Partridge and Light Cahill soft-hackle

Some more production tying last night at currentseams HQ. Partridge and Light Cahill soft-hackles. So simple. And so effective during an emergence of the creamy mayflies we get on late spring evenings on the Farmington. A size 12 or 14 will do nicely. Hold on, now. Trout get reckless during this hatch.

When I started tying wet flies, I made two full rows of Partridge and (insert Pearsall’s Gossamer Silk color here) in my box. Later, on a whim, I bought some Uni Light Cahill thread and tied up a few of these soft-hackles. They sat unused for at least one season. I don’t remember the exact circumstance, but I do know that the first time I fished this fly, I cleaned up. I still have one of those original Partridge and Light Cahills; I fished it last spring, caught a trout on it, then retired it. It barely had any hackle left, but it still worked.

Such is the power of the impressionistic soft-hackle.

Filling corks with Partridge and Light Cahill soft-hackles. These are tied on a 1x strong, 1x long size 14 hook.

Partridge and Light Cahills

Introducing Currentseams Q&A

I get a asked lot of questions about fly fishing: from clients on the river, people in forums, club members I speak to, followers though email, etc. I’m happy to answer them, and flattered that someone thinks I might be able to help. In the spirit of help, I’d like to introduce Currentseams Q&A. When I get a question that I think might have broad appeal, I’ll post it and my answer here.

We’ll kick things off with a striper question.

Q: I finally will be getting to fish salt a few mornings next week up in Maine.  It’s an area I’ve fished a fair bit, but most often, using fairly substantial 5-8” flies – like the Grocery Fly (a harbor Pollack imitation), bigish deceivers and clousers and my favorite, a big Ray’s Fly.  How big?  6-8” on a 2-3/0 gami hook. That said, normally I’ve gone out a few times and have some hands on “data”… this year… no luck.  So, my “research” has been scanning surf talk threads in the maine/nh forum… which results in what looks like a likely ticket right now – 3-3.5” sand eels. So, I humbly ask…  Big Eelies and variants or small bucktails/deceivers, or even small “candy” like flies? If you’re open to it, I’d love to hear your thoughts on solid flies in smallish sizes. Point blank, for some reason in the surf I have a brain block on tossing little stuff… It’s a big ocean man, how will they see it?

A: Stripers are not humans. What you or I might find hard to see can be a billboard to a striper. I couldn’t possibly count how many striped bass I’ve caught on 1-2″ long grass shrimp flies (in murky water) or sparse (30 bucktail hairs and couple strands of flash) sand eels tied on #8 hooks. Bass also eat things like crab larva and isopods that are a fraction of an inch long. They find them just like you’re able to find M&Ms. The Big Eelie is a good bet, as is anything that is sparse and thin and matches the profile. Try Eelies: two thin saddle hackles over 30 fine bucktail hairs and a braid body. 2-3″ long. Maybe a couple stands flash. Small Ray’s Flies to match the bait. Play around with colors: the stripers will always tell you what they like. Ray Bondorew has a small sand eel fly made of marabou. Simple. No eyes. And effective. I fished hard/epoxy/tube bodied sand eel flies for years. I caught fish on all of them. But they all seemed to me like they were trying too hard to be an exact replica of the bait, right down to the detailed eyes. I haven’t fished a sand eel fly with eyes in years. Impressionism is more my style and energy, and I like to fish flies that don’t give the bass credit for being anything other than the primitive animal they are. (Thanks to Bill McMillan for that last line.)Have fun, experiment, and fish with confidence.

Here’s a sparse sand eel I call the Golden Knight. Two-and-a-half inches long, 30 fine bucktail hairs, a few strands of blue flashabou and black Krystal flash. This one is tied on a hook for small streams; for stripers, I use a TMC 7999 Atlantic salmon hook. This is a very effective fly to imitate small sand eels; I like to fish it as a team of flies near the surface, suspended between a corkie and a floating fly like a Gurgler.

Sparse Golden Knight

L&L Special Big Eelies. No matter what colors I tie the Big Eelie in, stripers love it.

L&LBIg Eelie

Things you can catch on sparse sand eel flies. This girl is nearly 40 inches long. Look at that tummy spilling over my right hand! Also dig the Jimi Hendrix guitar-on-fire psychedelic halo. The bite was incendiary that night.




Big Eelie Variant: The L&L

While I am loathe to use the phrase “go-to-pattern,” I beg to report that whenever there are large sand eels around, Ken Abrames’ Big Eelie is my go-to pattern.

The Big Eelie differs from 95% of other sand eel flies in that it is not an attempt to carbon copy the bait. Those legions of epoxy- and tube-bodied flies with eyes certainly work, but you can get away quite nicely with something far more impressionistic (if that’s your fancy) like the Big Eelie or Ray Bondorew’s Marabou Sand Eel.

The classic Big Eelie is a four-feather flatwing/soft-hackle hybrid; it’s colors are white, yellow, olive, and blue. I’ve discovered over the years that the Big Eelie works in all kinds of color schemes. One of my favorites is taken from Ken’s three-feather flatwing, the L&L Special. This tart mix of yellow, fluorescent yellow, white, and chartreuse shines on sand flats, day or night.

The L&L Big Eelie


Hook: Eagle Claw 253 3/0
Thread: Chartreuse 6/0
Platform: 30 hairs fluorescent yellow bucktail
Tail: A white saddle, under one strand each of gold and silver flash, under two chartreuse saddles, under two strands purple flash, under a yellow saddle.
Body: Pearl braid
Collar: 2-3 turns chartreuse marabou, tied in by the tip.

Tying notes: Sand eels are a slender bait, so make your saddles about the width of a pencil. You don’t want a flaring broom shape for the platform, so likewise make it slim, and take the bucktail from near the tip of the tail. All the saddles are tied in flat. The marabou adds the magic here, as it veils the body when wet, creating movement and an almost glowing effect. Feel free to play around with different colors on this pattern; some of my favorites are blue/black/purple and white/pink/olive. Stripers love them all. I like to tie this fly about 4  1/2 inches long.