Flies: Sulphur Comparadun

Sulphur Comparadun Fly Pattern
Sulphur Comparadun

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.

Comparadun with Trailing Shuck Fly Pattern
Comparadun with trailing shuck

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!

Sulphur Comparadun

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

Flies: March Browns

Adult March Brown Mayfly
March Brown adult

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.

March Brown Dry Fly Pattern
March Brown Dry Fly

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.

March Brown Nymph Fly Pattern
March Brown Nymph

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

Flies: Sulphurs

Sulphur Mayfly Adult
Sulphur mayfly adult

If you take East Tennessee as a whole, it’s pretty safe to say one of the most prolific hatches is the sulphur mayfly hatch. Southern tailwaters are generally not known for having significant hatches of mayflies, caddisflies, or stoneflies. When we think of most of these dam-controlled rivers, we typically think of crustaceans like scuds and sow bugs, and midges…. lots and lots of midges. However, one mayfly that hatches on all East Tennessee tailwaters, often in very big numbers, is the sulphur. And that means that your best opportunity to catch a really big fish on a dry fly around these parts is during the sulphur hatch.

On the South Holston, they hatch in huge numbers for nearly nine months of the year. They hatch on the Holston, Hiwassee, Watauga and Caney Fork, too. But when I think of the sulphur hatch, I think of the Clinch River. This is probably because it was the first really BIG hatch I ever fished. It’s not quite as epic as it was 20-30 years ago. I won’t get into the reasons why. But it is most definitely still a hatch worth making time for.

Parachute Sulphur Fly Pattern
Parachute Sulphur

The hatch usually starts in late April on the Clinch and often lasts well into July. May is the best time to fish it. In April, the bugs are usually just starting to trickle off fairly inconsistently.  By mid June, trout have been seeing these things come off by the thousands for 4-6 hours a day, for 6+ weeks. To say that they become selective is an understatement. But in May, bugs are coming off steadily and the trout haven’t yet learned to count the hackles on your fly before choosing to eat it. They don’t seem to care if it’s on the surface, in the film, or 2” below the surface. In July, that stuff matters! In May, pretty much any pale yellow, size #16 dry fly will do the trick if it’s presented on a dead drift.

Parachutes and Comparaduns tend to be the best choices for dry flies. And there are a host of more sophisticated emergers and cripples to fool the wary, late-hatch fish. Pheasant Tails in brown and olive are usually the best option for nymphs.

Beadhead Pheasant Tail Fly Pattern
Beadhead Pheasant Tail

While exact time and duration varies, the sulphur hatch on the Clinch typically starts in late morning and lasts for 4-6 hours a day, taking you right up to happy hour. Drifting Pheasant Tails will pass the time in the morning while you’re waiting for the main event to start.

Sulphurs are a big deal in the mountains, too. While they won’t come off in the obscene numbers found on the tailwaters, they are still one of the better hatches of the year. In the mountains, the hatch usually lasts 3-4 weeks and tends to be more of an evening event. Many nights, the sulphur hatch will correspond with the Little Yellow Sallies’ return to the water to lay eggs. This makes for a fast and furious end to the day for those willing to fish through supper.

Learn more about Smoky Mountain hatches and flies in my hatch guide.

Flies: The Great 8 (Must Have Trout Flies)

Parachute Adams Fly Pattern
Parachute Adams

With thousands of patterns available, choosing the perfect fly can prove to be a daunting task for any angler, particularly the beginner. However, unless you’re in a situation where trout are selectively feeding on a specific insect that is abundantly hatching, an assortment of well presented attractor patterns will be all you need to catch fish. Every fisherman has a list of favorite flies and over time you will find particular ones with which you are very confident. And that’s really the bottom line. If you have confidence in a fly, you will fish it better and ultimately have more success.

Below is a compilation of flies that seem to work everywhere and are on most fly angler’s list of favorites – a perfect place start your fly selection! Whether you call a fly shop in Tennessee, Montana, or New Zealand and ask for recommended flies for the area, somewhere on that list you will likely find most if not all of these patterns. These flies are also available as a packaged selection in the Fightmaster Fly Fishing online store.

Dry Flies

1) Parachute Adams: This is an absolute favorite trout fly. It doesn’t look exactly like anything but looks a lot like a lot of things! Carry them in sizes #12-#18 with the smaller versions being ideal for slow water and more finicky trout and the larger being best suited for choppier water where visibility is more important. The traditional grey body is preferred, but a yellow body also does well in the Smokies.

