The Fleeing Crayfish was originated by fly fishing legend, Gary Borger in the 1980’s. He noted that while many crayfish pattern with ultra realistic, outstretched claws and the like looked great, most fish would eat them as they were retreating or fleeing. The design of his pattern imitates the crayfish in this moment. It has unbelievable movement and motion in the water and is a killer pattern for smallmouth and large browns.
I’ve included the recipe for my most common version of this pattern, but I tie it in a number of different color combinations. You should substitute colors that best represent crayfish in the waters you fish.
I should mention that this fly’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. The loose piece of rabbit hide that provides so much “action” in the fly will inevitable tear off after numerous fish. Since the rest of the fly is so durable, I carry a package of rabbit strips with me so that I can replace that piece when necessary.
Borger’s Fleeing Crayfish
Hook: 3x long streamer #10 – #4
Thread: 6/0 Brown
Eyes: Barbell matched to hook size
Tail: Light green medium marabou
Body: Crayfish orange dubbing
Legs: Pheasant rump feather
Pinchers: Natural rabbit hide strip – medium
Other Materials: Super glue to secure eyes
From the creative fly tying mind of Lance Egan comes one of my favorite carp flies of all time. I’m not too sure what it’s supposed to imitate but for me, that’s true of many carp patterns. Most likely it represents a small crayfish… possibly a dragonfly nymph.
The bead chain eyes give it the perfect amount of weight to get down quickly to carp feeding on a shallow flat without the loud splash of lead. And when the eyes are positioned correctly, it rides hook up, preventing bottom snags.
Present it by leading the carp slightly and retrieve it very slowly into carp’s path. The take will be subtle. Watch for the turn of the carp’s head, set the hook, and hang on!
Hook: TMC 2457 #8
Thread: 6/0 Black
Tail: Red fox squirrel tail
Body: Medium to dark brown dubbing
Hackle: Brown rooster, palmered
Rib: Fine copper wire
Throat: Peacock sword
Legs: Sili-legs pumpkin – orange – black
Head: Bright orange dubbing
Eyes: Medium silver bead chain, positioned just behind the eye.
I’m a bit of an oddball. This is not exactly breaking news for most folks who know me. But to paraphrase John Gierach, “If, from time to time, people don’t walk away from you shaking their head… You’re doing something wrong.” I could certainly dedicate an entire article, or even a book, to my oddball qualities. But I am referring to one specific oddball quality. I fish and guide with a set-up that combines a pack and fly boxes all in one contraption. You’ve seen it. It’s my chest fly box, custom built by the Richardson Chest Fly Box Companyin Pennsylvania. It’s awesome and I love it.
So, that makes it a little more challenging for me to give advice on individual fly boxes. But I have over the years used about every kind of box and pack known to man. And along the way I have learned a few things. Hopefully, they’ll be helpful to you when purchasing or organizing your flies. At the least, it might get you thinking about it. And who knows? Maybe one day you’ll come to your senses and buy a Richardson!
While chest fly boxes like mine are more common in the Northeast, they are hardly common. Most folks go a different route. They have a variety of different fly boxes that they stuff in a vest, hip pack, chest pack, sling bag, or some other carryall. No matter how you decide to carry them, fly boxes are essential organizational tools in our sport and it helps to know a few things about them.
First, they come in a number of different sizes. There are large, briefcase size boxes for boats to ultra slim boxes not much bigger than a smartphone. When choosing a fly box size, you have to consider how many flies you need to carry. Also consider how you’re going to carry them, how big the flies are, and how you want them organized. For instance, a big, briefcase size box may hold every fly you have but it won’t be very portable when wading creeks. Or a small, ultra slim box might be convenient to slip in a pocket, but if you plan to store bass bugs in it, you’ll only be able to carry a couple and you won’t be able to close the lid.
In addition, you’ll have to consider how you want to organize your flies within your box. There are countless options for securing your flies from slot foam, flat foam, and nubby foam to compartments, clips, and magnets. Some boxes might even have a combination of both. A box might have foam on one side of and compartments on the other. Certainly personal preference plays a big role in you box interior of choice, but there are practical matters to consider as well.
Compartments tend to lend themselves well to beefier patterns, or large quantities of the same fly. For instance, if you fish a lot of Pheasant Tails and carry a lot of them with you, it’s far easier to dump them all into one compartment rather than trying to line up three dozen Pheasant Tails across multiple rows of foam. I find foam more useful when I am trying to organize a lot of different patterns but small quantities of each. It’s easier to see what I have.
