What a surprise we have had at the end of February with the arrival of cooler weather and a mix of snow and rain. It has made fishing a little challenging, but as spring quickly approaches things should change.
The weather was little unsettled last month, but we still had our meeting and Mark Bachmann, of the Fly Fishing Shop our only Gold Founding Sponsor, gave a great presentation on fishing for Trout with a Spey rod. He reviewed the equipment, techniques, water and flies to attract the big ones that hang out in the middle of the river. As usual it was an informative and enjoyable presentation.
This month we welcome Todd Alsbury from Oregon Dept of Fish and Wildlife. Todd is from the North Willamette Watershed District and will bring us up to date on the activities in the district as well as the status of our various species of fish. Todd always brings an informative program so do not miss it.
As you know we had to cancel the February fish-a-long because of inclement weather. That should not be a problem this month as we are heading over to the Crooked River in pursuit of Trout. There is a possibility of high water so be alert for any updates as the trip approaches.
Do not forget fly tying on fourth Wednesday of most months. Look for the notice each month as to time, location, and type of fly that will be tied.
Coming up is the N W Fly Tying Expo on 3/9-10/18 in Albany Oregon. It will host large number of fly tiers and fly fishing vendors. In addition they have programs and lessons you can sign up for online. Check it out.
In addition the annual Sandy River Spey Clave is coming on 5/18-20/18 at Oxbow Park. It is a annual event brought to us by the Fly Fishing Shop in Welches, Oregon. Lessons are available on Friday afternoon at a very reasonable cost. Go to the website at flyfishusa.com to sign up. If you have any interest in beginning or improving your spey casting you do not want to miss this event.
Our sponsors are our lifeblood so stop by and say hello and thank them for their support. Better yet buy something or book a trip with them.
Back in October the guest speaker at our club’s meeting was Kevin Erickson who gave us a fine presentation that centered on his new book, “Feather Craft: The Amazing Birds and Feathers Used In Classic Salmon Flies”. It was readily apparent to most of us that we have neither the skills nor the patience to produce the quality of flies that Kevin is crafting. Amazing stuff! (I clearly remember him saying that the completion of a Jock Scott fly required 32 different materials. Whew!) At the conclusion of his talk Kevin graciously offered to come to one of our Fly Tying Nights to lend us a hand in improving our fly tying skills. After explaining to Kevin that our tyers are not quite ready for classic salmon flies, we decided to focus on the Muddler Minnow as a fly that would teach us some new skills that haven’t yet been emphasized in our monthly fly tying sessions.
Although perhaps not as in favor as it once was, the Muddler Minnow, or Muddler as it is commonly called, is still the“go to” fly of some flyfishers and the Muddler should occupy a spot in your fly box. I have come across a few testimonials to the effectiveness of the Muddler. At a fly shop I met a gentleman that has had terrific success fishing only Muddlers, in various colors, for steelhead on the Deschutes. And famed flyfisher and author Gary Lafontaine is said to have only fished Muddlers in a variety of forms and sizes for one year and reported that he had landed as many fish as if he had fished his usual array of patterns. And the historical importance of the fly to the tradition of fly fishing in this country was emphasized in 1991 when the US Postal Service included the Muddler Minnow as one of only five flies in its fly fishing stamp series.
The Muddler Minnow has played an important part in my fly tying history as it was the first fly that I ever watched being tied. My dad, brother Steve, and I were fishing at Diamond Lake when I was probably 10 and my brother was 8 years of age. A hot tip told us that a couple of fly patterns were very productive late in the day. We wandered over to the resort and found an elderly gentleman outside tying flies and selling them as fast as he could tie them. We were both fascinated watching the man fashion Muddler Minnows and another pattern from miscellaneous materials sitting on his fly tying bench. We purchased a few and had great success fishing the flies on a very slow troll far behind the boat on unweighted monofilament line using spinning rods, with the fishing getting better and better the darker it got late in the evening. (Fishing flies in this manner was a welcome relief after trolling Ford Fender flashers around all day.) I guess there is reason to think that the same success could be had at Diamond and other lakes, using a flyrod and a Muddler Minnow some 60 years later. At least it ought to be worth a try.
