Monthly Archives: December 2015

Harrop Hair Wing Green Drake – 12/29/2015

This story begins in 2011 when I made a three day trip to the Conejos River. I chose this destination since the northern portion of Colorado was locked in an exceptionally long snow melt that year. After an afternoon on the lower river near Aspen Glade Campground with minimal success, I paid a visit to the Conejos River Angler fly shop and asked for advice. The store salesperson directed me to the upper river below Platoro, and as is my custom, I purchased some flies in exchange for information.

Harrop Hair Wing Green Drake 12/29/2015 Photo Album

The salesperson suggested some flies, and his guidance included salvation nymphs and green drake dry flies. The dry flies were the bushiest imitations I ever saw, and in fact they struck me as olive bodied stimulators, but they produced some very nice fish that day and the next day on the upper Conejos River. I deployed these green drakes on numerous occasions subsequent to the purchase, and they seemed to perform best during the initial stages of green drake emergence periods.

During July of 2015 I made a return visit to the Conejos River and camped at Lake Fork Campground in close proximity to the upper stretch where I experienced stellar success in 2011. Once again I knotted the heavily hackled green drake to my line and enjoyed splendid results during the late morning hours on two successive days of intense fishing. Of course extended usage of a fly exposes it to loss, and I depleted my supply of bushy green drakes to two bedraggled versions in my front pack.

Two Beat Up Purchased Flies and Instructions to Make New Ones

I resolved to tie some more, but I did not know what they were named. Fortunately our modern state of life offers a tool for such a dilemma, and it is called the internet. I typed hair wing green drake in my browser, and I was pleasantly surprised to observe results that included Harrop’s hair wing dry fly. I scanned the images on the screen and rejoiced when I spotted a green drake that matched the two remaining flies in my possession. I continued my search and found tying instructions for Harrop’s hair wing green drake and printed them.

Angled View

I am pleased to report that the step by step instructions were superb, and I cranked out five size 12 Harrop hair wing green drakes. My versions appear to be slightly more sparse than the purchased varieties as they possess a narrower abdomen, but my intuition says they will be productive additions to my fly box. The newly completed flies are slotted in my boat box, and they taunt me every time I spot them. I can hear the siren call saying, “You have seven months to wait before I can torment large trout and entice smashing top water takes.” That may be true, but at least I no longer worry about depleting my supply of these amazing fish magnets.

Zoomed in On Newly Produced Beauties

Light Gray Comparadun – 12/27/2015

Light Gray Comparadun 12/27/2015 Photo Album

Up until several years ago the light gray comparadun was my preferred fly for matching the pale morning dun hatches that are prevalent in the western United States. I was always perplexed by the effectiveness of this fly since it possessed a light gray body yet most of the specimens I collected displayed light yellow and even cinnamon bodies. Despite this misgiving, who was I to argue with fishing success? I hypothesized that the light gray poly dubbing contained strands of yellow fibers, and this explained the positive feeding habits of targeted trout during a PMD hatch.

The light gray comparadun was so effective on the Colorado River near Parshall, CO that I encouraged my friend Jeff Shafer to tie some prior to a trip to Colorado. He asked me to take a photo, and I used the margin of a page of the Wall Street Journal as the background. We both felt that using a newspaper that documented financial results was suitable given the effectiveness of the light gray comparadun, and we jokingly nicknamed the fly the money fly.

Light Gray Comparadun

Unfortunately change is a constant in fly fishing, and I began to encounter situations where the money fly failed to entice feeding trout during pale morning dun hatches. Exhibit A for this circumstance was the Frying Pan River where I endured several outings when the light gray comparadun left me in a disillusioned state relative to my dependable comparadun. Fortunately during a September trip in 2013 I stumbled across the cinnamon comparadun as a more effective imitation for the feeding inhabitants of the Frying Pan. In addition to body color, I also downsized my flies to size 18 instead of the previously favored size 16.

A Completed Batch

My conversion to size 18 cinnamon comparaduns has not caused me to totally abandon the light gray comparadun. I continue to find scenarios where the light gray money fly performs at a high level. I can only theorize that different river systems harbor pale morning duns with different shades of PMD body color.

