Caddis have always seemed to be one of the most overlooked and under-imitated aquatic insects in the fly fishing world. Maybe it’s because they haven’t been written about nearly as much as their sexier mayfly cousins over the years. I mean, mayflies are given names like Pale Morning Dun, Quill Gordon, and Gray Fox… just to name a few. Caddis are given names like Green Caddis, Brown Caddis, Black Caddis…
Regardless of the lack of respect given to caddis over the years, they have always been and continue to be abundant in nearly every body of freshwater and a staple in the diet of trout everywhere. I have numerous caddis patterns that I fish seasonally in the Smokies, but one that finds its way into the line-up more than any other is the Soft Hackle Wired Caddis.
There have been a number of wire body caddis patterns over the years and this is simply my variation on similar recipes. I sometimes tie it without a bead, but most often with a black tungsten bead at the head. It fishes well on a dead drift under a strike indicator but, especially when caddis are emerging, can be very effective fished with a drift and swing method. Learn more about this method and other similar techniques in this article on Active Nymphing.
Soft Hackle Wired Caddis
Hook: #18 – 12 TMC 2457 (or equivalent) Bead: Black tungsten to match hook size Body: Small chartreuse wire* Back: Peacock herl woven between wire wraps Thorax: Black or brown Wapsi Life Cycle dubbing* Hackle: Black or brown hen*
*Other colors can be substituted to match specific caddis species
As with most things in fly fishing, fishing packs and vests have come a long way over the years. The great thing about that is you now have a seemingly endless array of ways to carry and organize your on-stream tools and accessories. The bad thing is those seemingly endless choices can be a bit overwhelming.
There is certainly no right or wrong pack or vest. The best option for you will boil down to how much stuff you plan to carry, where you plan to carry it (backcountry or more roadside), and how you want to organize it. As with fly rods, the more diverse your fishing adventures are, the more likely you’ll need more than one option. For instance, what might work well for backcountry trout fishing in the mountains may not work very well wading saltwater flats. But for most folks, you should be able to find one system that works for all of your fishing needs.
Again, what works best for me may not suit you at all, so I’m not going to try to tell you the best product. However, I have had the opportunity over the last 30 years to use most every style of vest/pack and will share below what I believe are pros and cons of each.
Vests: For decades, this has been the standard for carrying fly boxes, tools, etc. on the stream and while there have been some changes over the years, the basic concept is still the same and this is still the choice for many anglers. One of the greatest benefits of a vest is that with individual pockets for nearly everything, it’s really easy to keep things separated and organized. And the design of the vest is such that you can keep most of those items quickly and easily accessible. Most vests will also have larger compartments on the back for items that you may not need to access as frequently, like a rain jacket or lunch. D-rings on the back of a vest also make a great place to attach a net where its out of the way but easily accessible with the addition of a magnetic or clip attachment.
While there have been numerous improvements over the years, the biggest complaint with vests still seems to be that they are heavy, with most of the weight being carried on your neck and shoulders. Another downside is they do not wear well with a backpack. If you like to do a lot of backcountry fishing, you may want to carry more safety and comfort provisions that necessitate a backpack in addition to your fishing gear. It can be difficult to comfortably and practically wear a backpack when the straps are going over full, bulky pockets on a vest.
Hip Packs: These are often worn around the waist on the rear when not fishing, and rotated to the hip when accessing items in the pack. Probably their greatest advantage is that they stay out of your way when fishing and offer total freedom of movement when casting, etc. There are also accessories you can add (or may be built in to some packs) for carrying a net.
The biggest downside to a hip pack is that it doesn’t keep items as organized and it can be more difficult to access those items. Additionally, the hip pack, by itself, usually does not have the capacity to carry larger items like a rain jacket or lunch. However, a hip pack does wear comfortably with an additional backpack. Many will use the hip pack alone when fishing closer to the car and add a backpack when fishing in the backcountry. Finally, these are not the best option for someone who does a lot of deep wading. Although, there are a lot of waterproof options now.
