Saturday, April 23, 2011

My Favorite Martian (and other little shrimps)

Over the past tying season (that would be the 8 month Vermont winter), I developed an interest in Irish shrimp flies.  The fly that piqued this interest, created by Peter Kealey of Northern Ireland, is the delightfully named Life on Mars:

I've no doubt that I like the shrimp flies because they are fairly easy to tie, and just like every other kid on the block, the colors speak to me...especially the clarets.  The recipe for Life on Mars as I tied it:

Tag: 3-4 turns Fine Oval Silver Tinsel
Rear Body: Holographic Silver Mylar ribbed with 3 turns Fine Oval Silver Tinsel
Center Hackle and Wing: Hot Orange Cock quite long over which is tied 12-15 strands of hot  orange Polar Bear and 4 strands of Pearl Krystal Flash  (the original uses bucktail)
Front Body: Ruby Claret Floss
Head Hackle: Claret cock)
Eyes: Jungle Cock
Head: Fire Orange

If you get seriously into Irish shrimp flies and would like to learn more about them than just the recipes to tie them, I strongly recommend Peter O'Reilly's Trout and Salmon Flies of Ireland (Merlin Unwin Books, 1995, with subsequent reprints).  From it, I learned that the first Irish Shrimp pattern, Curry's Red Shrimp, was created by Pat Curry of Coleraine, Ireland.  I'm not too sure the colors are right for the Miramichi, but it was fun to tie (and I'll find out about the "rightness" of the colors later this year):

Curry's Red Shrimp pattern:

Tag:  Oval Silver Tinsel
Tail:  Golden Pheasant red breast feather
Rear Body:  Red floss or seal's fur (I tied the example above with seal.  So much more lively than floss!)
Rear Rib:  Oval Silver Tinsel
Rear Veils:  Red hackle tips or similar (often tied, as I did, without veiling)
Center Hackle:  Silver Badger
Front Body:  Black floss or seal (again, I used seal)
Front Rib:  Oval Silver Tinsel
Front Veils:  Red hackle tips or similar (again, not often employed these days.  We're cheap and lazy.)
Eyes:  Jungle Cock
Head Hackle:  Silver Badger
Head:  Red

Most Irish shrimp flies are characterized by their tails of red Golden Pheasant breast feathers.  As I zoomed around the internet, I found that they are either tied in by tip or butt and then wound.  Seems like personal preference reigns in that department...I like to tie them in by the tip.

The Faughan Shrimp gave me another opportunity to use claret materials.  It's such a rich color...and it does have some history in flies on the Miramichi; the Logie comes to mind.  But that's another story for another day!  Speaking of "other stories", claret materials for tailing are hard to come by, and good hackles are in short supply ("hair extensions".  ugh.), so I got into dyeing my own materials, and that's a lot of fun!  I dyed a Golden Pheasant skin claret; it is amazing, and I used the "claretized" breast feather for the tail on this fly instead of the standard red breast feather.

Anyway, the Faughan Shrimp:

I don't know if salmon ever get the head-on view, but its pretty cool:                                                           

The Faughan Shrimp pattern:

Tag:  Oval Silver Tinsel
Tail:  Golden Pheasant red breast feather wound
Rib:  Oval Silver Tinsel
Rear Body Half:  Orange floss
Center Hackle:  Orange cock
Front Body Half:  Claret floss
Head Hackle:  Dark claret saddle
Eyes (wing):  Jungle Cock
Head:  Claret

The McCormick's Shrimp really got the claret flowing:                                                                                

McCormick's Shrimp pattern:

Tail 1:  Claret Polar Bear or bucktail with 6 or so strands pearl Krystal Flash
Tail 2:  Long claret hackle wound 3ish turns and tied back to cloak Tail 1.
Rear Body:  Claret floss
Rear Rib:  Oval gold tinsel
Middle Hackle:  Long claret
Front Body:  Claret floss
Front Rib:  Oval gold tinsel 
Wing:  Jungle cock
Front Hackle:  Hot orange
Head:  Black

Lots of other shrimp to come!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Cutty Sark

Bob Warren of Princeton, Massachusetts developed the Cutty Sark (named for Bob's beverage of choice) over a period of years, starting, I believe, in the early 1990's.  According to Keith Fulsher in his memoir, Atlantic Salmon Fly Tyer (Fly Fishing University Press, 2008), the fly started out as a hairwing, but Bob converted it to a featherwing fairly early in the fly's development.

You can see Bob's tie of his creation and his original recipe for the Cutty on pages 100 and 101 in the incredible Fishing Atlantic Salmon; The Flies and the Patterns, authored by Joseph D. Bates, Jr. and Pamela Bates Richards and edited by Bob Warren (Stackpole Books, 1996).

