So you’re fairly new to fly tying. The fall run is around the corner and you’re thinking, “Man, I’d like to get a steelhead on a fly I tied.” But what do you find when you start searching for new patterns to learn? There’s about a bajillion of them, and that’s not including the million bajillion egg patterns that are out there. It’s easy to get overwhelmed at this point. When I first started tying my own flies, I had already caught steelhead but there was this allure in catching one on something that I made myself. There’s a magic to tricking a rather picky species of fish into biting onto a hook adorned with nothing more than feathers, fur, tinsel, and thread. To make them think that this inanimate object is not only alive, but a viable food source that looks tasty enough to trigger a bite. Like a lot of beginners, I was overwhelmed with the patterns that were out there, all claiming to be the one to put you into steelhead. What they didn’t say is that your half-wit skill set in the beginning of your tying days is not up to par for making most of these patterns actually work. Sure, you can try to tie an intruder, but it may end up looking like the mutant brother of an intruder that mom kept locked in the basement. So for this week, we thought we’d share some video tutorials (and Andy’s post) of patterns that are not only simple to tie, but are deadly effective. These are the kind of flies that are so well designed, that they are simplistic in approach but can really put some nice fish on your line.
First, I’d like to share with you the Black Nose Dace. This is actually the pattern I caught my first steelhead on a fly I tied. This fly is designed to imitate…. well, a black nose dace. A common and preferred baitfish species that steelhead just love. Jim Misiura (watch his other videos if you’re not familiar) explains how to tie this versatile and productive pattern.
Now, I probably should have led with this one, but the black nose dace just has a special place in my heart. Anyways, one of the first flies you should absolutely learn before anything else is the Woolly Bugger. Sometimes you’ll see it spelled Wooly Bugger or Woolly Buggar or an odd variety of other spellings. No idea why. British spelling maybe? Who knows. What’s more important though is that this is one of those all around go to patterns that simply catches fish. Some people say it imitates a leech, some say a minnow, but more often people say that it just imitates pretty much everything. I mean really, what in nature looks like a purple woolly bugger? You can tie it in a number of different colors, but black, purple, and olive are the most effective for steelhead in my experience. Anyways, I caught my first steelhead ever on just a simple black beadhead woolly bugger. Not only is it effective, but the way its designed will go a long way in giving you practice in the basic fly tying skills you’ll need to develop going forward. You’ll learn how to tie in tails and flash. You’ll learn how to plan ahead by tying in your hackle before you’re actually ready to use it. And you’ll learn how to wrap material and palmer hackle. All useful skills as you progress into your fly tying. Here’s Jim again showing you how to tie the Woolly Bugger. I chose Jim’s video because he ties in his hackle like I do for most of my patterns. Some people tie in near the eye and then wrap backwards and then pull their thread all the way back and tie in the end at the tail, then they have to bring the thread forward again dodging hackle fibers. I prefer to tie in the hackle tip at the tail and leave it, that way after I wrap my chenille forwards and tie that in at the eye, I can just leave the thread there and when I palmer the hackle forward, my thread is right there. No having to pick out hackle fibers. But I digress. Here’s Jim.
Next up is the Egg Sucking Leech. This is one of those patterns where you’re just like, why the hell would a fish bite this? But they will. With reckless abandon at some times. You could literally fish the same color egg with no success and the same color woolly bugger with no success but put the two together and the same fish that denied them separately will suddenly take interest. Bizarre. Nice thing is though, if you can tie a woolly bugger, you can tie this pattern. It’s basically the same exact thing except you have an egg at the eye. Now, when I was starting out, I made my own eggs. You can do this one of two ways. You can make a yarn egg, which is a fancy trick. Or you can just do a few meaty wraps of diamond braid or some kind of sparkly chenille. That’s all fine and good, but once you learn how to do it, you’ll find it takes extra time and doesn’t give you the kind of uniformity you want when you’re churning out 10-20 flies. Enter the craft store. Once you learn the yarn technique, abandon it all together and go to the craft store to get 5mm pom poms. They’re available in a variety colors and they’re dirt cheap. But most importantly, you just shove em onto your hook and tie the rest of the fly behind it. You don’t have to do the annoying yarn trick or painstakingly build up a 5mm egg shape out of chenille. It’s consistently 5mm and it holds up a hell of a lot better. You don’t see a lot of lumpy fish eggs in nature. Watch this video from the Fly Fishers Fly Shop and you’ll see what I mean. The end result is a great fly, but notice how careful he has to be when shaping the egg. Trust me, the pom pom is your friend.
And last but certainly not least, is our very own Andy’s Mustache Sculpin. There are a ton of sculpin patterns out there. If you don’t know, a sculpin is a type of baitfish that hangs close to the river bottom and kind of scoots along. This is definitely a pattern you strip and an aggressive steelhead will smash it. The great thing about Andy’s pattern is that it’s super easy to tie. That’s the hallmark of a good pattern. Easy and effective. I’ve seen first hand how effective these can be and I’m excited to test out my new stable of them waiting patiently in my fly box for the fall run. Andy originals too, fancy fancy. And best of all, you tie up this pattern and people on the river will be like, “Dear god, what is that thing?!” and you’ll be hammering steelhead with something they won’t have. Unless they’re readers, in which case they might have it. Or if its one of us. In which case, say hi?
So hopefully these tutorials will get you into your first steelhead on a fly that you’ve tied yourself. It’s an amazing feeling. I really can’t stress that enough. It’s just different. Then after you’ve been tying for a bit, you can catch a steelhead on a pattern you invented! That’s TOTALLY different. Especially if you’re like me and only tied one of them and then completely forgot how to make it after I lost it on the river bottom. Oops.
Tight lines! Clean flies!