Rob’s Steroid Sally

Rob's Steroid Sally
Steroid Sally Top

Little Yellow Sally stoneflies are one of the most prolific hatches in the Smoky Mountains. Most years, we begin seeing the first ones around mid April and they tend to hang around until sometime in July. They’re small, dainty and bright, usually a bright yellow to sometimes chartreuse color.

For years I tied and fished very exact imitations of these bugs, and I still do on more heavily fished rivers where fish seem to be a little pickier.  But those smaller, more delicate versions are harder to see on the water and they have a tendency to sink in faster currents. Both of those features can spell trouble, or at least frustration, when guiding a beginner angler.

Yellow Sally
Little Yellow Sally

As a fisherman and especially as a guide, I like simplicity and versatility. The more variables I can remove from a situation (like a sinking dry fly), the better I can put clients in a position for success. Additionally, in many of the backcountry streams in the Smokies, the fish are not overly particular on fly patterns. Not spooking them and getting a good drift will usually produce strikes more than fly pattern. But if you can have a fly that is at least in the same ballpark of color, profile and/or size as the naturals, you’ll stack the deck even more in your favor.

So a few years ago, I began creating a fly that would be highly visible, extremely buoyant, durable and at least vaguely suggesting a Yellow Sally. I ended up with a beefy foam bug about two sizes bigger than a typical Yellow Sally – hence the name “Steroid Sally.” And if I’m being totally honest, I designed it more as something to support a dropper nymph than a dry fly to cast to rising trout. It would basically be an edible strike indicator.  But you guessed it… the trout loved it.

Rob's Steroid Sally
Steroid Sally Profile

Though no dry fly is totally unsinkable, this one is probably the closest I’ve found, at least in the smaller, trout fly category. It has become a go-to dry fly for me from late spring through early fall. And while yellow is still my favorite color, variations in orange, tan and lime green have also been very productive.

It has quickly become the most frequently requested fly for the custom tying orders I do in the winter.  Give me a shout if you want some or check out the recipe below if you want to tie some for yourself.

Rob’s Steroid Sally

  • Hook: 3XL Dry Fly #12
  • Thread: 8/0 Yellow
  • Lower Body & Head: 2mm yellow foam
  • Top Body: 2mm lime green foam
  • Wing: Yellow floating poly-yarn
  • Legs: Small round rubber, yellow

Rob’s PT Tellico

Rob’s PT Tellico

This is one of those flies I usually keep to myself but you caught me in a moment of weakness this month. There’s nothing too special about it. However, it catches fish almost anytime of the year, it’s durable and it’s simple to tie. I suppose those traits make it special, at least to me. Guides go through a lot of flies and consequently, want something that consistently produces and can be mass-produced in a short amount of time.

Like most of my original fly patterns, this one is a variation of another pattern. Actually, this variation is a hybrid of two well-known fly patterns. The “PT” in its name stands for “Pheasant Tail.” So, it’s essentially a combination of a Tellico Nymph and a Pheasant Tail Nymph, stripped down to its bare, fish catching essentials. I tie it sparse so that it sinks quickly. Also, I use a micro jig hook to ride hook up, and reduce bottom snags.

I suppose it could imitate a number of different nymphs but I had the smaller stonefly nymphs in mind when I designed it. These Southern Appalachian streams are full of small and large stonefly nymphs but it seems that most stonefly patterns are designed to imitate the big ones. With the Little Yellow Sally stonefly hatch being one of the most prolific of the year, I was always surprised that there were so few patterns available to imitate the nymphs.

The yellow body combined with the pheasant tail accents seemed the perfect color combination, and it has just enough added flash to suggest movement. It works great as a dropper off a buoyant dry fly, yet, is equally effective drifted under a strike indicator or straight lined with what the kids today call Euro-nymphing. Whip a few up for yourself or feel free to contact me for a custom order.