Chest Packs: These, as the name implies, are designed to be worn on the chest and come in a number of sizes. They organize things in much the same way a hip pack does but keep things far more accessible on your chest and high out of the water. Many will have a D-ring on the rear of the neck strap for carrying a net. I would include a chest fly box (like I use) in the same category as a chest pack, except that there is no need for separate fly boxes.
Some don’t like having a cumbersome item on their chest and some of the larger chest packs can be quite cumbersome. Smaller chest packs are very comfortable but don’t carry as much stuff. In either case, you won’t have enough capacity to carry large items but like a hip pack, you can easily wear a backpack with your chest pack to carry more things when travelling far from the car. Some companies even make “fishing backpacks” designed in such a way that a compatible chest pack can clip to the front of it.
Sling Packs: These are the latest trend in fishing packs and are designed to be more accessible than a hip pack and more out of the way than a chest pack. They are worn diagonally across your body so that they can be easily “slung” around to your front when you need to get to it. It can then be “slung” around and secured out of the way on your back when you’re fishing. They come in small and large sizes depending on how much you need to carry.
These packs are well designed and very comfortable but even the big ones don’t have enough capacity to carry everything you might want to take on a trip deep into the backcountry. On such a trip, I typically carry a rain jacket, lunch, first-aid kit and plenty of water. I also regularly carry my wading boots in on long hikes. You need a backpack to carry those items and a sling bag just can’t be worn and utilized with a backpack. The other downside to a sling bag is there just doesn’t seem to be a good place to carry a net (if needed) without it getting in the way.
Lanyard: A fishing lanyard is basically a necklace for carrying your essentials around your neck. Most will comfortably carry and organize nippers, forceps, tippet, floatant and small fly box. By itself, this is for the absolute minimalist. For others, it may be a way to keep essential, frequently used items immediately accessible while carrying other less frequently used items in a hip pack or backpack.
The downside is fairly obvious with a lanyard. It has almost zero capacity. There is no place for rain jacket, lunch, water, camera, leaders, multiple fly boxes, etc. In my opinion, the only reasonable use for a lanyard would be in a boat or in conjunction with another pack as mentioned above.
My friend Walter Babb said that most people’s favorite fly is the fly they happened to have on the first day the fishing was really good. The implication of his statement is that more often than not, it’s the archer, not the arrow. Most of the time, if your fly is presented well and the fish are feeding, it probably doesn’t matter what fly you have on. And if the fish aren’t feeding? It probably doesn’t matter what fly you have on!
But since you happened to have that fly on the first day the fishing was good, you have confidence in it. Now it’s the first fly you put on and you leave it on longer. I have countless fly patterns that I abandoned because they didn’t catch fish the first time I tried them, but often that first time was after I tried everything else. Nothing was working that day!
With all of that said, I have, by far, caught more big brown trout in the Smokies on a Tellico Nymph than any other fly. But, you guessed it… the first big brown trout I caught in the Smokies was on a Tellico Nymph. I have confidence in it. And since most of the big browns I’ve taken over the years were either spotted first or caught during “favorable brown trout conditions,” I’d put a Tellico on in anticipation. So, it’s a bit deceiving. Who is to say I wouldn’t have caught those fish on a Prince Nymph had I chosen to tie one on?
Nevertheless, the Tellico Nymph is a good fly and it’s been around a long time. Its exact origins are unclear, though it was thought to have, obviously, been initially created and fished on the Tellico River in East Tennessee. It has definitely been around since the 1940’s, but some estimate that it may date back to the turn of the 20thcentury. In any case, it has to be the most well known fly from this region and it has accounted for fish all over the world.
In addition to its origin, there seems to be some confusion as to what the fly was originally supposed to imitate. Many contend that it represents a caddis larva. Others are just as certain it is supposed to be a mayfly nymph. To me, there is absolutely no doubt that it was intended to represent a golden stonefly nymph. The coloration and size are consistent with that of a golden stone, and the Tellico River has long been known for its abundance of these nymphs.
As with any popular fly that has been around for this long, there have been a number of variations on the pattern over the years. My personal favorite was devised by East Tennessee fly tyer, Rick Blackburn. I tie most in size #10.