The type of fly may also determine the best way to store it. Thin foam or magnetic boxes can be great for midges and nymphs. But they can crush the hackles on many dry flies. On the other hand, trying to carry midges in deep compartments can be a waste of space. It can also be difficult to grasp them with your fingers when removing them from the box.
Finally, when you’re on the stream, you don’t want to spend your time hunting for flies or digging through your pack for fly boxes. Try to have a designated area of your pack or vest for boxes rather than burying them under a rain jacket somewhere. And if you carry five fly boxes on the stream, try to make them five different, or at least different looking, fly boxes. This will save you all kinds of time when trying to locate a specific box of flies.
Most people like fishing dry flies because they can see the fish take it. But fishing dry flies in the Smokies can be a challenge, especially in pocket water. Besides being difficult to keep afloat, they can be difficult to see in fast water. But the good thing is trout aren’t often selective in this kind of water. Therefore, you’re choice of dry flies usually doesn’t have to be so “precise.”
When it comes to fishing dry flies in the Smokies, I am typically looking for two primary things in a pattern. It needs to be visible and it needs to be buoyant. Beyond that I can begin focusing on a few more details like color and size.
In general, trout in the Smokies don’t see heavy hatches of individual insects. Sure, there are exceptions. But they mostly see small quantities of a lot of different insects. So, if you can present the fly naturally and without spooking fish, most any all-purpose, “prospecting” fly pattern will do the trick. As mentioned above, if you can get a little more precise with size and color, your pattern will be that much more effective.
Matching size will require more observation of bugs on the water or simply having general knowledge of what should be hatching. The same two things can help with matching color. Having a broad knowledge of how seasons impact color will also help. With some exceptions, aquatic insects tend to blend in with their surroundings. So, in winter months when trees are bare, most of what hatches is dark because the bugs need to blend in with the darker branches. As foliage comes in, most of what hatches is brighter. Because the bugs need to blend in with the leaves. It’s nature taking care of itself.
The Stimulator is a long time favorite fly pattern of Smoky Mountain anglers for all of the above reasons. Its buoyancy and light colored wing not only make it easy to see, but make it a perfect “indicator fly” when fishing a dropper. And if you mix and match sizes and colors, you could nearly fish a Stimulator 12 months out of the year!
The Stimulator was long thought to be the invention of well-known West Coast angler and fly shop owner, Randall Kaufmann. While Kaufmann is responsible for the modifications that made the fly most of us know today, the fly’s true originator is thought to be Paul Slattery, who tied a stonefly pattern called the Fluttering Stonefly to fish on the Musconetcong River in central New Jersey. This was in the early 1980’s and he soon renamed the fly after a New York City punk-rock band called The Stimulators.
In any case, the fly seems to have been created to imitate an adult stonefly, but it is also a good suggestion of a caddis and sometimes even a hopper. I most often fish it in yellow and in sizes #16 – 8. I think the smaller size makes a great imitation for the prolific Little Yellow Sally Stoneflies. The larger sizes are good representations of the larger golden stones. They tend to hatch on summer evenings in the mountains. In the fall, I often fish a #10 Stimulator in orange to imitate the large ginger caddis.
Whether it imitates anything or not, it catches fish and it floats well in heavier pocket water found throughout the mountains. As one of the most popular dry flies of all time, it is available in most every fly shop in the country.
This should probably go without saying, but the fly rod is the tool used to cast the line when fly fishing. It is also used to manipulate line on the water after the cast, to set the hook on a fish (usually), and to fight the fish after hooking it. It is certainly one of the most important pieces of your equipment and likely the piece of equipment in which you’ll invest the most money. So, what do you need to consider before making this investment? The three most important characteristics of a fly rod are its length, its line weight designation, and its action.
Fly Rod Length While there are specialty sizes on either end, most common fly rods are going to range from 7’ to 10’ in length. Longer rods aid in keeping the line higher off the water. This can be helpful when trying to achieve longer casts or when trying to cast from a lower position, like sitting in a float tube or canoe. Longer rods are also helpful when trying to reach to keep line off of faster currents. If you’re planning to regularly fish from a float tube or canoe, fish open areas like wide rivers or lakes, or fish a lot of pocket water on medium to large mountain streams, you may want to consider a 9’ to 10’ rod.
