Fly tying examples

Trip Preparations

It doesn’t seem to matter how many effective fly patterns I have, when I come across a new pattern I am frequently enticed to give it a try.  Often the tier has used it in a particular location for specific purposes that don’t exactly match my own.  But whether it is experience or curiosity, my mind comes up with some rationale for why it might work where I am fishing.

The guys at Fly Fish Food are located a long ways from where I do most of my fishing but I appreciate their fly tying videos and often find something that I want to try to replicate for my own purposes.  

Next weekend’s trip is to Kenauk Nature for rainbow trout and hopefully a repeat of a great weekend last October.  Before that trip I tied a few of Fly Fish Food’s Complex Twist Bugger 2 and they proved very effective on some of the larger rainbows hanging in deeper water.  They will be along for the ride again this year.

But a recent repost of Big Ben’s Brown Bugger got my attention.  Here is my poor imitation of their fine pattern.  We’ll see how it works next weekend.

Big Ben’s Brown Bugger



Hamill’s Killer Variant

The Hamill’s Killer is a fly pattern of New Zealand origin, named after its originator – Bill Hamill.   Its original purpose was to imitate a dragon fly nymph or a cockabully – a small blunt nosed fish.  The original version had mallard feathers lined on either side of the hook in similar style to the Mrs. Simpson.  Several variations exist including versions tied in the Canadian style with the wing lain overtop and folded to the sides.

Regardless, the Hamill’s Killer can be an effective pattern for trout as well as warm water species.

For some reason, I decided to tie a variation with a gold bead head and a couple of them made it along on our recent trip in search of land locked salmon.

It wasn’t until our last day of fishing that I tied it on to my line and I am not sure whether it was the cause, but my fishing was great after I did.

So here is my Hamill’s Killer Variant.  In addition to the bead, this particular version does include golden pheasant tippets with the squirrel tail and I keep the body quite sparse, using only tying thread wrapped over the extended squirrel tail fur.

Hamill's Killer Variant

What Does a Fish See?

When it comes to fly tying the discussion/debate around what is important in the eyes of a fish is likely endless. Is the fly imitating a food source or is it simply an attractor? If imitating, what of the color, size, behaviour and so on and so on. We make decisions on what we observe, what has worked in the past, what our gut tells us, or maybe what tying material we have available at the time. At the end of the day – its pretty hard to say with certainty what will appeal to a fish. And if by chance we figure it out one day – the next it will be completely different.

I am not much of a fly tier but I appreciate that many people have a much deeper insight into these things. However this fall I was struck by the most basic aspects of a fly pattern – its shape. A couple months ago I decided to tie a wooly bugger variant using some brown krystal flash hackle I had in my tying material. I’m not sure there was much objectivity in the decision – other than in the past, at this time of year I have had success fishing patterns like a Mrs. Simpson or a brown woolly bugger with a bit of flash in the tail.

On a couple of occasions this fall the pattern has proven to be my go to pattern but what struck me as I fished it was the shape of the fly when wet. The messy hackle folded back to form a sleek minnow shaped body with a bit of sparkle. Based on the fish it caught, I guess it made a good impression although I don’t have any actual statements from fish as to what they thought it was when they chowed down.

Late Season Stillwater

Winter is approaching quickly. Days are short and temperatures are beginning to fall. Fall colours are long gone and as each day passes, the opportunities for stillwater fishing lessen.

Earlier this week a few of us had a chance to get out for a bit of trout fishing – a full day and the morning of the next. We were hoping to encounter rainbow trout bent on fattening up for the winter months. Depending on how you look at it, the weather conditions were going to be good or bad. Sunny and warm was inviting from the perspective of being out on the water with legs immersed in 43F water but maybe overcast would be preferable for the fish. What we got was sunny and warm and mostly no wind which made for very pleasant float tubing.

We arrived reasonably early Monday morning and wasted no time getting on the water. Fishing proved to be steady. By lunch time most had managed to coax several trout into dining on whatever was at the end of the line. In my case the menu du jour consisted mainly of the rusty brown bugger concoction I had come up with a couple months back. I admit it looks somewhat strange when dry but in the water the Krystal Hackle flattens back nicely to match the shape of a minnow body. Under the bright sun conditions the subtle sparkle seemed to be an added attraction for the fish. Who knows what goes through a fish’s brain but whatever it is, they seemed to like it.

Most of the fish caught were in the 12-14 inch range with a few approaching 16 inches. I was fishing a clear intermediate sink line. Fish were caught at various depths, generally while stripping in the line. Dusk comes early these days and by 5 o’clock the sun had set and everyone was ready for a warm cabin and dinner.

We were up the next morning, greeted by near flat calm conditions. As the sun rose over the hills, the temperature warmed and the wind stayed away. I headed to a shallow bay where I had had some success the day before. Same thing this morning as landed three rainbows in quick order and lost three more.

