Flies: 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

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: The Hidden Terrestrials

We often hear about the importance of fishing terrestrials in the summer months. Out west, the conversation usually focuses on hoppers. Around here, we talk more about beetles, ants, and inchworms.   Regardless, there are a number of land-based insects from beetles, ants and hoppers to cicadas, bees and black flies that find their way into the water during the summer months.

Just the other day on a guide trip, a customer caught a brook trout that had a mouth full of small beetles. The fish had obviously been very recently gorging on them, but if you studied the surface of the water in that pool, you’d have a tough time finding a single beetle on the water. You would also be challenged to see ants, inchworms, or any other terrestrial. However, if you used a bug seine in that same pool, you would get an entirely different picture.

The fact is these land-based insects are not particularly good swimmers. Most of them, particularly ants, beetles and inchworms, briefly attempt to swim on the surface of the water but soon are caught by currents and swept below the surface.   But nearly every fisherman who fishes terrestrials, fishes them on the surface… and for good reason. Nearly every fly shop or fly manufacturer almost exclusively sells topwater terrestrial patterns. And most of these are constructed of foam or some other highly buoyant material to make the fly ride high on the water.

While you can certainly catch plenty of trout on these patterns and have a blast doing it, you are missing out on A LOT of fish. If you are a fly tier, try tying a few ants with a dubbed body and a hen feather rather than foam and hackle from a rooster neck. Tie some beetles without the high-vis sighter on the back and instead add a few wraps of lead wire. If you don’t tie flies, place a split shot above your favorite terrestrial pattern next time you go fishing.

A great way to fish them in pocket water is with a straight-line nymphing technique, allowing them to swing at the end of the drift. In pools, fish them a few feet under a strike indicator. Or tie on one of those big, buoyant foam hoppers and drop a submerged beetle or ant about 15” off the back. I probably use this method more than any other.

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

Flies: Little Yellow Sallies

Yellow Sally Adult

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

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

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

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

Egg Laying Imitation

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

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

Little Yellow Sally Nymph

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

Neversink Caddis

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

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

Tips for Warm Weather Wading

June is here and that means things begin to make another seasonal change here in the mountains.  I always look forward to warmer weather because I get to shed the waders and enjoy the feel of cool mountain stream water on my legs and feet. I also enjoy the freedom of movement I have without waders.  But the absence of waders also exposes you to a few more risks.

Mountain fishing involves moving.  You move through the water, you move over boulders and you move through the woods where you encounter sharp sticks, prickly bushes and undergrowth, poison ivy, and a variety of critters.  For these reasons, I always encourage people not to wear shorts when wet wading.  A pair of long, synthetic “quick-dry” pants will provide you the same level of comfort while still giving your legs much needed protection.

Wading boots are also a must.  I frequently see fishermen attempting to wet wade in Chacos or some other type of river sandals, and I cringe every time I do.  A good pair of wading boots will not only provide you with the much-needed traction of felt soles (or Vibram), but will also offer ankle support and toe protection.  You will definitely want both when navigating the rocky bottoms found in all mountain streams.

If you already have waders and boots, note that the boots are oversized to fit over the 3mm neoprene foot of the wader. Consider purchasing a pair of neoprene socks for wet wading.  These will not only make your boots fit, they will provide a layer of padding and insulation.

Great Northern Water Snake

Critters are another thing to be aware of when fishing in the summer months.  Snakes are the biggest concern for most people but they aren’t much of an issue. While we do have two poisonous snakes in the Smokies, Copperheads and Timber Rattlesnakes, most of the snakes encountered by fishermen are harmless water snakes.  I spend nearly 200 days a year in the park and probably see one or two poisonous snakes a year.  The Great Northern Water Snake is a fairly large water snake that is often mistaken for a Cottonmouth, a species we do not have in the Smokies.

Senseless

On a guide trip this spring, I came across a dead rattlesnake at the edge of the stream.  Someone had obviously bashed its head in with a rock.  There is absolutely no reason for this, and in the national park (and I believe the state of Tennesse), it is illegal.  If you encounter a snake, poisonous or otherwise, just leave it alone and move on.  They don’t want anything to do with you either.