The Muddler Minnow was first tied by Don Gapen of Anoka, Minnesota back in 1937 for use in pursuing brook trout on the Nipigon River in Ontario. Gapen’s family ran a couple of fishing resorts and Don later started the Gapen tackle company that is still a family owned business today. Their online catalog shows that they still carry the Muddler Minnow but they also have some lure offerings with intriguing names such as the Ugly-Bug, the Bait-Walker, and the Walk-N-Lizard. It looks like a lot of their products are aimed at the pike and muskie fishers in their area.
When you look at the original Muddler Minnows you will notice that they are kind of scraggly, almost messy looking, compared to what we commonly see in fly boxes today. The heads of Don Gapen’s Muddlers were largely left untrimmed as is seen in the photos below.
Tied by Don Gapen himself
A Don Gapen style Muddler
It is interesting to note that the Gapen family today still sells Muddler flies that resemble the original version and have testimonials that state that they fish just fine. One reviewer says, “Just like movies, the original is usually the best. I tie and fish both original and modern muddlers and found the original out performed the modern on many occasions.” A lot of us that tie flies today like them to look nice and neat in our fly boxes. Maybe we are trying to tie for ourselves and not for the fish.
Credit for the appearance of today’s Muddlers generally goes to famed Montana tyer and flyfisher Dan Bailey. The dense and neat heads that he developed back in the 1950’s require a process of spinning and packing the deer hair, followed by a trimming done with scissors or a razor blade. Muddlers today typically employ mottled turkey quill segments for the tail and wings and gold or silver mylar for the body. Often there is an underwing of squirrel hair and a collar of deer hair. The variations and colors of Muddlers today is limited only by the tyer’s imagination, but the one thing that all Muddlers will have in common is a head of spun deer hair. A densely packed head provides plenty of flotation but the flies can be tied weighted or unweighted according to the targeted species and water conditions.
Some Variations of Muddler Minnows
From its name the Muddler Minnow will mimic a variety of small “minnow” fish like shiners, chubs, and dace. Weighted and fished along the bottom the muddler is a great sculpin or tadpole imitation. But the Muddler is a versatile fly that is said to mimic a variety of other life forms like grasshopper and crickets. Tied in a variety of sizes, Dan Bailey often used the Muddler as a late summer grasshopper imitation on his favorite Montana rivers.
A Muddler Minnow Variation Called A “Spuddler”
Nothing can be ruled out when deciding what is the proper way to fish a Muddler. Quick and irregular strips may be effective at times, but on some days and for some fish a simple down and across swing may be just the ticket. Gary Lafontaine reported that while a retrieve using rapid wild strips was effective for bass, a smooth strip with less action was much more effective for trout. Unweighted Muddlers can be very effective as a waking fly for steelhead while a weighted pattern fished at or near the bottom using rests between short strips can be a fine sculpin imitation. So it sounds like anything goes when fishing a Muddler. Good advice is probably “If what you are doing is not working, try something different.”
Take advantage of having Kevin Erickson on hand for our next Fly Tying Night. Join us at the Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn on Wednesday, Feb. 28th for an evening of hair spinning, packing and trimming. As always we will be getting started at 6:00 pm sharp.
Hope to see you there!
If the turnout at last month’s fly tying night is any indication, there seems to be a good amount of interest in winter steelhead fishing. As we move into the season it makes sense to continue our focus on winter steelhead patterns. But this month we will vary it up a bit by tying a tube fly.
