Monthly Archives: February 2015

Parachute Adams – 02/27/2015

When I began tying flies in the 80’s, the classic Adams ruled top five lists of “must have” flies. It did not imitate anything; it imitated everything, if that makes any sense. It was characterized as a general buggy looking dry fly that could pass for many different aquatic food sources of trout. I can remember reading several articles where accomplished fly fishermen swore they never carried any flies on the water except for a size 14 or 16 Adams. A classic Adams possessed a pair of barred grizzly hackle tips for wings, a medium gray body, brown hackle fiber tails and grizzly and brown hackle wound around the hook shank behind and in front of the wing. The distinguishing characteristic of this tie to me was the barred hackle tip wings.

Fast forward to 2015, and as with most things, there are all manner of permutations of the Adams. There are Adams wet flies and Adams dry flies with wings that are angled backward. Some were created with egg sacs, and an array of materials have been substituted for the wings, body and tails. At what point does an Adams cease to be one and become a totally different fly? Of course I probably skipped the most significant variation of the Adams; the parachute Adams.

A Parachute Adams

My fishing friend Danny has been joining me for fly tying sessions on Tuesday nights, and I introduced him to many of my productive favorites. Two weeks ago, however, I completed my standards so I asked him what he would like to tie. Danny quickly replied, “parachute Adams”. I had not tied any of these for quite some time, so I agreed we would produce some. Before we started, we viewed a YouTube video where a tier demonstrated how to tie off the parachute hackle against the wing post instead of to the hook shank. I prefer this method as it greatly reduces the risk of trapping hackle fibers in front of the wing while tying off and whip finishing. Danny began with a white poly wing post while I elected to attach calf body hair. The originator was probably shuddering at this scandalous defamation of the classic Adams and the substitution for two barred hackle tips.

Five Parachute Adams Ready for Action

Danny produced a very passable first prototype and then proceeded to knock out eleven more and took home a dozen beautiful parachute Adams dry flies. With each fly, Danny’s wing post and tie off improved until his flies surpassed the quality of store bought imitations. I meanwhile churned out five, and three left the vise with calf tail wings while two possessed pink poly wings. After I completed five, I moved on to another new fly pattern I planned to test in 2015, but that is the subject of another post.

May the Adams live forever in all its different forms. It appeals to all fishermen and all fish.

Clump Dubbing Leech – 02/26/2015

Over my many years of fly fishing I have become fairly proficient at catching fish with dry flies and nymphs, but I never enjoyed much success using streamers. When I joined Instagram, I began to follow fishermen who posted numerous photos of trophy trout of all species that gobbled streamers. These are referred to as meat eaters in the Instagram vernacular. I pledged to commit to streamer fishing more often in 2014, and I managed to land a few fish in the fall, but I would be reluctant to say that I truly committed to the method.

Once again during this off season I reassessed my approach and viewed another avalanche of big fish on the Instagram feed and decided to spend more hours tossing streamer flies. In preparation for my trip to Argentina in December 2013, I bought 5-10 streamers from Royal Gorge Angler, and the predominant pattern among my purchase was a big ugly articulated fly that is called a sculpzilla. Unfortunately during my infrequent forays into the world of streamer chucking I snagged and broke off several of these flies.

Given my new found desire to fish streamers and my depleted supply of flies, I searched for new patterns to add to my fly box. The pine squirrel leech was an obvious starting point, but I hoped to create more variety. I flipped through my Scott Sanchez book and spotted a fly named the clump dubbing leech. The fly recipe called for a rabbit strip or marabou tail and clumps of dubbing for the main body. This did not strike me as overly challenging, so I decided to tie one. Since I had a remaining strip of pine squirrel, I elected to substitute that for a strip of rabbit fur. For the body I inherited five clumps of earth toned sculpin wool from my friend Jeff, so I concluded I could use that for the clump dubbing technique.