2) Elk Caddis: Another great dry fly, carry this one in sizes #12-#18 and with body colors of olive, tan, and yellow. The down wing on this pattern gives it a little different profile than the Adams and the combination of elk hair and hackle make this fly float like a cork.

3) Griffith’s Gnat: This is a great general purpose small fly. Fished most often in sizes #16-#20, it is a great imitation for adult midges, small mayflies or caddis, and even ants. Many of the most finicky, rising trout I catch are on a Griffith’s Gnat.

Nymphs

4) Pheasant Tail: An incredibly universal pattern that looks like almost every nymph you’ll find under a submerged rock. You’ll probably fish the bead head version the most. But, the traditional version provides a more realistic pattern that can more easily be fished in different levels of the water column. Carry both varieties in sizes #12-#18.

5) Hare’s Ear:  For the same reasons as the Pheasant Tail, carry bead head and traditional versions of this fly, and in the same sizes. The big difference in the two nymphs is the Hare’s Ear provides an option for a lighter colored nymph and it is a little “buggier” than the Pheasant Tail, providing more movement. Most tend to favor the traditional tan body color but an olive body is also very effective and versatile.

6) Prince Nymph: This fly gives you that all important peacock herl factor which trout seem to dig. The white colored goose biots on the back also seems to grab the attention of fish. I’m not sure if anyone knows exactly what it’s supposed to imitate but the bottom line is it works! A Zug Bug is a close cousin to the Prince and would likely make many anglers’ favorite fly list. The two are similar and you can’t go wrong with either. Carry them in sizes #8-#16.

7) Zebra Midge: This fly will cover most of your small nymph needs. It is a simple pattern but extremely effective. Best fished in tailwaters and slow pools in mountain streams, carry it in sizes #18-#22. Most tend to prefer the tungsten bead head versions with black, red, or olive bodies.

Streamers

8) Wooly Bugger: While there are numerous great streamers out there, only one made this list as a must have, probably because of its incredible versatility. The Wooly Bugger, carried in a variety of colors, can facilitate almost any streamer need. Carry them in black, olive, tan, and white in sizes #4-#10 and you have an effective imitation for small baitfish, leeches, and crayfish. In a pinch, you can even dead drift a Wooly Bugger as a pretty effective imitation for a stonefly nymph or hellgramite. Whether you choose bead or no bead, flash or no flash, you have a fly capable of catching most any kind of fish in any kind of water.

Learn more about Smoky Mountain hatches and flies in my hatch guide.

Flies: Little Yellow Sallies

Little Yellow Sally Adult
Yellow Sally Adult

April is one of the busiest months of the year for hatches and provides a smorgasbord of bugs for our finned friends. It’s also when we begin to see the change in color schemes on adult aquatic insects.

Aquatic insect adults are not only great sources of food for fish but also for birds. As a matter of fact, when you begin to see large numbers of swallows gather above the water and swooping down to the surface, get ready. The hatch is beginning. Once the bugs have safely made it off the water, nature helps take care of them with appropriate camouflage to blend in with streamside trees and vegetation.

In the winter and early spring, most of your aquatic insect adults are black, grey, or some other dark color. They can better blend in with the dark, bare branches around the water. As we get later into spring and things begin to bloom, you begin to see more light- colored insects, such as tan and yellow. By the time summer rolls around, almost all of the adult insects are brighter yellows and greens to blend in with the abundant vegetation. And in the fall, you see more bugs with reds and oranges. There are of course plenty of exceptions to this but it’s a good guideline to follow with fly selection if you don’t know exactly what’s hatching.

So, April is a transitional month for color. Early in the month, we’re seeing the tail end of some of the darker bugs like Quill Gordons and Blue Quills, and by the end of the month we’re starting to see yellow bugs like Sulphurs and Little Yellow Sallies.

Little Yellow Sally Fly Pattern
Egg Laying Imitation

Most of the hatches in the early part of the month are sparse and can be covered with generic flies like a Parachute Adams. The first hatch of significance in April is the Little Yellow Sally stonefly. It is one of the most prolific hatches in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, beginning usually around the third week of April and lasting well into July.