Famed steelheader Lani Waller has become a a big promoter of fishing with tube flies. Waller was not the originator of using tube flies for steelhead and he freely admits that the system he uses is a result of experimentation and refinement by himself and others over a number of years. Waller has been fly fishing for over fifty years and his name became synonymous with fly fishing for steelhead when he came out with a set of three videos on the topic for Scientific Anglers 3M back in 1984. His evolution in steelhead angling made a quantum leap in 1997 when he was fishing with guide Bob Clay on the Kispiox River, a tributary of the famous Skeena River in British Columbia. Waller was reluctant to try the tube flies that Clay offered for fear that the small hooks on the tube flies would not hold up to the strong 20 plus pound Skeena system steelhead. But during a week of fishing Clay landed one hundred percent of the fish he hooked while Lani landed sixty percent of his hooked fish. That certainly turned Waller into a believer. When I first read that story I figured that if tube flies got Lani Waller’s attention they were definitely worth looking into.
So what is a tube fly, anyway? Well, tube flies differ from traditional flies in that they are tied on some kind of tube material instead of being tied on the shank of a metal hook. Tubes today are often made of different kinds of plastic or metal onto which are fastened the usual array of thread, feathers, hair and flash materials that normally go into the tying of a fly. The angler then ties a short shank hook onto the tippet material which has been threaded through the tube. The hook can then be pulled into a soft plastic junction tube that has been attached onto the back of the tube fly.
And who came up with this revolutionary idea? Well, that depends on who you talk to or where you look. The vast majority of sources that I came across give credit for the first tube flies to Minnie Morawski, a fly dresser who tied flies for the Charles Playfair Company in Aberdeen, Scotland back in 1945. Minnie was apparently using the hollow quills of bird feathers for her tubes. But then I found references to a British angler named Alexander Wanless who actually published a book with colored drawings of some tube flies in 1932. It is possible that Wanless is less often credited for the earliest tube flies because he was mostly a spin fisherman and the idea caught on later with the fishermen that really embraced the tube fly…the fly anglers. In the USA, tube flies were first used in patterns that were trolled behind boats. Although it undoubtedly happened earlier, the first documented use of tube flies in this country for casting for salmon or steelhead was in the Puget Sound area in 1985 (Fly Fishing for Pacific Salmon by Ferguson, Johnson, and Trotter). Traditional flies tied on hooks surely remain the most common type of artificial fly, but tube flies are now used worldwide for nearly all species of fish that are sought by fly anglers.
Tube Flies (the two flies on the left) from the 1932 book by Alexander Wanless
You may wonder why would anyone bother with tube flies in the first place. Well, there is a definite upside to tube flies due to a number of advantages that are often quoted in a variety of resources:
1. More fish landed— The short shank hook results in less leverage for a fish to throw a hook (see the example above of Lani Waller on the Kispiox)
2. More hook-ups— The positioning of the hook in the junction tube toward the rear of the fly can help eliminate short strikes by fish nipping the tail of the fly
3. Longer fly life— A strike by a fish will often cause the hook to be pulled free of the tube, causing the fly to slide up the leader away from the jaws of the fish
4. Easy to change out hooks— If a hook becomes dull or damaged it is easy to swap it out for a brand new laser sharp hook right out of the package
5. Easy storage of flies— Without the hooks on, it is easy to store a bundle of tube flies together without them getting all tangled up
Don’t be intimidated about tying tube flies. If you have tied a traditional fly before, you can tie a tube fly. The same basic skills are used to tie materials onto a plastic tube instead of tying onto the shank of a metal hook. Join us for our next Fly Tying Night and give tube flies a try. We will be meeting at The Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn on Wednesday, Jan. 24 at 6 pm. Hope to see you there!
For some of us the dropping temperatures and the falling leaves are signals that the annual approach of winter steelhead fishing is just around the corner. Instead of traveling to the Deschutes for our steelhead “fix” we are able to stay closer to home and fish local waters like the Clackamas and Sandy rivers. So now is the time to get ready by checking those fly boxes to make sure you have a full arsenal of winter steelhead patterns.