A Clump Dubbing Leech

I began by threading a large gold bead to the front of my size 8 hook and then covered the shank with thread. I tied a strip of pine squirrel to the rear of the hook as a tail and clipped off the excess. Next I began adding clumps of sculpin wool to the hook shank. I alternated between gray and tan and worked my way forward. I believe I actually applied larger quantities of wool than required by the pattern, and I ended up with a thick body. After whip finishing the thread tight to the bead, I completed the final step. I grabbed my comb and began forcefully pulling it through the clump dubbing. This process removed a large amount of loose wool, blended the colors together, and created a nice body of fibers that flowed from front to back. Initially I was not pleased with the look of the fly, but with the passing of time it has grown on me. If I tie more clump dubbing leeches, I will try to use smaller clumps and attempt a narrower body profile.

Pine Squirrel Leech – 02/23/2015

Last March my friend Steve Supple and I enjoyed our second annual spring fishing trip to the North Platte River below Grey Reef just west of Casper, WY. Our guide, Greg, rigged us up with the standard rock worm and egg configuration, and we certainly landed a lot of fish on these flies. The North Platte at Grey Reef is an amazing fishery, and given its proximity to Denver, I need to schedule more trips to this excellent river.

Best View

Unlike my rig, Steve began with a pine squirrel leech, and as the morning progressed, he began to land a disproportionate number of hefty rainbow trout on the leech. This circumstance caused Greg to tie one to my 2X tippet, and with this strategic shift, I began to land hard fighting rainbows as well. Needless to say, the pine squirrel leech left a favorable impression on my fishing brain. I am always looking for new productive flies, and the leech certainly jumped to the top of my list.

My Best Cone Head Leech

On Memorial Day weekend Jane and I visited our friends the Gabourys in Eagle, CO, and my friend Dave G. insisted that we could catch fish in the muddy and bloated Brush Creek. Despite his confidence I was not experiencing much success until I tied a pine squirrel leech to my line on the second day. Wham! I landed several fish in very difficult conditions as the dark color and undulating movement proved to be irresistible to hungry trout trying to find refuge from the heavy run-off flows.

A Lineup of Leeches

With these experiences in my mind, I purchased some pine squirrel strips and watched a video on YouTube last weekend. I sat down at my vise and churned out five size eight leeches with red thread heads. The tier on the video insisted that the red head was critical for success on the North Platte, although I do not recall using red head leeches during our March float trip. Once I completed five, I threaded a gold cone head bead on to the hooks and tied five more. For these I wrapped a section of lead around the hook shank behind the bead and then pushed it forward to fill in the vacant space at the back of the cone.

Ten Leeches in the Boat Box

I’m pretty excited to have this new tool in my fly box as I anticipate my assault on the Rocky Mountain trout in 2015.

Deer Hair Caddis – 02/16/2015

Last winter I sorted through my four canisters of damaged and unraveling flies and consolidated all the caddis into one container. As I resumed my off season tying in October, I placed the plastic caddis cylinder on the counter top, and it remained there as I worked my way through nymphs, terrestrials, attractors and mayflies. Last week I completed the green drake inventory, so I dumped the clump of bedraggled caddis on to my magnet.

Damaged and Unraveling Caddis Flies

I separated the flies into four piles by body color, and I discovered peacock, olive hares ear, gray, and light yellow. In excess of forty mostly size 16 flies were arranged on my fly tying counter top, so I began the process of rescuing them from a date with the landfill. I began with the peacock and quickly completed five.

A Neater Head on This One

For the most part the misfit flies exhibited unraveling thread in the head area, possessed cut hackles, or suffered from hair loss. In a few cases I could reattach my thread and simply tie a new whip finish knot to lock up the loose thread, but the prevalent situation called for replacement of the hackle and deer hair wing. In these instances I used my X-Acto knife to slice through the thread head and the hackle tie down point. I simply removed the thread and hackle waste along with any remaining deer hair and reattached my thread in front of the dubbed abdomen.