Closing in on Comparaduns

I reviewed the status of my light gray comparadun inventory and decided to tie an additional ten in size 18. These have been completed and added to my fly storage container. These flies should enable me to test whether size of fly or color explain the change is success from the light gray to cinnamon comparadun. Stay tuned.

CDC BWO – 12/24/2015

CDC BWO 12/24/215 Photo Album

I do not have much to add regarding the CDC blue winged olive that I did not previously convey on my 03/11/2014 CDC BWO post. This tiny fly continues to be a must have for my fly box throughout the season.

On November 23 I visited the Arkansas River tailwater in Pueblo for the first time, and I was lucky to experience a fairly dense blue winged olive hatch during the afternoon despite a clear blue sky. My size 22 CDC BWO produced three fish during the early stages of the emergence; however, it was largely ignored during the peak activity. I was in a prime position next to a long pool where at least twenty fish fed aggressively on tiny blue dun mayflies, and yet aside from a few temporary hook ups, I failed to land any fish.

Size 24

Near the tail end of the lesson in frustration I seined the water and inspected the specimens that appeared in my net. I estimated that the mayflies were a size 24, and this probably explained my lack of success. I vowed to tie some size 24 CDC BWO’s, and I fulfilled that pledge during the first couple weeks of December. I tied ten minuscule blue winged olives, and then because I was not satisfied with the look of my carryover size 22’s, I manufactured ten more.

CDC, Microfibbets and Size 24 BWO’s

Despite its small size this fly is fairly easy to tie as it only involves three materials. The most challenging step is sizing the clump of CDC that is used to form the upright wing. I discovered through experience that an optimal amount of feather is necessary. If I make the wing too sparse, it mats readily and does not present a viable wing imitation. In addition once it gets wet it is very difficult to fluff back to the desired thickness. If the clump is too thick, the fly does not present an accurate silhouette, and the fish ignore it. In order to counter these difficulties, I strip CDC fibers from a feather and roll them into a clump. I gauge the thickness for proper bulk by focusing on the area just above my pinch because this section does not contain air spaces and more accurately portrays how the wing will appear once tied to the hook shank.

Macro of Size 22’s

Cinnamon Comparadun – 12/23/2015

Cinnamon Comparadun 12/23/2015 Photo Album

Up until several years ago, I relied primarily on size 16 light gray comparaduns to match the pale morning dun hatches in Colorado. During a trip to the Frying Pan River in September 2013 I encountered a heavy pale morning dun hatch, and the light gray size 16 comparadun was soundly rejected by the educated fish in the upper tailwater. Fortunately I searched through my excessive number of fly boxes and discovered some old size 18 comparaduns that I tied for the Dolores River. I blended light olive and maroon dubbing by hand, and these flies not only saved my day, but they produced spectacular results.

Of course this experience prompted me to produce some newer versions, and I purchased a bag of Hareline cinnamon dubbing for this purpose. In the two years since the Frying Pan River success story I tested the cinnamon comparadun on the Eagle River and Yampa River along with the Frying Pan River, and it delivered solid results in these additional settings. These encounters with positive results using the cinnamon comparaduns convinced me to tie additional numbers for 2016. I consumed quite a few of my size 18 imitations, so I began by producing fifteen of these and then added five size 16’s.


The two keys to tying effective comparaduns are split tails and a deer hair wing that is upright or even angled backward a bit. I was not completely satisfied with my ability to split the tails. My standard practice was to make a small ball of thread at the end of the hook shank, and then I attached the microfibbet tail fibers individually at an angle on top of the hook shank. Next I wrapped backward to splay the fibers against the thread ball. This worked reasonably well most of the time, but occasionally the near fibers rolled up, and the split tail fibers were not on the same plain.

