Flies: Stimulator

When it comes to fishing dry flies in the Smokies, particularly on the smaller streams, 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.  Rather, 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 but also having broad knowledge of how seasons impact color can put you ahead of the curve. 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. As foliage comes in, most of what hatches is brighter.

The Stimulator has long been a favorite fly pattern of Smoky Mountain anglers for all of the reasons mentioned above.  Its buoyancy and light colored wing not only make it easy to see, but make it a perfect “indicator fly” when fishing a dropper.  And if you mix and match sizes and colors, you could nearly fish a Stimulator 12 months out of the year!

The Stimulator was long thought to be the invention of well-known West Coast angler and fly shop owner, Randall Kaufmann.  While Kaufmann is responsible for the modifications that made the fly most of us know today, the fly’s true originator is thought to be Paul Slattery, who tied a stonefly pattern called the Fluttering Stonefly to fish on the Musconetcong River in central New Jersey.  This was in the early 1980’s and he soon renamed the fly after a New York City punk-rock band called The Stimulators.

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, and the larger sizes are good representations of the larger golden stones that 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 is imitating anything or not, it catches fish and it floats well in heavier pocket water found throughout the mountains.  It is one of the most popular dry flies ever invented for trout and can be found 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: Rob’s Flash Wing Pheasant Tail

Fly Tying is a lot like cooking in many ways.  Of course, in both pursuits, you’re combining a variety of ingredients to create one final product.  And the quality of those ingredients along with the skills of the person putting them together can tremendously impact the end result.  But the issue of originality is also quite comparable.

What constitutes an original recipe rather than simply a variation on an old standard is a very fine line.  If you cook ground beef and put it on a bun with some cheese, it’s a cheeseburger.  If you add sautéed onions, it’s a cheeseburger with sautéed onions.  But if you use a different type of bread, it becomes a Patty Melt.  Fly patterns have the same blurred lines of originality.

The pattern featured here is of my own design but I didn’t give it a very original name because, in my opinion, it’s really just a variation of a classic nymph pattern that the world already knows as a Pheasant Tail Nymph. My version here has a substitution for one material and the addition of two more materials.  Is that enough to be considered totally original and warrant a brand new name?  Maybe, but I didn’t think so.

In any case, it is a nymph I have been tying and fishing for about five years and it has become one of my favorite flies and most consistent nymph patterns.  Like the original Pheasant Tail Nymph, it doesn’t specifically imitate one nymph.  Rather, it’s dark and buggy and is suggestive of many mayfly nymphs and caddis larvae.  The addition of rubber legs gives it a little more movement in the water, and the Ice Dub thorax and Krystal Flash wing provide a little more flash.  I’m always wary of having too much flash on my flies, particularly when fishing for wild trout, but this seems to have just enough to add a little more life to the pattern without sending the fish running for cover.

Rob’s Flash Wing Pheasant Tail

Hook: TMC 2457 or equivalent, #18 – #12
Thread: 8/0 Brown
Weight: Black tungsten bead sized to match hook
Tail: Pheasant tail fibers
Abdomen: Pheasant tail fibers
Rib: Fine copper wire
Wing: 4-6 strands of pearlescent Krystal Flash
Thorax: Peacock Ice Dub
Legs: Black micro rubber legs

Flies: The Frenchie

In the last ten years or so, the term “Euro Nymphing” or “Czech Nymphing” has become more and more common, and is often billed as a revolutionary style of fishing. Basically, it is just nymph fishing without a strike indicator. It’s akin to what many for years have referred to as short-line or straight-line nymphing. Others refer to it as high-sticking. Or the old mountain fishermen around here just call it nymphing, because it’s how they’ve fished for decades and decades.

There is not a lot written about the history of fly fishing in the Southern Appalachians, and most of the techniques were just handed down generation to generation. I’ve had the pleasure and benefit of learning from many of these “old timers,” so when I first heard about this revolutionary style of fishing, I had to chuckle. There really is nothing new under the sun.

There are a few subtle differences in European nymphing techniques and what I learned to do. But what any trend will bring to the industry, no matter how long the method has been around, is the availability of new and better tools and equipment to perform the new trend. In this method of nymphing, you are really trying to keep your fly right on the stream bottom, which of course results in a lot more snags. Traditional jig hooks are great for this because they ride hook up, but until recently, haven’t been available in appropriate sizes and weights for fly fishermen.

Now there are a number of micro-jig hooks available that accommodate a special slotted tungsten bead. They are perfect for fly tying and I have begun tying a lot of my favorite nymph patterns on them. However, one of the first flies I tied on them, The Frenchie, is a pattern that did come from the “Euro-nymphing scene” and it has proven to be an effective trout pattern on a number of different waters.