Shorter rods are most beneficial in small, brushy streams where a longer rod will be hard to maneuver. If you’re planning to spend most of your time on tiny tributaries and backcountry “blue lines,” you may want to consider a rod in the 7’ to 8’ range.
Line Weight The next thing to consider is the line weight. Each rod has a line weight designation like a 5-weight or a 9-weight. That just indicates what size line it is designed to cast. You typically want to match that to the fly line size. For instance, a 5-weight line will properly load a 5-weight rod and make it cast its best in most situations. Using an 8-weight line on a 5-weight rod would over-load it, resulting in an awkward, “clunky” cast. Using a 3-weight line on a 5-weight rod wouldn’t load it enough. The result is little line control and a significant compromise in accuracy and distance.
When you’re choosing the line weight of a rod, you want to consider what you will be fishing for. For trout, you are commonly using a 3 to 5-weight. For largemouth bass, you might use a 7 to 9-weight. The difference has little, if anything, to do with the size of the fish. A largemouth won’t snap a 3-weight rod. It’s more about the necessary fly sizes and the required presentations.
For trout, we are most often fishing with smaller flies on a dead drift. Lighter lines allow for a more delicate presentation and create less drag. On the other hand, when fishing for bass, we are often trying to “punch” flies into tight areas and quickly pull fish out of areas with a lot of woody structure. And we are typically using larger, heavier, wind-resistant flies. Often, there is simply not enough weight in a 4-weight line to effectively “turnover” a larger bass bug. Rather than the line carrying the fly on a level plane during the cast, the fly travels below the line, often catching the rod tip or worse, the back of your head!
When you get into saltwater species and some large freshwater species like salmon, you may be choosing a particular rod and line weight because of the size of the fish more than the size of the fly. Yes, a 13-weight helps to cast bigger flies to tarpon. But mostly the larger butt section on that size rod is necessary to fight a 150 pound fish!
The other thing that can necessitate a rod with a heavier line weight is wind. Saltwater species like bonefish, snook, redfish, etc. often aren’t particularly big and they don’t demand unusually large flies, but you encounter a lot of wind around the coast. In the American West, you tend to encounter more wind and may consequently want a 6-weight rod for trout. The accompanying chart lists appropriate rod/line weights for common game fish.
Compromise So, you really need to consider what you’ll be fishing for and where you’ll be fishing to determine the best rod length and weight for your needs. In this part of the country, most people want to fish for bass and bluegill in streams, ponds and lakes, and they want to fish for trout in the mountains and tailwaters. But if you’re just getting into the sport, you probably don’t want to rush out and buy four different fly rod outfits. Fortunately, there is a middle ground.
If you’re the person described in the paragraph above, your ideal rod lengths might range from 7’ to 10’. Your ideal line weights might range from 4 to 7-weight. While it is impossible to get one rod that is perfect for everything, you can sometimes get one rod that is good enough for a lot of things. An 8 ½’ rod is long enough to get by on bigger water and short enough to manage on smaller streams. A 5-weight is light enough for trout fishing and ideal for bluegill. It’s adequate for bass fishing if you scale down your fly size.
Later, if you get really interested in bass fishing, maybe you add a 9’ 8-weight to your arsenal. Or if hiking into small brook trout streams becomes your thing, maybe you add a 7 ½’ 3-weight. You can certainly get by with one rod, but the more diverse your locations and species become, the more necessary it will be to have multiple rod sizes.
Fly Rod Action Once you’ve narrowed down the rod size, it’s time to consider the action of the rod. The action of a rod is slow, medium, or fast. A slow action rod feels softer and more “noodly” because it flexes closer to the butt of the rod. A fast action fly rod will feel stiffer because it flexes closer to the tip of the rod. And as you might guess, a medium action rod sort of falls in between, flexing more in the middle of the rod.
Fast action rods are capable of generating more line speed and, in the right hands, more easily achieving greater casting distance. With their stiffer butt sections, they also tend to have more “backbone” when it comes to apply pressure when fighting fish. Most fly rods that are 7-weight or heavier will only be available in a fast action.
Slow action rods are more delicate in their delivery of the line and are more ideal for softer presentations. You tend to feel the fish more on a slow action rod and because it flexes much deeper in the rod, it is capable of better protecting very light tippets. Most rods in the 1 to 3-weight range are slower action rods. Typically, rods in the 4 to 6 weight range are available in a number of different actions.
