Harrop's Hairwing Dun

Harrop's Hairwing Dun

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I admit to being a big fan of Rene Harrop. I am always amazed by his mastery of the bugs and hatches of his home water, the Henry’s Fork River. The way he breaks down the stages and life cycle of the different flies and creates or modifies patterns to match each phase of the hatch is truly impressive. I am just not that committed and scientific in my approach to fishing. That’s why I have a day job!

But I have been fishing this fly for about three years now. It has become one of my go-to flies. I trust it to pique the interest of fish, large and small. And hundreds of fish support my belief that this is a great fly.

Hairwing Dun Recipe I tie this fly in a #16 most of the time. I’ve tried 14 and 18, but not been impressed that it made any improvement. Of course this is a style of fly, so it could be tied to match PMD’s and any other bug you want. I have settled on the Super Fine Gray Olive as my dubbing of choice when I am using this as a searching pattern.

The original pattern calls for split tails, but one time I tied up a batch and forgot to split them. The fish, being always the final arbiter of such decisions, told me it didn’t matter, so I’ve tied them with a fan tail ever since.

I’ve used deer, elk, yearling elk, bleached and dyed hair. I don’t think it makes much difference except that it is much easier to follow the lighter colored hair, so I use that. I am always surprised at just how easy it is to track this fly and how durable it is, too. I’ve caught 30-40 fish on a fly without the fly failing.

Give this fly a chance. If it works for me, it will for you. You can find the tying instructions here.

Fly Tying Made Clear and Simple II

Fly Tying Clear and Simple II

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When I started tying flies I didn’t know what I was getting into. After watching some fishing videos that included segments on tying, I decided to take the plunge. I picked up some supplies and a $10.00 vice at the White Elephant, a local discount hunting, fishing and toy store. I also got a copy of Skip Morris’ original book, Fly Tying Made Clear and Simple.

Volumes I & II

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Then I went home and worked my way through the book, starting at page one – ending on page 80. I tied all 15 of the patterns with excitement and wonder. They may have been the ugliest examples of the patterns, but they were mine. And they caught fish. I remember those nights with great fondness. During those weeks spent with Skip Morris, I learned more about fly tying than in any other time of my life.

So imagine my excitement when, as I cruised the library, I saw his new book, “Fly Tying Made Clear and Simple II.” I brought it right home and devoured it. There are 18 flies with full instructions in this volume. They cover Nymphs, Streamers, Emergers and Dry Flies. Additonal pattern recipes are listed in the back.

It follows the same logical, easy to follow format of the original. Start with a picture of the finished fly, a description of the history and use of the fly, the recipe in a shaded box, then step by step instructions of the details of tying the fly.


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After each step, if there are common problems at that stage, he pauses the instructions to review things that might cause confusion or mistakes. It is such a great idea to fix the problem right then, not after you have finished the fly. It really is just like having an instructor looking over your shoulder.

Problem Solving

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For people who like a curriculum, a clearly laid out path of instruction, these two books will start you on the road of fly tying. How far you go will depend on you and what your goals are. But if you work through these two books, I believe you would feel comfortable tackling any fly you want. You won’t be a master tyer, but the basic foundation will be laid by a master teacher.

Get the books. Work through them. Have a great time. Treasure your first few flies. Save some to look back upon to mark your progress. You will be amazed how quickly you improve.

July Is Green Drake Time

Green Drake Dry

The first two times I fished a green drake hatch, I didn’t realize it until it was over. I was fishing a nice run in a pretty little river around the middle of July. About 2 in the afternoon, I worked my way down the run with no strikes. I decided the fish had all moved to deeper pools to escape the heat. When I looked back up the stream, I saw fish begin to rise. Suddenly there were a lot of rises. Big, slashing rises.

I started casting, hoping for the best. I changed flies. I changed sizes. I began to panic. How could the fish be feeding like crazy, but I couldn’t even get a mercy strike?

Finally the frenzy began to fade. The rises slowed and my discouragement grew. Then I saw a bug on the water. I moved downstream to some slack water where I could  scoop up the chunky fellow. I didn’t know what he was, but I desperately wanted to make his acquaintance.

That night I hit my books and the web to identify the mid-day meal that excited the fish. It was a Western Green Drake. I tied up a variety of patterns, determined to be ready the next time.

A couple weeks later I found myself on a different run, early afternoon,  sweaty and hungry. Then rises started. Aggressive, big fish rises. Thinking that rises that rabid had to be a Caddis hatch, I tied on an Elk Hair Caddis, but no luck. After a couple pattern changes, I began to get the feeling my luck was not going to change. The fish were probably laughing at me under the water.

That feeling of despondency triggered the memory of my last failure. Green drakes! Because the adult doesn’t stay on the surface very long, the fish target the easier prey of the emerger. So the peak feeding time occurs before the adult become visible.

I tied on a green drake dry and worked the center of the channel. On my third cast, I hooked up a 16 inch cutthroat. I caught three more before the hatch ended. I had matched the hatch for the first time.

I keep several Green Drake patterns in my fly box during the mid-summer months. In this post I have two of them.

Olive Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear Nymph

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Despite my preference for dry flies, this hatch is much better fished for the emerger. So this fly works great in the first stage, when the rises are just starting.