The pattern for the Cutty as I've come to tie it:
    Thread: gordon griffiths 14/0 Claret
    Tag: fine copper wire or oval tinsel - sized to suit fly size
    Tip: either the floss blend (see below) or your orange floss of choice.
    Tail: same floss as tip
    Butt: black beaver dubbing
    Rib: fine copper wire or oval tinsel - sized to suit fly size
    Body: rear half flourescent green floss, front half peacock herl
    Hackle (throat): black hen
    Underwing: floss blend or peachy orange floss to tag under green flourescent floss to tip of tail
    Wing: tented teal
    Head: claret

Bob's original recipe calls for a blended floss in the tip and tail. I had never blended floss (nor even thought of blending floss!) until I met Bob and the Cutty Sark on the Miramichi in the late 1990's.   When I was first figuring out how to tie the fly, I relied heavily on Renate Bullock ( for help.  She told me about Gordon Griffith's floss, and about the blend Bob uses on the fly.   Using all Gordon Griffith's floss, the blend is 4 parts orange, 2 parts yellow, and 1 part green.  Fortunately, Griffith's floss divides easily into 2 strands; if it didn't, you'd end up with a clothesline if you blended "full strength" lengths of floss.  I do use it in the underwing, topped by a strand of green floss.

The ingredients and the blended floss:

The blend tied in (view of underside of fly):

I have a favorite orange floss for butts or tips on atlantic salmon flies - it's an old and discontinued (as far as I can tell) Danville floss.  It comes on a wooden spool and is labeled Danville Depth Ray Nylon Flourescent.  I use it on the Cutty Sark rather than the pale orange floss that Keith lists for the pattern in his book referenced above.  And it seems to work.  This 18 pound hen was swimming innocently enough in the Northwest Miramichi when my number six Cutty Sark swam by and grabbed her attention.  My guide looks a little goofy but he was a nice fellow donating his time to the Miramichi Salmon Association's Classic, a delightful couple days of fishing that benefits that organization.  It is NOT a competition. (photo by Wally Murray):

Bob's experience with the Cutty Sark indicates that it is most successful as a size 6 fly.  I'm a believer!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Is your butt dragging?

My friend Bob Warren showed me this nifty trick several years ago.  Its a great way to prevent a drooping least as far as salmon flies go!

First, after tying in the tinsel tag, run the thread (I always use white thread when I'm using flourescent floss) to the forward-most point of what will become the butt and tie in the floss like this:

I use Gordon Griffiths floss for my flies.  Its hard to come by, so I'm always on the lookout for it.  I think its depth of color is unparalled and that alone would be reason to use it, but its also easily split into two halves.  I think I get a smoother, sleeker butt or body by just using a half.  If you like ridges in your butt or body (keep your mind on the fly), then don't split the floss.  I do know some tyers that like that look better.

Well...wind the floss back to the tag and forward again to the tie-in point and tie off with a couple thread wraps:

Now bring that little bit of floss up over that tag, make a thread wrap, give the floss another little snugging tug, and tie it in:

Now your butt won't drag!

I can't keep myself from adding a little extra note to this post.  On one of the internet forums I frequent, some fellows were extolling the virtues of cheap flies recently, as low as 50 cents each on the internet's most popular auction site.  They even mentioned a couple of that site's online fly shops that had "great, cheap flies".  Well, speaking of dragging butts, here's what those guys thought were a good deal (photos from the auction site...THESE ARE NOT MY FLIES!!!)

Some folks are easily pleased, I guess.   I sell my hairwing salmon flies for four dollars each.  At least they don't start out looking like they've been fished for a hundred years!  Never was this more true, in my opinion: you get what you pay for, fly-wise.  And finally, as Jerry Doak says on his website (, "...the fly is the only part of your tackle that a salmon sees, so isn't it the last place you should cut corners?"

A couple for spring on the Miramichi

My fly box for Spring fishing on the Miramichi is my most colorful fly box of all:

These flies are the largest I fish on the Miramichi for the year, and easily the gaudiest!  Kelts (salmon that have wintered under the river's ice and are heading back to sea at ice out) are actively feeding at this time; other than perhaps the Blue Smelt, there is certainly no "matching the hatch" going on here!

A couple from the box:

Blue Smelt ( I found a photo of this fly on Miramichi outfitter and lodge Country Haven's website; it looked to good not to copy):

The Golden Eagle (a pretty traditional Miramichi Spring fly):

I look forward to reporting on my trip!

