Know Your Pattern: H and L Variant

H and L Variant is a new fly. At least to me. I picked up the fly several weeks ago at a fly shop near Winter Park, Colorado. Frankly, I had not even heard of the H and L Variant until a friend put me on to it. Shows what I know.

H and L Variant

The H and L Variant is no new fly, of course. Here is a snapshot of this oldie but goodie:

1. How it originated

I cannot verify this, but R.C. Coffman (a western Colorado fly fisher) ostensibly tied the first H and L Variant. He apparently sold so many of the fly in the mid-to-late 1950s to President Eisenhower that he (Coffman) said he was able to buy a “house and a lot” (thus the “H” and “L”) on the Fryingpan River in Colorado.

Sounds apocryphal to me.

Using today’s math and valuations, Coffman would have likely had to sell $100,000 worth of $2 flies to buy even a small piece of real estate along the Fryingpan River.

I bet that Coffman was a really good story-teller. He certainly created a fly for the ages.

2. How is it designed?

I am certainly no fly-tying expert but when I saw the H and L Variant for the first time, it reminded me of the Royal Coachman chassis. Like the Royal Coachman dry fly, the H and L Variant has calf-tail wings and a body of peacock herl. According to Skip Morris, the H and L Variant body is created by partially stripping a peacock quill and wrapping it so “the bare quill forms the rear half of the body and the fiber-covered quill the front half.”

The other distinguishing feature is its calf-tail-hair tail, which along with its calf-tail-hair wings, gives it its buoyancy.

3. Why it works

The H and L Variant is what is known as a “rough water” fly.

That is, as one writer put it, “this fly floats like a cork.” It sits nice and high in swift-moving current and stays dry. I also love the fly’s visibility in low light. One writer called its calf-hair wings and tail “white beacons.” They are. And my middle-aged eyes appreciate it!

I should state the obvious: the H and L Variant is an attractor pattern, generally, though I did see at least one fly fisher mention that he uses the fly as a Green Drake imitation on western rivers, such as the Roaring Fork and Colorado.

4. When to use it

I’ve made the H and L Variant one of my go-to attractor patterns when I want to surface evening risers. I did that recently on the Fall River in Rocky Mountain National Park. I had caught several brook trout on Caddis emergers but not on a dry fly Caddis or a Purple Haze pattern, two of my favorites. Stumped, I tied on the H and L Variant, and within ten minutes I had my first brookie on a dry fly.

The H and L Variant is more visible (at least it is to me) than any other attractor pattern. So, if you are fishing small, swift-moving streams or rough water, this is the fly.

The H and L Variant Name

I do not mean any disrespect to Mr. Coffman, but name H and L Variant is just about the most clunky name for a fly that I can imagine. But I tip my hat to him for creating a dry fly classic with a rich legacy and a bright future.

Other Flies in the “Know Your Pattern” Series

    The Royal Coachman

    The San Juan Worm

    The Parachute Adams

The Glacier Park Grizzly Attacks that Changed Our Relationship with Bears

Glacier Park grizzly attacks are, today, not exceptionally rare. But they were 50 years ago, when an unimaginable night of terror unfolded in Montana’s Glacier National Park. Shortly after midnight on August 13, 1967, a grizzly bear dragged a 19-year old woman, Julie Helgeson, from her sleeping bag and mauled her. She died four hours later at 4:12 a.m. This was the first fatality from a bear attack since the park officially opened in 1910. Then, less than a half hour later, it happened again.

night of the grizzlies

Eight miles away, as the crow flies, around 4:30 a.m., another Glacier grizzly dragged another 19-year old woman, Michelle Koons, from her sleeping bag to her death. Two separate grizzly attacks. Two dead. Same night.

Jack Olsen, at the time a senior editor for Sports Illustrated, provided the definitive account of this double-tragedy in his 1969 book, “Night of the Grizzlies.” In 2010, Montana PBS aired a documentary titled Glacier Park’s Night of the Grizzlies, which featured interviews with living survivors of the attack, as well as park officials and hikers involved in the events of that fateful night.

The fiftieth anniversary of the night of the grizzlies reminds us of the fragile relationship we have with the wild places — whether we’re fly fishers, hunters, hikers, photographers, or mountain-bikers.

Necessary Fear

Granite Park Chalet sits just below timberline at the hub of several back-country trails. It provides a breath-taking panoramic view of ice-capped mountains. But in the mid-1960s, hikers trekked to the chalet to view grizzly bears. The grizzlies were nightly visitors due to a long-standing practice by chalet staff members. They dumped garbage and leftover food at a site about two-hundred yards from the building.

Granite Park Chalet was full at sunset on Saturday, August, 12. So hikers Roy Ducat, 18, and Julie Helgeson, 19, headed to a spot about five-hundred yards from the building. Shortly after midnight, Roy heard Julie whisper, “Play dead.” Suddenly, a blow from a grizzly bear paw knocked him five feet away. The bear began biting into his right shoulder. Then it left him and began tearing away at Julie’s body, eventually dragging her down the dark flank of the mountain where rescuers later found her.

