A good drowned hopper: The Hopper Hammerdown wet fly

Sometimes grasshoppers forget that they can’t swim. These would-be Weissmullers end up in rivers — and trout readily eat them. While I love fishing high floating foam-bodied hoppers or big bushy Stimulators, not all hoppers get eaten moments after they take a dip. Some get stomped while they struggle in the film, and others become snacks after they drown and sink. That’s the meal ticket I’m punching with the wet fly Hopper Hammerdown, presented here by popular demand.

The Hopper Hammerdown is a soft-hackle. No, wait, it’s a winged wet. Ah, the heck with it — forget labels, and let’s just call it something that looks alive and good to eat. The inspiration for this pattern came from Dave Hall’s Golden Stone Hammerdown steelhead fly. The Hopper Hammerdown first appeared in the May/June 2014 American Angler (RIP) article “Match Game — Matching the  Hatch with Wet Flies.” And here it is.

The Hopper Hammerdown drowned hopper

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Hook: 2x or 3x streamer hook, size 6-10
Abdomen/Sub-Thorax: Yellow or bright green fur dubbing
Rib: Small gold oval tinsel
Hackle: long, webby, brown
Wing: Natural deer hair spray
Over-Thorax: Natural deer hair pulled tight
Head: Natural deer hair finished caddis-style

 

 

 

 

 

Wet Fly Questions Answered

I’ve been getting a lot of wet fly questions, and I thought I’d share my answers with the group. I’m excited that so many of you are interested in this ancient and traditional art. So here we go:

Q: What size and length rod are you using on the Farmington? A: My dedicated wet fly stick is a 10-foot 5-weight Hardy Marksman II. I don’t hate it, I don’t love it. It’s got a good backbone for helping manage bigger trout in snotty currents, but I wish it were a bit softer in the flex. What’s important is that it’s a 10-footer, which I find useful for mending. Note: I still take the 7’9″ Tonka Queen out for an occasional wet fly jaunt, albeit in moderate/slow currents. That cane pole is a dream for mending.

The Queen in action. This rod gives me an ultra-fine level of line control.

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Q: Do you use an indicator? A: My joke answer is “yes” — the splash of the take, the spray of water, and the jolt of the rod tip all indicate a strike. The real answer is no, not in the traditional sense. The vast majority of time, you need no visual aid to tell you the fish has taken the fly. An exception would be when you’re fishing upstream, drawing the line toward you as the rig moves downstream. I’m watching the tip of the line like a hawk for stalls, shudders, or stoppage that would indicate a delicate strike well below the surface.

Q: Do you use a floating line? A: Yes. (I’m a line control freak.)

Q: When you’re casting and mending, is it basically a dead drift, then the flies start swinging and rising? A: Kindof. Unless you introduce slack into the presentation, you’ll never really have a true dead drift. So even when I’m doing a quartering down or straight across cast and mend, the flies are moving downstream and across, albeit in a slower manner than they would with a traditional wet fly swing.

Q: You’ve said that in spring, you focus more on pool-type water, and faster water in the summer. I’m having trouble finding the right type and depth of water. Any advice? A: Generally speaking, the colder it is, the greater the chance that trout will be in deeper pool-type water. That doesn’t mean you won’t find trout in 1-foot deep riffles in December. The bottom line is: there is no substitute for experience on the water. Get out and explore. Keep a log. Where and when did you fish? Were you catching? Were others catching?  What was the weather like? What was the water height? You can see where this is going. And finally, a wee plug for myself: take a lesson. I hear this a lot from clients: “I’ve driven past this spot a hundred times and never thought to fish it.”

Q: I fished wet flies and only had one bump. What was I doing wrong? A: (This person was out on the Farmington this week.) You’ve got a lot of elements working against you. For starters, I don’t like to fish wets in the Permanent TMA in any flow over 500cfs (it’s been 750cfs and higher). 250cfs-400cfs is the wheelhouse. Hatch windows also have a lot to do with the wet fly bite. For example, right now (Hendrickson and caddis hatches) you want to be swinging anywhere from 11am to 3pm-ish. You’re trying to entice the trout that are taking the emergers. And this cold, wet weather isn’t helping, either.

When you hit the emergence just right, the results can be magical.

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Keep on swinging.

