Monthly Archives: January 2019

User Friendly Green Drake – 01/31/2019

User Friendly Green Drake 01/31/2019 Photo Album

I must disclose at the outset, that this post describes a fly that has yet to be field tested in Colorado by this fly fisherman. If you follow this blog, you know that I am a huge fan of fly designer Andrew Grillos. He was the creator of the pool toy hopper and hippy stomper, and those two flies evolved into two of my top producers. Andrew has mastered the creative use of foam in many of his designs.

Helicopter View

I recently began following @andrew_grillos_flyfishing on Instagram, and he posted a photo of a User Friendly. Andrew is a fly designer for Umpqua Feather Merchants, and he obviously was attempting to generate interest in his new fly with the hope of influencing sales. I immediately exchanged some comments with Andrew, and he directed me to a recent column by Charlie Craven in Fly Fisherman Magazine. Since I am a subscriber, I searched through my pile of unread magazines and found the article that Andrew referred to.

Five New User Friendly GD’s

I anxiously scanned the tying steps and accompanying photos, and my immediate thoughts migrated to the applicability of the user friendly to the western green drake. Up until now I stocked my fly boxes with three versions of the large western mayfly; a parachute green drake, a green drake comparadun, and a Harrop hair wing green drake. Each produced fish in certain situations, but none were consistent trout attractors. To varying degrees they absorbed water, and maintaining a solid surface float with a large waterlogged fly was a problem. Floatation was a particularly significant problem with the comparadun version due to its lack of hackle and relatively large size. I worked through this shortcoming with frequent dabbing and trips to the dry shake canister, but these minutes subtracted from time on the water. As the old proverb suggests, you cannot catch fish if your fly is not on the water.


The feature of the user friendly that caught my attention was incorporating razor foam into the body construction. I was a bit concerned about scaling this feature down to size 16 and smaller flies, but the concept seemed well suited to a size 14 fly on a 3XL hook. I reached a point in my production tying when green drakes were at the top of the list, and I was very excited to experiment with the user friendly, so I took the plunge.

Fly ComponentMaterial
HookTiemco 200R Size 14
ThreadDark olive 6/0
TailSix brown microfibbets
RibMaroon sewing thread
Overbody/Thorax UnderbodyGreen razor foam
AbdomenPale olive dubbing (Ligas No. 21)
WingPoly yarn or McFlylon
LegsSmall sillilegs
HackleOlive grizzly
ThoraxIce dubbing

The tying instructions outlined by Charlie Craven utilized a material list that produced a purple user friendly, so my first step was to select substitutes required to replicate a green drake. I decided to adhere to my standard brown microfibbet tails, pale olive dubbed abdomen with a maroon thread rib, and a hackle of dark olive grizzly hackle. For the differing features of the user friendly I adopted dark green razor foam, small barred olive and black sillilegs, and tan ice dub. The ice dub was applied at the the thorax of the fly to provide a touch of flash. If I had an olive ice dub, I would have chosen that, but I recently challenged myself to use the vast quantity of materials that already consume space in my storage cabinets rather than purchase more.

My single biggest remaining decision revolved around the wing. Craven’s pattern required a gray poly wing, but I desired something darker for my green drake. I extracted some white Mcflylon and green poly yarn from my storage bag. I never settled on a preferred wing material and ended up tying five of each color.

A Group with Green Poly Wings

Needless to say I am very pleased with the outcome of the user friendly tying experiment. The final verdict is in the hands of the trout; however, I feel very confident that these green drakes will dupe western fish during  green drake hatches. The splayed tails and V-cut hackle should cause the fly to land upright every cast, and incorporating the narrow razor foam strip into the body and thorax should greatly improve the buoyancy of this green drake model. Initially for the white Mcflylon wings I colored the base with a black permanent marker and left the tips white for visibility. I think this wing closely mimics the dark gray of natural green drakes. I must admit, however, that the green poly wings were also very consistent with the overall olive appearance of western green drakes. In reality I suspect that both will be effective, as I am not convinced that trout obtain a clear view of the color of the wing, since it is above the water. Their trigger is most likely the silhouette of a large wing protruding out of the back of the fly.

