I stayed up late the night before, prepping all my gear and tackle for the next day. Dropshot rig with 7x tippet and 13 tediously tied knots: check. New sling pack tactfully loaded with all the necessary accessories: check. Tea, smoothie, and downloaded podcasts for the long drive to the river: check. Paying close attention to the weather report: umm … whoops!
What was supposed to be my first outing of the year to the Swift River turned into a scrapped plan and a whole bunch of unexpected free time (well, studying time with midterms coming soon). I thought I was fully prepared to brave the wintery conditions, having gathered every wool sock, nitrile glove, hand warmer, and pom-pom hat in the house, yet there was one element I wasn’t prepared for; that breezy, blustery w-word snuck up on me like Dave and Amelia Jensen on a brown trout. I tried to ignore the ghastly gales as they rattled the pine trees throughout the night, but the gusts were hard to ignore when I walked outside to start packing my car in the morning. As I started the car and turned on the first episode of the Orvis Fly Fishing Podcast, I finally conceded to the bane of all fly anglers. I could barely hear Tom’s voice over the incessant whistling of the darn wind!
So instead of an epic tale detailing the methods I used to fool innumerable 20+ inch trout during my trip to the Swift, you’ll have to settle for a description of some of the flies I’ve tied recently. As you’ll quickly be able to tell, there is no theme to these patterns, other than my inability to tie more than five flies of one style before getting bored and moving on to a new one. So, in no particular order, here they are:
The Cooper Bug, a variation of the Devil Bug or Doodle Bug, is a Maine stillwater staple. Not only is this supposedly a super-effective pattern, but it was also incredibly easy to tie; I was able to churn these out in about two minutes apiece, and that’s coming from quite possibly the world’s slowest fly tier. Though the exposed deer hair may be fragile and liable to breakage by a trout’s teeth, the ease of tying leaves me with little concern. I tied these bugs in sizes 12 and 14 as attractor patterns, but they could also be tied smaller as more realistic caddis imitations.
Somehow I wasn’t aware until just a couple months ago that acclaimed fly tier Jack Gartside is actually from right here in the Bay State! While Gartside first tied the Sparrow along the banks of the Madison, it is proclaimed to work on his home waters here in New England just as well. You’d be hard pressed to find a much buggier looking pattern than this one, with its spiky dubbing, messy aftershaft head, and oversized pheasant rump collar. I made one small modification to the original recipe, adding pearl tinsel as a rib. I envision this fly working great on stillwaters as a dragonfly nymph. I’ve even been experimenting with a wooly bugger version that uses hackle wrapped up the body. Depending on how this fly performs, this may just become one of my new favorite patterns to tie and fish!
This fly is still very much a work in progress for me. After seeing a really cool streamer from @brendancurley713 on Instagram, I was inspired to try some bucktail work. Tying big, bulky bucktail streamers is something I’ll get really into every once in a while, spend a couple hours tying just one or two flies, and quickly lose interest until the cycle starts all over. When I am on my streamer-tying kick, there is one source I always turn to for all the help I need: Gunnar Brammer. Gunnar is an absolute genius who knows how to break down even the most complex techniques into layman’s terms. I cannot recommend his Beginner Predator Flies series enough, as it lays the foundation for any more advanced bug.
Ok, back to my fly. I had hoped to achieve some more blending of colors with the top layer of bucktail, but the fly ended up being mostly white. I am really pleased with the olive-yellow dubbing in the head, as I self-blended it using some acrylic yarn. I think in future ties, I’ll use less white and more olive/yellow/chartreuse on the top, and perhaps use a shorter-shanked, wider-gaped hook.
Another fly inspired by an Instagram post, this one comes courtesy of @topnotchflyguy. So I said there was no theme to these patterns, but I guess one could say they are pretty stillwater-centric. This fly is meant to imitate an underrated forage item in lakes and ponds, water boatmen. Water boatmen can be found throughout stillwaters and are most often preyed on by trout during their mating frenzy in the early spring. The fly’s buggy appearance might also act as a simple attractor pattern representing a wide range of insects. Though this pattern seems to have originally been tied with some flashy hare’s ear dubbing, I blended in some rainbow scud dubbing for an added attractor look.
San Juan Worm
In tying a bunch of SJWs for a giveaway at the Fly Fishing Show, I realized there may be no better way to de-stress than filling a box with these “junk flies”. SJWs are about as basic as they come: some thread, a piece of chenille, and a bead if you’re feeling ambitious. When you’re really working full-force, you could probably tie each in less than a minute. But sometimes it’s nice to sit back and enjoy the simplicity and peacefulness of fly tying.
Not only are these flies easy to tie, but they also catch fish like no other. They have turned into a day saver on numerous occasions for me, catching everything from stocked stillwater rainbows to clear-water smallmouth to wild blue-line brookies.
Craft Fur Brookie
I originally tied this fly to imitate a young brook trout that large, aggressive brown trout might prey on. What resulted looks little like a brook trout, but would likely entice a hungry brown all the same. The streamer uses multiple layers of craft fur to form the body/wing, and a mix of dubbings to build a bulky head. Funny enough, I found the perfect hook for this pattern to be a dropshot hook from my spinning gear. One might say it’s an unconventional use for conventional gear 😉
After Shaft Scud
Ignore the semi-suspicious sounding name of this pattern; like the fly itself, it is still a work-in-progress. After tying the Gartside Sparrow, I realized the potential of after shaft feathers from birds like pheasants and partridge. For those who don’t know, after shaft is a small, secondary feather growing from the base of a larger one. They characteristically have downy, loose-webbed barbs branching from a very thin stem. In tying with these feathers, I noted their similarity to ostrich herl, which is used in a number of simple scud patterns. In a few minutes, I had whipped up a concoction of pheasant after shaft wrapped with fine copper wire and cased in a few layers of UV resin. Will this pattern replace other classic scud patterns? Probably not. But it does prove that after shaft feathers have a plethora of uses beyond the Sparrow.
Corn Fed Caddis
It seems everything in fly fishing today is moving toward the tight line system, dry fly fishing included. If you haven’t watched/read this video/article from Flylords, you have to check it out. In brief, it describes a technique in which a tungsten-beaded nymph or streamer is fished as the point fly, and a caddis dry is tied on a dropper tag a couple feet up the tippet. The idea is that the heavy point fly creates tension in the system, effectively allowing you to jig the caddis on and off the water’s surface like a natural. The results depicted in the video speak for themselves, and I have buddies who vouch for the technique as well.
Though I’m sure any caddis pattern would work, it only seems fitting to fish a Lance Egan pattern while using a technique formulated by the man himself. This was a new fly to me, but I’m excited to try it out in the coming season. Without the floatation of hackle or foam, I’m sure it won’t replace traditional caddis dries, though it will certainly have its place in the “bouncing caddis” rig.
Get out there and enjoy the warm weather while you can. While I’d love to see some cold temps for ice formation, and am frankly a little concerned about the trend this mild winter could be setting, I won’t complain about more time on the river.
If you’re interested in purchasing any of these flies, or any that you see on the website, feel free to reach out through the Contact Page. I’m happy to work with you to find the flies that best suit the waters you intend to fish.