Bead Head Soft-Hackled Dark Hendrickson

Or BHSHDH for short.  The Bead Head Soft-Hackled Dark Hendrickson is simply a weighted riff on the classic Dark Hendrickson Winged Wet. Take the basic color scheme. Add a tungsten bead to give it some serious weight. Tie it on point, and the next time the the creek is up you’ll get your rig down fast with a few strategic mends. (Recipe by request, because at currentseams.com, we aim to please.)

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Hook: 2x strong wet fly 12-14
Bead: Black tungsten, to size
Thread: Grey
Tail:  Lemon wood duck or dark blue dun hackle fibers
Body: Muskrat fur
Hackle: Dark blue dun hen

Tying Notes: I hate to lose the lemon wood duck of the winged wet, so I usually tie this fly with that wonderfully variegated buggy feather in the tail. Having said that, the fly pictured uses hen. Muskrat is the traditional body fur; you could substitute any grey fur or dubbing blend. The feather I happened to choose for this fly has a mysterious dark center; it’s just a random occurrence. Sometimes I’ll use a black Sharpie to color the eye of the hook — it’s a quick visual code that tells me I used a tungsten bead.

 

Hackled March Brown Tying Video

The Hackled March Brown is one of my favorite big fish wet flies. Long time readers may recall the first time I wrote about it — you can read that piece here. I don’t have much to add, other than this has become a supremely reliable pattern for me when the Isonychia are flying. (Next time you’re fishing sulphurs, and you hear a rise that sounds like someone threw a bowling ball into the river, betcha your lunch money it was a trout eating an Iso.) The Hackled March Brown is almost always my point fly on a three fly team. Fish it this summer and you’ll see why I recommend you tie it on a 2x strong hook.

 

Leisenring’s favorite soft-hackled nymphs, in list form with photos

Last month I published a short feature series on James Leisenring’s favorite soft-hackled nymphs. Leisenring first listed these patterns in his 1941 book, “The Art of Tying The Wet Fly.” Here’s a single reference list of the seven nymphs, a photo of each pattern, and a link to the original post with my comments and tying instructions.

Heed the sage advice of Big Jim: “Now, in nymph fishing your hook must be exceedingly sharp…more fish are lost because of dull, cheap hooks than all other causes combined…” — James Leisenring

Tups Nymph (nymph version)

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March Brown Nymph

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Half-Stone Nymph

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Dark Olive Nymph

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Pale Watery Nymph

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Pale Watery Nymph (light-colored dun version)

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July Dun Nymph

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Tie and fish these soft-hackled nymphs with confidence, just as James Leisenring did nearly one hundred years ago.

 

 

 

 

Leisenring’s July Dun Nymph

We wrap up the series of Leisenring’s favorite soft-hackled nymphs with the July Dun Nymph. No doubt Leisenring thought the July Dun matched the summertime bugs he encountered on his beloved Pennsylvania creeks. Certainly this fly could cover any number of small, dark nymphs that trout would think are good to eat.

I hope you enjoyed this little stroll down legacy fly pattern lane!

Leisenring’s July Dun Nymph

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Hook: 15, 16
Silk: Orange waxed with colorless wax.
Hackle: One turn of very short, soft-rusty-dun cock hackle.
Tail: Three fibers of a ginger hen’s hackle tied very short.
Rib: Fine gold wire halfway up the body.
Body: Darkish-brown-olive seal fur.
Body: Medium-dun mole fur.
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Tying notes: You don’t need to use precious tying silk on a pattern like this one (says the guy who used silk). Hen replaces cock for the hackle. Dark Olive Squirrel SLF Spikey Dubbing replaces seal fur. Leisenring uses mole in many of his patterns; a standard-issue mole skin will keep you in thoraxes till your old age. (Mike Hogue has some good skins at Badger Creek.) If you don’t have a mole skin, try rabbit.

Leisenring’s Pale Watery Nymph (light-colored dun version)

This is the second Pale Watery Nymph listed in Leisenring’s book. He adds the qualifier, “effective when light-colored duns are on the water.” No doubt. Buggy, simple, and highly edible.