Unlike mayflies and caddisflies, stoneflies do not hatch in the water. Rather, the nymph will crawl out of the water onto a rock before hatching. Pay attention when you are on the water, and you’ll probably notice empty stonefly cases on exposed stream rocks. This means that the adult stonefly is not nearly as important to the fly fisherman. The adults aren’t as available to the trout. You should focus more on imitating stonefly nymphs. For dry flies, focus more on the stage when it returns to the stream to lay eggs. You’ll notice that many of the adult Sally imitations are tied with a red butt for that very reason. It imitates the egg laying stage.

Little Yellow Sally Nymph
Little Yellow Sally Nymph

Stoneflies are often large bugs but that isn’t the case with the Little Yellow Sally, as suggested by the name. These are commonly found in size #16 and are typically a very bright yellow, and sometimes chartreuse. They tend to hatch sporadically through the day and return to the water in the evening to lay eggs. Typically, the later in the hatch it is, the later in the day they will return to the water. In April, you may see them dive bombing the water to lay eggs in the early evening. In late June, that’s probably not going to happen until almost dark.

Neversink Caddis Fly Pattern
Neversink Caddis

There are a number of good imitations for the adult Yellow Sally. A yellow Neversink Caddis is one of my favorite “searching patterns.” For the nymph, you’ll want something tan to yellow in color. A small Tellico nymph or even a Hare’s Ear nymph should do the trick. And again, if you’re fishing when they’re laying eggs, something with a red butt can be very effective. Just plan to stay out late!

Learn more about Smoky Mountain hatches and flies in my hatch guide.

Keeping Your Dry Fly Floating High

Yellow Humpy Fly Pattern
A buoyant Humpy dry fly

Dry fly fishing in the Smokies is productive almost year round. Presenting a dry fly that rides high on the water, not only tends to produce more strikes, it is much easier for you to see. Here are a few tips to keep your fly floating high in the fast moving currents of the Smoky Mountains.

First off, if you don’t tie your own flies, be sure buy high quality dry flies. It can be tempting to find Internet companies or box stores that offer really cheap prices on flies. They are cheap for a reason. These dry flies often have less hackle and/or use a very low-grade hackle. They are simply not going to float as well. Bushy, heavily hackled flies will float the best, as will flies that utilize foam and/or deer hair. These are all great for most of the riffles and pocket water you encounter in the Smokies. However, if you’re fishing to slow water risers in a slick pool, you may want to use a more slender, low profile fly like a parachute or comparadun pattern.

Treat your flies before you fish them. There are a number of great products on the market that accomplish this and are generically referred to as fly floatant. The most common are silicone based and have a gel consistency. Just squeeze a drop on your finger and rub it into your fly. Orvis, Aquel, Loon and Gink are probably the most common brands. They’re all probably about the same but everyone seems to have their favorite. I use Orvis Hy-Flote.

Orvis Hy-Float Fly Foatant
Fly Floatant

Once you’ve selected your high quality dry fly and gooped it up with fly floatant, the worst thing you can do to it is catch a fish! They take it under water and slime it up to the point where it doesn’t want to float as well, especially after you catch 2 or 3 fish. When this happens, a mistake a lot of anglers make is to re-apply the same gel floatant they used to pre-treat the fly. However, you’re often just trapping moisture in to the fly at this point. You need to remove as much of the moisture from the fly as possible.

On bigger rivers such as tailwaters, your false cast can keep a lot of moisture out of the fly, even after several fish. But in places like the Smokies, frequent false casting is often not an option due to the tighter quarters. It’s also not advised because of the increased risk of spooking fish. There are a number of methods I use to dry a saturated fly in these environments.

Shimazaki Dry Shake
Dry Shake

One is to press the fly against an absorbent material. Amadou is a material sold at many fly shops that works great for this. You can carry a patch on your vest or pack and just squeeze the fly in it. Chamois cloth is another good option. If you’re in a pinch and don’t have either, just press the fly against your shirt. After employing this method, blow on your fly. Finally, consider carrying a second, powder based flotation product. These are desiccants, similar to what’s found in the small, “do not eat” pouches packaged with some clothing and electronics. Again, there are numerous brands. Frog’s Fanny is a favorite of many anglers. My favorite is Shimazaki Dry-Shake. It has a large-mouthed bottle that allows you to drop the fly in while still attached to the tippet. Close the lid, shake vigorously and remove. It will be floating like new.

The final tip for keeping that fly floating high is technique. What causes flies to get waterlogged more than anything else, especially with novice anglers, is drag. When your fly doesn’t drift naturally, and pulls against the current, you have drag. When you have drag, you won’t catch many fish. And your fly will become more waterlogged, requiring far more maintenance to keep it floating.