When asked to give me the name of a likely winter steelhead fly candidate for our November Fly Tying Night, two of my regular sources of information, Josh Linn and Dave Kilhefner, both mentioned the fly with the promising name of “Metal Detector”. When searching for a grab by a steelhead it makes sense that you can hardly go wrong with a fly called the Metal Detector.
Northwest guide Marty Sheppard is credited with coming up with the Metal Detector series of flies. Marty and his wife Mia have been the owners since 2003 of Little Creek Outfitters, a guide service based in Maupin. They specialize in swinging flies with both two handed and single handed rods and regularly guide on the Deschutes, Grande Ronde, John Day, and Sandy rivers.
Marty, along with his friend Josh Linn, experimented with a variety of materials in hopes of coming up with a large profile fly that was also easier to cast than some of the flies on the market at the time. The key turned out to be using materials that don’t soak up a lot of water. This makes the Metal Detector flies lighter and thus easier to cast than many flies. And we all know that heavy flies and sink tips can turn a promising day of fishing into an unpleasant chore. Marty Sheppard’s fly was originally tied with bucktail but now is also tied with finn raccoon. Both materials are buoyant, absorb little water, and don’t clump together when wet. Polar chenille, while also absorbing little water, is included in the body to give a translucent glow from the inside out. The flies are finished off with some flash and a marabou collar which provides added movement in the water. Trailing stinger hooks are used to help ensure the greater chance of a hookup.
Metal Detectors are usually two toned flies with favorite color combinations being black and blue, and red and orange. Black and blue is especially good on overcast days, dark conditions, or when the water is off color. The red and orange flies are preferred in bright sunlight or when the water is especially clear. It is interesting that all of the Metal Detectors I found in fly shop bins were tied on metal shanks, while Dave Kilhefner says that Marty actually ties his own on tubes.
Join us at The Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn on Wednesday, November 29th to tie up some Metal Detectors for the start of winter steelheading. It would be helpful if you brought your own super glue along with your vise and fly tying tools. As always, we will start at 6:00 pm. Hope to see you there!
While sitting in my pontoon boat last Spring at Rocky Ridge, I was smugly thinking I had cracked the code there. I had already released a number of nice fish caught on a variety of patterns and was therefore feeling pretty good about myself. That is until I started paying attention to how Dave Kilhefner was doing. It quickly became apparent that Dave was out-fishing me, and everyone else, by a big margin. Every time I looked over he was either playing a fish, or netting a fish, or releasing a fish. When I finally kicked over close enough to talk, I had to ask… “OK, Dave, whatcha usin’ “. A “Green Devil” was all I was able to make out from across the water. That didn’t do me any good because I didn’t have any “Devils”. In all truth I didn’t even know what a “Devil” was. So all I could do was give him a nod, as if to indicate that I knew exactly what he was talking about. It wasn’t until lunchtime when Dave got out his vise to tie up a few more “Devils” (the others were shredded) that I was able to see that he was talking about a marabou jig pattern. He thought that just calling it a “marabou jig” was simply too generic of a name. Dave wanted a name with a little more pizazz, hence “The Devil”. And then after reading the article about last month’s smallmouth bass fishing on The John Day River where he had good success with a “White Devil”, I thought OK, that is enough; it is time to look more closely into this Devil jig fly. I know Dave would not take credit for being the originator of marabou jig flies because they have been around forever, but for the purpose of this article I am going to give the Devil even some more pizazz and call it “Dave’s Devil”. I think it is appropriate to at least give Dave some credit for bringing jig flies to our attention.
Like most things involved with flyfishing it is possible to get started with jig flies at different degrees of immersion. Where you fit in would be based on your level of interest and the amount of time you have available:
1. “Get It And Go” Level— You can just go down and purchase already-made jig flies and off you go fishing.
2. “One Step Further” Level— You can purchase plain jig hooks that come with weighted heads and then use your fly tying skills and materials to create your own jig flies.
