tying freshwater streamers

Guest Blogger: Clay Cunningham, Cody, Wyoming, retired National Park Superintendent

Among the many pleasures of tying your own flies are creating flies that you believe are better examples of a particular insect than the many examples that already exist. It is generally an established fact that some well-known patterns such as the Adams dry fly, elk hair caddis, Royal Wulff, the pheasant tail nymph, and the Prince nymph to name a few  are more effective than many others. Creating new patterns is something many, if not all fly tiers do, but many fly tiers also try to make minor changes to the proven fish-catching patterns that could make that fly selected more frequently by trout. I do that a lot though I never have kept track of every change I made and a written record that would support success or failures enough to be able to provide expert testimony on all the results.

I recall when I first started to make minor changes to a proven nymph pattern years ago on one of my rare days off as the Madison River sub-district ranger in Yellowstone. For those readers unfamiliar with a sub-district ranger’s work schedule, though I was living at Madison Junction, which for a fly fisherman is like winning a lottery, I was on duty and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. My sub-district extended from the Virginia Cascades on the Gibbon River, included the Firehole River Canyon on to the Madison River Bridge half-way to West Yellowstone including all the backcountry in between. You would be surprised how many people could get in trouble in that sub-district because of wildlife, accidents, crime, medical emergencies and plain stupidity. For me to get a day off and go fishing was only possible if I had someone covering my sub-district and .that was rare. Well, one day it was possible and I went fishing on the Firehole River. I was casting a well-known representative pattern of a mayfly nymph with no results. So I changed the fly to the same nymph pattern, but one of which I had tied a brown ostrich herl around the abdomen to represent the tracheal gills which all aquatic insects have somewhere on their body. Immediately I was hooking trout. Was it the filamentous gills, or something else in my presentation, line management, dumb luck, what? Whatever it was, I became a believer that minor changes to some fly patterns could be more effective. In the past few years I added a small piece of white polypro or a white CDC feather emerging from the nymph’s wingcase as though it represented the beginning of the wing coming out. I am not sure whether it makes a difference in the number of “takes,” though it hasn’t prevented strikes.

Mayfly nymphs have tracheal gills on their sides or the rear of their abdomen. They can be easily imitated with ostrich herl or very small hackles. Stoneflies and caddisflies have filamentous gills below their thorax or abdomen. In stoneflies they are usually located on the underside of the developing nymph. That is harder to imitate and probably not worth the effort. But, I wrapped an ostrich herl under the belly of a stonefly below the location of the developing wings. It didn’t improve the effectiveness of the stonefly, and I never have tried to imitate gills on a caddisfly. However, there are other experiments that might be successful. Every fisherman looks forward to the hatch of the giant salmonfly, Pteronarcys californica. The adult of that famous trout fly is quite colorful. It is predominantly black with a salmon colored abdomen and color-rings near the head. The developing nymph molts under the water for about three years to develop and it is black. I tied a salmon fly nymph with the colors found on the adult. My experiment is to see if the colors of the adult will increase trout strikes of the nymph. Well, it does, but I cannot be sure it is more effective than a solid black stonefly nymph. The experiment needs more testing.

One of my other experiments that I wrote about previously is I am convinced that prominent wings and a high float of your dry flies does increase the number of takes by trout. If you tie your own flies you might want to try some changes in the proven patterns that you think might work.

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