Biot Mahogany Thorax Dun

Recipe for Biot Mahogany dun

Click to Enlarge

If you float the lower Clark Fork River in the fall, you will see Mahogany Mayflies. One of the last good hatches of the year, they are a staple of the river. They don’t come in swarms like Tricos, or mad splashes like the Skwala’s, but they are consistent producers of fine fall action.

I don’t claim to be the author of this fly, although I can’t find a specific reference for it. I’ve been using it for 8-9 years with good results. It’s heritage comes, of course, from the thorax style of Vince Marinaro. The coloration from Mike Lawson’s Mahogany Thorax Dun. I simply added a biot body. Is it more effective than the dubbed body? It is for me. Your mileage may (and probably will) vary. The biot adds to the tying time without doubt. But as I’ve said before, I don’t tie for speed; I tie for fun. And although this isn’t the toughest fly, it will catch a lot of fish before you retire it.

A few tying notes. The traditional wing on a thorax dun is made from turkey flats. Does a fish care?  I think not. Google “thorax dun” and you will find flies with poly yarn, CDC, snowshoe rabbit foot, hackle tips and anything else you can think of. This tells me that the wing is for the fisherman, not the fish. This fisherman prefers the look of the turkey flat. Tie it any way you like.

Another feature of the traditional thorax dun is the tail. It is tilted up by a dubbing ball and split. I tie it with the tilt, but use a fan tail. A silly little bias of mine. I know mayflies have split tails, but since I like the fanned tail, that’s how I tie it. Hackle tail, micro fibbets, crinkled zelon shuck, on your fly tie it your way. In fact, tie it all different ways and make your own choice.

After tying the fly, the traditional pattern trims the hackle even with the hook point to settle the fly lower in the film. I tend to trim them about half way between the hook point and the body.

On a fishing note, this is a flat water fly. The low silhouette gives a realistic appearance, but this fly won’t stay up well in riffles and pocket water. But the Clark Fork in the fall is mirror smooth. Those big Cutts and Bows are sipping, not slashing and this is the perfect fly to bring some to the side of your pontoon boat for a brief visit.

For step by step instructions and photos, click here.

Thrift Store Treasure

Theory and Technique of Freshwater Angling

When my wife drags me into a thrift store, I always cruise through the sewing/crafts section looking for tying materials, then wander over to the books to browse until she is ready to go. I find thrift stores and garage sales moderately depressing. Like anyone else, I enjoy finding a bargain. But walking past items that someone once treasured, perhaps cherished, now valued at 25 cents, that’s just sad. When I see a handcrafted item and think of the hours they put in sewing, sawing or sanding, now to find the creation tossed into a bin with other junk…well, you see what I mean.

In my town, I almost never find any books on fishing, but I still look. Last week I found a treasure. I glimpsed the dark green hardback cover with the word “angling” on the spine, so picked it up to see what it was about. To my surprise, here in the piles of castaways was a fine little treasure.

John A. Knight

Click to Enlarge

I had never heard of the title or author, but it was in mint condition. The copyright date was 1940. The few color plates showed fly patterns. On the inside front cover, there was the old Ex Libris bookplate that used to be so common among bibliophiles. That was enough to warrant $1.99 for the book. It found a new home in my modest collection of fly fishing books.

The Theory and Technique of Fresh Water Angling, by John Alden

Copyright Page

Click to Enlarge

Knight is a great read. The introductory chapter is worth the price of the book. His prose is elegant, but casual. I smiled at the quaint language of 70 years ago-when was the last time you called a friend your “chum”? And even more amazing is his zeal in promoting conservation and catch and release fishing. This was just four years after Lee Wulff wrote the famous phrase, “Game fish are too valuable to be caught only once.”


Click to Enlarge

Mr. Knight was most noted for his theories about fish feeding patterns relating to the sun and moon. He has several other books.

Oh, and by the way. I spent about four hours trying to find out about the previous owner of my new book. I Googled him, checked out genealogy sites and databases,  searched obituaries and even looked for birth records. My only clue is that his handwriting is that fine all-capital printing of an architect or draftsman. So I choose to envision him as a young professional man during the post-war 1940’s, cane rod in hand, prowling some of my favorite streams.

Hair Stacker Pad

Hair Packer Stand

Click to Enlarge

I tie flies for fun. I rarely fish flies that I haven’t tied, but that is not an obsession or rigid tenet of my fly fishing creed. It just works out that way. If I find a fly in a tree or if a friend shares his latest and greatest pattern, I am happy to use it. If the fly is a winner I’ll tie up a batch of them.
Because of my approach to tying, I want the time at the bench to be enjoyable. So if my bobbin snags the thread, I’ll try to fix it, but if it doesn’t work out, I’ll toss it. Life is too short…. Likewise if I see a need for a new tool, I am not above tinkering around to make it myself. If so, great. If not, I’ll buy one. But given a choice, I prefer pleasing looks.

