The Alexandra Winged Wet

Ray Bergman described the Alexandra as, “A fancy pattern that often proves surprisingly effective.” Fancy, yes. But in appearance only. The Alexandra is a very easy pattern to tie. As to its effectiveness, the fly is said to have been so deadly that its use was actually banned on some fishing beats.

The pattern was created in Great Britain in the mid 19th century. It was also known as “Lady of the Lake,” suggesting that it was intended primarily as a stillwater fly. I’ve only fished it rivers. So, is the Alexandra truly ban-worthy? In my experience, no. That is, you should not expect trout to blithely hurl themselves at the fly just because it is tied to your leader. But yes, you can expect to catch with it. I think it makes a fine tiny baitfish imitation, and what’s there not to like about silver, red, and the rainbow iridescence of peacock sword? I tend to fish this fly in the fall, early season, or when the water’s a little off-color.

The Alexandra

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Hook: 1x short, 1x stout wet fly (this is the Orvis 1641) size 6-12
Thread: Black 6/0
Tail: Peacock sword fibers
Body: Flat silver tinsel
Throat: Red webby hackle
Wing: Peacock sword fibers

Tying notes: I tie this fly two ways: heavily dressed (like the one pictured here) and much sparser. Both work. Peacock sword is easy to work with; I use between 3-6 fibers on the tail, and between 5-16 fibers for the wing. Sometimes I’ll make the wing a little longer than the hook bend, as I’ve done here. In Trout, Bergman lists scarlet hackle as a tailing option. I have a love-hate relationship with tinsel. It’s a pain (for me, at least) to wrap, unlike braid which is basically idiot-proof. Sadly, I have a traditionalist streak that often compels me to honor the materials of yore. Some pattern variants include an oval tinsel rib on the body and a scarlet floss tag. For the throat, color options include deep wine, claret, or black. I think any of those would look spiffy. Some listings of the Alexandra include a dash of scarlet in the wing, and I’ve seen people use a strand of red holographic tinsel for that step. I’ve finished the head here with a coat of Griff’s Thin, followed by three coats of H-A-N.

The Light Cahill Winged Wet

This is a classic American wet fly, named for Dan Cahill. Ray Bergman wrote in Trout, “If it was necessary to confine my assortment of flies to only two or three, this would be one of them. Basically, it is an Eastern pattern, particularly effective in the Catskill waters and similar Eastern mountain streams.”

High praise indeed. I’ve been fishing this fly with great success for years. So when creamy mayflies are coming off on the Farmington — or any river for that matter — the Light Cahill winged wet is usually  the first fly I’ll tie on. There’s something about wood duck that states “buggy” and “alive” in no uncertain terms. I usually fish at least two of them on a dropper rig, and look to target specific rising fish. Trout will hit the fly on the dead drift (mend your rig like you would a dry) and at the drift’s end. Just let the flies sit there – and hold on. Some of the most violent takes I’ve ever experienced while trout fishing have come on this fly.

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Hook: 2x strong or 1x fine, size 10-20
Thread: Tan 8/0
Hackle: Light ginger or cream hen
Tail: Fibers to match hackle
Rib: Fine gold oval tinsel (optional)
Body: Hareline Dubbin #1 Light Cahill, or light fox
Wing: Wood duck

Tying notes: Sometimes I tie this fly with a tail of wood duck or partridge, or substitute partridge for the hackle. Sometimes I’ll add a gold rib. While all these iterations work, the fly pictured here on a 2x strong hook is the one I fish the most.  I like to keep the body sleek and tapered, so no dubbing loop. It’s a pretty straightforward tie, and you can crank out a bunch in a short time. I’ve seen some versions of this fly where the hackle is clipped off the top half of the fly, but I leave it on. I tie the wing in last.

Thank you, UpCountry Sportfishing and today’s wet fly class

Another great class today at UpCountry Sportfishing in New Hartford, CT. UpCountry is my home shop, and it’s always nice to be tying along the banks of the Farmington River. We covered the same basics as yesterday’s class, took a few new directions, but the result was the same. We all learned something, and a splendid time was had by all.

Steelhead Spiders or Soft-Hackles

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Next up: flatwing demo Thursday night at the Saltwater Edge in Newport, RI.