A Closer Look

I essentially saved forty dubbed hooks, and I was only required to complete the final two steps of the tying process. The resulting finished flies look nearly new, and I transferred five peacock, twenty olive hares ear, ten gray, and five light yellow caddis to my Montana Fly Company boat box. At this point I estimate that I have enough of the various body color caddis to take me through 2015, and I did not have to tie any new versions from beginning to end. Recycling has never been more fun.

A Group of Gray Rehabilitated Deer Hair Caddis

South Platte River – 02/14/2015

Time: 11:30AM – 2:00PM

Location: Downstream of Nighthawk at Whale Rock

Fish Landed: 0

South Platte River 02/14/2015 Photo Album

I pulled my dark olive Columbia fishing shirt off the hanger and eagerly slipped my arms through the sleeves and buttoned the front. The high in Denver was projected to be 65 degrees, and I anxiously anticipated my first fishing outing of 2015. My Valentine, Jane, agreed to accompany me to the South Platte River near Nighthawk, but before we left, Jane observed that my fishing shirt was excessively wrinkled. I responded that I was not about to waste valuable fishing time to iron a fishing shirt. Jane replied that the fish care, and I was disadvantaging myself in the battle to land my first fish of the season.

Wrinkled Fishing Shirt

Off we went with a chair for Jane and our lunches packed, and in my case guarded optimism that I could land a fish to kick off my new season. I checked the flows in the South Platte River below Cheesman Reservoir, and they were at a low level of 116 cfs. The combination of low clear flows, bright blue skies, typical cold water temperatures of February and the lack of significant insect activity caused me to be cautious in my expectations.

Ready for First Fishing Outing of 2015

When we reached the South Platte River at the base of Nighthawk Hill my hopes were further eroded by the significant number of vehicles parked in all the designated pullouts along the river. Fishermen were everywhere, and I was headed to the less popular lower river. The prime catch and release water between Scraggy View and Deckers must have been like opening day back east with fishermen lining the river.

I tossed aside my concerns and assembled my new replacement Orvis Access four weight rod and then pulled my head through the loop of my new Fishpond front pack. My fleece pouch was sufficiently stocked with San Juan worms, eggs, and tiny nymphs so I set out on my quest for trout number one. As I slid down the path toward the river several fishermen ambled past me along the shoulder of the dirt road. I rarely saw fisherman below me in this spot on the South Platte, so the parade of fishermen did not bode well.

Wading into the South Platte River

I began casting a nymphing rig with a strike indicator, beadhead hares ear and zebra midge to the nice bend pool where I had much success in previous first time outings, but Valentine’s Day 2015 was not going to be one of those experiences. I did not add a split shot to my set up as the flows were quite low, and I determined that the two beadheads would sink the flies sufficiently. After striking out in my ace in the hole bend pool, I moved upstream and worked a solid deep run along the far bank. The sky was a disappointing slate gray and the air temperature hovered at 42 degrees. These were not the balmy premature spring conditions that caused me to schedule this mid-winter venture.

A Prospecting Cast

I moved on to a channel on the south side of an island and worked some deep riffles to no avail and then returned to find Jane bundled up in a chair across from the bend pool. We agreed to retreat to the car to pick up our lunches, and then returned to our spot across from the bend pool. As we munched our lunches, we watched two fishermen thirty yards below us futilely flail the river with numerous hopeful casts.

After lunch I crossed the river to the west bank and then hiked downstream through some tall grass and ponderosa pines, but as I began to cut back to the river, I spotted another fisherman wearing a red ball cap in the area just above the white water cascade. This was the area I was targeting, so I made a right turn and cut back to the river halfway between the red cap gentleman and the fishermen below Jane’s reading spot.

Headed for the Rock Jumble after Lunch

I swapped out the beadhead hares ear for a pink San Juan worm and worked the deep runs and side pools, but once again I was met with disappointment. By the time I reached the point where a fisherman covered the water during our lunch, he had departed, so I explored the area from the opposite side. I exchanged the zebra midge for a RS2, and in a deep side pool I finally observed a trout dashing for cover after my third or fourth cast failed to attract interest.

