Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, Montana

I caught this jack in about a 1' of water off an oyster bed on a big chartreuse deceiver in mid-January. Completely unexpected. Took ~10 minutes to land with a 6 wt and the fish was well into the backing in 10 seconds. Thank goodness for sound knots!
I caught this jack in about a 1′ of water off an oyster bed on a big chartreuse deceiver in mid-January. Completely unexpected. Took ~10 minutes to land with a 6 wt and the fish was well into the backing in 10 seconds. Thank goodness for sound knots!

Deception and trickery imply acts or practices of one who deliberately deceives. Deception may or may not imply blameworthiness, since it may suggest cheating or merely tactical resource. Trickery implies ingenious acts intended to dupe or cheat. Deception is a staple of modern-day football—the play-action pass. Camouflage deceives others into not seeing you. Our pastime—fly fishing is ripe with deception. In fact, the fly fishing industry relies on the most blatant act of deception—getting fish to accept a conglomeration of fur, feathers and/or synthetics secured to a sharp but thin piece of steel as food or prey. From tiny midges to ginormous marlin flies, we fly anglers and fly tiers are masters (relatively speaking) of deception. We tie and present our flies to fish of all sorts with the sole intent to deceive then into accepting the conglomeration we call a fly as food or prey.

Brown and White Fur Deceiver

There is one fly that epitomizes this completely obvious and conspicuous deception we practice on a routine basis—Lefty’s Deceiver. Lefty Kreh is undoubtedly one of the most well-known fly angling personalities of the late 20th and early 21st century in the United States. An author of dozens of fresh and saltwater fly fishing books, a fly casting master and regular at most large fly fishing shows, Lefty is probably best known for his signature fly—the Lefty’s Deceiver. The Deceiver is not so much a specific pattern, but a fly style that was developed to solve a very specific problem. That style has evolved into one of the most successful flies in the modern era of fly fishing.

In the late 1950s, striped bass populations in the Chesapeake Bay were healthy and Lefty pursued them on a regular basis along the lower Eastern shore of the bay. He and his fishing partners faced a rather common issue with the big streamer flies of the time—feathers fouling around the hook. Saddle hackles secured near the eye of the hook, as was the common practice of the time, had a tendency to twist and foul around the hook bend during retrieves. Fouled flies rarely deceived the wily striped bass. Lefty’s goal as he put it was: “I’m going to design a fly that won’t foul on the cast! It will have a fish shape, but can be made in many lengths. You can vary the color combinations; it will also swim well but when lifted for the back cast it will be sleek and have little air-resistance.” The original Deceiver was all white and mimicked the prolific smelt that the Chesapeake Bay stripers foraged on. In the 1960s when Lefty relocated to South Florida and began pushing the limits of saltwater fly fishing, the Deceiver grew in popularity and in variety. Today, the Deceiver is tied in an almost infinite number of color-material-size combinations. In 2012, Kreh published 101 Fish—A Fly Fisher’s Life List detailing many of his fly fishing exploits around the world. A great majority of those species were deceived by Lefty’s Deceivers.

The basics of the Lefty’s Deceiver are simple. Hackles, typically saddle or Schlappen, are tied in at the bend of the hook. The originals were tied on short shank saltwater hooks, but any short shank hook works well. From four to six hackles are used with the curvature of the hackle (if any) to the outside. This fundamental aspect of the Deceiver is what not only prevents fouling, but also provides deceptive movement and action in the water. Flash is added as desired either on top or at the sides of the hackles. Bodies are typically some form of tinsel or Mylar, but can be anything from dubbing, chenille, or tubing. The wing or collar of the fly was first tied with buck tail on top and on the bottom of the hook shank that extended past the bend of the hook. This wing or collar helped prevent the hackles from fouling around the hook point. Today, fur and synthetics as well as buck tail are used to tie Deceivers. Eyes of any sort can be added to the head of the fly if desired. Because Deceivers are extremely easy to tie, I’ve always had them in my saltwater boxes and have successfully used them for trout, bass, pike and hybrid striped bass and white bass in freshwater. Commercially, you may find a dozen different varieties of Deceivers in the fly catalogs and small scale tiers and local shops will have all sorts of derivations of the basic Deceiver pattern. But this is a pattern you should tie yourself, no matter which of those 101 species of gamefish you want to deceive. Here are some favorites from my fly boxes.

Classic White and Chartreuse Fur Deceiver

This is a classic white and chartreuse Deceiver with one variation. Instead of buck tail, the wing and collar are tied with Finn Raccoon which gives the fly a lot of deceptive motion in the water while still shedding water well during the cast.



Cockroach Fur Deceiver

The so called “Cockroach Deceiver” uses shorter, grizzly hackles that might resemble the barred markings on pinfish, crabs or shrimp. This one is tied with Finn Raccoon for the wing/collar under laid with Just Add H2O Steve Farrar SF Blend in brown for some subtle belly flash.

One of my favorite Deceiver adaptions came out of the many years I was able to fish for Northern Pike each summer on Lakes Kabetogama and Namakan in Minnesota. Normal Deceivers with tinsel bodies did not stand up well to the voracious teeth of the pike. One or two fish would completely destroy the fly.

Epoxied Rattle EZ Tube Body Ready to Add Hackle and Wings
Epoxied Rattle EZ Tube Body Ready to Add Hackle and Wings

My particular solution evolved out of some experimentation with Hareline EZ Body Tubing and small glass rattles. Adapting the Deceiver style to a 5/0 straight shank Owner or Gamakatsu worm hook was a two-step process. Step one involved cutting a piece of EZ tubing to length and slipping it over the hook shank then inserting a small rattle inside the tube. The tubing was secured with Kevlar thread at the hook bend and about ¼” behind the hook eye. I tried to make the thread wraps as smooth as possible at each end. I then epoxied the entire body with clear 60 minute epoxy. This created an extremely durable body that would withstand the onslaught of pike teeth. Once the epoxy was set step two involved just fleshing out the fly in typical Deceiver style—saddle hackles and flash at the hook bend and a buck tail wing/collar at the head of the fly. I sealed the head and hook bend wraps with a bit of 5 minute epoxy. Colors were typically white and red or white and chartreuse. I tied the fly in the photos specifically for this post with materials on-hand. The enclosed rattle made these very effective around the edges of weed beds and in deep water on sink tips.

Completed Red and White Rattle Deceiver for Pike
Completed Red and White Rattle Deceiver for Pike

Tied short or long, no matter what colors or materials, Lefty’s Deceiver is a versatile pattern for all sorts of freshwater and saltwater species. Easy to tie, easy to fish and above all easy to adapt to any condition or species, the Lefty’s Deceiver has provided decades of deception for anglers across the globe.

1 Comment

  1. Lefty’s Deceiver is an indispensable pattern, whether tied in bright attractor colors or to suggest a natural baitfish. A Chartreuse and White Deceiver is my favorite. As Lefty himself famously said, “If it ain’t chartreuse, it ain’t no use.” It’s always a good idea to have a change-up, though, and during the past few years I’ve done very well with a hot pink and white Deceiver for Striped Bass (or “Rock,” as the locals call them) on the Chesapeake Flats during the spring Catch & Release season. I tie them on 2/0 or 3/0 hooks, and really like the Daiichi “X-Point” models.

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