I just read Keith Wilson's Miramichi river report ( for today, April 18, 2011, and notice he mentioned that the Christmas Tree is the fly of the moment for his sports on the river, so I thought I'd add one to this post for you:

Here's hoping Christmas comes early for me in two weeks up in New Brunswick!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Streamer Time

Spring means streamer fishing to me, whether its swinging for browns in the Batten Kill, swinging or trolling for landlocks and brook trout in the Rangeley region, or casting for kelts on the Miramichi.  I spend many winter hours tying streamers, and this past winter was no exception....with one exception: for a couple months I couldn't tie due to rotator cuff surgery.   But I found I could make wing assemblies for Gray Ghosts and Green Beauties, to name a couple favorites.  Unable to do much else, I made a lot of wings. (click on any pic to get a full-sized image)

I make my wing assemblies the same way Carrie Stevens is reported to have done it:  each wing "side" consists of matched chicken feathers (usually from Whiting American saddles or capes), plus a cheek of either silver pheasant or a duck species, and a jungle cock eye.  So there are a total of 8 feathers in a complete wing.  I used to use old, thick head cement as glue but have switched to Flexament for its, well, flexibility.  Just a small line of it on each feather shaft gets the job done for me. 

I'd have to say that my favorite streamer, in both casting and trolling form, is Carrie Stevens' Green Beauty.  It outfished other streamers handily last June in Maine.  And I just really like the way it looks.

Streamer afficionados will note that there's no bucktail, no golden pheasant crest and no peacock herl in my tie of this classic.  I now use Hareline's UV Minnow Belly flash for the, er, belly on the fly, and either of a couple dark flashes up between the wing that simulate the peacock herl in the original pattern.  I've had great success with this combination tied on Daiichi 2340's, The Fly Shop's TFS 300 (a great bargain!) or old faithful, the Mustad 3665A.  At Upper Dam, the brook trout and landlocks like sizes 4 and 6 quite a bit!

The Gray Ghost, maybe the most well-known of Carrie Stevens' creations, is another staple in my streamer stable (doncha just love alliteration?)  And again, I abandon the traditional belly and wing add-ons, and just use the UV minnow belly and a dark flash.

I vary the wing color.  Bob Hilyard reported, in his excellent book, Carrie Stevens, that she did too.  Apparently she didn't have a consistent source for her wing feathers, and took what she could get. 

Herbie Welche's creation, the Black Ghost, is another streamer favorite of mine.  And yes, I tinker with the original pattern on this fly too.  In place of the typical black floss body, I've started using Diamond Braid in black.  Lots 'o flash!

I've given a little change-up to the venerable Mickey Finn.  The wing is legal polar bear that I dyed using Jacquard acid dye from Dharma Trading.   The body is EZ braid; I tie a silver mylar body on before the EZ braid to give it some real smash.  The hook is a #2 Daiichi 2271.

Maybe my new best friend, I'm really happy with the looks of this streamer.  Obviously, its put together like many of the Stevens-style streamers, and I'm happy to give all the attribution I can to the streamers that have gone before.  I've merely changed up the colors and the "accutrements."  I dyed a white Whiting saddle with a Jacquard acid dye combination, and came up with the color you  see.  The "underwing" is burgundy polar bear.  My delightful (and very Irish) companion Bridget said, when she saw the chunk of polar bear and the saddle lying on the drying table, that they were great Celtic colors, and would look great together.  Who am I to argue with that??

And finally - and I can't wait to get this one wet, hopefully in the next couple weeks up on the Saranac River in Plattsburgh, New York with my new forum friend John (Hitcher on SpeyClave forum) - what I'll call my Electric Magog.  Its a flashier (you knew that was coming!) version of the Magog Smelt, an old New England favorite.  I replace the bucktail wing with legal polar bear that I dye myself, and add a little of the flash du jour to top the wing off.  This fly is tied on a Daiichi 2271 hook.

Well, those are my favorite casting streamers.  Here's a little palette of their cousins, the trollers:

And then of course, there are the spring streamers for the Miramichi...but they're another story!

Here's hoping the rivers calm down soon, I want to go streamer swinging!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Golden Pheasant Spey

The Golden Pheasant Spey fly was developed by my good friend and salmon fishing campmate, Bob Warren.  Bob edited the beautiful Fishing Atlantic Salmon - the Flies and the Patterns by Joseph D. Bates, Jr. and Pamela Bates Richards.  His flies can be seen in that book, as well as in Bob Veverka's Spey Flies and How to Tie Them, Dick Stewart and Farrow Allen's Flies for Atlantic Salmon and others.