Think about what you’re doing. Instead of dragging the fly through the run 2 or 3 times before making a good drift, read the water. Identify the varied currents that will pull your line at a different speed than the fly and try to position yourself where you can eliminate them. If you can’t eliminate them through position, think about how, when, and which direction you’ll need to mend BEFORE you make the first cast. And pick your fly up when it reaches the end of the target area, rather than letting it drift (drag) into the fast shallow riffle at the bottom of the run.

Fishing a Smoky Mountain Brook Trout Stream
Keeping the line off the current lip at the rear of the pool provides a drag free drift through the sweet spot

Experienced anglers often do most of this instinctively, so it looks like they’re just casually moving around casting. The good ones always make it looks easy! If you’re newer to fly fishing or even if you’ve done it awhile but only get out a few times a year, it won’t be instinctive and you’ll have to think about it. This is just good advice, period. If you execute a good cast and drift in the right place the first time, you’ll not only keep your fly floating better, you’ll catch more fish!

Finally, on a similar note, carry your fly in your hand when you move from spot to spot. I see a lot of people who will let their fly drag behind them in the water as they wade up to the next pocket or run. If you do this, the best-case scenario is that you’re going to water-log your dry fly. More often than not, you’re also going to hang your fly up on every rock and stick in the river!

Flies: Rob’s Hellbender Dry

Rob's Hellbender Dry Fly Pattern
Rob’s Hellbender dry fly

As about anyone who knows me can tell you, I’m terrible at self-promotion. The worst. So it should come as no surprise that I’ve never featured one of my own patterns in the newsletter. Usually I opt for more standard or classic patterns. But this is a good fly and it’s good this time of the year, so here you go!

I started tying this one probably 4 or 5 years ago, and if you’ve fished with me in the summertime or fall, you’ve probably fished with it at some point. Heck, you might have even caught a fish on it. It started as most fly patterns do for me, as a modification to an existing pattern. If you’re not a fly tyer or maybe if you’re new to it, you may not realize that fly tying is a lot like cooking. You can make up a recipe totally out of your head. You can follow an existing recipe step by step. Or you can take an existing recipe and modify it to better suit your taste. I’ve done all of the above over the years.

Just before this pattern was born, I was having success with a fly called a Neversink Caddis, a great little foam pattern named for the Neversink River in New York. But I got to thinking about a yellow foam body fly with a little flash. So I tied a Neversink Caddis with a little Krystal Flash under the wing. Then I thought about how great it would be to have a yellow foam body fly with a little flash and some rubber legs. So I tied a Neversink Caddis with a little Krystal Flash under the wing and rubber legs on the side. Then I started thinking about how well it might work if it was still buoyant, but rode a little flatter on the surface. You get the idea.

There comes a point where you change so many things about a chili recipe that it’s no longer chili. And after the fourth or fifth modification on this fly, it was no longer a Neversink Caddis. It was it’s own fly and it was catching fish. A lot of them. I was fairly quiet about it but had more than a few guide clients that started asking for the fly at Little River Outfitters, and it wasn’t long before Daniel asked me to tie some for the shop.

Rob's Hellbender Dry Fly Pattern
Bottom View

I’ve done some commercial tying in the past and it’s a grind – a whole lot of work for not much money. I remember when I first started fly fishing, I’d go to a fly shop and say, “Seriously? They charge $2 for one of these?!?” After I began tying commercially, tying hundreds of dozens of flies, I remember saying, “Seriously? They onlycharge $2 for one of these?!?” Needless to say, I wasn’t jumping at the chance to get back into the commercial tying game.

So I went a different route and submitted it and another nymph pattern to a large fly distributor. If accepted, you send samples with tying instructions, they mass-produce them, and you collect a royalty for each dozen sold. Pretty neat. It doesn’t add up to much but I collect a check at the end of each year that’s enough to take my wife to a nice dinner. I have other original patterns that I keep intending to submit but never seem to get around to it. Maybe this winter.

So that’s how the fly came to be. It’s a good fly pretty much anytime between late April and early November, but I like it best in the late summer and early fall when the water is low. In low or flat water, high-riding, bushy flies get refused a lot, and I have trouble keeping more sparsely dressed flies afloat. But Rob’s Hellbender floats great, sits lower and flatter on the surface and seems to produce strikes when its high-riding counterparts fail.