Hook: 3XL nymph hook #12 – 6 Thread: Dark brown 6/0 Weight: .015 to .035 lead wire (depending on hook size) Tail: Mink fibers (I often use moose as a substitute) Rib: Gold wire and 2-3 strands of peacock herl Wing Case: Section of turkey tail – lacquered Body: Wapsi Stonefly Gold Life Cycle dubbing Hackle: Brown Chinese neck hackle, palmered through thorax
In some fly fishing scenarios, spotting fish is absolutely critical for success. Fishing the saltwater flats for bonefish, redfish, tarpon, etc. or the freshwater mud flats for carp will provide little more than casting practice if you can’t see the fish. In other scenarios, such as fishing a mountain trout stream, you can tell where fish should be by reading the water, and you can catch a lot of fish just by fishing likely spots. But even when fishing trout streams, the ability to spot fish in the water can sometimes allow you to locate and target larger fish. In the fall, this is particularly relevant in the Smokies as large brown trout begin moving into flatter, shallower water preparing to spawn.
Spotting fish can be difficult to learn and there is no substitute for years of experience and practice, but there are a few things that can help you get started. The best place to start is with a pair of polarized sunglasses and this article will help a little when choosing a pair. The next thing to understand is how trout see, because as you seek out vantage points from which to spot fish, you want to avoid spooking the fish in the process. Here is an article on trout behavior that goes into a little more detail. Now we’re ready to go spot some fish.
Start by looking for fish in slower water. The more broken the surface is, the more difficult it will be to see through it. If possible, try to find a higher vantage point from which to look. This will greatly reduce the amount of light refraction from the water’s surface. Just remember that the higher up you get, the easier it will be for fish to pick up your movement. Avoid standing erect on a large boulder, as your silhouette will be far more pronounced. A high bank with a wooded backdrop is ideal, but you’ll still want to keep your movements slow and minimal. If you are on a large rock above a pool, get on your belly and peek over the edge. Remember the old westerns where the Indians were looking off the rocky bluffs about to attack the wagon train? That’s the idea.
Now that you’re in position, take your time. It’s extremely rare that you’re going to step up to a pool and immediately see a 27” brown trout. You have to methodically scan the pool. Start by reading the water and looking for fish where they should be. Look for obvious feeding areas in and around current lanes and foam lines. Look for areas with obvious cover under and around big rocks and/or fallen trees. They blend in REALLY well, so look long and hard and train your eye to look through the water rather than at it.
It’s hard. You’ll spot plenty of fish that turn out to be rocks or pieces of wood. I once spent 15 minutes casting to a plastic grocery bag hung on an underwater limb. It had the exact shape and movement of a trout! I was in the water and my buddy was above me, watching from a bridge. We were both certain it was a fish!
Movement and shape really are the best giveaways and that’s why it’s so important to take your time and give long looks to those likely spots. You may not see anything at first, then you see a little movement and suddenly the fish is visible. And once you spot one, you often begin to notice others around him. Watching the actual stream bottom, especially on sunnier days, can be helpful too. The movement that you often detect is the shadow of the fish.
Another thing to look for is a flash near the stream bottom. The eyes of a trout are positioned in such a way that they look slightly upward. When feeding on nymphs on the bottom, the trout has to angle his body to see below and will often “twist” his body when he eats the nymph. When this occurs, his white belly reflects light and produces a flash. This is always helpful when looking for fish, but especially in faster water.
All of this is easier the more familiar you are with the stream bottom. If you have a favorite pool, maybe one where you spooked a big fish before, keep going back there and looking. You will inevitably begin memorizing the stream bottom and will more quickly and easily be able to differentiate between rocks and fish. Again, it’s not easy and it takes time but like most things, the more you practice, the better you’ll get.
So, you’re starting to spot some fish… now what? Don’t just jump in and start casting the second you see a nice one. Keep watching. What is the fish doing? If you see a big fish just hugging the bottom, he’s not feeding and you’re wasting your time casting to him. But good news… you found a big fish. You might come back closer to dawn or dusk when he is more likely to be feeding.
If you spot a fish up in the water column, he’s likely feeding. Keep watching him. Is he looking up? Does he consistently feed to his right? Is he staying in one place or is he systematically rotating to different locations within the pool? Pay attention to all of these things and then you can plan your attack. Sometimes with big fish, you’re only going to get one shot and you want to make it count.
