Tuesday, December 20, 2011


One of the pleasures of putting up a Christmas tree each year is hanging up those ornaments that were handmade by our kids. Some have been with us for a long time, some are a little more recent. Jeremiah has one from grade school made with a small paper plate with his school picture pasted in the middle of it. Around it is a festive border of pasted-on pretzels. One of the pretzels is broken. I always thought it was simply a casualty of the yearly unpacking and repacking, but Jeremiah told me that he got hungry one year and took a bite.

You can't buy that in a store.

For me, every fly I tie is like that. I have some that have survived many seasons of fishing, some that I just tied and fished a month ago. But old or new, each fly I tie is something personal, and I can look at one and remember when that tail got chewed off, or exactly where I was and what fish I was trying to fool when I clipped the tail off and trimmed the hackle back to make a mayfly look like an ant.

Every once in awhile it's time to clear the fly patch on my vest, and it's a little like undecorating a Christmas tree as I take off each fly, ponder the memories that come with it, and carefully put it away.

Flies are a special part of our sport, because of their beauty, and because of all the pleasure and personal satisfaction that comes from their creation--and from just holding them in your hand. But much more than that, flies are the sport. That's why we call it fly fishing, after all. Rods and reels and slick new lines are nice, but they exist only as an efficient means of getting the fly to the trout.

And, in the final analysis, that's what it's all about. When we tie on that fly and cast it out, it becomes the key that unlocks the gate and allows us to enter the magical world of the trout; and when that fly and a trout converge in a flash of energy, they become the flint and steel that strike the sparks that keeps the fire going that burns in us for these creatures and their beautiful world.

So it's with great pleasure that I honor and celebrate the flies that made this season at the lake one of the best ever.

The Carpet Caddis

The Carpet Caddis was First Runner Up last year, but this year it blew away the competition. It was the first dry fly I tied on way back on the first day of the season, and it didn't disappoint, taking the first Rainbow on a dry. Throughout the rest of the season, it was the go-to fly in almost any situation. I had my best days ever on the lake stripping this fly around weed beds. It was killer when dropped right up against the shoreline, or when stripped over shallow flats, or off of drop offs, or over deep water. And there was many an evening, as the midges swarmed over the still water, that rising trout would slam it as soon as it settled on the water.

I first saw this fly on TV as Don Freschi used it to catch big Rainbows on the Columbia in B.C. He named it "Carpet Caddis"  because antron yarn is its main ingredient. His version is tied on a shortshank hook, I believe. I've had better luck with a #12 2X streamer hook.

Hook: #12 curved shank 2X streamer hook
Thread: Black
Tail: Olive Antron yarn with a few strands of copper Krystal Flash
Body: Olive dubbing, or Antron yarn, wrapped
Rib: copper Krystal Flash
Underwing: Copper Krystal Flash
Overwing: Olive Antron yarn
Thorax: tan or orange dubbing
Hackle: Brown saddle, oversized

The Muddler

The classic Muddler, in several variations, was the fly I went to when my go-to fly wasn't working, or slowed down. I found it very effective plowed through the waves behind me, or stripped back from the shore through the breakers, on very windy days. I also found that a big, juicy Muddler towed behind me on the still surface after it was too dark to see a fly would elicit big hits from better-than-average fish.

It was also a Muddler--the very one pictured above--that got me into fish on my first trip to famed Chopaka Lake. In the middle of the day when others were trolling deep, I tied on this pattern and caught more than enough fish to keep me busy by casting along a reed line and stripping it in. 

Hook: Streamer hook, any size
Thread: Black
Tail: Black Marabou; a few strands of Krystal Flash
Body: Tinsel, silver or gold
(or black dubbing with silver or gold tinsel rib)
Underwing: Krystal Flash and white Marabou
Overwing: Black Marabou
Head and Collar: Deer hair, stacked and clipped

The Bead Head Carpet Leech

The Bead Head Carpet Leech (if I have to come up with a name for it, that's as good as any) was the fly I consistently went to when it was time to troll. I always troll when moving from one location to another, or when the fish go down and won't come to dries anymore, or when I simply feel like a relaxing paddle around the lake. In the past, a black Bead Head Leech was a guaranteed fish-getter, but when I wasn't having any luck with that this year I came up with this fly. Yes, it was definitely inspired by the Carpet Caddis. And it worked just as well.

