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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Skater Of The Month: May 2017 - The Greaseliner by Adrian Cortes

The GreaseLiner: A Confidence Fly
In 1962, Harry Lemire invented the first steelhead dryfly designed to be waked. According to an article in which he was interviewed, Mr.Lemire initially developed the pattern on the smaller waters of the Green River, the Wenatchee, and Kalama rivers. The original wing material was deer hair, but Harry transitioned to elk, and then rested on his preference for caribou. The natural curvature and buoyancy of caribou hair was pleasing to his eyes. Mr. Lemire had stated that he only used '"natural materials; no foam, no flashy colors and no synthetics" *   
 Upon my inaugural BC steelhead trip in 2014, I managed to land my first dryfly steelhead on a GreaseLiner that I tied in hand. It certainly was the allure of knowing that Harry Lemire was a prolific steelheader that tied fantastic flies in hand which inspired me to tie the GreaseLiner. Little did I know how reliant I would be to this dry fly pattern in my steelheading excursions. 
The GreaseLiner, while a fine looking pattern, does not elicit much excitement for most. Aesthetically speaking, it will not compete with the regal Atlantic salmon flies or even the elegant steelhead wetfly patterns that we have come to enjoy. But what it lacks in beauty, it overachieves in the most productive way -  catching fish.

The GreaseLiner's "bushy head" can be clearly seen in this bright steelhead's mouth and when fishing the fly, the trimmed caribou head effectively planes the dryfly in addition to being a natural indicator of the fly's whereabouts.

By far, Harry's fly has enticed more steelhead encounters for me than any other pattern - wet or dry. I am not talking 2-3 more additional fish, but I estimate in the double digits. As a disclaimer, I now fish almost exclusively dry flies for steelhead in the summer....with the GreaseLiner as the standard. 
(Sparking my surface interests, Todd Hirano deserves credit for his unaltering enthusiasm for dryfly steelhead and the popular, Little Wang Waker. Without that particular surface fly teaching me the intricacies of the "wake", I likely would not have travelled down this road...even with the GreaseLiner).
When tying the GreaseLiner, I attempt to follow the originator's preference as far as the look of the fly. In an article I found online, an inquiry on how to tie the GreaseLiner was directed at Harry. Mr. Lemire seemed to be slightly frustrated at the many different versions that tyers had of the pattern, but few had it correct. Here is the recipe:
Tail: natural deer hair
Body: natural musk ox dubbing
Throat: a few turns of grizzly hackle
Wing: Caribou 

sz6  light wire hooks work fine for this pattern in most steelhead streams. When targeting rivers of larger anadromous specimens {i.e. Kispiox R., Dean R., etc.) a heavier wire and floatant may be required)

An easy pattern, and when tying it I have the most confidence using the proportions Harry seemed to prefer: A big bushy head to push water which forces the dryfly to plane on the surface. I do not use any glues to stiffen the trimmed wing butts. If tied properly and on a light wire hook, the fly should wake on the surface without any floatation aids aside from waxing the leader (which Harry seemed to use) or my preference for the riffle-hitch.

A pattern easy enough to tie without a vise, as seen being tied on a pontoon bankside on a BC river...and below, by headlamp right before sun-up on a famous Oregon river (both GreaseLiners in the images rose remarkable steelhead shortly after being tied on the river)

My 11 year old daughter tying up a GreaseLiner without a vise at steelhead camp. Her fly rose a beautiful steelhead for me the next morning.

I always fish this fly with a riffle-hitch [I have reliable intel from Mr. Lemire's friend, Dr. Rockwell Hammond Jr., that Harry did NOT use a riffle-hitch because "he would miss fish (with a riffle-hitch)"]. The visual surface attack is addicting and I will accept missing fish likely from the slightly canted hook orientation from a riffle-hitched fly vs. hooking a fish but not seeing the take on a fly that may have sunk under the surface. In fact just recently, I raised a steelhead 7 times to a hitched GreaseLiner and a hitched Thompson River Caddis without hooking the fish once. But I saw every surface crash on the fly and that was good enough for my soul. I usually fish this pattern without a twitch (using a bamboo rod, the dry fly twitch can get tiring after a day of angling).  However, when the water speaks, I will gently pulse the Greaseliner...especially if I get that "feeling". 

This inland desert river native summer steelhead crashed on the October Caddis colored GreaseLiner 4 consecutive times, the fourth attack being the demise of its aggressiveness

I mentioned an earlier credit to the Little Wang pattern because the foam indicator posts of Todd's waker have trained my eyes on how to spot the less visible natural material of Harry's dry flies on the swing. There have been a few times where I missed the surface attack on GreaseLiners but they are usually due to the glare of the sun on the water in conjunction with the surface chop. Familiarizing your field of vision to the dryfly swing increases your odds of raising a fish, Some steelhead will attack the GreaseLiner with reckless abandon while some takes may look like a trout rise. Paying attention to your swing yields continued success.

 The nice specimen above ate the GreaseLiner in choppy water of a taillout right before some rapids. With the sunlight glare present, I was spotting the GreaseLiner bobbing in the chop but losing sight of it periodically. Unable to see the dryfly did not deter my confidence as I knew how well it fishes.This particular steelhead ate the fly in the chop and I missed the visual eat but was not surprised when my line tightened and the bamboo started bucking.

With confidence, I fish the GreaseLiner in all sorts of water -  from slow runs to fast chop, to deep pools and ridiculously shallow lies. The pattern has raised steelhead for me in all those types of water. The tendency for most is just to cast and let 'er swing, but experience has shown me that manipulating your line to "fish the fly" can be very important at times. The speed of the fly skittering across the water can trigger that surface response. A line mend here or a line lift there can speed up the swing or stall the fly depending on what type of steelhead real estate you are fishing. 
Fish the GreaseLiner with is a pattern that has caught many surface steelhead. A surface fly with a historical significance that is tied to one of steelheading's great icons. May the steelheading prowess of Harry Lemire live on as his GreaseLiners continue to raise steelhead for years to come.

Harry Lemire's Greased Liner and Thompson River Caddis by Rocky Hammond, Ringo Nishioka, Jill Hammond

(This article was previously published in the Winter 2017 edition of Swing the Fly)


  1. great article! AND Gorgeous pictures... I would like to share on our facebook page... is this okay?