How much time you spend looking depends on you. I know guys that do little more than target big brown trout, and they spend far more time watching water than they do fishing. For me, it depends on where I’m fishing and the conditions. If I’m fishing pocket water on a high country brook trout stream, I’m not going to spend much time, if any, looking for big fish. I’m going to cover a lot of water and hit the likely spots. If I’m fishing a big pool on a brown trout river, I’m going to spend at least a few minutes looking before I jump in. If I’m fishing that same big pool in late fall, I’m going to look a lot more thoroughly!
One of the worst things you can do to a dry fly is catch a fish on it! They slime it and submerge it and swim it around… Just in general, keeping a dry fly floating better and longer seems to be an ongoing quest for many fly tyers and fishers.
There are a number of factors that can go into how well and how long a dry fly continues to float high. Certainly the materials from which the fly is tied will play a big role, as will the skill of the angler. The more you allow your fly to drag across currents, rather than drift on them, the more waterlogged your fly will become. Where you are fishing will make a difference, too. It’s easier to keep a fly floating high in big, open rivers where false casting is an option than it is in a small, tight mountain stream. In any case, there are an endless number of products on the market that are designed to help with this task and we lump them all into the category of “floatants.”
As with many products in the fly fishing world, if you ask ten different anglers which one is the best, it’s entirely possible that you will get ten different answers. Sometimes those answers will come in the form of a specific brand of floatant, and others will come in the form of a specific style. When it comes to brand, I believe that is a matter of personal preference and you’ll just have to try a few different ones to see if one in particular earns your loyalty. But when it comes to different styles of floatant, the specific task at hand may determine which will be best. In fact, you may want to have more than one style of floatant to perform different tasks. Listed below are a few different common styles of floatant and a description of how and when they might best be applied.
While many anglers use them in different ways, liquid floatants are probably most useful before you ever get to the stream. Whether dry flies that you tie yourself or buy from a shop, you can use a liquid style floatant to “pre-treat” new flies in much the same way as you might “Scotchgard” your sofa. Exact application may vary and you should read the recommendations for the specific brand you purchase, but typically, flies will be soaked in the liquid for five minutes or so and then set out to dry overnight. In theory, after application of the product, water will better bead and roll of the fly material rather than absorb into it.
Gel Floatants Gel floatants are probably the most common and popular style of floatant. They come in a small, very portable bottle and, like the liquid floatants, are designed to be a pre-treatment to an already dry fly. The big difference is gel floatants are designed to be used streamside, immediately before fishing the fly.
It is important that gels are not “over applied.” A small amount should be rubbed into the fly and any excess should be removed. Gels are also frequently mis-applied – after a fly has already become waterlogged. If a fly is already saturated, applying a gel floatant will essentially trap moisture into the fly and make it worse.
Also normally applied while the fly is still dry, spray floatants are basically just a variation on a gel floatant. Spray floatants come in a bottle with a pump top and are applied much like you would spray something like an eyeglass cleaner. They are not as messy as the gel but are sometimes more challenging to completey coat the fly.
These are basically just a thicker version of a gel floatant. They can really create a mess on smaller dry flies and are probably best suited for larger dries like hoppers and stoneflies. A lot of people prefer a paste floatant to apply to yarn strike indicators or even on a leader to keep it floating better.
These are used less as a pre-treatment and more as a means to revive a saturated fly. As mentioned above, when a dry fly becomes oversaturated and begins to sink, applying a gel or spray can often make it worse by trapping moisture in. Powder floatants are used to absorb and remove that moisture from a fly.
Typically they will come in a bottle with a wide, flip-top lid. The fly, still attached to the tippet, is inserted into the bottle and the lid is closed. The bottle is then shaken a few times and the moisture is removed from the fly.
At this point, there is a lot of debate on whether to re-apply a gel or spray type floatant and you’ll just have to find what works best for you. I usually don’t re-apply another floatant unless I’m using a synthetic (like foam) dry fly.