Somewhere I have heard or read – don’t leave fish to find fish, but not heeding that advice I decided to move on, thinking I would finish up the morning in another favourite bay. That proved to be an unsuccessful idea as the fish seemed to either have left the area or decided they weren’t hungry. At any rate after an hour with no activity, it was time to head in for a cup of coffee and to warm up.

With the toes feeling better I decided to hit the water for a bit before we had to pack up and leave. Based on experience from earlier in the morning, I headed back to the bay I had started at and was rewarded with action once again. It seemed the fish were active along the edge of the flats. Several fish and an equal number of misses it was time to call it quits and head for home.

The rusty brown bugger proved to be my most successful pattern on this trip. Who knows if that will be the case in the future but it will be one on the list for winter tying.

Five Favorite Autumn Streamers

My tying seems to go in spurts and in checking my fly boxes, it seems this is a good time for a spurt – especially in the streamer department.  I was assessing what I needed to tie for the autumn season and that go me thinking about my top streamers.

I fish a lot of streamers throughout the year but with autumn approaching, its definitely streamer time.  Everyone has their personal favorite flies including myself.  I doubt mine are more effective than any one else’s (quite possibly less) but they are the streamers I like to fish which counts for something.  So here they are:

  • Wooly Bugger – must be on everyone’s list.  I tie them in olive, black and brown but the last few years it seems brown has been my preferred color.  I like a bit of brown crystal flash in the tail. Sizes range from 6-12. Of course there is always room to vary the patterns.  Here is a version I tied the other day.  I haven’t tried it yet but I am curious to see how the Krystal Hackle body works.Wooly Bugger
  • Palmer Chenille Bugger – not withstanding the name, this is definitely a unique fly and one I recently posted about.  It has become one of my go to streamers.  I tie them in black, brown, olive and am trying a new orange version. These tend to be smaller than traditional buggers – size 8-10 usually
  • Hamill’s Killer – despite its New Zealand origins this is a consistently good pattern for me here in Canada.  Colors include olive, yellow and orange.
  • Mrs. Simpson – to me this pattern is a generic minnow imitation.  I find them tricky to tie because of the multiple wing pairs and the need to keep them tight against the body but they sure work well.
  • Grizzly King – I got on to this one a couple years ago.  It has worked well for me but I seem to have a problem tying them in a way that they don’t fall apart after the first fish.  More practice I guess.

There are so many others that I say I should fish – and I may try them for a bit but I seem to revert back to these five pretty consistently.

Having said that, I can always be convinced to try something new. So, let me know what must have streamers I am missing.

Palmer Chenille Bugger

The Palmer Chenille Bugger has become one of my favourite streamers – partly because it is quick and easy to tie but mostly because it seems to be a great attractor streamer.  The palmered chenille, sparsely tied over a red thread  (the pattern calls for orange but this batch was done with red) underbody sparkles underwater in a way that draws the fish.

Palmer Chenille Bugger

I was introduced to the fly by Paul Ricker at Float, Paddle and Fly last year and I now have a selection of colours in my fly box.  The palmered chenille produced by Wapsi comes in a variety of colours including black, rootbeer, olive, white and most recently orange.  Matched with appropriate rabbit for the tail and an oversized bead at the head and the fly is done.

Fly Tying - Chenille Bugger

My experience has been that both warm fish (smallmouth bass and crappies in particular) as well as rainbow and brook trout have found it appealing.  Paul has provideda full recipe on the Algonkin Fly Fishers website.

Currents of Belize

I came across this video about fishing life in Belize.  I’ve never been but perhaps one day.  In the meantime, the story of this video gives a great insight into the people of Belize and their lives around the fish that attract so many to their country. The pressures of development are changing the people’s way of life – some for the good but not all. Hopefully a sustainable future will be found for the people who call Belize home.

Currents of Belize from McJ Digital on Vimeo.

Winter Past Time – Fly Swaps

I’m not much of a fly tier but somehow I have gotten involved in a few fly swaps.

This past fall as the trout fishing season was winding down up here in Canada, it was proposed that we have a fly swap with the theme being – Go To Trout Flies. The deal was all flies were to be tied and submitted before Christmas. With my recent success using the Mrs. Simpson fresh in my mind, I jumped in. Unfortunately, I left my tying far too close to the deadline and when I sat down to tie my batch of flies, it occurred to me that I had never actually tied one of these before – having benefited from the tying of others. The combination of time pressure and probably a more complicated fly than I was used to led to a bit of pressure. In the end the flies got tied all be it, a few days late. I can’t say I was particularly pleased with the results so this is definitely going to be a case where the trout will judge the quality of the output. I will be paying close attention to how well my fellow fly tiers find this version of the Mrs. Simpson to work in their quest for trout.