Fly tying, through dire chance or fateful cock up it seems is my sole creative output, so here is a slice of the last year or so’s efforts, enjoy, or conversely, don’t
There’s muddlers, and then there’s ADD fly tying party time
Small fly shops are all too few these days, and it’s a tough market even during good economic times(unlike now) but I’m happy to pass on that there is a new fly shop located in the comox region, more specifically the village of Cumberland.
Pop in next time your on the way up island, Peter and the rest of the crew are stand up guys, and the inventory is growing fast. Do yourself a favour, skip Cabelas and stop in at a real fly shop on your way to wherever on this little slice of paradise known as Vancouver island….and stop in at the microbrewery while your at it.
February kind of sucks, it’s true, and you are probably more interested in risking hypothermia, depression and death or worse in some shitty river that has a negligible winter steelhead run than fishing for sea runs at this juncture. But wait! Within a few weeks a whole different fishery is about to begin. Around this time in the world of sea run cutthroat fly fishing one will often start to see patterns that imitate the alevin stage of the young salmonid’s development. This month’s sadly belated FOTM, rather than focusing on a specific pattern, is specifically about ideas for alevin flies.
An alevin (pronounced al-ay-vin) is the name given to the stage of development in a salmon after the embryo hatches from within the egg. The alevin breaks through the egg membrane with the yolk sac still attached beneath the throat. In this stage, which looks like a tiny little clear/light coloured fish with an orange egg like yolk sac attached underneath the neck, the alevin which is still beneath the gravel, grows and develops using the yolk sac for nutrients and energy. The sac is slowly absorbed (“buttoned up”) into the fish as they grow. They grow slowly, even beginning to feed beneath the gravel. This stage ends typically when the alevin has absorbed the yolk sac and the diminutive fry emerges, freely swimming from the gravel.
An interesting discussion on the subject from a fishing perspective can be found here:
In all the years I’ve tramped up and down rivers in the spring, I have never seen a full fledged alevin swimming around, only a few with a very thin vestigial bit of orange under the throat. These fry were fairly small (a little over an inch). Alevin typically stay beneath the gravel until they have completely absorbed the yolk sac; however, high water events, scouring, or other disruptions (predators rooting in the gravel, anglers walking across spawning gravel etc.) can wash alevin free into the current. They really can’t swim much and at this point become easy prey for hungry opportunistic trout. From an angling perspective it is possible that the orange or red in these patterns is just triggering a response to what might appear to be a wounded fry, it is also possible that they are still taking these flies as regular fry patterns, or even just purely as an attractor, but in the end I think it’s hard to speak to the motivations of a highly nomadic, hungry anadromous trout, although many have gone insane trying. One thing I do know is that these patterns work. As always I encourage you to tie your own version of an alevin, I think a lot of the fun in fly tying is experimenting with different patterns and materials and then testing them on animals. Though that doesn’t sound so good it’s true.
Egg n’ I
One of my own creations, let’s call it frynado
Shrink tube alevin
Tied down minnow version-the super beadhead/glue gun edition
There’s always a good chance on any steelhead stream that these patterns can get a response from the “other” trout, but be aware that both cutthroat and steelhead kelts are around, and they are often easy to catch, so, be easy on these fish, especially the females, whose fecundity as repeat spawners can be very important for the health of future runs. That’s right motherfucker.
March is a month of many things to many people, but for our weird little niche of fly fishing it’s the start of the salmon fry emergence on coastal rivers. Typically chum and pink fry emerge first and swim almost straight to the ocean such that it is not uncommon to find a few already in the estuary this time of year. The pink fry are usually very small, fairly transluscent and can take on a blueish cast. This early streamside exodus does not go unnoticed by the sea run cutthroat or any other trout for that matter. March is also the time to remember a fine fly fisherman by the name of Doug Rose, whose pattern the ‘Keta Rose’ I’ve posted before and is one of my favorite early in the year fry patterns. The world of anadromous fly fishing is a community and the strong thread of conservation and restraint woven throughout Doug’s writing and deeds remains as important within this community and in the world now as it did while he was alive.