These ten user friendly green drakes will join my already diverse and abundant supply of western green drake imitations. Hopefully this fly will evolve into a regular occupant of my line during green drake hatches and not a platoon player, but its role will be defined by the hatches that I encounter in the upcoming season.


Stimulators – 01/30/2019

Stimulators 01/30/2019 Photo Album

Over time I embraced the stimulator as a necessary fly for fishing the brawling rivers and streams of the west. The heavily hackled high floating fly imitates caddis and stoneflies, and when tied in large sizes also represents a grasshopper. If you peruse my post of 01/26/2015, you will note that I produced a batch of stimulators prior to my trip to Argentina in December 2013. These flies went largely unused during my trip, but their presence in my fly box prompted me to experiment with them on western streams upon my return, and I discovered their consistent effectiveness.

Spaced Hackle Wraps

During 2018 I continued to rely upon stimulators in various situations. Yellow versions in size 12 and 14 satisfied my need for golden stonefly and yellow sally imitations. Gray and olive bodied stimulators were viable representations of large caddis. I even enjoyed some level of success with a gray size 14 during a gray drake hatch on the upper Arkansas River. My most recent post on 04/03/2018 summarizes many of my observations regarding stimulator usage on the streams that I visit.

On a Bed of Hackles

As described in the 04/03/2018 report I narrowed my needs to yellow, gray and olive in sizes 12 and 14; with size 14 stimulators attached to my line the most. I meticulously counted all my stimulators of different colors and sizes, and this exercise revealed that I possessed an adequate supply of yellows in sizes 12 and 14. I was not surprised to learn that I depleted my size 14 gray inventory the most, so I visited the tying bench and made an additional six. Size 14 olives were acceptable, however, I only found two size 12 olives in my bins. I responded to my low olive stimulator supply by tying four, and I am confident that I have more than enough of these versatile flies to cover my needs in 2019.

Jake’s Gulp Beetle – 01/28/2019

Jake’s Gulp Beetle 01/28/2019 Photo Album

The last four years have taught me to never approach a trout stream without a decent supply of beetles. My affection for Jake’s gulp beetle began with a trip to the Elk River in Fernie, BC, and the infatuation has not waned during recent seasons. The beetle floats high and makes a nice enticing plop as it smacks the water surface. The narrow orange foam indicator strip was a stroke of genius, and it enables me to track the low floating black imitation in all but the most adverse lighting conditions. A description of my introduction to Jake’s gulp beetle is found in my 10/22/2015 post along with an outline of the tying steps.

Size 10

Jake’s gulp beetle is a fairly fast and simple tie, and this reinforces my affinity for the effective terrestrial. Through trial and error I learned that the most effective color is a peacock dubbed body, and I focused my tying efforts on that color. Over time I downsized the size from 10 to 12, and I encountered several situations in 2018 where the twelve provoked mostly refusals. I responded to this pointed message from the trout, and I produced five new size 14 beetles. I am very anxious to toss these smaller tidbits to the fussy coldwater residents of western streams.

Jake’s gulp beetle was responsible for many days of torrid fishing particularly on small streams in the September and October months. My most recent post on Jake’s gulp beetle of 01/15/2018 provides links to several intense beetle days in 2017. There are few better feelings in fly fishing than plopping a beetle to likely fish holding areas and then experiencing aggressive surface slurps a high percentage of the time. Another of my favorite ploys is to progressively downsize my offering when faced with refusals by reluctant surface feeders. Typically I begin with a size 10 Chernobyl ant followed by a size 12 hippy stomper. If these flies fail to close the deal, I move to a size 12 Jake’s gulp beetle. I now have the wherewithal to migrate to a size 14 beetle, and if all else fails, I carry an adequate supply of size 18 parachute ants. Trout find such a buffet of terrestrials virtually irresistible.

A Jumble

When I counted my supply of Jake’s gulp beetles, I discovered that I possessed an adequate supply of peacock and red body versions for the upcoming season. I focused my efforts on refurbishing two size 10’s that lurked in my damaged fly canister. Upon completion of this task I manufactured five size 14’s and then closed out the beetle production with five size 12’s for my son. Can beetle plopping season be far away?


