Friday, October 6, 2017

The Mini Muddler: Small Dry Fly Offerings for Steelhead by Adrian Cortes - Skater of the Month - October 2017

The Canyon glowed a golden hue as the afternoon sun stretched its final rays. Many would call this time the magic hour, but the long day on the river had taken its toll on the angler. This morning's fresh optimism had waned. The day's angling accounted for only one surface rise many hours ago and with nothing else to show for all the effort; any small adversity seemed exaggerated this late in the game. The wind seems more petulant, the shoulders ache and sag, the boots weigh 2 sizes too large, and the wading mimics a drunken stagger. A steelheader's resolve and fortitude are tested as the takeout is within sight - the rig promising the comfortable pair of flip-flops, a cold beverage, and a warm meal. Just a few more forlorn casts into the swirling wind and he can officially call it "the old college effort"...but his stubbornness wins over.  "All it takes is one hit, and the game changes. Finish out the inning...", he mutters under his breath. 

Around him the the river starts coming alive with insect activity. Evening caddis have moved their swarms away from the bankside brush to dance with their partners over the water. This has got the resident trout excited with the anticipation of their evening meals. All this drama takes place under the angler's nose, peaking his interest. Perchance, the unicorn of trout: the sea-run steelhead has also found a rekindling of its natal attraction to such miniscule insects. 

He surveys his collection of dryflies and his eyes rest on a Mini-Muddler which he received in a fly exchange from a fine tyer. He has already landed steelhead on the home pools with this pattern, but this is a big river - will such a wee fly even draw attention? The reality is daunting to even this point...the angler has tempered his optimism with the reports of meager steelhead returns to the region this season.  But for whatever logic or reason, the sz 8 hook is tied on to the tippet with a Garroutte hitch. 
The Mini-Muddler (above) as tied by a fellow steelheader from BC. Notice the low-water style and also how the Garroute hitch orients the tippett to exit the hookeye at an angle.

Shortened casts find their way quartering downstream. The Mini-Muddler does the duty, slicing through the slicks and at times bobbing down and up as the micro currents wrestle the leader. Having forgotten the weary joints so annoying just a short tad ago, our fisherman smiles as this new distraction has him gripped with the tunnel vision of a surface attack.  More line is stripped out and casted. Beyond 50 ft, the fly gets lost in the distance until it nears the bank where it's easier to track. Experience has taught him that sometimes a keen eye will lose sight of a surface fly, but being aware of the line swing helps locate the general zone of where the fly will be. 

Above is an example of how a successful pattern inspires a tyer to to replicate the Mini-Muddler with natural materials as he attempts to tie it in hand at a ball game. 

The line swings almost parallel now to the bank, placing his fly near the dangle...then a large boil materializes in the calm near-shore water accompanied a half-second later by a quick yank on the bamboo rod. Then slack. Obviously, senses are heightened but was that just a daydream? The concentric waves dissipating over the surface tell the tale: something of significant size just broke the surface tension. The steelhead dry fly "comeback" protocol ensues : repeat casts and shortened casts to tempt the steelhead back to the surface. Without changing his position and about 5 casts after the initial attack, our angler succeeds in moving the fish back to the surface in the same area with a toilet flush-type of attack. The game has changed dramatically - the Mini-Muddler has gotten on base and in scoring position. 

This story ends dramatically, but it was another teammate (fly) in the batter's box that hit the game-winner on this particular steelhead's comeback event. Nevertheless, it was the tiniest dude on the team that got called out of the box to infuse energy into the game. With more than a speck of hope, Mini-Muddler swung big and made waves skidding into scoring position. Rally caps came out and the stadium became alive again as the opposing team got angry and tried to swipe at the little guy. 
While not titled "muddlers", McMillan's Steelhead Caddis have that muddler style head that is just so fishy...especially if tied on small hooks next to the river.

Take a moment to consider tiny patterns for big steelhead. In this era of flash and substance,  small demure patterns become forgotten. In talks with some of steelheading's finer anglers, it shouldn't surprise us that relatively small patterns have been a mainstay in their arsenal.  A sz 8 thru a sz 10 downeye hook either leader-greased or Garroutte-hitched is a fine platform for a small tuft of hair lashed muddler-style. As a caveat, you may not always get the dramatic surface eat as in our example (steelhead may tend to eat a tiny offering as if it were rising gracefully to a mayfly),  but you will get an "eat".  Again, confidence is the key...even when you can't spot the fly - keep it fishing. 
Little fly, shark chase, big fish.

Put him in coach, he's ready to

Another bottom-of-the-ninth wee Steelhead Caddis tied low-water style with the mini-muddler style head.

Teammates in the dugout. They're small but they're ready to prove their mettle. Rally caps on.

Monday, September 18, 2017


I just returned home from my yearly trip to BC and our group experienced some tough fishing due to blown rivers and poor steelhead returns.  Thankfully, my wonderful group of friends made for a memorable trip filled with fun and laughter as we commiserated over the tough conditions and explored alternatives to our typical plans when we go north.