Your own personal casting style will also be a factor in the best rod action for you. People with a more aggressive casting stroke tend to favor a fast action rod. People with a more relaxed casting stroke tend to favor a slow action rod. Experienced fly casters can pretty easily adjust their casting stroke to the rod. If you’re new to fly fishing, you may not have enough experience to even know your preference. In that case, it’s usually safest to stick to the middle and go with a medium action rod.
Fly Rod Material and Price In the old days, fly rods were made from bamboo and their price depended on things like who made them and whether or not they were mass-produced. Some of the rods made by certain independent makers are extremely valuable today. Most of the bamboo rods mass-produced by larger companies have little value. Bamboo rods made today are mostly made by independent makers and have price tags in excess of $1000. This is largely because of the amount of time and craftsmanship that goes into making them.
Today, bamboo rods definitely still have a following much like classic cars have a following. When compared to more “modern” materials, they tend to be a little heavier and almost every bamboo rod will fall into the slow action category. I wouldn’t recommend them to a beginner looking for a rod to get into the sport but for the more seasoned fly fishing enthusiast, they sure are cool!
Fiberglass replaced bamboo in the 50’s as the most common material for fly rods. It was lightweight, and after the trade embargo with China (where rod makers got their bamboo), it was far more available and cheaper to produce. Fiberglass rods have seen a recent return in popularity because of their soft, unique action (slow). Many large rod manufacturers are currently offering select models of fiberglass rods built with more modern components.
Most rods today are made from carbon fiber (graphite) and that has been the case for probably forty years. Carbon fiber is strong and much lighter than fiberglass or bamboo. It can be made in a number of different actions. And it can be made in multiple pieces while still maintaining that action.
Bamboo rods, for instance, had/have metal ferrules (joints). To make a four-piece bamboo rod results not only in a lot of added weight, but “dead spots” at each of those joints. Carbon fiber rods have carbon fiber joints. This is what allows a multi-piece rod to remain light and still maintain its action. Most carbon fiber rods today break down to four sections, allowing for easy storage and travel. Some break down into as many as seven pieces!
The prices of today’s carbon fiber rods are all over the place. Some are mass-produced overseas using less expensive components (guides, reel seat, etc.) and can be found for well under $100. American made rods tend to start around $200. When you bump up to about $400, you’re getting a higher modulus graphite that will feel lighter and crisper. You’ll notice a difference. When you get into the real high-end stuff ($500-$1200), you are getting more technology as well as higher-end components, but most beginner to intermediate fly casters won’t be able to tell the difference.
Keep in mind that many of the things that influence the price of the rod won’t have anything to do with how it casts. For example, a mid to high end rod might have some exotic, $150 piece of wood used for the reel seat. An entry level rod might use a $30 piece of walnut. One might use titanium for the guides while another might use stainless steel.
In other words, if you have the disposable income and want to spend $1200 on a rod, have at it. Just don’t expect it to necessarily cast better or catch more fish! Buy the best rod you can afford. There are some great rods in the $100 – $300 range, many with an unconditional guarantee. That’s right. Some of the major rod manufacturers provide an unconditional guarantee (or variation) on their rods. Orvis, for instance, offers a 25-year guarantee on all but one series of their rods. No matter how it breaks, they’ll fix it or replace it for 25 years! To me, it’s worth spending a little more to get a rod with a good warranty.
Narrow down what size rod you need and what your budget is. After that, it boils down to personal preference. If you decide that an 8 ½’ 5-weight is what you need and you’re willing and able to spend up to $400 on it, go to the fly shop and cast every 8 ½’ 5-weight rod under $400 that they have. Any fly shop worth their salt will have a place for you to cast a rod. And they will gladly let you cast as many as you’d like. And when you do, one of them will just feel right.
Hatches can sometimes be maddening. Fish feed aggressively and routinely on the surface. But sometimes, every single one of them ignores your fly. There are a number of reasons this can happen. It may be because of the style of fly you’re using.
In the Smokies, we are mainly fishing faster, choppier water and often choose bushier, more heavily hackled dry fly patterns because they float well. In that kind of water, trout don’t get much time to study the fly and their view tends to be distorted by those choppy currents, so the bushier flies tend to do the trick. Even when fishing pools in the Smokies, you usually have a defined feeding channel that will have at least a little chop to it. In those situations, a parachute style fly pattern is usally adequate to provide a slightly more realistic profile.