They carried her to Granite Park Chalet, but she died after doctors staying at the chalet tried to save her life.

Eight crow-flight miles to the southwest on the other side of a majestic mountain peak, Trout Lake had its own garbage problem. Hikers left behind their trash and unused food, so bears treated the area like a feeding ground. In the summer of 1967, one underfed, underweight grizzly in the area had been terrorizing campers–including a girl scout troop.

When Michelle Koons, 19, and four other friends arrived at Trout Lake late in the afternoon of Saturday, August 12, it did not take the grizzly long to appear. The bear walked into camp and stole food as the campers ran along the lake shore to get out of its way. The group debated hiking out, but it was late in the day. So they pitched a new campsite along the lake shore, built a bonfire, and tried to settle in for the night. The bear returned briefly around 2:00 a.m. and snatched a package of cookies left on a log. Then shortly after 4:30 a.m., it returned and attacked the campers. Four of them escaped to climb nearby trees.

Michelle Koons did not. She screamed when the bear approached her. She struggled to unzip her sleeping bag, but the zipper stuck. The bear dragged her away and mutilated her.

“The incidents that night were the catalyst for the move into a whole new era of grizzly bear management,” recalls Jack Potter, Chief of Science and Resources Management in Glacier National Park.

“We could no longer stand by and either actively feed or allow garbage to be left out for grizzly bears.”

Bert Gildart, a former park ranger in Glacier, remembers flying into Trout Lake a few weeks after the fatal attack to pick up garbage. He and another ranger loaded about seventeen burlap sacks of garbage onto a Huey helicopter. It was garbage campers had left behind.

Thankfully, the policies implemented in both Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks following the “night of the grizzlies” have limited grizzly attacks mainly to surprise encounters rather than predatory aggression. No longer do grizzlies scavenge food out of garbage dumps. Gone are the grizzles that became habituated and lost their fear of human beings.

Role of Humans

In 1975, grizzly bears were classified as a “threatened species” under the 1973 Endangered Species Act. The most recent estimates from the National Park Service show a population increase among grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem from 136 in 1975 to 757 in 2014. This has been followed by a decline to 690 bears in 2016. However, the stable number of females producing cubs in Yellowstone suggests that the park may have reached the “ecological carrying capacity” for grizzlies.

So what should outdoor enthusiasts do to help manage grizzly bears and their habitat? Packing out trash and keeping clean campsites is a great place to start. Giving grizzlies their space is another. They are crowded as it is.

“The most distant place in the lower 48 states from the nearest road is 23 miles,” says Douglas Chadwick, a Wildlife Biologist and Conservationist, “which would take a bear a morning to walk out of. There is no big wild left out there. These guys are going to have to learn to live with us, which I think they are doing.”

We need to learn to live with grizzlies, too.

I still shudder when I recall a group of tourists in Yellowstone a few years ago standing outside their vehicles — with their young children — about sixty yards from a grizzly. My children were not happy when I refused to let them get out and join the crowd of onlookers. I still remember making eye contact with a park ranger who was on patrol. He returned my glance with a shrug and a look which seemed to communicate, “I’m not happy about this either, but there’s not much I can do.”

This kind of behavior puts grizzlies at risk just as much as it puts humans at risk.

According to the National Park Service, “There were 58 known and probable grizzly bear mortalities in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in 2016. Thirty-eight were attributed to human causes. Four were of undetermined cause, 4 were natural deaths, and 14 [are] still under investigation.”

There are, of course, more complex issues related to grizzly bear management. Within the last few weeks, the Yellowstone grizzly bear has been delisted from its status as a “threatened species” under the Endangered Species Act. Some outdoor enthusiasts celebrate this. Others are outraged. There are good people (and arguments) on both sides. We must continue to listen to each other and work together to insure management practices which will allow grizzlies and humans to co-exist.

No Danger Free Zone

On June 29, 2016, in Glacier National Park, Brad Treat, a U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer, rounded a blind curve on his mountain bike at about 20-25 miles per hour and ran into a grizzly. The surprise encounter resulted in the grizzly mauling and killing Treat.

No amount of management can make the wilds a danger-free zone.

Last fall, my podcast partner, Dave Goetz, and I fly fished a couple days in Yellowstone National Park. One morning, we came across a fresh set of grizzly bear tracks. Thankfully, we had no bear encounter. But a week later, two fly fishers a few miles from where we were was fishing stumbled into a grizzly bear and narrowly escaped when it charged them.

Whenever I fly fish in grizzly bear country in Montana and Wyoming, I follow the standard safety protocol. I make noise, pack out my garbage, avoid going alone, and always carry bear spray. I did the same when I lived in Montana for two decades and hiked and bow-hunted elk in the mountains north of Yellowstone National Park.