Rob’s PT Tellico Nymph

  • Hook: Orvis 1P2A (or equivalent) #18 – 14
  • Bead: Black slotted tungsten, sized to match hook
  • Bead Stabilizer: 8 turns of .010 non-toxic fly wire
  • Thread: 8/0 brown
  • Tail and Rib: 4-6 pheasant tail fibers
  • Counter Rib: Small yellow copper wire
  • Body: Yellow floss
  • Thorax: Pheasant Tail Ice Dub

Flies: Soft Hackle Wired Caddis

Soft Hackle Wired Caddis Fly Pattern
Soft Hackle Wired Caddis

Caddis have always seemed to be one of the most overlooked and under-imitated aquatic insects in the fly fishing world.  Maybe it’s because they haven’t written about caddis as much as their sexier mayfly cousins over the years.  I mean, they gave mayflies names like Pale Morning Dun, Quill Gordon, and Gray Fox… just to name a few.  They gave caddis names like Green Caddis, Brown Caddis, Black Caddis…

Caddis Larva
Caddis Larva

Regardless of the lack of respect given to caddis over the years, they have always been and continue to be abundant in nearly every body of freshwater and a staple in the diet of trout everywhere.  I have numerous caddis patterns that I fish seasonally in the Smokies, but one that finds its way into the line-up more than any other is the Soft Hackle Wired Caddis.

There have been a number of wire body caddis patterns over the years and this is simply my variation on similar recipes.  I sometimes tie it without a bead, but most often with a black tungsten bead at the head. It fishes well on a dead drift under a strike indicator but, especially when caddis are emerging, can be very effective fished with a drift and swing method.  Learn more about this method and other similar techniques in this article on Active Nymphing.

Soft Hackle Wired Caddis

Hook:#18 – 12 TMC 2457 (or equivalent)
Bead:Black tungsten to match hook size
Body:Small chartreuse wire*
Back:Peacock herl woven between wire wraps
Thorax:Black or brown Wapsi Life Cycle dubbing*
Hackle:Black or brown hen*

*You can substitute other colors to match specific caddis species

Flies: Tellico Nymph

Blackburn Tellico Nymph Fly Pattern
Blackburn Tellico

My friend Walter Babb said that most people’s favorite fly is the fly they happened to have on the first day the fishing was really good.  The implication of his statement is that more often than not, it’s the archer, not the arrow.  When you present it well and the fish are feeding, it probably doesn’t matter what your fly is.  And if the fish aren’t feeding?  It probably doesn’t matter what fly you have on!

But you had that fly on the first day the fishing was good. Now you have confidence in it.  Now you tie it on first and leave it on longer.  I have countless fly patterns that I abandoned because they didn’t catch fish the first time I tried them. All too often, that first time was after I tried everything else.  Nothing was working that day!

With all of that said, I have, by far, caught more big brown trout in the Smokies on a Tellico Nymph than any other fly.  But, you guessed it… the first big brown trout I caught in the Smokies was on a Tellico Nymph.  I have confidence in it.  And since most of the big browns I caught over the years were either spotted first or caught during “favorable brown trout conditions,” I put a Tellico on in anticipation.  So, it’s a bit deceiving.  Who is to say I wouldn’t have caught those fish on a Prince Nymph had I chosen to tie one on?

Nevertheless, the Tellico Nymph is a good fly and it’s been around a long time.  Its exact origins are unclear, though most think it was obviously created and first fished on the Tellico River in East Tennessee.  It has definitely been around since the 1940’s, but some estimate that it may date back to the turn of the 20thcentury.  In any case, the Tellico Nymph is the most famous fly from this region. It still accounts for fish in the Smokies and all over the world.

In addition to its origin, there is some confusion as to what the fly imitates.  Many contend that it represents a caddis larva.  Others are just as certain it imitates a mayfly nymph.  To me, there is absolutely no doubt that it represents a golden stonefly nymph.  The coloration and size are consistent with that of a golden stone, and the Tellico River is known for its abundance of these nymphs.