Chernobyl Ant – 01/27/2019

Chernobyl Ant 01/27/2019 Photo Album

The name Chernobyl ant conjures images of a small black ant wandering among the fields of Russia after the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster. During its journey it encounters a heavy dose of radioactivity and immediately takes on a bright glowing sheen and then mutates to a specimen that is one hundred times larger than its original size. The Chernobyl ant story that lurks in my mind is worthy of a comic book saga and could potentially overshadow Spiderman.

The Chernobyl ant has been a mainstay in my fly boxes for over fifteen years, and I suspect it will occupy an elevated status for as long, as I continue fly fishing. The story of my introduction to the Chernobyl ant is chronicled in my post of 2/1/11, and little has changed regarding my confidence in the over sized ant imitation. I actually suspect the the willing eaters of Chernobyl ants regard them as large beetles and not mutated ants.

Head On

In recent years the fly fishing community seems to have abandoned the classic Chernobyl ant for a steroidal variation called the Chubby Chernobyl. These bizarre concoctions possess two large plumes of poly yarn on the upper shell of their bodies; but the view from beneath is likely similar to that of the classic Chernobyl ant. I find the Chubby’s to be awkward to cast, and they require a heavy dose of floatant applied to the wings to prevent them from getting waterlogged. On infrequent occasions I free a chubby from my fly box and give it a fair trial on the water, but the results never seem to suggest, that I should forsake my classic black version for a modern chubby.

A quick read of my post of 02/25/2018 reveals, that I made some minor tweaks to my tying process for this relatively simple foam pattern. Several years ago I began cutting a V in the end of the foam section, that allowed me to tie in the over body at a point on the downward section of the hook curve, and this enabled me to bend the foam back over the hook shank. This simple step resolved the problem of the foam spinning around the hook after several attacks by ravenous trout. I also strongly advocate a section of pearl chenille wrapped around the hook shank between the rear and forward tie down points. The iridescent chenille imitates the peacock sheen that is present on the underside of many beetles.

The Full Batch

To some extent my reliance of the Chernobyl ant has waned in recent years; as my confidence in the fat Albert, pool toy hopper and hippy stomper increased. Many situations remain, however, where I continue to choose the reliable Chernobyl. Small streams and low water quickly come to mind as prime examples of situations ideal for the mutated ant. The Chernobyl is lighter and makes a smaller disturbance on the water than larger multi-layer flies. Its foam structure and lack of poly elements makes it maintenance free, and this is important in tight quarters where false casting is not possible.

During recent seasons I also discovered that downsizing often encouraged otherwise reluctant trout to crush a properly presented Chernobyl ant. I carry some size eights to support multiple nymphs, but I always stock a supply of size tens in case refusals become the norm. The smaller sizes often result in more takes, but they are harder to see and sink more readily with beaded droppers attached, particularly in turbulent water.

Because of reduced usage my supply of Chernobyl ants remained adequate, but I added seven additional models to my storage bin. Two were refurbished, and the other five were created from a bare hook. The Chernobyl ant will certainly earn its place in my fly box again in 2019.


Fat Albert – 01/24/2019

Fat Albert 01/24/2019 Photo Album

My love affair with the fat Albert began during a trip to Patagonia in December 2013, and I tied a small starter quantity in March 2016. I began with a variety of colors, but over the intervening years I settled on a size six yellow version as my favorite. If you read my post of 02/25/2018, you will learn of my success with the yellow fat Albert on the challenging waters of Penns Creek.

For the most part I view the fat Albert as a strike indicator with a hook point. The large, visible, buoyant, and durable attractor is better than a strike indicator, when it comes to suspending two size 14 beadhead nymphs. A yellow fat Albert, beadhead hares ear nymph and salvation nymph yielded numerous outstanding days during the past three years, and I expect this performance to continue.

Two New Fat Alberts for Dan

Although I clearly view the large foam hopper imitation as an indicator, it often surprises me by initiating a savage attack from a stream resident. In fact the trout that crush the fat Albert are generally larger than the cousins that focus on the subsurface nymphs. Surely the hopper or stonefly imitation represents a significant feast to these veterans of the underwater world.