It’s basically a Bead Head Pheasant Tail with a “hot spot” of bright dubbing at the head. The original pattern uses a bright pink dubbing for the hot spot, and that seems to work very well for stocked trout and even wild trout at times. In general though, I tend to have more success with wild trout using slightly more natural colors like yellow or green.

Again, it’s greatest value is that it has plenty of weight and rides hook up, so you can get it down deep with far fewer bottom snags. Pick some up and give them a try next time you’re out. And if you’re a fly tyer, I’d recommend trying some other favorite nymphs like Pheasant Tails and Hare’s Ears on these hooks.

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

Flies: Zug Bug

If you haven’t noticed by now, there are not a lot of “Hot New Flies” that I feature here. Most of the flies I fish with, particularly in the Smokies, are older, traditional patterns, or possibly an old staple that I’ve put a modern spin on. Maybe that makes me a curmudgeon. I don’t know. But until the old staples quit catching fish…

This month’s fly is no exception. The Zug Bug was created in Pennsylvania by Cliff Zug in the 1930’s. It was originally designed to imitate a cased caddis or caddis larvae but over the years has proven to be a highly successful generic or searching pattern. It’s popularity quickly spread through the Catskills and eventually to the American West. Today it is widely known around the world and is on the “must have” list of patterns for many fly fishermen.

While I have success with this fly throughout the year, it has been, for whatever reason, particularly productive for me in the late winter and early spring. During that time of year, I like to fish it deep and slow through slower pools, typically under a strike indicator. However, it also fishes well later in the year on a swing through pocket water.

It’s relatively easy to tie and is available almost anywhere that sells flies. Bead head versions are also available but I tend to stick with the original, mostly in sizes #16-12. If you don’t know this fly, you should! Play around with a few different sizes and variations and see what you think.

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

Flies: 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 as 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, fishing upper Little River with a couple of old friends. I was fishing a nice stretch of pocket water that had a few pools mixed in and 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 and 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” and 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 to be fished on his local waters in Montana. Mostly it was believed to represent 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 but somehow seemed to fall off the radar after the mid to late 90’s. Many fly tiers began using foam for large flies around that time and I suspect the Madame X just fell out of style.

Well I’m here to tell you that there are plenty of trout that still think it’s cool and 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.

Flies: Lime Trude

Summer is creeping slowly into the Smokies and fly patterns are beginning to shift again. In late spring and summer, nearly everything that hatches is brighter in color. Most of the aquatic insects you see are some shade of yellow or bright green, so it certainly makes sense to fish fly patterns in the same color profile.

As I’ve mentioned numerous times, fly patterns are hardly the most important piece of the puzzle when trout fishing in the Smokies. Approach and presentation is the name of the game here. The wrong fly presented well will always catch more fish than the right fly dragging across the surface. But if your presentation is solid, it stands to reason that showing the trout a fly that looks a little more like the naturals they are seeing will produce far more strikes.

Since hatches in the Smokies are rarely heavy enough to make the trout key in on specific insects, color and size are really the most important components of fly selection. And since we tend to fish a lot of riffles and pocket water in the summer months, buoyancy and visibility can be extremely beneficial as well. While there are a number of fly patterns that meet all of those needs, one of my favorites is the Lime Trude.

The Lime Trude is just one of many variations of what was originally a wet fly designed by Carter Harrison. In the early 1900’s, on a trip to the A.S. Trude Ranch near Big Springs, ID, the fly was apparently created as a joke, using red yarn from a cabin rug as the body and reddish dog hair for a wing. The fly was an instant success and eventually got “dressed up” with more common fly tying materials, including a tail and hackle, converting it to more of a dry fly dressing.

The fly became a staple in the Rocky Mountains and evolved, as most patterns do, with the increased availability of more diverse fly tying materials. It seems a number of great fly tiers, including Dan Bailey, had a hand in the evolution of the fly we know today. While there are a number of variations still available, the Royal Trude is probably the best known. Essentially, it is just a hair wing version of the classic Royal Coachman. The Lime Trude, which gained notoriety after winning the Jackson Hole One-Fly Contest (I believe in the late 80’s or early 90’s), is probably a close second in popularity.

Much of the fly fishing history in the Smoky Mountains was not recorded so it is difficult to say just when the fly first made an appearance on our streams. But it has certainly been catching trout for many decades. For the purposes mentioned above, it has everything you need. The bright, greenish-yellow body looks like a lot of what the trout see this time of year. The hackle and calf wing make it a fairly buoyant fly. And the white hair wing also makes it highly visible.

It is certainly an attractor fly that might pass for a variety of caddisflies, stoneflies, and even mayflies. Fish it in sizes #16 – #12 on your favorite Smoky Mountain stream and let me know what you think!

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