Brush floatants are essentially another version of a powder floatant. Rather than shaking the fly inside the bottle, a small brush is used to apply the powder to the fly. Again, it’s personal preference but with brush floatants, be prepared for a little frustration on windy days!
There are countless styles and floatants on the market today and all have their place. And unlike the homemade lighter fluid and paraffin concoctions of days gone by, they are typically odorless and environmentally friendly. You just need to find a system that suits your needs.
Personally, I carry a gel floatant for pre-treating dry flies and a “shake style” powder for reviving them and get by just fine. But I offer the disclaimer that I often offer in these newsletter articles… This is just one man’s opinion!
In the world of fly fishing, there is an endless array of gadgets designed to serve every purpose from threading a fly, to removing a fly from a tree, to tying knots… If you have any task to perform in fly fishing that you find the least bit frustrating or unpleasant, chances are someone has invented a gadget to make it easier. But I’ve never been much of a gadget guy and I try to keep the number of items I carry on the stream to a minimum.
It’s funny how different folks have different priorities when it comes to what they carry with them. For instance, I never go into the backcountry without a daypack that includes a first-aid kit and the basic necessities (fire source, water purification, etc.) to spend the night if I have to. While 99.9% of backcountry fishing trips go off without a hitch, there are a number of things that could go wrong, and I like to be prepared for the unexpected. I was taught long ago that there is a name for people who go into the woods unprepared: “Statistics.” Yet, I regularly encounter fishermen deep in the backcountry with no such provisions, but they will have fifteen different knot tying tools hanging from their vest!
I’ve taken a really long way around the barn to say that there are only two fishing “tools” that I routinely carry with me when I’m fishing: nippers and forceps. I’ve talked about nippers in another article. They are responsible for most of the work I’m doing with my line. Forceps handle pretty much everything else.
If you get in certain circles, mainly the medical community, someone might correct you and say, “Those aren’t forceps. They’re hemostats.” Another might refer to them as clamps. Maybe there are subtle differences in the three – I don’t know. But in fly fishing, the three terms are interchangeable and refer to a tool that looks kind of like a pair of scissors but with a nose more like a pair of pliers. While they come in slightly different shapes and sizes, most are fairly long and narrow and have a locking feature.
Forceps have a number of different uses but I mostly use them to perform three common tasks. If I need to crimp the barb on a hook, whether required by law or simply preferred, I use my forceps. If I need to squeeze a split shot on a leader, I use my forceps. And if I happen to hook a fish a little deeper in the mouth and the fly is difficult to reach without harming the fish, I use my forceps.
The locking feature is most often used for hook extraction. I clamp the forceps on the hook and carefully remove it from the mouth of the fish. I also use the locking feature to clamp the forceps to my pack or shirt when they’re not in use. For these reasons, I greatly prefer a pair of locking forceps to pliers.
I also prefer to have forceps with flat jaws. Many forceps that might be offered to you by your friend who works in the ER will have grooved jaws. Those grooved jaws are great for many of the intended tasks in medical applications, but they can be a hindrance when trying to crimp the barb on a hook. Trout hooks are often so little that they work themselves into those grooves making it difficult to meet the barb with enough metal to flatten it.
The other downside to forceps that are made for the medical community is quality. I know, it seems strange that a fly fisherman’s forceps would be superior quality to a doctor’s. But medical forceps are often designed to be “single use,” so the metal used to construct them is inferior. They bend and rust easily. Forceps built for fly fishing are usually made of high quality stainless steel and built to last. And assuming you don’t lose them, they should last forever.
Beyond that, the only real differences in fly fishing forceps are shape, color, and features. Some are designed with a variety of add-ons, such as scissor blades, which would be great for anglers who might use yarn for strike indicators. Color is sort of personal preference but there are also practical considerations.
When fishing for spookier trout like those in the Smokies, I prefer not to have the bright silver or gold forceps because I think they “flash” too much when the sun hits them, potentially spooking trout. But flat black ones are sometimes difficult to locate when you inevitably drop them in the water. I’m a fan of the the “trout skin” colored forceps. Not only are the cool looking, but they’re dull enough not to reflect much light, yet light enough to see in the water.