3. “All In” Level—At the far end of the spectrum are those folks that are fishing junkies (Dave would be included here). These are the people who take things one big step further and purchase equipment to melt lead down and then pour it into jig head molds containing bare jig hooks, thus creating their own weighted jig hooks. This is followed up with the final steps of tying the fly.
TIPS FROM DAVE
I asked Dave a number of questions regarding jig flies, so…
Why use jig hooks? They give a lot of motion to the fly. They sink better than bead heads. And they are weighted so that the hook point rides up, helping to avoid snagging the bottom and/or dulling the hook on rocks.
What kinds of fish have caught on your jig flies? Trout and steelhead mostly. But they also work well for bass and salmon.
I see that jig hooks come with the eyes at different angles. Which do you prefer? The 90 degree eyes work better when pouring lead into the molds.
90 Degree Eye Jig Hook
The 60 degree hooks work well with slotted tungsten beads for Czech style nymphing. It’s the hottest new thing.
60 Degree Eye Jig Hook
What size lead heads do you prefer on your jigs?
1/32 oz. or 1/64 oz. for Devils for trout; 1/16 oz. for steelhead if using a rod that can handle it (8 wt.). Jig heads also come in 1/80 & 1/100 oz sizes and these are great for tying fur nymph jigs like Hares Ears and Red Fox Squirrels.
What color of Devils do you prefer? olive-green or white
(On the internet people also seem to like black and brown for trout. Brighter, more garish colors can be useful for bass/crappie/panfish.)
Two of Dave’s favorite colors
What colors do you use on the head of your Devils? Coloring the head is really not necessary. But I use orange or pink for “fly box appeal”. I use an orange head for the green Devils and a pink head for the white ones. There is really no logic at all to this.
(People on the internet are all over the place on this subject. Everything from “Painting is a waste of time; an unpainted lead jig head is just fine”, to “It is essential to color the jig head”. Sounds like a good topic for experimentation.)
Are there other ways to create weighted jig heads than buying them or pouring your own? You can tie lead eyes above the “elbow” of a bare jig hook. Or you can tie lead eyes onto the top of a standard woolly bugger type hook.
(Also…On the internet I saw one guy crimping and super gluing a lead split shot onto the elbow of a bare jig hook. Might be worth a try.)
How do you like to color the heads of your Devils? Because you only need one coat to get the perfect color, and for its superior durability, powder-coating is the way to go. (There is lots of info on the internet on how to do this.)
Are there alternative ways to color the heads? Cheap…Base coat with white nail polish then paint colored nail polish over it; then add a final coat of clear like Sally Hansen’s Hard As Nails.
(I went with fingernail polish in preparing for our next Fly Tying Night. I found out that the white undercoat was essential in order to get the final colors to come out bright. Also a downside of using fingernail polish is the vapors/fumes. Some of us don’t have a lot of spare brain cells so make sure you have plenty of ventilation. Also there is a lot of internet chatter about the pros and cons of enamel, lacquer, and vinyl spray paints for jig heads.)
Colored jig heads ready for the final fly tying materials
I see that some people heat-treat the heads after coloring them? Do you bother with the heat treatment step? If so, how do you do it? Powder coating is the most durable finish but you have to bake it in the oven to take advantage of the durability, but powder coating doesn’t give off fumes like nail polish. It’s easy, just hang the jigs on the oven rack and bake at 275 for 30-40 mins. Baking is good for nail polish, too, but it creates some fumes so you have to air the place out and you don’t want your wife home while it’s going on 😉 .
The Devil you gave me had a body made of chenille. Do you ever use other materials for the body? Sometimes I make them like hares ear nymphs.
Do you ever add flash to your Devils? (in the body? in the tail?) I started to experiment but didn’t follow-up on it much. I think some rubber legs would be good to try.
How do you like to fish “The Devil”? In lakes I like to fish them like a woolly bugger, but give them more time to sink/drop before stripping and retrieving. Fish in lakes seem to like to take them when they are falling. In streams or rivers I dead drift them under an indicator.