It falls under the attractor category, as it doesn’t really imitate anything in particular. I’m sure it mostly gets taken as a stonefly or hopper. Either way, they eat it and you need some. If you want to tie it, the recipe is below.  Or better yet, buy a bunch at Little River Outfitters so I can take my wife out to dinner.

Rob’s Hellbender Dry
Hook: 2xl dry fly hook #14 – 10
Thread: 8/0 yellow
Underbody and rib: Thread
Body and Head: Yellow 2mm foam (tan, chartreuse, & orange work well, too)
Underwing: Pearl Krystal Flash
Wing: Deer hair
Hackle: Brown rooster
Legs: Tan barred Sili-Legs

Learn more about Smoky Mountain hatches and flies in my hatch guide.

Flies: Quill Gordon Hatch

March is the month when trout fishing in the Smokies officially kicks off. Days are getting a little longer, temperatures are getting a little warmer and water temperatures are on the rise. It’s also the month when we begin to see our first good hatches of the year.

Aquatic insects from Early Black Stones to Blue Wing Olives to a variety of midges will hatch all winter, but trout rarely pay much attention to them as water temperatures are typically too cold for active feeding (read Understanding Water Temeratures for more info). But in March, that begins to change. And if you pay attention to water temperature, you just might catch one of the best hatches of the year.

Quill Gordon Fly Pattern
Traditional Quill Gordon

Quill Gordons are fairly large mayflies, between a #14-10 hook size, that begin to hatch when the water temperature reaches 50-degrees for a significant part of the day, for a few days in a row. In unusually warm years, they’ve hatched as early as mid February. In particularly cool years, they may not hatch until April. But most years on the lower elevation streams in the Smokies, this occurs about the third week of March.

In any case, it’s a tricky hatch to catch and really just a tricky month to fish if you don’t live here where you can pick your days. Weather can change in the blink of an eye in March and one major cold front or one big, river blowing rain can make all the difference in your success. I’ve had some of my absolute best days in March and I’ve had some of my worst.

So, why even fool with it? Why not just wait until April when things are more stable? Because some of those “best days” were really, really good! The Quill Gordon hatch is not just worthwhile because of the number of bugs or the size of the bugs. It tends to happen at the exact same time wild mountain trout begin actively feeding. Many of these trout, including the large browns, have had very little to eat in the last 2-3 months and they tend to be a little less cautious. And when a size #12 Quill Gordon comes drifting down the lane, well, it’s pretty hard to resist!

Brown trout exceeding 20” don’t get caught very often in the Smokies, period. Even fewer are caught on dry flies. I’ve been fortunate to catch a fair number of large browns on dry flies in the Smokies, and probably 99% of them have come during the Quill Gordon hatch. Though it’s certainly a gamble, THAT is why it’s worth coming in March!

Quill Gordon Nymph
Quill Gordon nymph

The good thing about the hatch is once it starts, it usually doesn’t stop. So, if the hatch gets started on say, 3/21, they’ll keep hatching every day even if you get a significant cold front on 3/25. While such a cold front may not impact the hatch, it still might impact the way the trout feed. They may be more reluctant to come to the surface. What many people forget, is that for all the bug activity on the surface during a hatch, there is just as much, if not more, activity under the surface with nymphs preparing to hatch. Drifting a greyish olive nymph below the surface can also be very productive during this hatch, especially in colder water

Most years the hatch lasts 2-3 weeks. It’s usually at its best during the warmest part of the day. In March, that’s typically about 11am to 4pm so rearranging your lunch plans is not a bad idea.

The best place to be during the hatch is in a larger pool near the head and middle of the run. Contrary to most scenarios in the Smokies, these large pools may require longer casts and more mending. The fish may be more aggressive but they still won’t tolerate a bad drift!

Learn more about Smoky Mountain hatches and flies in my hatch guide.

Flies: Quigley Cripple

Quigley Cripple Fly Pattern
Quigley Cripple

Okay, so it’s not exactly the most politically correct name for a fly pattern. Maybe the Quigley Emergently Challenged Mayfly would be a better choice? Nevertheless, as teased in the newsletter text, it has been a “hatch buster” for me since probably the early 90’s. The fly has been around a little longer than that, devised by Bob Quigley in the late 1970’s.

What do I mean by hatch buster? Some hatches of aquatic insects can get so heavy and last for such long periods of time that trout become ultra selective on the flies they eat. They just have so many of the naturals available. Your fly, no matter how precise an imitation, can get lost in the mix. We have few hatches of that magnitude in this area. When we do, it’s usually a sulphur mayfly. They can come off fairly heavily in the mountains in May, particularly late in the day. We also see significant hatches of them on area tailwaters, particularly the Clinch and South Holston. On the Clinch, it’s usually from late April through early July. On the South Holston, they come off nearly nine months out of the year!