As ever imitative fly tying is all about creativity, observation, experimentation, revision and execution, qualities that produced this and many other fine salmon fry patterns, so in that spirit tie up some keta rose(s), fish them this spring, or watch the fry you encounter and work on your own pattern. Either way, one thing is true, hungry trout await.
And if you are looking for other fry patterns here is a good thread and an awesome forum (how’s that for self referencing)
Hook: Salt gamagatsu SS15 or SC15 sized 6-8 (as per Rose) 12 or 14 are my preference (these fry are usually around three quarters to one and a half inches when freshly hatched (here anyway)
Thread: 2 lb clear mono or white 6/0
Body: holographic silver tinsel ( I counter wrap clear mono or glue the tinsel for durability as cutthroat teeth usually shred tinsel quite quickly)
Throat: a small amount of white UV minnow belly or substitute such as UV polar chenille, or similar UV throat material.
Wing: From top: light blue polar bear or transluscent synthetic fiber/bucktail/goat or other sub, a few strands of light blue or pearl krystal flash, a few strands of chartreuse angel hair or similar, white polar bear or sub for the belly..think sparse and skinny
For a specific chum fry imitation I tie the same but sub light or regular olive polar bear for light blue leaving a few strands of light blue in the middle. A bead head is by no means required, just a slight variation for getting a bit more depth.
December is a strange month in many people’s lives balanced on a teetering edge between family, happiness, and kindness, and gluttonous decadence and sheer lunacy, a feverous and frenzied month of unrestrained and psychotic over consumption with no real connection to the world around us, and yet in the midst of all this….there is fly fishing.
Like many others, I don’t usually get out to fish much this time of year, but if conditions are favorable, this is a very good month to be out trout fishing on the coast. Sea run cutthroat and a number of other trout and char can be found at the beach, lake, and stream, and are often feeding, aggressive, or both.
I’ve never found a great deal of enjoyment in nymphing eggs for sea runs, (although that’s totally cool if you do) so here is a traditional old red/yellow sea run pattern that still works now as well as it ever did. Most of you will know who Al Knudsen was, or at least his famous spider pattern from the 30’s. This pattern should also be familiar as it is from Les johnson’s bible of cutthroating, but I doubt many tie it much less fish it anymore. So go for a change up this winter, whether you need an anti modern fix, favor traditional patterns or are just looking for something different. There is a reason a lot of old patterns are simple red/yellow combinations, but you wont find that out unless you actually use these patterns instead of just carrying them around in your fly box.
Hook: Wet fly 6-10. I like the tiemco 700 size 8
Thread: Black 6/0
Tail: Red hackle fibers
Tag/tip: medium silver flat tinsel same as used for the rib (3-4 turns)
Rib: medium silver flat tinsel
Body: yellow medium chenille or wool
Hackle: a couple wraps of red schlappen or hackle tied down as beard
Wing: small amount of red buck tail under white bucktail
In spite of my gloomy opening hope you all (had) a good christmas
Life gets so busy sometimes eh? While November (belatedly so) is probably the last of any month that anyone is thinking of sea runs…at the beach…with a topwater pattern, I find that this time of year, weather permitting, and with fish actually around, of course, Sea run cutthroat are usually quite amenable to a small skinny topwater patterns of which the gurgler has been my most successful. Many of the best sea run patterns are simple and adaptable, and this one, like many I’ve posted about is no different. Cutthroat in salt water this time of year are variously staging, roaming or fattening up for the winter’s spawning run, and while many have entered freshwater, there are areas that will hold fish throughout the year. (here’s a hint, half the fun of cutthroating is searching and striving to find these places) I find these fish to be hungry and aggressive and a gurgler tied fairly small, stripped slowly and periodically paused will often get a response, even in colder temps.
The gurgler was originated in 1988 by Jack Gartside, a well known fly tier who has many unique and interesting patterns http://www.jackgartside.com/ It is a wholly adaptable pattern tied in a myriad of ways, for a truly wide range of fish species, The pattern displayed is my simple adaptation for our diminutive and sometimes strange anadromous quarry.