Finished Batch of Cinnamon Comparaduns

I performed a search on split tail fibers and uncovered a tip on a fly tying forum. I adopted this technique for the comparaduns that I tied for 2016, and I am quite pleased with the outcome. When I attach my thread to the hook shank, I wrap back to the end of the hook, and then I hold the tag end of the thread angled upward at a sixty degree angle while I create a ball using figure eight wraps against the taut thread. I do not clip off the tag end of the thread, but instead allow it to dangle from the end of the hook. After I move forward and build the wing, I return to the middle of the abdominal area and attach the desired number of microfibbet fibers to the top of the hook. Once the fibers are adjusted to the proper tail length, I wrap back until I am approximately two or three eye widths from the thread ball. At this point I pull the tag end of the thread forward and evenly split the tail fibers and then angle it down along the side of the hook shank. This causes the near side fibers to splay, and I then lock them by placing some wraps around the tag end thread before I snip it off. I then carefully wrap backward while holding the far side fibers so that they splay against the thread ball and remain in the same plain as the near side microfibbets.

Macro with iPhone

The other trick to creating attractive comparaduns is to leave a gap behind the wing as you wrap the dubbing forward. After you complete the abdomen, allocate a gap and place some tight dubbed thread wraps against the front of the wing while using your left hand to push the wing backward. This causes the wing to angle backward into the gap. After the wing is cocked properly, make some loose dubbing wraps behind the wing to cover any thin spots under the wing.

There you have it. Use my suggestions to create attractive and effective comparaduns of various colors, catch a lot of fish during hatches, and save a bunch of money by not buying expensive dry fly hackle feathers.

Iron Sally – 12/19/2015

Iron Sally 12/19/2015 Photo Album

In previous posts I extolled the virtues of the iron sally nymph. I continue to regard this fly as one of the prettiest imitations in my fly box, and I enjoy creating these gems. Another advantage of the iron sally is the weight provided by the wire wraps that form the abdomen.

Top View of a Shiny Iron Sally

During 2015 I did not utilize the iron sally as much as I intended, but it did spend time on my line primarily during days when I spotted yellow sallies fluttering over the stream. Apparently I deployed them enough to deplete my supply, so I tied an additional four to bring my inventory back to fifteen. This really is not a huge amount, and if I begin to experience more success, I may run short.

Zoomed In

The designer of this fly had a stroke of genius when he or she decided to combine the gold ultra wire and black crystal flash to construct the abdomen and legs. The iron sally attracts both fishermen and fish.


Juju Emerger – 12/13/2015

Juju Emerger 12/13/2015 Photo Album

I tied ten juju emergers last spring, and I tested them on several occasions during the early summer time frame when pale morning duns were active. I can report some success, but I also lost quite a few and reduced my supply to three. I suspect that my short supply affected my willingness to knot a juju emerger to my line, as I gravitated to the salvation nymph in many situations where a juju emerger might have been effective.

Juju Emerger

Since I had the requisite materials on hand, I decided to create twelve new flies to bring my total to fifteen. I completed this task several weeks ago, and I am anxious to utilize them for longer intervals during 2016. Charlie Craven’s recipe specifies size 18 hooks, so I complied with these directions and made eight. Once these were completed I clamped some size 16 hooks in my vice and produced four larger imitations.

Super Macro

On Friday December 11 Jane and I stopped at Charlie’s Fly Box in Old Arvada on our way to Golden. The main salesperson was busy with another customer, and Charlie Craven asked if he could help me. Rarely do I get an opportunity to speak with the owner of the shop and one of my favorite fly designers. Charlie helped me find the two packets of hooks that I was seeking, and then I took the opportunity to ask him about the juju emerger. I was surprised to learn that the pattern that I copied from his instructions is actually intended to be a blue winged olive imitation. The two strands of olive and one strand of brown super hair create an olive body with a segmented appearance similar to a baetis nymph. I now wonder if I should create some size 20’s and 22’s for the smaller broods of blue winged olives that emerge late in the season.

A Size 16 Juju Emerger

Surprisingly Charlie told me I should use two brown and one black strand of super hair to mimic a pale morning dun emerger or alternatively two brown and one orange. Now that I learned this from the designer, I may produce some additional variants to imitate pale morning duns. I understand why I unknowingly selected the salvation nymph during pale morning dun hatches instead of the juju emergers…my juju emergers were designed for a different mayfly hatch!

