Photo of the Month: Moonrise on the River

Photo of the Month: Moonrise on the River

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Winter Is For Fly Tying

During the cold months, when I'm not out fishing, I'm usually getting caught up on my tying for the year. That doesn't mean I won't tie throughout the season as well. Normally I have to tie at least weekly and sometimes more. If I'm fortunate, however, I can get far enough ahead now that I won't have to tie large quantities until next winter. That opens up more time for fishing and of course doing other important things.

I like to pursue my winter fly tying in an orderly fashion. Typically, I focus on the flies that I go through the most in a normal season. That means lots of midges for the tailwaters and the usual nymphs, dry flies, and terrestrials for the mountains. As a guide, I tie the vast majority of the flies I guide with. There are some exceptions though. While I really enjoy tying stimulator and parachute style flies, I will often buy a good supply of those in bulk because of how many I go through in a season. Nymphs and midges, on the other hand, are flies that I can produce quickly in bulk and make sense to tie my own. This is especially true because I tie some patterns that you cannot purchase commercially. 

And that is at the root of my fly tying. I like to experiment. Tweaking existing patterns and also coming up with my own flies is part of the excitement of the sport of fly fishing. It is said that there is nothing new under the sun. Thus, most of my supposed inventions are ones that someone else is tying somewhere else. In fact, most of my inventions were motivated by flies that I've already seen or been told about. However, when there are more and more anglers out on the water than ever before, sometimes the difference between a slow day and a good day is just a subtle variation on a standard pattern. The fish see the same "shop flies" over and over again every day on some rivers. Sometimes, those shop flies work great, but you have to think outside the proverbial box.

This last year in the Smokies, I had a late season epiphany that really changed the success we had one day on a brook trout stream. The common wisdom is to fish yellow well into the fall. That is because of the availability of a vast array of yellow bugs in the warm months, perhaps the most important of which are the little yellow stoneflies found so plentifully on our southern Appalachian streams. In other words, the conventional wisdom is there for a reason and usually yellow works. However, when you are on a fairly pressured stream, never mind that you're fishing for brook trout, there comes a point in the season when the fish start to get finicky. That's a good thing and just means that the vast majority of anglers are releasing their catch which is as it should be with these native jewels.

Anyway, back to my story, there we were on this brook trout stream and the fish are only half-heartedly inspecting our standard yellow dry flies. Going smaller in size got a bit more interest, but it was clear that the fish were onto the game at this late point in the season. So what did we do? Small, dark, and subtle. I didn't notice any dark bugs on the water, although in the Smokies anything is possible at almost any time of the year. What I did notice, though, was that the brook trout were no longer shy. Even with brook trout, showing them something they aren't used to seeing can be the ticket. 

On the tailwaters, that means carrying a large variety of color schemes on my midges. In particular, I carry a wide variety of colors with my Zebra Midges. It is no coincidence that my old article on fishing the Zebra Midge is one of the all time favorites on this blog. This is one of the most fish catching flies that I know of. I mostly use it on the tailwaters, but it also catches fish in the Smokies. There are so many possible combinations of bead color, wire color, and thread color, that I couldn't begin to list them all here. I will say that some of my favorites include black and silver, black and copper, olive and copper, and chocolate and copper. Most of my most successful midge patterns are darker, but sometimes lighter colors are the ticket.

Recently, I decided to share a quick video of tying the Zebra Midge over on YouTube. If you haven't already, check out my channel there. My goal is to share a lot more content via video in addition to the usual blog posts here. While you're there, make sure and subscribe to the Trout Zone Anglers channel. There is another midge pattern that I have shared there that I probably fish even more than the Zebra Midge these days. It has accounted for more fish over the last few years than any other fly and also plenty of big fish. For those of you who are experienced fly tiers, these videos probably won't provide much new info, but I'm mostly trying to help out those who are just getting into fly tying. 

The recent explosion in popularity of fly fishing is bringing more and more people into the sport. Not everyone will decide to also take up fly tying, but the satisfaction it brings is well worth considering. Because our good friends at Little River Outfitters are not able to do tying classes right now because of COVID, I'm going to try and share tying videos more often over the next couple of months. If you have a specific pattern you would like to see (or other content), please let me know in the comments below OR send me an email.

Back to my fly tying, I'll work on midges and streamers for now. I have several tailwater guide trips lined up and those are the most likely to be needed over the next couple of months. As we get closer to spring in the mountains, I'll be tying quill gordon and blue quill imitations in anticipation of the first hatches of spring. I also need to replenish my little black caddis imitations. This is an overlooked hatch that can provide surprisingly good fishing.

Before late spring, I also need to replenish my terrestrial box. Mostly that means making sure I have plenty of green weenies and barbie bugs along with some beetles and ants. What I really need to do is get out all my fly boxes and start working on refilling them in an orderly fashion. This guarantees that I won't forget something important. One of the worst feelings is getting out on the stream only to discover you don't have the right pattern.

If you carry a tying kit with you, then you could quickly spin up a couple. That doesn't work very well when you're guiding unfortunately. To be fair, who carries a tying kit with them on regular fishing trips? I take one with me on big trips. I have many good memories of sitting at a picnic table in the evening in Yellowstone or Colorado and whipping up some bugs for the next day. Nowadays, I try to prevent this from being necessary by planning ahead though. If you haven't gotten into fly tying yet, consider giving it a try so you can be prepared as well. 

2 comments:

  1. David
    The Zebra Midge is my go to fly on the Sipsey, sometimes using it as a dropper and other times as a single fly with a weight. Great post and thanks for sharing

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    Replies
    1. Bill, that fly seems to work just about everywhere. I like using it as a dropper but sometimes also use it with weight fished deep.

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