What I try to keep an eye out for more than anything else, especially during the summer months, are hornet nests.  They love to build these things on low branches above streams.  If you see one, steer clear and move on to the next hole.  And when you do, make sure it is still well out of range of your back cast.  Hooking a hornet nest can ruin your day in a hurry.

Hornet Nest

If you do accidentally get too close and get stung, DO NOT start swatting!  This triggers a pheromone that signals all other hornets in the area and one or two stings can turn into dozens.  Just get far away from the nest as quickly as possible.

Yellow Jackets are also common in the Smokies and typically build their nests in the ground.  As with snakes, your best solution here is just to pay attention and watch where you are stepping.  Of course, if you are allergic to either of these, come prepared with an EpiPen or other treatment.  If you’re not allergic, most stings can be easily treated by immediately and thoroughly rinsing the area.  Applying an anti-itch medication will also provide relief.

Mosquitoes, noseeums, and other biting insects are not a huge problem when you’re on the stream but can be as soon as you step away from the stream in the woods or on the trail.  On the stream, you’ll mostly just be harassed by gnats that don’t bite, but love to hover around your face and get in your eyes.

The best prevention for all of these, of course, is good old-fashion bug spray.  Bug sprays with higher concentrations of Deet seem to be most effective, but be careful when using them.  Deet has the ability to melt plastic, and getting a healthy dose of Deet heavy bug spray on your fingers can wreck a fly line.  Just avoid spraying it on your palms and finger tips.  If you’re one who likes to spray your hands and rub it on your face, just spray the back of your hands and rub it in that way.

 

Of course, anytime you’re maneuvering through the woods, there’s a chance of picking up a tick.  Deet based bug sprays will help with that, too.  I still try to check myself periodically, particularly at the end of the day.  If you do find one on you, there’s an easy way to remove it.  Squeeze a dab of medicated lip balm (the gel type that comes in the squeeze tube) onto your finger and smear it on the tick.  It will immediately release itself from your skin. Cool, huh?!?  I always keep a tube of Carmex in my first aid kit for this reason.

Rob’s Hellbender Nymph

Since we’re talking about big browns this month, I thought it only fitting to feature one of my favorite flies for big brown trout. While I have caught a number of big browns on small flies over the years, most of the big guys in the mountains have come on larger stonefly nymphs. This is a little bit misleading as most of the large browns I’ve caught in the Smokies I spotted before I fished for them. And when I spot a big brown trout, I almost always tie some sort of stonefly nymph imitation to my line. Who is to say I wouldn’t have caught those same fish on a #20 Zebra Midge had I chosen that fly?

I’ve always said that fly selection is 45% scientific, 45% experience, and 10% dumb luck. The scientific aspect comes in when you choose a fly to specifically imitate something that the fish are known to be feeding on. For example, if you see sulfur mayflies hatching, you see fish feeding on them, and you choose a sulfur mayfly imitation, you’ve more or less made a scientific decision. If you go to the stream and tie on a Royal Wulff for no other reason than you’ve always done pretty well on a Royal Wulff, you’ve made your decision based on experience. And of course, if you choose to fish the purple and green fly for no other reason than it looks neat, you’re pretty much depending on dumb luck!

All three methods have been successful over the years but the first two are usually more reliable because you have something at least somewhat logical and reliable to base the decision on. Even when your logic may be incorrect, such as choosing a sulfur to imitate a perceived sulfur hatch when the fish are actually eating caddis, you tend to have more success because you have confidence in your fly. When you have confidence in your fly pattern, you tend to fish it longer and better.

My tendency to select a stonefly nymph when I fish to a big brown trout comes from scientific reasoning and experience. I’ve studied the aquatic entomology of the Smokies and know that there are a lot of stonefly nymphs in the streams. I also reason that a larger morsel of food, like a stonefly nymph, would be more enticing to a larger fish. And I’m also relying on experience – I’ve caught a lot of big brown trout on stonefly nymphs over the years.