But in flatter water like you commonly see on tailwaters like the Clinch, particularly weeks into a heavy hatch, an even more realistic profile is necessary. Trout routinely refuse parachute style flies and probably wouldn’t even consider a vertically hackled Catskill style dry fly.
This problem isn’t new to fly fishers. In the 1930’s, Fran Betters developed the Haystack to fool trout in slow moving spring creeks. It consisted of a deer hair wing and tail and no hackle, allowing for a lower riding fly with a much more realistic profile. Al Caucci and Ed Natasi introduced the Comparadun, a variation of the Haystack, in their 1972 book, Comparahatch. The pattern is essentially the same but they were able to use more modern microfibbets. They provide a longer, slimmer, more durable split tail that aids in floatation.
In the mid 1980’s, Craig Matthews and John Juracek took the Comparadun a step further and replaced the split microfibbet tails with a piece of antron or zelon. It essentially turned the fly into an emerger with the antron or zelon “tail” suggesting the trailing shuck of an emerging mayfly. Of course, in any of the patterns described above, the body, wing, and tail/shuck colors can be altered to imitate different insects.
I routinely fish the split tail and the trailing shuck versions, usually during a sulphur or BWO hatch. And again, I am usually fishing them on the Clinch or possibly in a slow pool in the mountains. They just don’t float well enough to fish them in faster riffles and pocket water. But on a slow glide on the Clinch, they can be deadly!
Hook: TMC 100 (or equivalent) #16-18
Thread: 8/0 pale yellow
Tail: Light dun microfibbets ( or replace microfibbets with small tuft of brown antron for trailing shuck version)
Body: Pale yellow dry fly dubbing
Wing: Coasatal deer hair
Few fly fishermen, if any, possess the knowledge and experience of Joe Humphreys. Joe is probably best known as a teacher and an author, but over his many decades in the business, he has also created a number of original fly patterns. By far, my favorite is the Humphreys’ Caddis Pupa.
To be honest though, I’ve always been a little perplexed by the pattern. To me it bears little resemblance to a natural caddis pupa and doesn’t look like any imitation that I’ve seen or that I would create. In his book, “On the Trout Stream,” the only explanation Joe provides is “A good firsthand look at a caddis pupa prompted this tie.” Apparently Joe saw something in a caddis pupa that nobody else did, because his unique pattern has proven to be one of the most effective I’ve ever fished!
The body color can be varied to match caddis in a specific stream. I tie them often in olive and cream, but in the Smokies, most frequently find success with tan bodies. Some species of caddis hatches in the Smokies nearly anytime of year but the heaviest hatches tend to occur in spring.
It works best on any stretch of stream with more of a cobble or even sandy bottom. I frequently fish it as a dropper off a Neversink Caddis or in a tandem nymph rig below a soft hackle.
Humphreys’ Caddis Pupa
Hook: TMC 3761 or equivalent #18 – 12
Thread: Brown 8/0
Weight: Lead wire to match hook size
Butt: Peacock Herl
Body: Natural Hare’s Ear Dubbing (substitute other colors to match naturals)
Hackle: Dark Brown Saddle
Head: Peacock Herl
Fly Tying is a lot like cooking in many ways. Because in both pursuits, you’re combining a variety of ingredients to create one final product. And the quality of those ingredients along with the skills of the person putting them together can tremendously impact the end result. But the issue of originality is also quite comparable.
What constitutes an original recipe rather than simply a variation on an old standard is a very fine line. If you cook ground beef and put it on a bun with some cheese, it’s a cheeseburger. If you add sautéed onions, it’s a cheeseburger with sautéed onions. But if you use a different type of bread, it becomes a Patty Melt. Fly patterns have the same blurred lines of originality.
The pattern featured here is of my own design but I didn’t give it a very original name because, in my opinion, it’s really just a variation of a classic nymph pattern that the world already knows as a Pheasant Tail Nymph. My version here has a substitution for one material and the addition of two more materials. Is that enough to be considered totally original and warrant a brand new name? Maybe, but I didn’t think so.