Tied short and fat or long and skinny changes the way they push water, depending on your intent
Hook: A nice small light saltwater hook like the Gamagatsu SS15 size 10 or 12 or similar such as the Daiichi X452 size 6 or 8, or the Mustad 34007 in size 6 or 8
Thread: your choice of 6/0 thread to match colour
Tail: wiggly material of your choice. The original pattern has a long bucktail tail 2x longer than the body, but I like a short one due to the tendency of cutthroat to strike short. A couple strands of krystal flash or other flashy material never hurts either.
*Tier’s note* a small short trailer hook eliminates this problem.
Body: skinny in a material of your choice, I have used everything from seal to Arizona diamond braid, to marabou. My preference these days is trimmed elk in various colours.
Foam: 3 mm closed cell white foam, or a colour you prefer, white tends to wash out a bit in the cloudy evening diffused light situations many cutthroaters find themselves in so often. I trim it in a skinny long wedge shape, tie it in at the back just before the tail facing backwards and then once the body is complete, fold it forward tying in place just before the eye. The widest part of the foam is tied ahead of the hook eye and kicked up slightly to pop, spit or chug, depending on the need.
Hackle: optional, a material of your choice, I like sparse saddle, or an elk beard
I have tied them small like this in tan, olive, and brown with success, but I’m sure other variations like light yellow or black with a red tail would work just fine. As far as fishing this pattern goes just a moderate slightly erratic short strip with random pauses seems to work wonders.
Finding sea run cutthroat in January can sometimes seem like a battle of attrition, be it weather, lack of fish, or the post Christmas turkey fug depression that many sink into, but just like that early January ice chrome winter steelhead that haunt so many fly fishers dreams, not too many things are more awesome than a big angry sea run trying to go apocalypse now on your streamer on a cold winter morning. While lots of winter sea run flies are small, muted, and sparse, as these fish at times seem to limit their feeding and foraging activities most likely due to the cold/lowered metabolism, there are times where a large fly will net you a large response.
Jeffrey Delia is a well known fly angler with an awesome blog http://oysterchannel.com/new-blog/ (check out the photo of a 22″ winter sea run) and his conehead squid is a good call any time of the year for sea runs. In the winter my preference is to fish it deep and strip fairly slow, but like many sea run fishing situations varying your depth and speed of retrieve is sometimes the difference between success and failure. Regardless, it is a very fun fly to tie on as a sea run addict in the middle of winter, full of a weird hope, dimmed by reality, but with an image firmly ensconsed into our minds, of that 20″ golden death trout dancing on the end of our line.
So instead of tying on a size 20 piece of shopping bag on a hook shrimp pattern, or endlessly dredging for winter steelhead with 200 of your closest mouthbreather friends, go big and nasty this January, that 26″ supermaster cutthroat is out there somewhere.
Hook: Teimco 5263 or Mustad R73-9671 or similar size 6-10. Jeffrey has listed a variety of streamer hooks including Mustad R75 79580 or the Hayabusa 37073E, he recommends size 8-10. Many different streamer hooks both salt and freshwater meet this standard.
*If using bronze hooks make sure to rinse thoroughly and dry outside of your fly box to reduce corrosion.*
Thread White 6/0
Tail: Tan marabou, approx. the length of the shank
Body: Opalescent white petite esatz
*variably I have used pearl crystal chenille with a pearl frizzle chenille collar due to the fact that I can’t find the original material*
Bead: Gold conehead
Jeffrey also has some variations up on his blog, try them, I can tell you from experience they definitely work.
I love chugging this fly back out of the depths on a cold January morning, hoping against hope that an angry or hungry big sea run is going to stop my line dead. Sometimes it even happens.