Anything else of interest or importance? Use a short leader, 4-6’. That makes them easier to cast. Don’t go too heavy with the weighting of the jig head; heavier heads are hard to cast and you run the risk of breaking your rod.
So there you have it. After watching Dave wear himself out pulling in fish I think the jig flies are worth a try. Join us at the Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn on Wednesday, October 25 to tie up some “Dave’s Devils”. I will have some weighted jig hooks, chenille, and marabou for some basic patterns. Bring other materials if you want to dress them up a bit. We will start at 6 pm. Hope to see you there!
You can add as much as you want to your Dave’s Devil.
After a hiatus from the tyer’s table it will be good to get back to our monthly fly tying sessions. Heading into the fall months of the year the thoughts for many of us turn to swinging flies for steelhead on the Deschutes. In spite of the dismal prediction we are hearing about the outlook for steelhead on that river, it’s important to think positively and keep telling yourself that this year you may just have to work a little harder to find the fish that has your name on it. And always remember, just getting out on the water is a reward in itself!
Instead of looking at some hot new pattern I thought it would be good to look closely at a truly classic steelhead fly and some of its history. An Oregon attorney is credited with being the creator of the Green Butt Skunk. As happens in the world of fly tying, existing patterns continually evolve as new fly tyers add their own innovations in an effort to improve the effectiveness of the fly. That is the case with Dan Callaghan. It is thought that Dan most likely came up with his idea for the Green Butt Skunk in the 1950’s, tying it for the steelhead on his favorite river, the North Umpqua. He added some chartreuse chenille to an already existing steelhead pattern, The Skunk. If you are not familiar with The Skunk, just visualize something close to a classic Green Butt Skunk, minus the green butt. Adding the green butt apparently turned an already good steelhead fly into an iconic pattern used today by steelheaders in all parts of the world.
The true origin of the original Skunk may have been lost to time but the earliest mention of the fly seems to credit a Seattle gentleman named Wes Drain back in the 1930’s. Some sources say the name came from the general black and white color of the fly and some say that early examples used hair from a skunk. Apparently Drain’s original recipe actually called for a wing made of skunk hair, white over black. What better source of both black and white hair than a skunk! You can imagine that a single skunk skin would have provided early tyers with a lifetime of material for Skunk flies. But thank goodness we have a variety of other wing materials to use today because I can’t imagine where in our house my wife would allow me to keep a skunk skin!
The original Skunk fly
But being an innovative fly tyer was far from being Callaghan’s only claim to fame. A lawyer by trade, he lived in Salem his entire life. After discovering fly fishing for steelhead on the North Umpqua, Callaghan made it his life’s mission to do all he could to protect that river. He was one of the founders of both The Steamboaters and The North Umpqua Foundation, two organizations that are focused on protecting the North Umpqua River. Callaghan was a very accomplished photographer, and after his death in 2006 Callaghan’s wife helped to publish a book called Dan Callaghan’s North Umpqua, a collection of 156 of his photos taken over a period of fifty years. He was also a member and supporter of many conservation and flyfishing organizations, too many to list here. But if you ever feel like you have too many things going on in your life to participate in or support conservation and flyfishing, check out this link, to read more about Dan Callaghan’s dedication and accomplishments:
Another tribute to Callaghan was conceived by his good friend Steve Bukieda, along with Joel LaFollette to honor his memory. The plan was to display some variations of the Green Butt Skunk as a way to honor its creator. It came to be known as “The Dan Callaghan Collection – 101 Green Butt Skunks”. An idea that started out to be a modest display of a few variations of the Green Butt Skunk soon snowballed to the point that the number of flies had to be cut off at 100. The 101st fly in the display is one that was tied by Callaghan himself. LaFollette accompanied the impressive 3-panel display down to Salem for its official unveiling at the state Capitol. It was later auctioned off for $6,300, with the proceeds going to the North Umpqua Foundation to protect fish habitat. The winners of the auction chose to remain anonymous and wanted the collection to be displayed in a place where it could be enjoyed by the public. If you haven’t already seen it, stop in at The Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn where it is on display. If you are like me, you may have seen the collection there but never examined it very thoroughly. Upon looking closely at the names of the tyers, you will undoubtedly recognize many of them. It’s almost a “Who’s Who” list of noted Pacific Northwest fly tyers and steelheaders, as well as recognizable names from outside the area. It is interesting to see in one place how 100 other tyers have their own take on Dan Callahan’s fly. Indeed it is certainly an appropriate and impressive tribute to the man who brought us the Green Butt Skunk, arguably the most recognizable of all steelhead flies.