In any case, it is a nymph I have been tying and fishing for about five years and it has become one of my favorite flies and most consistent nymph patterns. Like the original Pheasant Tail Nymph, it doesn’t specifically imitate one nymph. Rather, it’s dark and buggy and is suggestive of many mayfly nymphs and caddis larvae. The addition of rubber legs gives it a little more movement in the water, and the Ice Dub thorax and Krystal Flash wing provide a little more flash. I’m always wary of having too much flash on my flies, particularly when fishing for wild trout, but this seems to have just enough to add a little more life to the pattern without sending the fish running for cover.
Rob’s Flash Wing Pheasant Tail
Hook: TMC 2457 or equivalent, #18 – #12
Thread: 8/0 Brown
Weight: Black tungsten bead sized to match hook
Tail: Pheasant tail fibers
Abdomen: Pheasant tail fibers
Rib: Fine copper wire
Wing: 4-6 strands of blue Krystal Flash
Thorax: Peacock Ice Dub
Legs: Black micro rubber legs
I almost always fish with two flies when I’m trout fishing. There are just so many advantages to it. Beside the obvious advantage of potentially offering two fly choices to the trout, it provides you the opportunity to simultaneously present a fly in two different feeding columns. Below, I’m going to talk about some of those strategies. And I’ll show a few different ways to rig a dropper system. As a bonus, you get to enjoy some of my horrific artwork!
Dry Fly / Dropper
This is the two-fly method with which many fly fishermen are most familiar. It seems that even less experienced fishermen will tell you this is how their guide rigged them up when they were fishing out west during hopper season. When you rig like this, you are typically tying on a larger, or at least more visible, dry fly and attaching a smaller nymph off the back of that dry fly. You’re covering the top of the water with the dry fly and you’re covering usually the middle water column (sometimes the bottom) with the nymph. The dry fly serves as sort of an edible strike indicator for the nymph.
I typically rig this by tying my dry fly directly to the main leader and tippet. I’ll then take probably 18”-24” of tippet material and tie one end to the nymph. The other end attaches to the bend of the hook on the dry fly. There are certainly a lot of variables, such as water depth or where you think the fish might be feeding, that determine how far apart you put the two flies. The amount mentioned above is a pretty good “default setting.” I like to use a clinch knot to connect to the bend of the hook. But whatever knot you usually use to tie a fly on should work fine.
You want to make sure that the flies you select for this set-up compliment each other. They should also be appropriate for the type of water you’re fishing. For example, a small parachute dry fly may not support the weight of a large, heavily weighted nymph. Parachute type patterns will easily support the weight of smaller, lighter nymphs, particularly in slower water. So, a #14 Parachute Adams with a #18 Zebra Midge dropper would be great for a tailwater. And it will work on a slower run or pool in the mountains. But a #14 Parachute Adams with a #8 weighted Tellico nymph, fished in faster water is going to be trouble. Heavily hackled, bushy dry flies or foam dry flies are better choices when fishing in faster water or with heavier nymphs.
With that in mind, know that this method may not be suitable for every situation. For instance, if you need to get a nymph deep, particularly in a faster run, you’re going to need a lot of weight. Using a dry fly–dropper rig is not going to be effective. You’re better off using traditional nymphing techniques for that. But for fishing hatch scenarios where fish are actively feeding on and just below the surface, or for fishing to opportunistic feeders in shallower pocket water, it’s pretty tough to beat.
I also like to fish this same rig with two dry fly flies. On occasion, I’ve found myself in a situation where I have trouble seeing my dry fly. This is usually when trying to imitate something small or dark like a midge, Trico, or BWO. In those situations, I’ll often tie on a larger, more visible dry fly with the smaller, darker dry fly tied about 18” off the back. Sometimes, having the more visible fly as reference allows me to actually see the smaller fly. But if I still can’t see the smaller one, I know to set the hook if I see a rise anywhere within 18” of the visible fly.
Two Nymphs or Wet Flies
Just like the dry fly-dropper rig above, fishing with two nymphs or wets allows you to cover two different feeding columns. Only now, you’re typically covering the middle column and the bottom. I think another advantage with a two nymph rig is they tend to balance each other out and drift better.
There are a few different ways to rig for this and there are numerous strategies for fly selection and placement. If I have a nymph pattern that the fish are really after, I will sometimes fish two of the exact same fly. There have even been a few occasions when I’ve caught two fish at once! But usually I’m searching and I’m trying to provide the fish with options. I’ll most often have two different fly patterns.