Mountain bikers are, perhaps, more vulnerable to surprise encounters due to the high rate of speed at which they can approach a grizzly. Chris Servheen, who served on the board that reviewed the tragic death of Brad Treat, cautions mountain bikers to take it slow when their sight-distance is limited. He offers this advice to mountain bikers in grizzly country:

    When the trail is thick with vegetation or has curves, we recommend you slow down and shout when approaching blind curves. Speed and noise are the factors that get people when they’re out on their bikes. They’re moving faster and quieter.”

Some outdoor enthusiasts prefer carrying a .44 magnum to a canister of bear spray. Of course, firearm use is prohibited in Glacier or Yellowstone National Parks. But even in national forests or private land where firearm use is legal, I’ll take a canister of bear spray over a sidearm every time.

First, while its effects are temporary, bear spray usually incapacitates a grizzly instantly. Even a bear shot in the vital organs can keep coming.

Second, bear spray is the only safe way to get a grizzly off of a human being during an attack. Several years ago, I bow-hunted elk with a friend in Taylor Fork, a grizzly-dense drainage just north of Yellowstone National Park. We saw a lot of grizzly sign—both scat and overturned logs and rocks—but never encountered a bear.

The following fall, my friend was hunting the same area with an orthopedic surgeon when a grizzly charged them. The bear attacked the surgeon, eventually breaking his fibula, ripping gashes in his thigh and arm, and tearing off his ear. My friend charged the bear and shot it with a cloud of bear spray. Thankfully, the sow and her cubs took off running.

There was no way my friend could have attempted a shot at the grizzly without the risk of shooting the surgeon he was trying to protect.

Finally, the goal is to rescue a human from being mauled — not to destroy a bear.

There is no reason to eliminate a grizzly that attacks in self-defense. Defensive attacks, unlike predatory attacks, like those on the night of the grizzlies do not increase the likelihood that the bear will attack again. The grizzly which killed Brad Treat a year ago did not consume any part of its victim’s body. Nor did it attempt to cache the body by covering it with dirt or rocks. Unlike the “garbage bears” of the 1960s, this grizzly disappeared and has not been developed a pattern of bothering hikers or mountain bikers.

Life after the Night of the Grizzlies

Today, about 1500 grizzly bears roam in the lower 48 states. Well, they don’t actually roam any longer. They are confined to particular areas in the intermountain west. About 800 grizzlies live in Montana, including 300 or so in Glacier National Park. Another 600 members of the Ursus arctos horribilis subspecies live in Wyoming in the Yellowstone-Teton area. The combined number of grizzlies in Montana and Wyoming includes the 690 in Yellowstone National Park. An additional 100 grizzlies live in northern and eastern Idaho.

Over forty years after the “night of the grizzlies” in Glacier National Park, the father of victim Michelle Koons expressed no ill will towards grizzly bears. In fact, he expressed sympathy for them. In an interview, he said: “I always would think about what civilization has done to bears, forcing them to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do.”

Survival of both grizzlies and humans means learning to adapt and keep at a healthy distance from the other species. The grizzlies are learning to do this. Humans must continue to do so as well.

7 Basic Facts about Mayflies

I don’t always think about mayflies. But when I do, I usually catch more trout.

mayflies

Here are 7 things you need to know about Ephemeroptera — the insect order popularly known as mayflies. I’ve learned these from my friend, Bob Granger, and from the writings of Dave Hughes and Jim Schollmeyer. The insights have made me a better fly fisher:

1. All but one or two days of a mayfly’s 365-day life span is spent underwater.

This is the nymph stage. No wonder 85% of a trout’s diet comes from beneath the surface. It’s why fishing nymphs is almost always a sure bet.

2. Most mayflies hatch at mid-day.

This means that 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. is prime time — depending, of course, on wind and water temperature. Overcast, cool days are ideal, especially for Baetis flies and Blue-Winged Olives (BWOs).

3. Mayfly duns ride the surface until their upright wings are dry and hardened for flight.

Duns are the first of two adult forms of the mayfly. Their ride through the current typically lasts for ten to twenty feet. Obviously, this makes the duns vulnerable to rising trout. And these rising trout are vulnerable to your mayfly imitation.

4. If rising trout ignore the mayfly duns on the surface, they are feeding on emergers.

The emerger stage is the brief transition between the nymph stage and the dun stage. The child becomes an adult when the skin splits along the back of the nymph and the winged dun escapes. Wise anglers will put on an emerger pattern in these moments.

5. Once duns turn into spinners, they mate in the air and the females deposit their eggs.

At this point, the females are spent and fall to the water. This creates a “spinner fall” — another opportunity for a trout feeding frenzy. Anglers who see mayflies with flat wings like an airplane rather than with wings sticking up should switch to a spinner pattern.

6. Mayflies vary in size and in the time of year they appear.

In the western rivers, BWOs generally hatch from mid-March through May. Pale Morning Duns (PMDs) are more prominent from May through August. Then BWOs show up in force again in September. Typical sizes range from 14 through 18. But the brown and green Drakes in Henry’s Fork of the Snake River tend to be larger — from size 10 to 12.