Being a guy who can never get enough river time and also wanting to seek redemption, I ventured to my local homewater this morning for a quick session of surface steelheading before work.  With the shorter days of Fall, my session would amount to just shy of an hour before I needed to head into work by 8am.

With all the gear I own, I sometimes agonize over which set up to use when I hit the river.  Being that I was still in the mood to swing a big rod after stretching out on the larger BC rivers, I decided to take my old Sage 9140 brownie back out even though my local flow does not necessarily demand a 14' rod.

With the cloudy overcast, it took some time for light to fully illuminate the river.  I fished mostly blind in the first piece of water I went through.  With limited time, I hurried through and headed to the other run I wanted to hit before leaving.

Just before my brief time on the water was up, a beefy 32 inch buck decided to come up and attack the #6 green butt Ninja wang that was tied to my 8# Maxima tippet.  It was a quick gulp that I saw in the periphery of my vision, instantly followed by a screaming Hardy.

This tough guy made several powerful runs and was soon into my backing.  Several powerful bursts ensued with my click/pawl reel singing as I went back and forth recovering fly line and backing.  I eventually managed to bring this prize to the bank and found the Ninja hooked in the tongue of this solid hatchery buck.  The tongue hooking may have contributed to the angry fight that his bruiser put out.

Being I was still on my BC high, the choice of long rod, with Hardy Salmon 2, and Delta Spey 7/8 made for enjoyable casting and swinging.  The hefty steelhead felt great pulling on the big rod while making my Hardy sing a sweet song.

It has been a very long time since I have had a steelhead fighting on my line, but it all came back to me as I battled this raging steelhead.  It's been a season of scarcity and the long blank periods with no steelhead made this encounter stand out in time.

It is ironic that I travel a thousand miles each fall to chase steelhead in BC  when I am sometimes able to get into them 10 minutes from home.  I am thankful to be reminded of God's goodess as every good and perfect gift comes from above.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Skater Of The Month For September 2017: Rick's Gold (Natural Version)

My good friend Rick Fielder is a big fan of utilizing gold in his surface flies stemming from his long term success with muddlers.  Rick felt that the gold tinsel body on a muddler was strike trigger so he is always confident when there is some gold in his flies.

Rick introduced me to his gold skater last year and with the success he experienced on our trip to the North Umpqua, I decided to tie some gold skaters of my own.  Sure enough, I found immediate success using gold on both the NU and on my homewater.

I faded away from using gold when other color combos like the Ninja came into play, but after a fellow orderd some gold skaters from me recently,  I started revisting tying more gold skaters for myself.

I recalled Rick's confidence in muddlers so I decided to try using natural cow elk and tan foam.  The combination of the flash of gold with somber natural elk and tan foam looks like a winning blend to me.  Will see if the fall season provides any data.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Zane Grey's Flybox by Rich Domingue