The Quigley Cripple looks a bit of a mess, but that’s kind of what it’s supposed to look like. During the emergence process, there’s a period of time when the adult mayfly is attempting to break free of its nymphal shuck. It usually occurs right in the surface film and it usually only takes a couple of seconds. However, this is a highly vulnerable couple of seconds. You can’t run with your pants down! Sometimes they’ll get stuck in this stage even longer, particularly on damp or even overcast days.

In either case, trout will often key in on the insects that are in this stage as they are such easy targets. In many cases during a heavy hatch, you’ll find trout that feed exclusively on bugs in this stage, ignoring adults and nymphs. Needless to say, if you don’t have a fly that imitates this, you could be missing out on a lot of trout!

There are a number of patterns that are intended to represent this stage of a mayfly’s life, but I have had more success with the Quigley than any other. The brown tail and “abdomen” of the fly suggest the case of the nymph while the yellow “thorax” suggests the adult half out of the case. The deer hair and hackle represent the wings and legs of the struggling adult.

It sits pretty low in the surface film. As a matter of fact, I often apply floatant to only the thorax and wing so that the fly will rest sort of half above and half below the surface film. Because it sits so low, it can be a little difficult to see. My favorite way to fish it is as a dropper, about 18” behind a more visible parachute or comparadun dry fly pattern. Having the higher riding dry fly as reference allows me to better see the cripple. Even when I can’t see it, if I see a trout rise within 18” of my dry fly, I assume he’s hitting the cripple and set the hook. Great fly, give it a try!

Learn more about Smoky Mountain hatches and flies in my hatch guide.

Quigley Cripple

Hook: TMC 100 (or equivalent) #16-18
Thread: 8/0 pale yellow
Tail: Rusty brown antron
Abdomen: Rusty brown antron
Rib: Fine copper wire
Thorax: Sulphur dry fly dubbing
Wing: Coastal deer hair
Hackle: Light to medium dun

Flies: Madame X

Madame X Fly Pattern
Madame X

A good fly pattern is a good fly pattern. And while many good fly patterns, for one reason or another, may fall from popularity, it’s not because they stop catching fish. They just stop catching fishermen. The Madame X certainly fits that description. It had tremendous popularity twenty years ago but is rarely mentioned today.

I became reacquainted with this fly about a month ago on a rare day off. I was fishing upper Little River with a couple of old friends. There was a nice stretch of pocket water that had a few pools mixed in and I was having moderate success when I noticed a large (about a size #8) golden stonefly in the air. These primarily hatch at night but there are always a few holdovers. They’re such a big meal, I think trout are often still looking for them the next morning. So, sometimes their imitations can still work well, even when they’re not hatching.

When I began searching my box, I came across a few Madame X’s that had probably been in my box, unfished, for about 15 years. They fit the size and color profile I was looking for. And sometimes I just enjoy going retro. I enjoy fishing forgotten flies from days gone by. I figured at the very least, a big stonefly imitation would be a great, buoyant dry fly to fish with a nymph dropper. So, I dropped a little Pheasant Tail variation about 15” off the back, expecting it to account for any fish caught.

On the first cast into the first pocket, a fish exploded on the #8 Madame X! It surprised me and I missed the strike. On the second cast, the fish hit it again and I was ready that time – a solid 10” rainbow. This continued in nearly every pocket of water I fished. I caught dozens of chunky rainbows and probably 80% of them came on the big Madame X.

Doug Swisher originated this pattern in the 1980’s as sort of a multi-purpose attractor pattern for his local waters in Montana. Most believe it represents a large stonefly adult or hopper. Over the years, it was frequently modified in size and/or color to represent a number of large bugs. Somehow it fell off the radar after the mid to late 90’s. Many fly tiers began using foam for large flies around that time. I suspect the Madame X just fell out of style.

I’m here to tell you that there are plenty of trout that still think it’s cool. I have been fishing it a little more regularly lately. I don’t know if the trout take it as a stonefly or a hopper, and I honestly don’t care. They take it! I fish it mainly with a yellow body but I’m sure other colors would work. And I fish it mainly in sizes #12 through #8.

Learn more about Smoky Mountain hatches and flies in my hatch guide.