*My apologies to Jeffrey Delia, I guess my computer autocorrected it to Jerry Delia, I’m a dumbass*
October here on the coast is both the time of both warm days, low clear rivers and of downpours and turbid, swollen streams. It is also the time of big aggressive fall trout (not limited to sea run cutthroat, but also including browns, bulls, rainbows, steelhead and occasionally an aggressive coho or chum). The rolled muddler is a sea run staple, and this is just a simple variation that is tooled to the time of year when many thankfully don’t fish sea run cutthroat. It works very well in coloured water and dark bottomed or tannin streams with lots of woody debris. This fly is intended and often does trigger an aggressive response from large trout who are usually intent on fattening up before spawning in the winter.
Hook: a streamer hook of your choice, the tiemco 300 series (6xL down eye hook) size 8 is what I usually use, smaller sizes a tiemco 5262 size 8-10
Bead: gold or silver or none
Thread: orange or red 6/0
Tail: distinctly barred mallard, a small pinch rolled
Body: silver or gold flat tinsel, overwrapped in the opposite direction with same coloured oval tinsel or wire for durability
Wing: sparse distinctly barred mallard flank or other duck feather over top a couple strands of UV pearl krystal flash (or whatever you like) over top of 4-5 strands of yellow bucktail,polar bear, or mallard flank
Head: white deer or elk hair, trimmed fairly tight and sparse
I’ve caught a lot of cutthroat in October and November on this pattern, especially after a good rain, when the water holds some colour. Unless these recent death droughts continue to intervene, the big rains often hit the coast in October and most rivers transform from low, warm and clear brooks to rushing tea stained or even muddy torrents. These storms flush fresh water, silt, grass, dead racoons, cigarette butts, coolant, pesticides, beer cans et al en masse into estuaries where staging coho, chum, and of course sea run cutthroat lie waiting for that natal freshwater trigger to spark the exodus into their home river. Many fly fishers at this time wrap up their sea run cutthroat season to chase other lesser salmonids but this time is precisely when this pattern becomes most effective. Sea run cutthroat are very aware of what is going on around them in river and will hit stripped flies even with a couple inches of visibility, you just need to find them, which is no different than ever with this species. This is truly one of my fall/winter confidence patterns.
Strip this fly fast through that snaggy frog water my friends, and maybe you’ll find yourself with 20″ of angry anadromous awesomeness this fall.
Often in September large hatches of damp wood termites occur anywhere there is lots of downed trees and stumps. Vancouver Island rivers, lakes and beaches as well as most other areas in the pacific northwest definitely meet these criteria, and yet termites are often ignored by fly fishers. They are usually written off as another minor terrestrial in the long list of random trout foods. The adult phase termites are large (up to around 2.5 cm/1″) with large long wings, reddish brown, fly around erratically, and often helplessly get stuck in the surface film of the water (and your hair and clothes). Ken Thorne’s Red termite is a good all round impressionistic surface pattern for imitating the adult damp wood termite in river, lake, or beach for various types of trout, as well as a good fall dry pattern for summer steelhead. This fall make sure you have a few termite patterns in your box should you come across a hatch, as I did last week on a sea run estuary trip, with nothing even remotely close in my box.
Hook: size 8-10 Mustad 9671 or 9672 (a 2xH/3xL streamer hook) or similar should be fine for all but exceptionally large fish, you know the 15-20 lb summers you dream about. If using in the salt a saltwater hook like a mustad 34011 size 8-10 is recommended but not required, just rinse well
Thread: black or brown 6/0 (I use rusty brown)
Shellback/Tail: white (or reddish brown) 3 mm closed cell foam, coloured reddish brown with permanent marker
Body: layer of thread, wrapped sparingly with dry hackle
Wings: 6-8 strands of black crystal flash, with 1 or 2 strands of pearl krystal flash per side, tied back along the sides from the head
Hackle: medium length ginger dry fly hackle, spin at the front and back tie in points
This simple impressionistic pattern is best dead drifted and twitched but can also be skated or stripped, just adjust the amount of foam to the type of water you will be fishing, eg. more foam for skating or fishing faster moving water like riffles. Whether you give this Vancouver island pattern a try or create your own, don’t be caught without a couple termite patterns this fall.