Joel LaFollette and Mary Kay Callaghan, Dan Callaghan’s wife with “The Dan Callaghan Collection– 101 Green Butt Skunks”
A few Green Butt Skunks should be in the flybox of every steelheader. Join us for our next Fly Tying Night on Wednesday, Sept. 27. As always, we will be meeting at The Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn at 6 pm.
At our May meeting Dave Kilhefner passed along some of his fly fishing tips to us. I always pay attention to information coming from Dave and I know I have become a better fisherman because of it. As a fly tyer I was particularly interested in his information on the topic of “Guide Flies”, those flies that guides like to tie up in quantities for their clients because they are effective, fast and easy to tie, and usually have three or fewer different materials in them. Those are criteria that make it possible to tie up some effective flies while you are just taking a break or having lunch and waiting to go back out on the water. Which is exactly what I saw Dave do at Rocky Ridge Ranch this year. After lunch it was fun watching him catch fish, after fish, after fish… The fly he used that day is not this month’s fly. We’ll save that one for later, but this month’s fly, The WD-40, is on Dave’s list of “Guide Flies”.
A long-time Colorado guide and fly tyer, Mark Engler, is credited with creating the WD-40 back in 1982. Mark is apparently one of those quiet, unassuming sorts whose entire life revolves around fly fishing. His friends say the fact that he has three ex-wives could be a testament to his dedication to fishing. Stories of the origin of the WD-40 name come in many versions. Many say that WD stands for “wood duck”, a versatile feather that many tyers use for this pattern. But if you search the internet you can find a video of Engler himself tying his own WD-40, and guess what… he doesn’t use wood duck. He uses mallard. So you can subscribe to other versions of the origin of the name given to Engler’s fly. I didn’t feel entirely comfortable passing on the most likely story in this article, but if you ask me in private I would be glad to share it with you.
Bead Head WD-40
The WD-40 was originally designed by Engler as a midge emerger pattern for Colorado’s Frying Pan River and it was an instant success. Anglers soon found that it was also a terrific BWO emerger pattern. Because midges are out all year it is a good fly to often tie on as a dropper behind a dry fly or a nymph. The WD-40 is most often tied on a curved scud-type hook, in small sizes, like 18’s and smaller (like down to 24’s !) But if you are going to be tying small flies, it is good to have them be something that are easy to tie. Favorite colors seem to be olive and black, but they are also tied in brown, gray, and tan. As with the evolution of many fly patterns, there seems to be an endless number of variations of the WD-40. One of the more effective ones even has its own name variation… the WD-50. It is like the WD-40 except it takes the emerging process one step further, as it is tied with short emerging wing buds.
Our next Fly Tying Night will be Wednesday, June 28th. We will be meeting at The Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn to tie up some WD-40 flies. Although small, this pattern would be suitable for tyers of all levels of experience. Our Royal Treatment friends will have tools to loan to you for the evening. We’ll be starting at 6pm. Hope to see you there!