  • Zane Grey’s Flybox
    By Rich Domingue for FCC
    When I decided to recreate Zane Grey’s flybox from his halcyon days (1920s through his death in 1938)
    on Oregon’s Rogue and North Umpqua Rivers, I figured it would be a few days of research to determine
    his favorite patterns, then a few hours to tie them. That was about a year ago. For the most part, this
    delay was merely life’s interventions, but identifying the flies, and worse, finding detailed patterns for
    some of them, was an adventure. For example, among his ‘favorites’ was a fly he called the grouse and
    gold. Searching for this pattern led mostly to small trout wet flies, unsuitable for steelhead. Further
    searching led to a c. 1920 Hardy’s catalog which had a sea-trout pattern in steelhead sizes, the grouse and
    orange, which was ribbed in gold, with a grouse wing, that is the one I chose to tie. Similarly, did his
    ‘favorite’ “professor with jungle cock wings” mean JC eyes, or hackle feathers? I tied both. In general,
    ZG’s writing on fishing for steelhead focused on the adventure itself, not “how to”, or “what to use”, so
    the flies he used were seldom mentioned, and I never found a detailed pattern. I don’t believe he tied.
    What is known is that he purchased flies from Hardy’s, Orvis, and others, including locals to fill his
    boxes and these are the sources for several of the patterns in this collection. He purchased flies from
    Hardy’s and likely carried a number of full-dressed salmon patterns, but the dusty miller is the only one I
    found named. Trey Combs black and white photo of Joe Wharton’s hairwing version is the only example
    of the turkey and red pattern Grey used I could find. My search for a turkey and red pattern with real
    turkey wings, similar to Joe’s and available in the 20’s, eventually led me to the light Montreal found in
    M.O. Marbury’s book Favorite Flies and Their Histories. I tied the flies on ‘period’ style hooks to the
    extent I had them and I tried to keep the historical flavor and character of the flies in the few liberties I
    took with the patterns.
    In reading Grey’s stories about fishing the PNW and other places (Terry Mort’s anthology Zane Grey
    on Fishing), and stories about him by others (Trey Combs’ Steelhead Fly Fishing)– it became clear that
    he enjoyed a long, rich, and adventurous angling career. His writings about fishing the PNW provide a
    fun look back at the ‘good ol’ days, his entourage’s adventures, and their comical misadventures. I
    especially enjoyed the misadventures, told in a humorous self-deprecating style that left me to wonder
    if Patrick McManus filched some of his characters (e.g. Rancid Crabtree) from Grey’s entourage. Yes,
    the fishing was great by today’s standards, but his writing included laments about clear-cutting the
    forests that fed his favorite waters, aware even then of the need for protection. Steelheaders who have
    “… sallied forth to meet certain defeat,” would enjoy ZG’s fishing stories.
    The flies are from yesteryear, but they’d be right at home on the Rogue or N. Umpqua today.
    Grouse and gold
    Parmachene belle
    Golden demon
    Turkey and red
    Turkey and gold
    Hairwing coachman
    Hairwing royal coachman *
    I found no evidence that ZG used this y, but it
    is a popular PNW steelhead y and was widely
    available at the me. It is quite possible that his
    hairwing coachman carried the red badge of
  • Dusty miller
  • Grouse and gold (adapted from: Grouse and orange,
    Hardy’s catalog c. 1920)
    Tag: flat gold tinsel (#10)
    Body: golden orange floss, ribbed with fine oval gold
    Hackle: badger
    Wing: grouse tail
    Collar: grouse body feather
    Head: tan thread
    Hook: #4 Mustad 36890
    Parmacheene belle (this is a landlocked salmon fly
    pattern dating to the mid 1800s)
    Tag: flat silver tinsel (#10)
    Body: lemon yellow mohair, ribbed with fine silver
    tinsel (some patterns specify gold tinsel)
    Tail: red over white quill sections
    Hackle: dyed red and white hen hackle
    Wing: White over red over white quill sections
    Head: black thread
    Hook: #4 Mustad 7970
    Hairwing Coachman (in the style of Mary Orvis
    Tag: flat gold tinsel (#10)
    Tail: wood duck barred flank
    Butt: red wool
    Body: peacock
    Wing: White bucktail (I subbed polar bear)
    Hackle: brown (subbed furnace)
    Head: black thread
    Hook: #3 Mustad 9002
  • Golden Demon (a fly Zane Grey popularized)
    Tag: flat gold tinsel (#10)
    Tail: golden pheasant crest (I added a touch of orange
    feather fluff)
    Body: small gold braid wound tight and close
    Wing: brown bucktail (I subbed silver-tipped grizzly
    Sides: jungle cock eyes
    Hackle: fire orange
    Head: fire orange thread
    Hook: #4 Tiemco 200R
    Turkey and Gold (streamer style)
    Tag: small gold braid
    Butt: red wool
    Body: medium flat gold tinsel ribbed with small gold
    Wing: turkey secondary quills
    Sides: wood duck barred flank (optional)
    Hackle: coq de leon or similar
    Head: red wool
    Hook: #2 Mustad 9575
    Hairwing Royal Coachman)
    Tail: golden pheasant tippet
    Body: peacock herl with red silk floss in the middle
    Wing: white bucktail (I used polar bear)
    Hackle: cochy bondhu or similar
    Head: black thread
    Hook: #4 Tiemco 700
    Turkey and Red Hairwing (tied in the style of Joe
    Tag: fine oval gold braid
    Tail: red hackle
    Body: red silk floss ribbed with fine oval gold tinsel
    Wing: brown bucktail
    Hackle: fiery red
    Head: black thread
    Hook: #2 Mustad 7970
  • Light Montreal (Mary Orvis Marbury – assumed
    original for Z. Grey’s turkey and red)
    Tag: fine oval gold tinsel
    Tail: scarlet ibis (subbed hackle tip)
    Body: scarlet silk floss ribbed with fine oval gold
    Wing: turkey wing
    Hackle: scarlet
    Head: black thread
    Hook: #3 Mustad 9002
  • Professor (with jungle cock eye wings)
    Tail: red Goose
    Body: light yellow silk floss ribbed with fine flat
    silver tinsel
    Wing: jungle cock eyes (mallard breast in original)
    Hackle: brown (subbed ginger furnace)
    Head: black thread (subbed light grey)
    Hook: #2 Mustad 511c
    Professor (with jungle cock hackle wings)
    Tail: red Goose
    Body: light yellow silk floss ribbed with fine flat
    silver tinsel
    Wing: jungle cock hackle tips (mallard breast in
    Hackle: brown (subbed ginger furnace)
    Head: black thread (subbed light grey)
    Hook: #2 Mustad 511c
    Dusty Miller (per G. Kelson, graciously tied by
    Adrian Cortes for this collection)
    Tag: silver twist and yellow silk floss
    Tail: golden pheasant topping with Indian crow
    substitute over
    Butt: black osterich herl
    Body:first two-thirds of silver embossed tinsel
    followed by orange silk floss with yellow olive
    hackle, all ribbed with silver twist
    Throat: Gallina, (guinea fowl)
    Wing: Underwing: white tipped black turkey –
    headwing: golden pheasant tail, bustard, guinea with
    sides of golden pheasant crest tied curving upward.
    Roof: Bronze mallard
    Sides: Jungle cock and pintail
    Horns: Blue macaw
    Head: Black