the weather and it messes with the Kilchis Fish-A-Long, all is not lost, as these flies can also be used as terrific steelhead patterns.

Unlike last month’s fly, this one will be suitable for tiers of all levels of experience.  Join us at the Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn on Wednesday, October 26 to tie up some Kilchis Killers. We’ll see you at 6 pm !

Fly Tying: September, 2016

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:
http://www.netknots.com/fishing_knots/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!

 

Fly Tying: April, 2016

The Marabou Damsel

Looking back at last year’s fish-a-long at Rocky Ridge, a vivid image sticks in my mind… Henry Muehleck playing perhaps the biggest trout I have ever seen caught on a fly rod. He played the fish for the longest time and finally landed it with help from Don Lewis in his nearby pontoon boat. Henry needed help as he did not have a net that was nearly large enough. It reminded me of the scene in the movie Jaws where one of the characters sees the huge shark up close for the first time and then yells to the captain, “You’re going to need a bigger boat!” Well, Henry needed a bigger net! With a larger, but still inadequate net, Don made a valiant effort at netting the fish, which then ended up briefly in his lap before making a dramatic leap back into the water.

In preparing for fishing the Rocky Ridge lakes you will need a good supply of stillwater patterns. We have already tied two of Denny Rickards’ favorites, The Seal Bugger and The Stillwater Nymph. Talking later with Henry about his epic fish, it turns out the fly he was using was a Damsel Nymph so that is what we are going with for April’s Fly Tying Night, the last evening of fly tying before this year’s trip to Rocky Ridge.

In researching damsel nymphs I found, like in nearly all fly patterns, that there is a wide variation in what different tyers believe we should be trying to duplicate. According to Jeff Morgan, author and regular contributor to Westfly, there are 3 keys, in the order of importance, to effective damselfly nymphs:
1. Sparseness – Damsel nymphs are thin. Don’t make the mistake of making your fly too fat. Sparse or thinly tied patterns will out fish bulky ones five to one.
2. Motion – You should learn to identify damsel nymph naturals. You will notice that they swim with a short side to side motion. This is quite difficult for anglers to simulate but adding a prominent marabou tail will produce at least some motion in the fly as it is retrieved. Just make it more sparse than you would for a wooly bugger.
3. Eyes – The importance of eyes in damsel nymph patterns is debatable but there is no denying that the head and eyes in the naturals are very prominent, often twice as wide as the rest of the body. Mono eyes are a nice addition to successful damsel nymph patterns.

Damsel nymphs are an important part of a trout’s diet from spring through midsummer but fishing them from late summer through fall is probably a waste of time as the nymphs have emerged as adults by then. Trout tend to really smack damsel nymphs so you should increase the size of the tippet over what you would normally be using.

Damsel nymphs can be tied unweighted or lightly weighted with the weight evenly distributed in the middle of the body. Weighting with a beachhead is usually not desirable for a damsel nymph because it would cause the fly to sink head first and the naturals just don’t do that.

Damsel nymphs are accomplished predators, lying in wait in weeds for any insects smaller than themselves. When fishing damsel nymphs the best chance for success is in weedy areas using an intermediate sinking line with a slow hand twist retrieve.

We will be tying up some damsel nymphs at the Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn on Wednesday, April 27 at 6:00 pm.  Hope to see you there!