As with any popular fly that has been around for this long, there have been a number of variations on the pattern over the years.  Rick Blackburn devised personal favorite.  I tie most in size #10.

Blackburn’s Tellico

Hook:3XL nymph hook #12 – 6
Thread:Dark brown 6/0
Weight:.015 to .035 lead wire (depending on hook size)
Tail:Mink fibers (I often use moose as a substitute)
Rib:Gold wire and 2-3 strands of peacock herl
Wing Case:Section of turkey tail – lacquered
Body:Wapsi Stonefly Gold Life Cycle dubbing
Hackle:Brown Chinese neck hackle, palmered through thorax

Flies: Parachute Adams

Parachute Adams Fly Pattern
Parachute Adams

I was shocked when I realized that I had never included an article about the Parachute Adams in this newsletter.  Not only is it one of the best dry flies in the Smoky Mountains, it is arguably the best dry fly for trout in the world.  It doesn’t imitate anything in particular but just has a buggy look. Therefore, it serves as a great “generic” mayfly imitation.  In a pinch, it could also pass for a number of caddis and midges.

Adams Dry Fly Pattern
Traditional “Catskill style” Adams dry fly

It is derived from the original Adams dry fly.  A parachute pattern is merely a method of tying a dry fly.  While traditional mayfly patterns had two upright and divided wings, with a hackle wound around the hook vertically; a parachute pattern has a single post with the hackle wound horizontally around that post.  Because the post is typically white or some other bright color like pink or orange, the angler can better see the fly on the water.  Additionally, with a hackle wound horizontally around the post, the fly rides flatter on the water with a more realistic profile.

The original fly has been around for nearly 100 years.  In 1922, Leonard Halladay, a Michigan fly tyer conceived the Adams as a general mayfly imitation. It was first fished by an Ohio attorney and friend of Halladay, Charles F. Adams on the Boardman River near Traverse City, Michigan. Charles Adams reported his success with the fly to Halladay who decided to name the fly after his friend.  While it is unclear exactly when the Adams got the “parachute treatment,” parachute style flies began gaining popularity in the U.S. in 1971 when Swisher and Richards published the book, Selective Trout, and advocated the advantage of dry flies that rode flush on the water.  One would assume that the parachute version of the Adams was born somewhere in that timeframe.

Since then, it has seen numerous  variations in the body color, post material, post color and more.  While many of these variations have been highly successful, it’s still tough to beat the traditional pattern.  Below is the recipe for the traditional version.

Parachute Adams

Hook: TMC 100 (or equivalent) sizes #10 – #26
Thread: 8/0 black
Tail: Even mix of brown and grizzly hackle fibers
Body: Natural muskrat fur (or and modern dry fly dubbing in Adams Grey)
Post: White calf hair (synthetics such as floating poly yarn also work well)
Hackle: One grizzly and one brown rooster hackle, sized to match hook

Flies: Borger’s Fleeing Crayfish

Borger's Fleeing Crayfish Fly Pattern.
Borger’s Fleeing Crayfish

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

Flies: Egan’s Headstand

Egan's Headstand Fly Pattern
Egan’s Headstand

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!

Egan’s Headstand

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.

Flies: Stimulator

Yellow Stimulator Fly Pattern
Yellow Stimulator

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!

Stimulators Punk Rock Band
Punk rock shaping the fly fishing world

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.

Golden Stonefly Adult
Golden Stonefly

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.

Yellow Stimulator
Hook: Daiichi 1270 #16 – #10
Thread: 8/0 orange
Tail: Stacked elk hair
Abdomen: Yellow floss
Abdomen Hackle: Brown rooster neck – palmered
Wing: Stacked elk hair
Thorax: Bright orange dubbing
Thorax Hackle: Grizzly rooster neck – palmered

Learn more about Southern Appalachian fly patterns and hatches in my Hatch Guide.

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: Humphreys’ Caddis Pupa

Humphreys Caddis Pupa
Humphreys Caddis Pupa

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.

Caddis Pupa
Natural 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