Packer Stand

Click to Enlarge

That’s how my bobbin holder came to be. And that is how this stacker pad appeared. I found that when I was stacking hair, the tapping bugged me. So I put an old mouse pad on the tying table. That worked but took up too much of a foot print. So I looked in the scrap wood bin. This piece of cherry was the trim end on a board from some long forgotten project. The width seemed just right, so I did a quick sanding job, drilled a couple of holes at an angle toward the end. I finished it with some Watco Danish oil. When dry, I cut a square out of that old mouse pad, and glued it on with contact cement. Four small felt circles on the bottom and it’s been working great for years. A big plus is that I can always find my bodkin now!

Fly Fishing Only

I have a class reunion this summer. Along with the registration they asked for a current picture. As I thought about recent pictures, I thought of this one from Yellowstone National Park. I always stop at this sign along the Madison River when I enter from West Yellowstone. The cool shadows over the river invite me. The  tempting riffles offer the hope of some easy fish. But the I love the sign, “Fly Fishing Only”.Wouldn’t it be great if there were more of these.

Yellowstone Sign

Click to Enlarge

Barr Emerger - BWO wet

The third and final installment of Baetis emergers, this post is about the legendary Barr emerger. John Barr has developed some great flies. Every one that I have tried has caught fish. But that is not to say they are all easy to tie. I’m sure he can whip them out by the dozens, but they have lots of steps with multiple materials.

Barr Emerger BWO

Click to Enlarge

This is fine during the winter doldrums when I am fighting the shack nasties, holed up in my man cave plodding along tying to fill my fly boxes. But if I need to replace some flies during the summer, I am always in a hurry. It is the night before a trip or even worse, early in the morning and I remembered I lost the last one on an acrobatic rainbow.
At those times, I just can’t make myself go through 15 steps for a size 18 fly. It just ain’t going to happen. (This from the same guy who walks 300 yards down a steep embankment to cast to a plunge pool because he has never tried it.) I am not saying my logic if for everyone. Just for me.
But I have had times when I’ve fooled fish with Barr’s Emerger that had turned up their snouts to a Krystal Flash emerger or a pheasant tail nymph. So I keep a few Barr patterns in my box for back up. I just don’t start with it.
So you be the judge. Tie some up. Fish it against the other flies and decide for yourself which fly works best for you. Then tinker with them to make them your own. That’s what it is all about. Step by step instructions are here.

Simple Pheasant Tail Emerger

The fly I tie on second when fishing a BWO hatch is a simplified pheasant tail nymph. Just thread, copper wire, 3 pheasant tail fibers and a starling breast feather. You could easily make it simpler by skipping the wire and feather, but I think they both add to the effectiveness and durability, so I am willing to take the additional minute to tie them in.

Simple Pheasant Tail Emerger

Click to Enlarge

In this fly, after tying in the tail and wire rib, I bring my thread to the eye and tie in the hackle. Then I twist the pheasant tail and wire together to make the body. It seems easier to me, but of course there is more than one way to tie a fly.
As with my other BWO emergers, I use this fly as a dropper off a parachute Adams. Usually about 18 inches. Long enough to get a good drift but short enough to keep it close to the indicator.
I don’t tie this fly too often because in twenty to thirty minutes you can tie up enough for the season! But be sure to keep a few in your flybox. You never know when you will need them and they may save the day for you sometime.

Click here for step-by-step instructions.

Krystal Flash Baetis Emerger

On those cloudy fall days or warm overcast afternoons in spring, if you are lucky enough to find a stretch of water with big fish sipping BWO emergers, you could have one of those afternoons to remember. When you fish small flies, you are going to lose some fish. But the thrill of watching a fish rise, casting the right fly ahead of him, tracking the course of the fly to the fish, then the gentle take–that is breathtaking.

I usually tie on a size 18 parachute Adams, then use a dropper fly, tied off the bend of the hook. I don’t worry about messing up the hooking ability of the Adams, because in these situations, the fish almost never take the Adams. Even when I am sure they hit it, once the line is tight and I can see clearly…nope, they took the dropper.

Krystal Flash Baetis Emerger

Click to Enlarge

As I wrote in my last post, I usually start with this fly. I don’t know that it really is any better than my other choices, but I have confidence in it and that helps. Also, it is very durable, so I won’t have to stop as often to change flies. And finally, it is a quick and easy fly to tie.

Couple things about tying this fly. After you tie on the Krystal Flash, grab it with your hackle pliers and gently twist it until the twist gets all the way to the body. If you don’t get it tight, the first couple wraps will not stay in place. Second, If you don’t like the look of the peacock thorax (who doesn’t love peacock????) you could dub a thorax with brownish olive dubbing. And third, you can tie the starling feather on before or after doing the thorax. I usually do it before. It makes handling the small feather easier and if it breaks off (they are quite fragile stems) you can still just tie it on later.

I usually tie it on a size 18 hook. Depending on the time of year and where you fish, you may need it down to a 22.

I hope you have fun tying this and that you get into some great fish!

For step by step instructions, look under the “Tying instructions” tab above or click here.