7. Mayflies need cold, clean water.

Water pollution makes mayflies disappear. When mayflies disappear, the trout do too. So water conservation is vital to trout fishing.

The Scoop on Fishing Nets

When I first started fly fishing, I gave little thought to using fishing nets. We always had a long-handled net in the drift boat. But I did not realize the value of a net for wade fishing until a friend gave me a small net made by Brodin — a company near Logan, Montana less than ten miles from my home.

fishing nets

It did not take me long to get hooked on using a net to land the 14-20 inch trout I caught. I lost fewer fish, and it was less stressful for the trout I landed. If you’re new to fly fishing, here is the scoop on fly fishing nets:

1. Do pay attention to the net frame materials.

There are two basic net frame materials.

Some frames are made out of wood. This is the case with my Brodin net. Wood is fine, but you will need to varnish it occasionally depending on how much use it gets. Other frames are made out of composite materials—carbon fiber and fiberglass. This is the case with the Fishpond net another friend gave me.

Side note: It’s nice to have friends who give you fishing nets as gifts!

2. Do not buy a net unless it has a fish-friendly bag.

Most nets sold today have a rubber or nylon bag—that is, webbing.

This has more flex than the traditional twine (string) bags. It is less stressful for a trout when scooped into the next. The difference between the two kinds of material resembles how you feel when you fall on mattress versus a kitchen table.

3. Do give some thought to the handle and frame size of your fishing nets.

You want a net with a large enough hoop (opening) to land large trout but small enough so it is not cumbersome to carry. Handle size is important, too.

My Brodin had net has a short handle. This makes it ideal for longer hikes up the river. But my Fishpond Nomad Emerger net has a longer handle, which allows me to land trout further away from my body. Trust me, it’s a lot easier to land a trout that is two feet way than a foot away.

4. Do not fail to purchase a magnetic clip with a retractor.

The magnetic clip (actually, two magnets) allows you to reach behind your head where your net is clipped to your fly vest and have it snap into place. The retractor allows you to drop your net in the water without fear of it drifting away.

5. Do exercise caution when walking through brush.

If you are wondering why I mention this, you have never caught your net on buckbrush, walked a few feet, and then had your net snap back and whack you!

6. Do not stab at a fish with your net.

When trying to land a fish with your net, keep the net under the fish and lift it up. If you try to stab or jab or flick with your net, it won’t work. You can’t move it through the water quickly enough. So no “net flicks.” Did you see what I did there? Sorry!

Of course, you do not always have to use a net. You can head for shallow water, and then “beach” your fish as long as the bank is soft.

My podcast partner, Dave, and I did this last fall on a particular run in the Gardner River. We were catching brown after brown in the same deep run. We didn’t want to get too close to the run to spook the other fish. So we would pull the trout onto the soft, muddy beach. But under most conditions, you’ll do well to bring along the right net and use it properly.

Make Your Dry Fly Irresistible

It happened again last week. I felt that familiar rush of adrenalin. The mild shock happened again and again as trout after trout attacked the Parachute Adams I drifted down a little stream. I had made my dry fly irresistible.

dry fly irresistible

Dry fly fishing can be unpredictable. When it’s hot, it’s not. When it’s not, well, it’s not. But there are some tactics you can use to make your dry fly irresistible to the trout lurking beneath it:

Dry it

Dry flies, uh, get wet.

Even the heartiest among them (think: Elk Hair Caddis) can get water-logged. Never mind that I always put some kind of fly dressing on my dry flies before I cast them into the current.

Sure, I’ve had trout strike my submerged fly. But dry flies perform best when riding the surface.

A few false casts will help dry out your dry fly. Yet it’s not enough.

Over the years, I’ve grown fond of water-removing powder or crystals. I always keep a small bottle in my fly vest. I like both Orvis Hy-Flote (Shake-N-Flote Renew) or Umpqua Bug Dust. Simply open the bottle lid, put your soggy fly inside (still attached to your leader), and shake the bottle a couple of times.

Presto! Your fly is dry.

The white powder makes it look like a ghost. But a couple of false casts will remove the dust. There are some liquid products available too. These are quite effective, but I generally find them messy and sticky. So go with the powder!

Twitch it

Another effective tactic is to give your dry fly a twitch. This works especially well with Caddis.

I talked to a guide in a fly shop last week who was having luck in the evenings when he skated his Caddis fly across the surface. I used this technique many times when float-tubing Hyalite Reservoir in the mountains south of Bozeman, Montana. I skated a Madam X pattern on the lake’s surface and got a positive response from several large cutthroat trout.

Of course, twitching or skating a hopper pattern is always a good bet.

The art of twitching or skating is rather simple. For a twitch, pretend the fly rod in your hand is a hammer and that you’re tapping in a small nail into soft wood. For the skating effect, I simply strip line like I would with a streamer—only more gently.

Don’t overdo your twitch or skate. If the current is fairly fast, don’t bother. But if it’s slow, a little twitch or skating motion might make your fly irresistible.