Golden Stonefly Nymph

Some of my favorite “go-to” stonefly patterns over the years have been old standards like a Tellico Nymph, a Bitch Creek Nymph, and a Girdle Bug. I always liked the coloring of the Tellico because I thought it best represented a golden stone, which seems to be the most prolific big stonefly in most Smoky Mountain streams. I liked the flat, two-tone profile of the Bitch Creek Nymph. It seems to produce a nice rocking motion on the drift. And while the Bitch Creek Nymph does incorporate rubber legs in the design, the additional rubber legs on a Girdle Bug always seemed to give it a much more lifelike appearance.

So what did I do? I took what I thought were the best features from each of my favorite stonefly nymph patterns and blended them into one fly. The result is Rob’s Hellbender Nymph. It has the flat, elongated, two-tone profile of a Bitch Creek, the multiple rubber legs of a Girdle Bug, and a color similar to the Tellico.

I weight these flies with lead wire that is flattened to provide that rocking motion in the water. I not only tie them in different sizes, usually #10 – #4, but I tie them in different weights. To get down fast in deep, fast runs, I like a lot of weight, but I prefer a lightly weighted one when casting to a brown trout in the shallows.

For whatever reason, offering flies in different weights tends to be too confusing to customers at a fly shop so commercially tied patterns like this one are typically made available in one uniform weight. So the ones you find in a shop like Little River Outfitters are going to be lightly weighted so the fly can be fished in slower, shallower water. To get them down quickly in deeper, faster runs, just add the appropriate amount of split shot.

While I may choose something like a large streamer when searching for big browns, this fly has become my “go-to” for a large brown that I have spotted first. Of course, every situation is different and there will be countless circumstances that suggest otherwise. But next time you’re in the Smokies with a big brown in your sights, see what he thinks about this bug!

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

Flies: Rob’s Hellbender Dry

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

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

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

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

Bottom View

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Flies: 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.

Flies: Green Weenie

In June, hatches start to thin out. We still see a fair number of Yellow Sallies and a smattering of caddis and mayflies, but the heavier, attention getting hatches of spring have mostly come to an end. But when summer eases its way into the mountains, trout turn their attention to terrestrials, and so should you. We’ll talk about several varieties of terrestrials over the coming months but we’ll start with the granddaddy of all mountain terrestrials: the Green Weenie.

If you’ve spent much time around Smoky Mountain fly shops or researched recommended fly patterns for the area, you’ve no doubt run across this fly. Chances are you’ve fished one at some point. While incredibly simplistic, this is one of the most popular and most productive fly patterns in the Smoky Mountains. My good friend Brian Courtney ties this fly for Little River Outfitters in Townsend and to date, has tied them 25,000!

Inchworm
Caddis Larva

There is a little bit of debate about what the fly actually imitates. Many claim it imitates a caddis pupa. Most believe it imitates a green inchworm. Since I am including it in a conversation about terrestrials (land based insects), you can guess which side of the debate I fall. There a lot of those little green inchworms that end up in the water and trout love them! But the truth is, many caddis pupae look very similar to green inchworms, and the Green Weenie is a pretty effective imitation for both. However, one of the reasons I tend to put it more in the terrestrial family is that it works best in terrestrial season. While you can certainly catch fish on it other times of the year, it always seems to be at its best from mid May through early October.

The Green Weenie is different than most terrestrials like hoppers, beetles, and ants in that you typically fish it like a nymph rather than on the surface. There are other floating fly patterns intended to imitate inchworms but I don’t find them to be nearly as effective. Inchworms are poor swimmers and once they hit the water, it’s not long before they are submerged. So mostly I tie my Green Weenies to sink, and fish them on a dead drift. But I do tie a number of variations for different water types and situations.

Beadhead Green Weenie

When the stream is running fuller or when I’m fishing deeper pools and runs, I tend to fish more heavily weighted patterns. These are sometimes tied with a bead head or with several turns of lead wire under the body and fished under an indicator or with straight-line tactics. In these situations, I often fish the Green Weenie in tandem with a second fly. One of my favorite combinations is a Green Weenie for the top nymph and a smaller, more subdued nymph like a Pheasant Tail about 15” below it. Trout often take the Green Weenie but I believe just as often, its bright color gets attention and the trout take the more subdued fly. When nymphing shallower runs or pockets, I’ll often replaced the weighted trailer nymph with an un-weighted nymph or soft hackle pattern.