Salad Spinner – 12/12/2015

Salad Spinner 12/12/2015 Photo Album

I must confess that you will not find this fly anywhere else if you search the internet. In addition, I have not yet tested it in a live stream scenario. The salad spinner was designed by my young friend Danny Ryan, and although I have not used it, Danny demonstrated to me that it was a fish catching machine on the South Platte River, as he extracted fish after fish from that drainage on an October visit. This day of fishing convinced me that I needed to manufacture some to add to my fly box for the upcoming season.


Danny has limited funds to purchase fly tying materials, so he attempts to make the most out of what he has. A friend in Texas gave him a box of materials that her deceased husband accumulated, and Danny stretches this cache of floss and yarn as far as his imagination allows him. This then was the source of the salad spinner. Danny caught quite a few trout during our October day on the South Platte, and when he removed the salad spinner from the jaws of several fish, he noticed that quite a bit of aquatic vegetation accumulated on his fly, thus the name salad spinner.

Angled from the Side

Although the fly is not intended to imitate a specific insect, I suspect that it falls into the midge genre, and it is probably taken for an emerging midge pupa. The combination of fish attracting colors makes it stand out in the cold tumbling flows of Colorado rivers and streams. They are a relatively quick tie, so I created ten as my starting inventory. If the fish demonstrate a strong preference for this black attractor, I will quickly produce some more.

Completed Batch With Ingredients

Here are the steps:

1. Start with a size 18 or 20 scud hook such as a Tiemco 2487 and slide a bead on to the shank and around the bend to the hook eye.

2. Place some black thread in your bobbin and attach it to a hook 1/3 of the way behind the hook eye.

3. Attach brown or speckled fibers from a pheasant tail feather as a short tail.

4. Attach a strand of extra small red ultra wire to the shank in front of the tail.

5. Wrap the tread forward  and create a tapered abdomen until you reach the 1/3 point where you attached the thread.

6. Wrap the red wire forward to create a rib and tie off at the end of the abdomen.

7. Tie in a section of white poly. The thickness should match the size of the fly, but for a small hook size probably 8-10 fibers.

8. Tie in two strands of peacock herl and create a thorax. I actually substituted black peacock ice dub for the natural peacock.

9. Fold the poly yarn forward over the thorax and tie it down and then whip finish.

10. Allow the poly yarn to angle forward over the hook eye and cut it off to leave a stub to represent an emerging wing.


Zebra Midge – 12/10/2015

Zebra Midge 12/10/2015 Photo Album

The zebra midge is an amazingly productive fly that I tend to overlook. I continue to fall into the trap of thinking that it is difficult for trout to see such a tiny morsel in the rivers and streams of Colorado, yet when I experimented with one on my line, I typically enjoyed a favorable response from the fish.

A recent example of my flawed thinking is described in my 10/02/2015 Arkansas River post. I stopped at the ArkAngler Fly Shop in Salida, and a young gentleman behind the counter practically ordered me to use a midge larva in the morning. As my wife will attest, I am a chronic follower of orders, so I adhered to his advice and had great success in the tumbling waters of the Arkansas River that day.

Another reason to favor the zebra midge is its simplicity, and this translates to easy and fast fly tying. Only four materials are necessary – a hook, a bead, thread and fine wire. The hardest part is threading the tiny bead on to a size 20 hook. I abandoned using tweezers this go round and instead used hackle pliers to clamp on the bead and then centered it over the minuscule hook point. It worked better than tweezers, but I can report a few instances where I did not have the bead centered, and the pliers released causing a BB style gun shot.

Newly Minted Zebra Midges

I tied seven new zebra midges to bring my stock to 20. I produced some black and olive varieties, and hopefully I can discipline myself to attach a zebra midge to my line more frequently in 2016.