Re-size it

My brother, Dave, was fly fishing a stream in the high country of Colorado last week. He tried the standard patterns and even an emerger or two. The fishing was slow until he tied on a large stimulator. I’m pretty sure that it was the larger size rather than the color (orange) that mattered.

As Bob Granger, one of my fly fishing mentors often said, “When the trout aren’t rising for your fly, try a different size before you try a different pattern.”

In general, if I’m fishing a Blue-Winged Olive (BWO) hatch and not having success, I’ll go smaller. I can’t remember how many times the switch from a size #18 to a size #20 Parachute Adams made all the difference. If I’m struggling to get strikes with attractor patterns when there is no hatch, I’ll typically go larger.

I’ll switch from a size #18 to a size #14. Often it works.

Reverse it

Another tactic is to reverse the direction of your cast.

Obviously, you can’t reverse the direction of your fly. It’s never going to float upstream—always downstream! Typically, fly fishers work their way upstream. This keeps us behind the trout. The idea is that we will be less visible to the trout when we cast. However, there are times when it’s advisable to approach the trout from upstream. This might be due to the current or to an overhanging branch.

More stealth is required when we are in front of the trout and casting downstream. But if that gets a better drift, or if it’s the only possible way to drift a fly through a promising run, then do it.

Crowd it

There’s a good reason not to crowd your fly against an undercut bank. You’re likely to snag it on the brush on the side of the bank. It’s safer to aim for a foot or two short of the bank. It’s also less effective.

If you want to catch trout, however, you have to get close to an undercut bank. That’s where the trout hide. So take the risk.

Last weekend, I fished a run and drifted my fly about eight inches from an undercut bank. It was a decent cast. But nothing happened. On the next cast, I crowded the bank. You guessed it, my cast was about six inches too long, and it ended up in the grass on the bank. I gently tugged at it, and my fly landed in the current, about one inch from the bank.

A few seconds later, a plump brown trout darted out from under the bank and attacked my fly.

To make your dry fly irresistible, cast it as tight

Free it

Finally, keep your dry fly free of drag.

Drag happens when the center of your fly line moves through the current more quickly than your fly does. This results in your fly line pulling or dragging your fly through the current. As a result, your fly will resemble a water skier. It will leave a cool-looking wake.

But is not cool if you’re trying to catch trout!

The trick is to create a bend in your line do that the center of the line on the water is upstream from your fly. In other words, you want the fly to lead the rest of the line. You can do this either by mending your line (flipping the center section upstream after it lands) or by quickly “writing” the letter “C” with your rod tip shortly before your fly lands on the surface.

If the current is moving from right to left, you’ll “write” a backwards “C.” If it’s moving from left, you’ll write a normal “C.” This gets the center of the line upstream from your fly.

Drag will not make your dry fly irresistible!

Dry Fly Irresistible

I came across a beautiful undercut bank and made a perfect cast. My dry fly was riding high a couple inches from the bank, and there was no drag. It was the perfect presentation, and then … nothing happened.

The lesson is that you can do everything perfectly and still fail to get a trout to rise. There are no guarantees when it comes to dry fly fishing. But using one or more of these tactics just might make your dry fly irresistible to that big rainbow around the next bend.

Know Your Pattern: the Parachute Adams

If I had to fish with a single dry fly pattern, I’d definitely choose the Parachute Adams. It’s worked well for me on rivers ranging from Oregon to Michigan. Last weekend, I did well with it on the Little Jordan, a small creek in southeastern Minnesota.

Parachute Adams

I suspect I’ve caught more trout on the Parachute Adams than on any other dry fly pattern, though the Elk Hair Caddis is a close second. Here is a profile of this remarkably effective pattern:

1. How it originated

The Parachute Adams is a modification of the Adams.

According to Paul Schullery, the Adams originated in 1922 in Michigan. Leonard Halladay developed it as a general mayfly imitation, and his friend, Charles Adams, used it successfully on the Boardman River near Traverse City, Michigan. As a result, Halladay decided to name it after his friend.

The Adams is a relatively simply pattern to tie. It consists of dark gray dubbing for the body, brown and grizzly hackle, grizzly hackle tips for the wings, and a mixture of brown and grizzly hackle fibers for the tail.

Bud Lilly observed that the Adams grew lighter when it went east. But when it went west, fly tiers used extra hackle—presumably to keep it floating longer in the swift currents of western rivers.

2. How it has been modified

The Parachute Adams uses the same hackle, dubbing, and tail as the Adams.

However, the modification comes in the hackle (front) section of the fly. An Adams pattern wraps the hackle around the hook vertically—up and down. However, the Parachute Adams contains a vertical post of white calf hair at the front or head of the fly. Then, hackle gets wrapped horizontally around the base of the post. Tiers refer to this as “parachute style”—hence the name Parachute Adams.

There is no wing added as in the traditional Adams pattern.

The Catch and the Hatch has produced a helpful instructional video for tying this pattern. Even if you are not a fly tier, it’s worth watching so you can see what makes this fly work.