You can fish it alone, using the greased line technique, or as a dropper fly. You can also fish it as a wet fly on the swing.  All three methods work very well.

Like the basic hare’s ear nymph, it is a nice straight forward tie. I have just a couple of notes.

First, I use a hare’s mask instead of a packaged dubbing for all my hare’s ear patterns. I like the different markings to choose from. A mask dyed olive is a cheap investment and will tie a bunch of flies. You can see what it looks like below.

For the tail, I like the banded cheek hair with all the guard fibers left in. For the body and thorax, I pick out most of the guard hairs and mix the fibers with my fingers before dubbing. It only takes a few seconds.

Second, I like a shaggy look to this style of fly, so I use a dubbing loop for the abdomen. It works for me.

Third, you might ask why I use peacock instead of turkey tail or goose wing, or Swiss straw or any other material for the wingcase. The answer is easy. I learned this pattern from the book “Fly Patterns of the Umpqua Feather Merchants”. This is the recipe they cited. I’ve never felt the need to change it.

To see the step-by-step instructions click here.

Olive Dyed Hare's Mask

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The dry fly pictured at the top of the post, is a pattern I go to as the emerger begins to slow down. Even though I might not see the adult yet, the fish are expecting them and will begin to take them. I like this pattern. It may not be the best, but it floats well and looks like a bug. Here is the recipe.

Recipe for Nealley's Green Drake

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This pattern is credited to Alan Nealley. I don’t always follow the recipe strictly. The original used brown deer for the overbody and dark deer for the wing. It rides so low in the water, I need the lighter yellow deer to see it.

Also the original calls for pale yellow poly dubbing, but I prefer a light olive dubbing. Just a matter of taste.

This is a harder fly to tie than some, so if you have questions about the tying sequence, follow the step-by-step tutorial here.

Next time a couple more patterns. I promise not to be so long winded.

Choosing a Background Color

When I began thinking about making this site, one of the first decisions I needed to make was deciding how I wanted to show my flies. What size, what proportions and what color background. A bright medium blue is by far the most commonly used color for the web and print. It shows off flies well and is pleasing to the eye. But I just didn’t want to be the same. So what to do?

I grabbed a fly, in this case my favorite Rust Stim. Then using a pack of colored paper, I took a bunch of pictures of that fly in the same lighting. I just replaced the paper behind the fly. From these pictures I narrowed it down to 4 or 5 colors. I showed these pictures to several people to get their input. I decided to go with the dark gray. I’ve used it until the last post, where I used a light, neutral gray for the Mahogany Dun background.

Here is a gallery of the original pictures. What do you think of the colors? Which would you choose for your pictures?

(You can click to enlarge the photos for a better look at the contrast of the fly against the colored paper.)

Biot Mahogany Thorax Dun

Recipe for Biot Mahogany dun

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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.

Hair Stacker Pad

Hair Packer Stand

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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

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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!

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

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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

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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

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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.

Beautiful Baetis

They are the last hatch of the fall. The first hatch of spring. These tiny little bugs are kind enough to float for long stretches on the river, allowing trout to sip them down like a fine wine. Beginning with the flash of silver below the surface, followed by a porpoising dorsal fin, finishing up with the slurp of the adult, a Baetis hatch is a pleasure to watch.

3 Baetis patterns

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If you ask people their favorite fly for BWO hatches, you will undoubtably get lots of votes for tiny parachute Adams and pheasant tail nymphs. Most of the time these two flies will do the job. But these little bugs tend to show up on slow stretches of rivers. Even with tiny flies that are good imitations, you can get wonderfully, frustratingly finicky fish. Of course in slack water, even microscopic drag is enough to cause fish to ignore your offering and take the next natural to come by. So fine tippet and careful presentation is mandatory.

The first time I fished a Baetis hatch was on the upper section of Montana’s Rock Creek. Well above the crashing currents and huge boulders, the creek winds through meadows. Perfect for a beginning fisherman like me. I had started fishing just two years before. Every fish was a new experience. Every fly was new and exciting. A 40 year old babe in the woods, literally.

I had already experienced the joy of fishing a hatch with no clue what was going on. And fishing a hatch where it didn’t matter what I tied on, because they were just going to laugh at my fly. But at this place and time, I recognized the hatch and new what to use. And I even caught fish. It was quite a thrill.

These three flies are my favorites for Baetis hatches. I fish them behind a size 18 parachute Adams (where two-fly rigs are allowed). I usually start with the Kryastal Flash Baetis. If that doesn’t work, I think about the drift. I make certain that the fly approaches the fish with slack tippet. Often the hatch occurs in a pool with swirling currents.  But if I have gotten good drifts and still no takers, I switch to the simplified pheasant tail. And if still no takers, the Barr’s Emerger.

If you ask me why that order, I just happen to have a reason. Actually two reasons. The Krystal Flash pattern is tough. It will take a lot of fish before it must be retired. That saves me time during a hatch. The second reason is that the Barr emerger, although a great fly, is a slow fly to tie. A lot of steps to put it togeter. When tying small flies, the fewer steps the better!

In the next three posts I will feature these flies.