Keep in mind that (most of the time) your lowest fly on the rig will be fished near the bottom while the higher fly will be fished more in the middle column. I try to select and position flies with that in mind. For example, it’s far less likely to find a stonefly in the middle of the water column. They’re going to be found near the stream bottom. So logically, I want my stonefly nymph to be the bottom fly of my two fly rig. On the other hand, an emerging mayfly is more likely to be found in the middle feeding column. So, a soft hackle wet fly would probably be most effective as the top fly on my nymph rig.
You can rig like this with totally different flies or stay in the same “family.” If you’re in the middle of or expecting, say, a caddis hatch, you may rig with a caddis emerger as your top fly and a caddis larva as your bottom fly. I’ve also had a lot of success choosing one nymph to act purely as an attractor. I may tie on a larger or brighter nymph as my top fly and a smaller or subtler nymph as my bottom one. Very often, the brighter or bigger nymph gets their attention, but they eat the subtler nymph below it. I tend to fish the nymphs a little closer together in these situations.
You can rig a pair of nymphs the same way we mentioned above. Tie one directly off the hook bend of the other. This is referred to as the in-line method. This is probably the easiest way to rig and fish two nymphs. But some don’t like this method because they don’t think it allows the top fly to drift freely.
A common way to rig two nymphs that will allow the top fly to drift more freely, is to use a blood knot to attach a section of tippet to the end of your leader. When tying the knot, take care to leave one long tag end, to which you will tie the top fly. The bottom fly will be attached to the end of the new tippet section. This definitely allows the top fly to have more movement and it puts you in more direct contact with both nymphs. Though for me, this method results in a lot more tangles so I only use it for specific scenarios.
You can also rig quite similarly using a tippet ring (discussed in another article in this newsletter). With a tippet ring attached to the end of your leader, you tie one shorter piece of tippet to the ring, to which you will tie your top fly. And you tie a separate, longer piece of tippet to the ring, to which you’ll tie your bottom fly. This is a pretty simple way to do things but will also likely result in a few more tangles than the in-line method.
These are just examples of a few of the more common methods for fishing and rigging multiple flies. Play around with it and find what combos and techniques work best for you. Never be afraid to experiment!
So, I’m writing about March Browns not because they are necessarily of great significance to the Smoky Mountain fly fisherman, but mainly because they’re just really cool bugs! Like many aquatic insects in the Smokies, this mayfly does not usually hatch abundantly enough to really get the trout keyed in on them. But it is worth keeping a few in your fly box. In other words, you probably don’t need fifteen different March Brown patterns in subtly different colors, but having a few of a basic pattern isn’t a bad idea.
Because March Browns are big, they tend to get a little more attention from trout. They are usually a #12 or #10 hook size, and they tend to be the first mayfly of the year with any color. Most of your early spring mayflies are some version of grey, because they need to blend in with the bare trees and vegetation. But March Browns usually have a light, reddish brown body with handsomely mottled wings of brown, tan and even yellow hues. Despite what their name might imply, these mayflies don’t hatch in March. Rather, they tend to show up, at least in the Smokies, around the third week of April and hang around for the first half of May.
The nymphs are probably the most important stage for Smoky Mountain fishermen. Because they have flat clingy bodies with muscular legs, they are very strong crawlers. But when they lose their footing, they are terrible swimmers and easy pickins for a waiting trout. The nymphs tend to inhabit moderate to fast riffles and vary in color from tan to reddish brown to dark brown. So, a Hare’s Ear Nymph or Pheasant Tail Nymph are both good generic imitations. I’ve also included one of my favorite patterns designed to specifically imitate a March Brown nymph.
Nymphing these patterns should be fairly effective all day but particularly early in the morning. Expect to see the adults hatching from late morning to early afternoon with a spinner fall near dusk.
Learn more about Smoky Mountain hatches and flies in my hatch guide.
March Brown Dry
Hook: #12 – #10 TMC 100 or equivalent
Thread: Brown 8/0
Tail: Brown hackle fibers
Body: Reddish tan dubbing (many companies sell a color called March Brown)
Wing: Wood Duck
Hackle: Brown and Grizzly
March Brown Nymph
Hook: #12 TMC 3761 or equivalent
Thread: Brown 8/0
Tail: Moose fibers
Abdomen: Rusty red floss
Rib: Stripped peacock stem
Wincase: Lacquered turkey
Thorax: Peacock herl
Legs: Brown hackle