Bead: Gold
Hook: #12 2X streamer hook
Thread: black
Tail: Antron yarn
Body: olive dubbing, or Antron yarn
Rib: black Krystal Flash
Wing: Antron yarn
Thorax: black Krystal Flash wound around thread

Black Ant

The Black Ant didn't catch as many fish as the other flies, but it afforded me with one of the most enjoyable interludes in the season. After observing an ant fall one day, I went home and tied up a few of these, and for the next two weeks trout would eagerly take them during the evening rise. This fly encapsulates the great cycle of pleasure for a fly fisherman: from observation to imitation to fish in the net.

Hook: #14 dry fly hook
Thread: black
Body: black wool dubbing in ant shape
Wing: white or amber Antron yarn, sparse,
tied in between abdomen and thorax
Hackle: Grizzly, tied in between abdomen and thorax

The Black and Brown Stimulator

I love The Black and Brown Stimulator. I tied this particular fly two years ago, caught the biggest Brown of my life on it last year, and it still catches fish when no other fly will. It's a little fly that gives big results. I didn't use it as much as the Carpet Caddis this year, but when I did tie it on it produced.

It further captured my heart this season on a Father's Day trip when the Carpet Caddis--and any other fly--was getting no attention. I tied on the Black and Brown and caught three large and lovely Browns in the same bank side hole. I have caught Rainbows on it, but it seems to have a special attraction to Browns. And to me. I love this fly.

Hook: #12 dry fly hook
Thread: black
Tail: Black deer hair
Body: Orange dubbing
Body hackle: Dun, palmered
Wing: Black deer hair
Hackle: Brown saddle


The humble Scud is a fly I have neglected in the past. I tried to remedy that this Spring by tying up a few and fishing them persistently. It paid off. For several weeks in the chilly waters of the lake I caught fish consistently. There is no better way to spend a Spring afternoon than watching your indicator dip under the glinting surface telling you that yet another hungry Rainbow has taken your fly.

Hook: #14 wet fly or scud hook
Thread: Olive
Body: Olive flash dubbing, picked out
Shellback: plastic bag cut to shape
Rib: copper Krystal Flash
Tail and Antennae: Dun hackle fibers

The Good Old Red Head Stimulator

I don't have a close up photo of this fly except the one above. I tied this many years ago. It has caught lots of fish for me, and this Fall I luckily stumbled onto it as I was tackling the interesting challenge of fishing the pocket water between heavy weed beds and the shoreline. I had broken off my last Carpet Caddis and so went for this old standby. I don't know if it was the red head, or what, but when there was a fish in those pockets it slammed this fly. This Brown was one of the best of the many it took.

Sadly, I broke off this fly, too, maybe in a bigger fish than that Brown. It's gone forever. But I will be tying up little clones of it before next season.

Why does this Brown trout look very surprised?

The Worst Hookup of the Year. Ouch.

Here's to the flies--and the fish--of 2012.


  1. Great post! How cool is it that Jeremiah took a bite of the pretzel ornament! A story for the ages.I hope you take this the right way...I like your tying style because it strikes me as authentic. Your Muddler's are just the way that I like them. Wishing you and yours all the best.

  2. "it's time to clear the fly patch on my vest, and it's a little like undecorating a Christmas tree as I take off each fly, ponder the memories that come with it, and carefully put it away." That's a great image...

    It's the time of year for reflection, and is good to do so....and I very much enjoyed yours.


  3. Herringbone: Yes, I take it the right way. I like "authentic." Nothing fancy, using what I have. As I've said before, my tying is workmanlike, and it works. Thanks for the comment.
    Erin: And thank you. I appreciate the emphasis on reflection, coming from you, a fine reflector. Cheers to you and yours!

  4. Thank you Jim. Communication has been a hang up. Andrew Wyeth. Your open mind has been a gift in this season. Peace.

  5. A wonderful collection of flies and some great stories to go along with them. I look forward to reading that first report from the now infamous Trout Lake come next year.
    Here's hoping you and your family have a Merry Christmas and a New Year filled with even more joy than the last.

  6. HighPlains: Thanks so much. Wishing you and yours all the blessings of the season as well.