Four Recovered Fat Alberts

I counted sixteen yellow fat Alberts among my fly box collection, and I decided to tie five additional models to bring the 2019 beginning inventory to twenty-one. I plucked three from my fly box and replaced missing legs to make them viable imitations, and then I manned my vise and produced two more from brand new hooks. Fat Alberts will once again appear on western rivers and streams, and I am certain they will fool trout and support nymphs in 2019.

Pool Toy Hopper – 01/22/2019

Pool Toy Hopper 01/22/2019 Photo Album

The pool toy hopper has evolved into one of my favorite weapons for fishing western rivers and streams. It is highly visible, floats like a cork, and drives fish crazy. Check out my post Grillos pool toy for more information about my introduction to this fly.

Getting Closer

During the early and late season I tend to favor a yellow fat Albert over the pool toy hopper. I tie the fat Albert on a size six hook, and it easily supports two size 14 beadhead nymphs in a dry/dropper system. During these periods of the fishing season, the top fly is more of a strike indicator than a fish attractor, and this explains my preference for the large high floating terrestrial. My post of 03/04/2018 provides more background on the difference between the pool toy hopper and the fat Albert.

Fly ComponentMaterial
HookTiemco 5262 Size 8 or comparable
ThreadTan 3/0
UnderbodyTan dubbing, or a color and material of preference
OverbodyAlternating tan and brown layers of 2MM foam
UnderwingSilver crystal flash
WingDeer hair
OverwingTan poly
LegsBarred brown sillilegs
IndicatorPink Poly

When natural grasshoppers become a significant presence, however, in June; the pool toy hopper takes center stage on my fly line. The pool toy possesses a narrower profile than the fat Albert, and when tied with a tan body and dangling sillilegs, it provides an accurate representation of natural grasshoppers.The pool toy tied on a size 8 hook also performs the task of floating a pair of beadhead nymphs in an admirable fashion.

A Batch of Five Completed

In an effort to maintain a more than adequate supply after another active season of fly fishing, I counted seventeen tan, ten yellow, three pink and one tan ice dub versions in my storage containers. In order to boost my tan supply back to twenty I approached my vise and slapped together five additional tan pool toys. Two were refurbished and three were produced from new hooks. Western trout need to be on high alert during 2019 with high floating pool toy hoppers on the loose.

Soft Hackle Emerger – 01/20/2019

Soft Hackle Emerger 01/20/2019 Photo Album

The background on this fly is succinctly described in my post of 01/19/2012, and a materials table is available within that report. When I initially constructed these flies as documented in Charlie Craven’s book, I made them without a bead, but I also produced several of my own adaptations with a small silver bead. For some reason I gravitated to the versions with a bead, and I enjoyed moderate success during blue winged olive emergences. I suspect that my catch rate with the beaded soft hackle emerger was on par with a classic RS2, although I recall several scenarios where the soft hackle seemed to be the hot fly.

The Model

If you read my more recent post of 01/09/2018, you will note that I reverted to the original design from Charlie Craven’s book. I eliminated the bead. On several occasions when trout disregarded my CDC blue winged olive or the Klinkhammer version, I was able to fool some fish with the beadless soft hackle emerger fished in the surface film similar to a dry fly. I suspect that the adults with upright wings were quickly blown off the surface, and fish tuned into struggling emergers and cripples trapped in the surface film. These insects were easy targets compared to the adults that were rapidly swept off the water.

Size 22, No Bead

During 2018 I experienced a few similar days, where the soft hackle emerger minus a bead yielded some success in difficult circumstances. My results were inconsistent; however, the wet fly saved enough situations to establish it as an important component of my fly box.

I counted my supply of soft hackle emergers and discovered forty-four size 20’s with a bead, twenty-nine size 20’s with no bead and seven size 22’s minus a bead. I produced one more size 20 to up the beadless total to thirty and created three size 22’s to increase the small versions to ten. Hopefully the soft hackle emerger will continue to demonstrate its value during blue winged olive hatches in 2019.