One of the more recent modifications to the Parachute Adams is the Purple Haze. This is the exact same pattern with a purple body instead of a dark gray one. It gives trout a bit different look, and I’ve had success with it.

However, I keep reverting back to the time-tested Parachute Adams — especially on rivers where the Purple Haze has become a craze so that trout are seeing nothing but purple.

3. Why it works

Like the standard Adams pattern, the Parachute Adams works well because it is a general mayfly imitation. It is versatile enough to serve as an attractor pattern when nothing specific is happening on the surface. Yet I have done quite well with it during specific hatches like Blue-Winged Olive (BWO) hatch. Some fly fishers even swear by it as an option for the Caddis hatch.

Perhaps it works well, too, because it is a low-riding fly. This gives trout a good look at it as it remains suspended in the surface film where mayflies typically emerge.

One of the most important factors in its success is its visibility to fly fishers. I can see its white post, or parachute, even in low light.

4. When to use it

You can use the Parachute Adams, well, whenever you want to catch trout on a dry fly. I’ve caught trout on it in every season of the year—even in the winter when a size #18 or #20 can imitate a midge cluster.

Unless I suspect that trout are keying in on Pale Morning Duns (PMDs) or on Caddis flies, I’ll tie on a Parachute Adams when I see rising trout. Typically, I like a size #18 or even a size #20 when a hatch is on.

I’ll tie it on, too, when no hatch is happening and I’m trying to coax a trout to the surface. In these cases, I typically use a bit larger size—either a size #14 or #16.

The Parachute Adams is a terrific choice for your number one go-to fly. Don’t leave home without it.

Other Flies in the “Know Your Pattern” Series

    The Royal Coachman

    The San Juan Worm

The Lure of Fly Fishing Creeks

Fly fishing creeks – that’s what I plan to do this weekend. My podcast partner, Dave, and I will make a five-hour drive and spend a couple of days on the water. But where will we go? A five-hour drive to the northwest will take us to several creeks loaded with 8-14 inch browns. A five hour drive to the northeast will take us to a river where we have a chance of landing 18-22 inch browns.

fly fishing creeks

I hear the creek calling.

Why am I so fond of fly fishing creeks — or “cricks” as my friends and family in both Montana and Pennsylvania call them? I have been pondering that question the past few days:

Nostalgia

One of the first places I learned to fish for trout was on Cole Grove Brook near Smethport, Pennsylvania.

I was eight years old, and my Uncle Ivan taught me the art of dropping a worm in this tiny, brush-lined creek to catch brookies. A few years later, I threw Mepps spinners in the Big Thompson River (trust me, it’s a small creek) in Rocky Mountain National Park. That’s also where I got my first taste of fly fishing and caught my first brookie.

Then there is the little creek near Orville National Forest campground in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

I was in high school when my brother and I stumbled across some kind of mayfly hatch (I’m guessing) one evening and pulled out trout after trout on a Royal Coachman. There is also the mystique of Elk Creek near Augusta, Montana. During our college years, Dave and I had some terrific days on a little stretch of this creek not far from where if flowed out of the Scapegoat Wilderness area.

Whenever I’m on a small stream, I get nostalgic. I revisit these creeks and spend some time on them in my mind.

Into the Wild

Fishing creeks tends to get me into more wild places than fishing the larger rivers. That’s not always the case. My favorite stretch of the Madison River in Montana is in the Beartrap Canyon, and my favorite stretch of the Yellowstone River is in a remote place in Yellowstone National Park. They are big rivers. But they are the exceptions.

It seems like more often than not, fishing creeks gets me off the beaten paths and deeper into the timber or further into the mountains.

I remember running into a coyote in the thick forest surrounding Cole Grove Brook in northern Pennsylvania. I also remember catching a 12-inch brookie out of a beaver pond in the Bondurant National Forest south of Jackson, Wyoming, while a cow moose grazed about 75 yards away.

When Dave and I fish a creek in the Driftless region of southeastern Minnesota this weekend, we’ll fish until we come to a rock cliff where the creek flows out of the mouth of a cave.

If you like wild places, make the creeks your destination.

Less Pressure

This is a corollary to the previous point.

Wild places can mean less pressure.

One July day, when the drift boats seemed to be bumper-to-bumper on the Yellowstone River in Montana’s Paradise Valley, I drove up the West Fork of Mill Creek — several miles above where main Mill Creek emptied into the Yellowstone. I fished a stretch in the Absarokee-Beartooth Wilderness Area a couple hundred yards from where I shot my first bull elk. I used a Red Humpy, and every cast resulted in a fierce strike by a plump 8-10 inch Yellowstone cutthroat trout.

I doubt that anyone had fished this stretch of creek in years. It was a couple hundred yards down a steep ravine off of the trail.

As a general rule, expect that bigger rivers that hold bigger fish will attract bigger crowds. The streams that flow into them will receive a lot less pressure. So head to the creek to get away from the crowd.