Another favorite technique for fishing shallow runs and pockets is to put the Green Weenie about 15” off the back of a dry fly. In these instances, I prefer an un-weighted Green Weenie. The weight of the hook is enough to get it down in this kind of water and the dry fly floats better and longer in choppy currents without the extra weight. I do sometimes like to add a glass bead to the fly for these occasions.

Barbie Bug

I most often fish this fly in a bright lime green to chartreuse color but also in more drab olive and insect green shades. Others have reported a lot of success with white, beige, and tan colors. And for whatever reason, pink seems to work well. You will sometimes see the pink version referred to as a Barbie Bug. Regardless of color, I tend to fish them in sizes #10 through #14. The smaller sizes, sometimes down to a #16, are reserved mostly late summer and early fall when the water is lower.

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

Foam Beetle

In general, I mostly look forward to spring and fall fishing the most in the mountains. Temperatures are mild and fish are typically at their most active. However, there is one particular thing that makes me excited for the warm weather of summer to arrive: Beetle fishing!

With mayflies, it’s different. Sure it’s cool seeing a trout casually come up and sip your mayfly imitation out of a foam line, but I’ve seen trout cross from one side of a pool to another to eat a foam beetle. And it’s not a sip; it’s a GULP!

Common Black Beetle

Terrestrial fishing is a big deal in the mountains in the summer. Hatches of mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies are fewer and land based insects like inchworms, ants, and hoppers fill the void. Beetles are one of the most prolific terrestrial “hatches” in the park and there are about as many different types of actual beetles as there are beetle patterns to imitate them. I used to tie a fly called a Java Bug that was a beetle imitation made with a painted coffee bean epoxied to a body of peacock herl. The coffee bean not only provided a perfect profile, but would land on the water with an enticing “plop,” much like a real beetle might.

My favorite beetle imitation for a beetle, as the title not so discreetly suggests, is a foam beetle. With foam, you can still get the desired “plop,” but in a much more durable body. Many patterns, including some I tie, will have a peacock herl or even a sparkle dub body to capture that iridescence found on most beetles. They look great and fish great, but I’ve found that a simple thread body does about as well. For legs, I’ve seen everything from hackle to thread, but in my book, it’s hard to beat thin rubber for the movement.

I mostly use a size range of #10 – #14. I lean more toward the smaller sizes later in the summer when the water is lower. Most of mine are tied in black or brown, and I like to put a small strip of yellow or orange foam on the top to make it easier to see.

Foam Beetle

Trout seem to be looking for them more in the afternoons, but certainly try them anytime of day. Beetles seem to be more active in the afternoon and evening so I think they’re more available to fish at those times. Windy days can be great beetle days (or any kind of terrestrial) as more of them end up in the water. And as you might expect, fishing them under overhanging tree limbs can be very productive.

Most of the time, I fish them like I would any dry fly, drifting them from the top of a current down to the fish, but I sometimes alter my tactics in slower pools. Beetle imitations do hit the water a little harder, which can be good and bad. If you spot a nice fish in a slow pool and plop that beetle in front of him, he’ll often spook. But if you plop it down a foot or so behind him, he’ll often turn around for it – one of my favorite kind of takes!

Tie some for yourself or give me a shout and I’ll tie some for you. They are included in my Boys of Summer fly selection. Whatever you do, just make sure you have some with you on any summertime trip to the Smokies!

Simple Foam Beetle

Hook: TMC 100 #16 – #10
Thread: Black 8/0
Back/Shell: Black 2mm craft foam, tied in rearward and folded over
Body: Black thread
Legs: Black rubber legs, small to micro depending on hook size
Sighter: Orange (or other bright color) 2mm craft foam

Note: Numerous other colors of foam and thread can be used but black and brown are my best producers

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