Leisenring’s Pale Watery Nymph (light-colored duns)

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Hook: 15, 16
Silk: White, waxed with colorless wax
Hackle: One turn of very short honey dun cock hackle.
Tail: Three strands of very short, soft-blue-dun cock fibers.
Rib: None.
Body: Undyed seal fur or pale buff Australian opossum fur dubbed lightly at the tail and thicker at the thorax.
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Tying notes: Absent cock hackle, I used hen. I didn’t have the right color opossum, so I used Hareline Dubbin rabbit. This is a very straightforward tie.

W.C. Stewart’s spiders from “The Practical Angler,” in list form with photos

I recently published a short feature series on W.C. Stewart’s spiders, three ancient and traditional Scottish soft hackles. They first appeared in print in Stewart’s 1857 book “The Practical Angler or the Art of Trout Fishing, more Particularly Applied to Clear Water.” Here now is a single reference list of the trio: the Black Spider, Red Spider, and Dun Spider, a photo of each pattern, and a link to the original post with my comments and tying instructions. If you’re interested in reading an online copy of Stewart’s Book, you can find one here.

W.C. Stewart on the soft-hackled feather: “So soft are they, that when a spider is made of one of them and placed in the water, the least motion will agitate and impart a singularly life-like appearance to it.” — W.C. Stewart

W.C Stewart’s Black Spider

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W.C. Stewart’s Red Spider

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W.C. Stewart’s Dun Spider

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Apply these to clear water near you, and let your mind wander back a few centuries. Picture Stewart on a wee Scottish burn, fishing his beloved spiders upstream…

 

Leisenring’s Pale Watery Nymph

Big Jim loved his Pale Watery nymphs. We know this because he’s got two of them listed in his book. This is the first Pale Watery nymph, and it’s a simple, buggy tie. I’m picturing it as the point fly on a team of three; dropped off the bend of a Usual or Light Cahill dry; or below a dry with the dry on a tag. Speaking of Pale Watery, keen students of Leisenring’s fly patterns will remember the Pale Watery Dun Wingless — one of his “favorite twelve” — from last year’s series here on currentseams.

Leisenring’s Pale Watery Nymph

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Hook: 15, 16
Silk: Primrose yellow
Hackle: One or not more than two turns of a darkish-blue cockerel hackle only long enough to suggest wing cases.
Tail: None.
Rib: Fine gold wire halfway up the body.
Body: Cream colored fur (Chinese mole or Australian opossum) dubbed very thinly at the tail and heavily at the shoulder and thorax.
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Tying notes: No gots cockerel, so I used a dark dun hen cape. For body fur, I chose Hareline Dubbin Light Cahill (HD1). It is here that find myself faced with a disturbing question. Leisenring specifies that the rib should go “halfway up the body.” Does this mean his other nymphs were meant to have a rib that continued over the thorax? It’s quite possible. I’m not a fan of ribbing over a heavily dubbed thorax — it kind of defeats the purpose of that buggy section — but Leisenring may have intended otherwise.

Leisenring’s Dark Olive Nymph

James Leisenring’s Dark Olive Nymph is sure to be popular among the finned set. For starters, it’s buggy as hell. Not only does it cover the pre-emergent Blue Winged Olive family, it’s also one of those flies that looks like lots of bugs in general, but not necessarily any one in particular.  That’s the good news. The flip side — if I may editorialize — is that I suspect a soft-hackled Pheasant Tail does the same duty, and is easier to tie. One way to find out!

Leisenring’s Dark Olive Nymph

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Hook: 14, 15
Silk: Primrose yellow
Hackle: One or not more than two turns of the tiniest blue dun hen’s hackle.
Tail: Two or three very short, soft blue dun cock fibers.
Rib: Fine gold wire.
Body: Dark green-olive seal’s fur mixed with a little dark-brown bear’s fur (found next to the skin) spun lightly at the tail and quite heavily at the shoulder or thorax.
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Tying notes: It should take me a few minutes to bang out Leisenring’s Dark Olive Nymph; when it takes longer than that to tie in the bloody “very short” tail, I curse my lot in fly tying and pine for the simplicity of the soft-hackled pheasant tail nymph. At this size, Angora goat (my standard seal’s fur substitute) would be an unruly mess. And since I’m right out of bear, I made the command decision to use Squirrel SLF Spikey Dubbing, dark olive and dark brown. I’m pleased with the results. A single dubbing loop for both abdomen and thorax.