Craven Soft Hackle Emerger – 12/10/2015

Craven Soft Hackle Emerger 12/10/2015 Photo Album

The soft hackle emerger has evolved from an experimental tie to a mainstay in my fly box. Over the last two seasons I gravitated to this fly more frequently than the RS2 and with good reason. It delivered. I believe that the additional flash of the white fluoro fiber tail and wing grabs the attention of the trout more readily than the drab RS2. Also the soft hackle style probably serves as a better imitation of emerging blue winged olives during hatch situations.

Top View Without Bead

I continue to deploy the RS2, but I usually reserve it for the time period before BWO’s appear, as this is when the nymphs are active deeper in the water column. I also concluded that the soft hackle emerger is best tied without a bead since I am generally fishing it as an emerger near the surface. Active movement of the soft hackle also seems to be quite effective in many hatch situations.

Completed Batch of Twelve

I tied twelve of these productive flies over the last several weeks to bring my inventory level to 50 again for the upcoming season. The hardest part of tying this fly is the folded soft hackle, but since it only requires two turns, I do not get overly upset if my fold is not perfect. The fish do not seem to care.

South Boulder Creek – 12/08/2015

South Boulder Creek 12/08/2015 Photo Album

After a four day severe cold snap over Thanksgiving weekend, the Colorado weather pattern gradually warmed until high temperatures were forecast to climb to sixty degrees today, Tuesday, December 8, 2015. I could not resist the temptation to initiate a late season fishing outing, but I probably should have.

I packed a lunch and tossed all my gear in the Santa Fe and set out for Clear Creek at 10:15. I considered South Boulder Creek and the Big Thompson River, but both those streams registered very low flows. South Boulder Creek was trickling from Gross Reservoir at 8.5 cfs, and the Big Thompson was slightly higher at 25 cfs. The elevation on the Big Thompson below Lake Estes is much higher than South Boulder Creek and Clear Creek, so I eliminated that from consideration. Denver Water continues to run minimal water into South Boulder Creek, and I was concerned about fishing in such low conditions.

When I crossed Colorado 93 west of Golden and entered Clear Creek Canyon, I quickly glanced at the stream on my left and discovered that a large amount of snow remained in the canyon, and several feet of shelf ice extended over the stream on both banks. Clear Creek is a high gradient stream, and I make most of my casts to slack slow moving water along the banks, so I quickly concluded that the icy conditions were not conducive to catching fish on Clear Creek.

Tough Conditions in Clear Creek Canyon

I carefully executed a U-turn on Route 6 and began driving east. Initially I decided to abandon my quest for fish, but as I reached Route 93, I reconsidered and made a left turn to travel north and west to South Boulder Creek. Because South Boulder Creek is a tailwater, I speculated that it would at least be free of shelf ice. I remained concerned about the low flows, but I knew from fishing at 17 cfs that quite a few deep slow moving pools remained where the fish could congregate. In a worst case scenario, I would enjoy a nice scenic drive in the front range foothills, and I could scout out South Boulder Creek. The other factor that I failed to note in the weather report was the high winds, and as I drove north on Colorado 93, I observed a high wind advisory sign. How crazy was it to attempt fly fishing when a high wind advisory was posted?

When I reached the bottom of the gravel road that descends from Coal Creek Canyon to South Boulder Creek, I paused and peered down at the stream. It was definitely low, but it appeared to be free of ice, so I continued around the bend below the dam and then pulled into the parking lot .2 miles up the hill. One other sedan was present as I prepared to fish. I slid into my Adidas pullover, and used it as a windbreaker over my hooded fleece. I chose my New Zealand billed hat with ear flaps to warm my head, and extracted my fingerless wool gloves from my tote bag. The temperature on the dashboard was 42 degrees as I prepared to fish South Boulder Creek.

I hiked down the steep trail to the edge of the creek and then continued downstream. Relatively early on my entry hike I passed another fisherman who was likely the owner of the other car in the parking lot. This meant I had the entire tailwater below the upper stretch to myself. I hiked along the north side of the river until I approached the first place where some large rocks met the stream, and here I waded out a bit, and I tossed some casts to a nice small pool of moderate depth. I began with a pink pool toy and a beadhead ultra zug bug, but nothing responded to my initial drifts.