More Action

Generally, smaller creeks mean smaller fish but more action.

Last summer, I fished the Fall River in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Don’t let the word “river” fool you. It’s a small stream that winds through a meadow after emerging from a canyon. It seemed like every cast resulted in a strike on the Elk Hair Caddis I was drifting along the undercut banks. I didn’t catch anything over eleven inches. But the two dozen trout I caught were all fighters.

Finesse

Part of the appeal of a creek is the finesse required to fish it.

Perhaps that comes from the days when I used an ultralight spinning rod and sneaked up through the weeds to peek into the hole where I was going to cast my offering (that sounds better than “cast my worm”).

As much as I love my nine-foot, six-weight rod, I find joy in taking my eight-and-a-half, four-weight rod and crawling up to a bank where I will make a short cast to fish an six-foot run along a bank. Fishing the small creeks require more stealth, smaller leaders, and softer landings on the surface. Even streamer fishing in a creek is more delicate. It’s not the same as lobbing a weighted Woolly Bugger on a mighty river.

I’ve lived a few minutes from the Yellowstone, the Madison, and the Missouri in Montana. I’ve had some terrific days on them. But, the creeks still call me. The “cricks” do too. I simply can’t resist their lure, and I hope that never changes.

Safety Devices for Fly Fishers

Fly fishing is not an extreme sport. But it can be a dangerous one. Every year, fly fishers drown, break bones, and hook themselves. They get lost. Caught in storms. And stung by insects and bitten by snakes.

safety devices

So the next time you head for the river, consider taking along some of all of these safety devices:

1. A first-aid kit

This is critical if you plan to fish very far up the river. I prefer a first-aid kit the size of a small fly box. You only need the basics—band-aids, antiseptic cream, pain reliever, and a couple larger bandages or gauze dressings.

You might include moleskin for blisters. In fact, this may be the most important element in your first aid kid.

2. Your smartphone

No, you don’t need your smartphone to check email or Twitter.

But you might be surprised at the places you have cell service — like on certain spots on the Yellowstone River in Yellowstone National Park. Well, I should say I do, but Dave (my podcast partner) doesn’t. We use different carriers.

I have a flashlight app on my phone that I’ve used when hiking in or out of my fishing spot in the dark. The GPS might allow someone to track you if you break a leg and simply can’t move.

3. Bear spray

This is an absolute must in grizzly country.

Last fall, a couple was scouting fishing spots on the Lamar River in Yellowstone National Park when they spotted a grizzly feeding on carcass. The bear was in no mood for competition, so it charged. It came within nine feet before their bear spray turned it away. It charged again, but retreated and ran away when it encountered the cloud of bear spray a second time.

Dave and I were fly fishing just a few miles away one week earlier, and we saw grizzly tracks along the river. Yes, we were carrying bear spray.

4. A wading staff

I’m a big believer in wading staffs. Their most obvious use is staying on your feet in the current. A wading can also help you walk if you sprain an ankle. And also serves as a means to ward off a rattlesnake.

5. Two-way radios

These are great for those spots where you don’t have cell phone service.

Dave, my podcast partner, and I regularly carry two-way radios when we’re fishing in the backcountry. Yes, we admit sharing fishing info (“Hey, they’re starting to take Caddis flies over here!”). But we take them along in case one of spots a bear or falls and twists an ankle. Even some of the places we fish in the Driftless (southeastern Minnesota and southwestern Wisconsin) have limited cell coverage.

Must Have vs Nice to Have

The five items above fall into the “must have” category. But there are some “nice to have” items you might want to consider:

    A change of socks can help prevent blisters;

    A rain jacket can provide warmth as well as protection if you get caught in a fierce rainstorm;

    A fire-starter is an extra measure of caution if I’m hiking a few miles up river in the mountains of Wyoming or Montana. I’ll also thrown in a small lighter and some folded newspaper (in a plastic bag); and

    Water purification tablets might even be must-have if your destination is a lake or stream a few miles from the trailhead.

The next time you hit the river, don’t forget the devices that can help you avoid or deal with dangers. And of course, you always need to carry a good amount of water.

Summer Fly Fishing without Losing It

Summer. It’s the most wonderful time of the year for fly fishers. Well, it’s one of three. Spring and fall are great too. But it’s hard not to love the season of the year when the days are longer, when the warmth allows you to wet wade, and when the trout dart to the surface to take a terrestrial.

I’ve shared before about how to fly fish in the winter without losing everything from your sanity to your life. That may not seem to be an issue in the summer, but it is. Here are seven strategies to keep you safe and sane as you fly fish during the summer months.

1. Watch for lightening and venomous snakes.

Your chances of encountering both are higher during the summer months. Remember that a graphite fly rod makes an effective lightening rod. So don’t cast when you see lightening or hear thunder. Keep your eyes peeled for rattlers or copperheads or whatever venomous snakes inhabit your fly fishing spots. A wading staff can help you ward off a snake you surprise.

2. Dry fly action will typically not happen until mid-morning.

If you’re a beginner, this may not evident.