Five Beadless

Sparkle Wing RS2 – 01/17/2019

Sparkle Wing RS2 01/17/2019 Photo Album

Historically I fished a classic RS2 in situations that dictated a blue winged olive nymph, but as an avid follower of Instagram I observed numerous highly regarded guides and experts in the fly fishing industry tying and fishing a sparkle wing RS2. I decided to join the crowd and tied twelve sparkle wing versions a year ago.

Nice Tail Split

When I took stock of my RS2 supply several weeks ago, I noted that the sparkle wing population shrank from twelve to seven, thus indicating that I lost a fairly large percentage of these flies. I concluded, that I allocated time to the flashier baetis nymph, but I did not sense that it outperformed the classic RS2 that served my needs for many years.

Corked Fly Upper Corner

Nevertheless I decided to replenish my sparkle wing supply with the intent of allowing another season of solid testing for effectiveness. I tied thirteen sparkle wing RS2’s to boost my inventory to twenty for the 2019 season. When creating a sparkle wing version I substituted white fluoro fiber for the pheasant feather tail, and I replaced the fluff used for the emerging wing with a small clump of antron or similar white sparkling wing material. Hopefully 2019 will be the year when the sparkle wing lives up to its reputation.

RS2 Classic – 01/15-2019

RS2 Classic 01/15/2019 Photo Album

Perhaps the most prolific mayfly hatch in western waters is that of the blue winged olives. These small insects emerge in dense quantities from the middle of March until early May, and then they once again become a prominent food source in the September through early November time period. The small mayflies typically range in size from 18 to 24, with the largest varieties prevalent in the spring and smaller cousins present in the fall.

Scraggly Up Close

If you read my post of 01/21/2011, you can view a materials table and read a brief history lesson on the RS2. Also my most recent prior post on this fly of 12/29/2017 does a nice job of updating my history with this fly and the advent of a RS2 variation, that I experimented with in 2018. Although the sparkle wing RS2 endured some time on my line during baetis season, the results were inconclusive. The classic RS2 seemed to hold its own, and I am reluctant to anoint the synthetic flashy cousin as a superior version.

The RS2 imitates the nymphal stage of the baetis mayfly, and I typically trail it behind a larger beadhead nymph in a dry/dropper setup or a deep nymphing rig. The two hour period of late morning and early afternoon just prior to an emergence is typically the most effective setting for the RS2. I often fish the small nymph in a dead drift, but very frequently my most successful technique is lifting and swinging particularly at the end of a drift.

Wing Fluff on Left

I rummaged through my damaged fly canisters and selected nine RS2’s and other random nymphs tied on size 20 and 22 hooks. I refurbished several and stripped the others down to the bare hook and produced nine new beadhead RS2’s. This restored my inventory to fifty. and I feel prepared for the upcoming 2019 blue winged olive seasons.


Beadhead Pheasant Tail – 01/11/2019

Beadhead Pheasant Tail 01/11/2019 Photo Album

The pheasant tail may rank as the all time most popular nymph among fly fishing circles. When I first moved to Colorado in the 90’s, this fly occupied a permanent position on my line. I matched it with a San Juan worm, and I enjoyed fantastic days on the South Platte River before the Hayman Fire.

From the Side

During 2010 I discovered the salvation nymph, and this stellar fly gradually supplanted the pheasant tail nymph. In spite of this circumstance I would never approach a waterway without some pheasant tails in my fleece wallet. I recall several instances during 2018, when pale morning duns were present, and the salvation nymph generated disappointing results. I resorted to a size 18 pheasant tail nymph, and the throwback nymph salvaged my day. The pheasant tail remains a very productive fly; and, in fact, the salvation nymph possesses a similar color scheme to the pheasant tail albeit with nearly 100% synthetic materials.

Materials Needed

I sorted through my unraveling fly canisters and collected eight pheasant tails or flies of equivalent size. I converted these into fresh new beadhead pheasant tail nymphs in the size 18 size range, and I added these to my already adequate supply. I continue to stock eighty of the classic pheasant tail nymphs, and I am certain that the stalwart fly will spend time on my line in 2019.