I was now feeling quite bored with the winter fishing and my lack of success, so I crossed the river and approached Jane. We decided to move to another spot farther up the river, so Jane drove the Santa Fe, and dropped me off along the dirt road just above the next parking area. She continued to the next pullout, and I promised to fish to her position, and then we would begin our return trip to Denver. I thoroughly worked the rocky stretch of river next to the road with my worm and RS2, and again my rod did not feel the throb of a resisting fish.

One of My Favorite Stretches Was Unproductive

When I reached the top of the deep run, a white pick up truck appeared on the road above me, and a DOW agent greeted me and asked to see my fishing license. I struggled to open the zippered pockets in my wader bib, but upon inspection, I could not find my Colorado fishing license. The gentleman was nice enough to transport me upstream to the parking area where Jane parked the Santa Fe, and I found her by the edge of the river reading. She threw the keys to me, and I found my drivers’ license and presented it to the DOW agent. He politely accepted it and told me he would radio one of his other agents who was in cell range, and then that person could use the on board computer to check the database for my license.

After a five minute wait I was relieved to hear that the chain of connections worked, and he determined that I was a licensed fisherman. Later when I returned home, I found my license in my fishing backpack in my fishing bag. I had it with me in the car, but I did not have it on the stream. This was the most exciting aspect of my Valentine’s Day fishing trip.

If you ask Jane, she will tell you that I was skunked because I did not iron my fishing shirt. I, on the other hand, attribute my lack of success to the density of fishermen combined with low clear water conditions. One certainty however remains. I will not stoop to ironing my fishing shirts.

Green Drakes – 02/13/2015

The western green drake hatch has been a roller coaster ride for this avid fisherman. I’ve encountered them on the Big Thompson River, St. Vrain Creek, Roaring River, Clear Creek and South Boulder Creek along the front range in the state of Colorado. One year not long after I moved to Colorado I chanced upon a decent hatch on the Fraser River near Tabernash. In the south central part of the state I was fortunate to meet large green drakes on the upper Conejos River one July. These fish were not the least bit picky, and they smashed my large bushy green drakes with reckless abandon.

Moving west my best green drake experiences have been on the Taylor River and Frying Pan River. I remember one fine day on the Eagle River when I spotted one or two in the air during my lunch break, and I then switched to a green drake imitation and enjoyed a great afternoon attracting fish to the surface.

The most dependable source of green drake activity remains the Frying Pan River. Nearly every afternoon that I visited this reliable tailwater after mid-July resulted in some level of green drake emergence, and this continues into October. I have enjoyed spectacular days when the feisty residents relished my flies like no other, but I have also had days of frustration when large dark olive mayflies blanket the river, and yet my various offerings went ignored. This is the roller coaster ride that I alluded to at the beginning.

The worst scenario is when I have a very successful outing on my last trip to the Frying Pan, and this leads me to believe I solved the puzzle. I make a note of the type of fly that produced success, and when I sit down at my vice during the winter, I churn out five to ten specimens with the misplaced notion that these flies will yield many more days of double digit fish counts. Typically when I return to the Pan and tie on my fresh killer pattern, I experience disappointment. This cycle repeats itself from season to season. Last winter I did some online research and discovered there are two if not three species of western green drakes on the Frying Pan River.

Dark and Light Wing Color

According to my findings, the early green drake is larger in size and darker in color, and a later species is a hook size smaller and possesses a lighter olive body color. Armed with this information, I tied some size 14 comparaduns with a lighter olive body. On my trips to the Frying Pan in 2014 I met with mixed success. During two memorable days I had decent success in the early stages of the hatch, but once the density of adult flies peaked, the fish ignored my offering.

Tissue Background

So what is a fly fisherman and fly tier supposed to do? I’ve reached a point where I tie three different styles of fly in two sizes with two types of abdomen. The three styles are a bushy version that is a heavily hackled Catskill style. This fly is quite buoyant, rides high on the surface and seems to work well when the emerging green drakes create a frenzied commotion as they try to become airborne. I usually tie these flies with a fairly dark olive dubbing and rib with a maroon section of thread. I make these flies mostly in size 12 with a few size 14’s to cover my bases.