But if you hit the river at dawn, you’ll want to fish nymphs or streamers. Some of my favorite rivers for grasshoppers don’t see hopper action until 11 a.m. or so. It’s always a good idea to get intel from the guides at the fly shop. They can tell you what hatches happen on when they happen on the river you plan to fish.

3. Make sure your fly box has plenty of terrestrials.

Summer is a great time for ants, beetles, and grasshoppers—although trout generally don’t start taking hoppers consistently until August.

Make sure you have plenty of attractor patterns, too.

My brother, Dave, did well the other day on a stream near Morrison, Colorado, with a size #14 Royal Coachman. I like a Royal Wulff or a Red (or Yellow) Humpy pattern. Even an Elk Hair Caddis or a Spruce Moth seems to work well about any time in the summer when a fish will rise for something big and buggy.

4. Carry plenty of water.

You can get dehydrated any time of year. But it happens more quickly in the heat of the summer. So don’t forget to stuff a water bottle or two in your vest or satchel.

5. Hire a guide for new water.

I talked to a friend yesterday who returned from a trip to Arizona to visit family. Greg had only one day to fly fish in an area he had never fished before. Thankfully, he did the right thing and hired a guide.

She took Greg to a spot where he caught several Apache trout — one of the rarest, most endangered trout species in the world. There’s nothing like a day with a guide to help you figure out where to fish and how to fish when you’re dealing with new water.

6. Avoid the busy times and places.

Everyone loves summer.

So expect your favorite spots to be more crowded. If possible, fish during the middle of the week instead of the weekend. Plan to walk or hike a bit further to avoid the crowds. It’s better to walk an hour each way and fish a less-pressured stretch for two hours than to spend four hours on the great-looking spot beside the road where there are already four fly fishers in ahead of you.

7. Avoid unnecessary wading risks.

This is a polite way of saying, “Don’t be stupid.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m more inclined to push the safety margins in the summer. I know that I’m not going to get hypothermia if I fall into the Yellowstone River on a hot July afternoon. But that means I might wade into a deeper or swifter run than I might otherwise. I have to tell myself, “No!” It’s not worth it. Also, if you’re going to wet wade, don’t forget that the weather (especially in the intermountain west) can change in a heartbeat. So be prepared.

Have a great summer of fly fishing. The rivers in Montana and Wyoming are clearing and dropping to optimum levels. The hex hatch is about to happen on the rivers in northern Michigan. Anglers in Vermont are seeing trout key in on Caddis, Sulfers, and Drakes. Enjoy the summer. Make sure to do everything you can to stay safe and sane.

5 Tips for New Fly Tyers

Learning to tie flies can be as bewildering as learning to fly fish. There are a lot of concepts to grasp and skills to master. New fly tyers might get ten different sets of answers if they asked ten veteran fly tyers to give them five helpful hints.

new fly tyer

But here the first five tips that come to mind. I’ve found them quite helpful over the years as a fly tyer.

1. Beware of using too much material.

My fly tying mentor, Bob Granger, talked about this a lot. The temptation is to apply too many wraps of thread or to put the dubbing on too thick.

You can get away with this (sort of) when you’re tying larger flies. But with smaller flies, you’ll crowd the hook and have difficulty finding a place near the eye to tie off your thread when you’re finished. If you look at real Blue-Winged Olives or Caddis flies, you’ll notice how sparse they are. So there’s no reason to apply too much material unless you want your Caddis fly to look like it is on steroids.

2. Don’t misuse your sharp scissors.

Buy two pairs of scissors.

Spend a bit more on the one that you’ll use to trim deer or elk hair, thread, and tiny feathers. Use a cheaper pair to cut the stuff that can dull your more expensive pair. This includes the stem of larger feathers, copper wire, and elk or deer hide.

3. Tie larger sizes and easy patterns first.

It makes sense to begin learning to tie a San Juan Worm or a Woolly Bugger.

Even a size #18 (tiny!) nymph like a beadhead brassie is a good “starter” pattern. While it’s small, it’s ridiculously simple to tie. Wait to try your hand at tying an Elk Hair Caddis or a Royal Wulff or a Muddler Minnow.

You can learn to use a hair stacker, to work with calf hair, and to spin and stack hair after you’ve mastered some of the easier patterns.

4. Watch online videos for help.

I wish these were available when I started tying.

You can search YouTube for about any pattern you want to tie and find some terrific videos. Fly shop websites often produce their own. Major brands like Orvis also have excellent instructional videos, including some on fly tying. Here are just three:

    Tying a San Juan worm

    Tying a Woolly Bugger

    Tying a Brassie

5. Don’t fret over imperfection.

Your fly does not have to look catalog-ready to be effective.

What appears sloppy to you may appear “buggy” to a trout. So don’t worry about uneven hackle or a piece of hair or sticks out a bit longer than the others. Your fledgling attempt may not catch fly fishers like a commercially tied fly does. But it will do just as well at catching fish. And that’s what matters!