It's primarily an autumn fly, created for the Miramichi, where Bob has been fishing for more than 30 years.  In 2011, in very low water, we fished it down to size 10.  In more "normal" (whatever that means!) water levels, sizes 4 and 6 work well.  Its always good to have an assortment of sizes!

One of the things I enjoy most about the Golden Pheasant Spey, aside from the way salmon take it, is the beauty of the materials used to create the fly.  Other than the thread, tinsel and floss, its a "natural" fly; I couldn't make myself add synthetic flash to the tail - and I often do just that to other classic flies.  But not this fly.  Just laying out the materials for the fly is a joy!

The recipe:
Hook:  The G.P. Spey lends itself beautifully to hooks like Bob Veverka's Daiichi 2139
Tag:      Oval copper tinsel, sized to suit hook size
Tail:      Golden Pheasant crest over orange Polar Bear.  I like the length just a bit longer than the fly's body.
Body:   Rear half hot orange floss or silk, ribbed with oval copper tinsel and veiled with yellow Golden  Pheasant rump feathers; black ostrich herl dividing the two body halves; front half oval copper tinsel wrapped in touching turns.
Hackle: Claret hackle (I like Whiting American hen; others may prefer cock.)  Bob's original recipe calls for two Golden Pheasant breast feathers over the claret.  I dyed a G.P. skin claret, and use those claret-dyed feathers....just looks so regal against the copper.
Head:  Claret 

I've found that its important to maintain a nice gradual taper on the front half of the body so that the copper tinsel lays down nicely with no gaps.  Tinsel doesn't like steep tapers!

All told, its a beautiful fly created by one of the modern masters of the atlantic salmon fly.         

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Sneaky

I first ran into the Sneaky, in its blue morph, in 2009 on the Miramichi in Boisetown, New Brunswick.  Great guide and good friend Renate Bullock had given one to my fishing partner, Wally.  I didn't see the fly until after he had landed a grilse on it at Camp Pool.  This was in July.  I think my first reaction was something like, "What IS that thing?"  Really unlike any atlantic salmon fly I'd ever seen.   And for that week, it landed its one fish, and was put away.

During the following winter, always looking for tying projects, I remembered the blue Sneaky, and asked Renate to email me a photo of the fly.  She did...and it looked worse to me - as a salmon fly - than it did the first time I saw it.  I rummaged around my fly tying books, and found an orange version of the Sneaky in Paul Marriner's Modern Atlantic Salmon Flies.  I "googled" the Sneaky, and found it nicely tucked away on a site,, owned, I believe, by Joel Sampson.  He reported that the fly was designed by Mike Boudreau ca. 1996 for slow, low water conditions.

Well, cutting to the chase, I tied up a batch of Sneakies, both orange and blue, over the winter of 2010.  Its a small fly; I tied a few in size 6, a few 8's, and a batch of 10's.  Forward to September, 2011 at Tuckaway Camps (now Bullock's Lodge)...the water is low and slow.   I landed fish first on an Ally's Shrimp, then switched to a Cascade - both flies mainly orange.  But the fish were hard to come by.  Sneakies and their little jungle cock eyes stared out at me from their fly box home; if flies could beg to be used, they were doing it.  So I tied on a number 10, and things started to happen.  The number 10 orange Sneaky became the fly of the week; one of the sports in camp landed 2 salmon and 2 grilse on it the last evening in camp. 

Here's a little army of blue Sneaky's:

It's a simple little pattern (Orange morph):
Tag:  oval gold tinsel
Tail:  2 or 3 strands of your orange flash du jour
Body:  hot orange floss (I have a couple old wooden spools of a Danville orange that I can't        find anymore that is awesome for this fly - or any that needs hot orange. 
Rib:  oval gold tinsel 
Wing:  tied in at the head, a small batch of polar bear and 3 or 4 lengths of flash
Eyes:  JC
Throat:  Orange or white or none at all hackle.  I use Whiting hen hackle when I remember to put a throat on.
Head: Red (I love Gordon Griffiths 14/0 thread for all my flies, but especially for little jobbers like the Sneaky

     And a little evidence of the power of the Sneaky!  Walt Scheffler landed 2 grilse and 2 salmon, including this big boy, on number 10 Sneakies tied by great friend and wonderful guide Renate Bullock ( the last night in camp (photo courtesy Renate Bullock).  Looks like I was designated rod caddy that evening!:

Mike Boudreau's (the Sneaky's creator) brother Bob has a lovely website about fishing for atlantic salmon in Nova Scotia.  Bob writes delightfully of the reasons so many of us fish for atlantic salmon.  Check his site out: .