After five or six casts I crossed to the south side of the stream and followed the path downstream. Since I knew that the only other fisherman was upstream, I targeted the attractive long pool that was one hundred yards above the pedestrian bridge. This pool is favored by nearly every angler that visits South Boulder Creek, so I decided to claim it before anyone else arrived. As I expected, when the pool came into view, it was vacant. I positioned myself at the head of the pool and began drifting my pair of flies along the entering current and next to a protruding rock.

The Long Deep Pool of South Boulder Creek

This tactic did not yield results, so I waded upstream a bit until I was five feet below the rock. Here I could see into the water with my polarized lenses, and three medium sized rainbow trout were spaced along the near side of the run. I could now observe their reaction to my flies, and it was clear that they were ignoring my offerings. After many casts I added a salvation nymph and presented two subsurface flies, but this strategy was equally ineffective. Next I exchanged the salvation nymph for a zebra midge, and again no response. As this was going on, I noticed two or three random rises in the water next to the rock and also along the current seam. What were these fish eating?

Finally after an excessive amount of time in one area, I decided to move to the next juicy spot just above the exposed rock. This location was also inviting with a nice deep hole and a shelf pool on the opposite side of the creek. By now I concluded that the pink pool toy might be scaring fish in the very low clear winter flows, so I downsized to a size 12 Jake’s gulp beetle with dubbed peacock body. The random rises seemed to occur after a gust of wind, so perhaps some beetles and ants remained in the streamside trees and shrubs. I flicked the beetle to the run and then along the far current seam, but my casts failed to elicit any interest.

Perhaps ants were the prevailing terrestrial late season snack? I tied a length of tippet to the bend of the beetle and added a parachute ant, and then I lobbed a cast to the slow shelf water at the top of the pool across from me. On the third cast I spotted a brief swirl to the ant just as it began to drag. Finally a glimpse of action gave me faint hope that I could catch a fish in December. Unfortunately I could not tempt another attack, but when the wind died back and the surface became clear, I could see into the pool and noticed three or four decent fish in front of me. Two of these fish were nice sized rainbows that were tucked right in front of a large subsurface rock just across from my position.

I Fished the Area at the Head of the Long Pool

Now that I could see my targets, I fell into the trap of switching flies with the hope of finding a winner. Whenever I dwell in an area and focus on a fish or several fish that are hugging the bottom and not rising, it never seems to end well, and this would be no different. I tested the zebra midge, a sunken trico, and soft hackle emerger as droppers from the beetle, and none of these small offerings resulted in a netted fish. I may have had a momentary hook up on the sunken trico, although it may just as well have been a snag on bottom.

Clearly the beetle/nymph strategy was failing on these jaded trout, so I tried the double dry gambit. I clipped off the soft hackle emerger and replaced it with a size 16 brown olive deer hair caddis. The light tan wing of this fly was quite easy to follow behind the beetle, and finally on the sixth drift along the current seam, I was surprised when a trout darted to the surface and nipped at the caddis. I quickly executed a hook set, and once again I briefly felt some throbbing weight, but then just as abruptly the fish escaped. This would be the highlight of my two hours of fishing on South Boulder Creek.

I worked the beetle/caddis combination for another fifteen minutes but only managed to increase my futility. In a last gasp effort to prevent a skunking, I switched the caddis for a beadhead emerald caddis pupa. Perhaps I was not getting the subsurface fly deep enough and in front of the noses of the pair of nice fish in front of the rock. Alas, this tactic also failed, and my feet and hands were feeling quite chilled, so I backed out of the creek and hooked my flies to the rod guide. I glanced at my watch and realized it was 2PM, and I promised myself to quit fishing by early afternoon. I resumed my hike along the south trail, and then crossed and ascended the steep trail to the parking lot.

I was disappointed to register zero fish, but I still enjoyed my two hours on South Boulder Creek. I discovered that the fish continue to dwell in the minimal flows, and my mind was totally focused on fooling the visible fish before me. I was outsmarted by a finned creature with a pea sized brain, but as usual the scenery was gorgeous and the cold clean air was invigorating. It was a typical winter fishing outing.