One of our older and more productive dry fly patterns is The Adams. I may be biased, but I feel that it has a great name. And more than once I have told fishing friends that it was invented by a relative of mine. You know your storytelling material is getting low when you run out of “fishing lies” and have to start telling “fly tying lies”. But, in reality, a fellow by the name of Len Halladay is credited with the creation of The Adams back in 1922. So perhaps you are wondering why it is not called “The Halladay”? Well, one story goes that Halladay came up with the idea of the fly as a general purpose mayfly imitation. He tied the fly and then gave it to his friend Charles Adams who first fished it on the Boardman River in Michigan and spoke highly of the success he had with it. So instead of naming his creation after himself, Halladay chose to name it after his friend Adams. Another story says that Adams came up with the idea for the fly and had Halladay tie it to his specifications. Either way, as they say, the rest is history. Since 1922 The Adams has been one of the most effective and popular dry flies in the world.
Classic Up-wing Adams
The classic Adams fly is tied with a gray body, upright wings, and usually with both grizzly and brown hackles. It is said to be an impressionistic pattern that can represent many grayish and brownish mayflies as well as other insects. It is often a good searching fly to use. According to Scott Richmond in his book Fishing In Oregon’s Best Fly Waters, the Adams is seldom the exact “right” fly, but it is rarely the “wrong” fly to use.
The original Adams fly has been modified into a number of variations over the years, including the Adams Irresistible, the Adams Wulff, the Adams Loop Wing, the Adams Hairwing Dun, and the Adams Humpy. But the most popular variation is The Parachute Adams , the pattern that we will be tying at this month’s Fly Tying Night. The skills we practice in tying the Parachute Adams can translate to other parachute patterns. In his book Tying Dry Flies, Randall Kauffmann describes fifteen other parachute dry fly patterns, that includes the Parachute Ant, the Parachute Black Gnat, the Parachute Baetis, the Parachute PMD, the Parachute Green Drake, and others. So once you master the skill of tying the parachute wing of the Parachute Adams you will be ready to experiment with other parachute patterns.
Thanks to our club librarian, Carson Taylor, for forwarding some interesting information regarding parachute patterns and why they are so effective. Apparently, in author Gary Borger’s opinion, the Parachute Adams should be best considered as the ultimate emerger pattern, and not an adult dun or spinner pattern. The profile of the Parachute Adams, and other parachute patterns, sitting low in the water are viewed by the fish as insects struggling to emerge through the surface film. For more details regarding emerging insects see Carson for Gary Borger’s book Fishing The Film (2010).
The first parachute stye fly may have been tied by a Scottish lady named Helen Todd back in the early 1930’s. She is said to have used a boar’s bristle as a “mast” around which she wound the hackle. Her idea was taken further by others and special hooks with a built-in “mast” at a right angle to the hook shank were produced.
A Hardy hook from the 1930’s with a built-in “mast”. These fell out of favor because of the increased weight.
A patent was taken out in 1933 and the first parachute style flies were sold as “gyroflies”. Improvements were made over the years and today the unique horizontal hackle of the parachute is wound around an upright wing or “post”. The horizontal hackle allows the fly to land upright in the water and float in the surface film. The horizontal hackle fibers on the water apparently make a good imitation of the legs of an insect and also provide more buoyancy than hackle that is wound vertically. White calf tail was once the most common post material but today synthetic materials like poly yarn are often used. The post material really increases the visibility of the fly. As any angler knows, it is really easy to lose track of the location of a small fly on the water, especially in low light conditions. And that is especially true with an Adams fly that is mostly gray/brown in color. So the post of a parachute fly becomes a big asset in tracking the fly in the water. Despite the visibility to us, post materials don’t seem to deter fish from taking the flies. In fact some anglers prefer Parachute Adams flies tied with a post using hi-visability colors like pink, orange, or chartreuse.
Hi-Vis Parachute Adams
Our next Fly Tying Night will be Wednesday, May 24th. We will be meeting at The Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn to tie up some Parachute Adams flies. This pattern would be suitable for tyers with at least a moderate amount of experience. It would not be a good fly for your first ever fly tying experience. Our Royal Treatment friends will have tools to loan out for the evening. We’ll be starting at 6pm. Hope to see you there!
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
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).
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.
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!
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!