The second style is a parachute green drake, and I tie these in both size 12 and 14. These flies have a moose mane tail and white calf tail wing post that I color black, but I keep the tip white for visibility. I wind a dyed olive grizzly parachute hackle around the wing post, and the body is the same color as I described previously for the Catskill style. These flies float quite well and are very visible, and they seem to work quite well early in the hatch. In the two hour period before the expected hatch time I like to prospect with the paradrake because it is quite visible in fast riffles and pockets. If green drakes are present, the fish will generally hammer a paradrake opportunistically.

A Green Drake Comparadun

The final style that I carry in my fly box is a comparadun. I’ve had some superb days with the comparadun style, but mostly the smaller size 14 3XL version. I make these flies with a splayed microfibbet tail, and I use three fibers on each side. These stiff tailing materials serve as outriggers to keep the large comparadun afloat. I tie some comparaduns with a very dark wing of coastal deer hair, but I also arm myself with several that utilize a lighter charcoal coastal deer hair wing. For the body I make some with the medium olive/maroon ribbed combination, and then I supplement these with a sampling with olive antron yarn and no rib. Several of my best days developed when I tied the antron yarn size 14 comparadun to my hook.

Green Drake Comparaduns with Antron and No Rib

I am sure the reader’s head is spinning my now, but at least you understand the complex nature of finding success on the Frying Pan River during a western green drake hatch. Of course I have not even mentioned the simultaneous hatch of red quills, pale morning duns and blue wing olives. What are the chances of selecting the correct fly during these frenzied feeding orgies on the Frying Pan River? It is fun to continue attempt to solve the puzzle, so I have tied a bunch of the above versions, and I anxiously await the opportunity to continue the experiment in the outdoor lab.

Cinnamon Comparadun – 02/01/2015

Every once in a while something occurs that feeds my penchant to horde and stockpile flies. I’m perpetually reading articles about traveling light, carrying only a minimal supply of flies, and preparing fly boxes for the season of the year and the stream being fished thus leaving behind the excess flies that rarely come into play. Unfortunately my personality imposes a level of thoroughness to everything that I do that dictates that I carry four or five fly boxes just in case some rare event comes that causes me to dig deep. One of the small fly boxes that I always have with me contains flies that I tied for my trips to Pennsylvania even though I fish in Colorado rivers and streams most of the time.

On a trip to the Frying Pan River in September 2013 with my friend Jeff Shafer, I observed some pale morning duns that had a light olive and maroon body. The combination of these two colors yielded a hue close to cinnamon. The fish were feeding actively on these flies, but the pale morning comparaduns that I normally use with great success were generating only refusals. My favorite PMD fly is a size 16 light gray comparadun. Besides not being a close match from a color perspective, it also was a size larger than the mayflies on the water.

A Nice Close Up

I systematically began rummaging through my fly boxes and eventually came upon the Pennsylvania box. There along the edge I spotted a size 18 comparadun that was tied with a  blend of light olive and maroon dubbing. I recalled tying these fifteen years earlier after a trip to the Dolores River in southwestern Colorado. I tied this fly on to my line and experienced an exceptionally fast paced hour and a half of hot action as the Frying Pan trout slurped my antique comparadun.

Cinnamon Comparaduns

I purchased some cinnamon dubbing the next winter and produced 5-10 cinnamon comparaduns in case I visited the Frying Pan River again during 2014. On several occasions during the summer when I encountered pale morning dun hatches I tried the cinnamon comparadun and had reasonable success. During a trip to the Frying Pan River in September, it produced a few fish, but I did not encounter the dense PMD hatches that I expected. In addition, I believe several were in the fly box that I lost while trying to untangle a massive monofilament snarl.

20 Cinnamon Comparaduns

As I moved through my fly bin stocking process during January, I decided to tie twenty new cinnamon comparaduns; fifteen size 18 and five size 16. Hopefully this supply will carry me through another summer season, and I will be prepared for pale morning dun hatches on western rivers.