As always, a lot of it boils down to how you’re going to carry them, what they will be used for and your own personal preference for appearance. In any case, pick up a pair if you don’t have some already. You’ll use them a lot.
I was shocked when I realized that I had never included an article about the Parachute Adams in this newsletter. Not only is it one of the best dry flies in the Smoky Mountains, it is arguably the best dry fly for trout in the world. It doesn’t imitate anything in particular but just has a buggy look and serves as a great “generic” mayfly imitation. In a pinch, it could also pass for a number of caddis and midges.
It is derived from the original Adams dry fly. A parachute pattern is merely a method of tying a dry fly. While traditional mayfly patterns had two upright and divided wings, with a hackle wound around the hook vertically; a parachute pattern has a single post with the hackle wound horizontally around that post. The post is typically white or some other bright color like pink or orange, allowing the angler to better see the fly on the water. Additionally, with a hackle wound horizontally around the post, the fly rides flatter on the water with a more realistic profile.
The original fly has been around for nearly 100 years. In 1922, Leonard Halladay, a Michigan fly tyer conceived the Adams as a general mayfly imitation. It was first fished by an Ohio attorney and friend of Halladay, Charles F. Adams on the Boardman River near Traverse City, Michigan. Charles Adams reported his success with the fly to Halladay who decided to name the fly after his friend. While it is unclear exactly when the Adams got the “parachute treatment,” parachute style flies began gaining popularity in the U.S. in 1971 when Swisher and Richards published the book, Selective Trout, and advocated the advantage of dry flies that rode flush on the water. One would assume that the parachute version of the Adams was born somewhere in that timeframe.
Since then, it has seen numerous variations in the body color, post material, post color and more. While many of these variations have been highly successful, it’s still tough to beat the traditional pattern. The recipe for that traditional version is included below.
Hook: TMC 100 (or equivalent) sizes #10 – #26
Thread: 8/0 black
Tail: Even mix of brown and grizzly hackle fibers
Body: Natural muskrat fur (or and modern dry fly dubbing in Adams Grey)
Post: White calf hair (synthetics such as floating poly yarn also work well)
Hackle: One grizzly and one brown rooster hackle, sized to match hook
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!
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.
I’m a bit of an oddball. This is not exactly breaking news for most folks who know me. But to paraphrase John Gierach, “If, from time to time, people don’t walk away from you shaking their head… You’re doing something wrong.” I could certainly dedicate an entire article, or even a book, to my oddball qualities, but for this article, I am referring to one specific oddball quality. I fish and guide with a set-up that combines a pack and fly boxes all in one contraption. You’ve seen it. It’s my chest fly box, custom built by the Richardson Chest Fly Box Company in Pennsylvania. It’s awesome and I love it.
So, that makes it a little more challenging for me to give advice on individual fly boxes. But I have over the years used about every kind of box and pack known to man. And along the way I have learned a few things that may be helpful to you when purchasing or organizing your flies. At the least, it might get you thinking about it. And who knows? Maybe one day you’ll come to your senses and buy a Richardson!
While chest fly boxes like mine are more common in the Northeast, they are hardly common. Most folks go a different route. They have a variety of different fly boxes that they stuff in a vest, hip pack, chest pack, sling bag, or some other carryall. No matter how you decide to carry them, fly boxes are essential organizational tools in our sport and it helps to know a few things about them.
They come in a number of different sizes, from large, briefcase size boxes for boats to ultra slim boxes not much bigger than a smartphone. When choosing a fly box size, you have to consider how many flies you need to carry, how you’re going to carry them, how big the flies are, and how you want to organize them. For instance, a big, briefcase size box may hold every fly you have but it won’t be very portable when wading creeks. Or a small, ultra slim box might be convenient to slip in a pocket, but if you plan to store bass bugs in it, you’ll only be able to carry a couple and you won’t be able to close the lid.
In addition, you’ll have to consider how you want to organize your flies within your box. There are countless options for securing your flies from slot foam, flat foam, and nubby foam to compartments, clips, and magnets. Some boxes might even have a combination of both, with a type of foam on one side of the box and compartments on the other. Certainly personal preference plays a big role in you box interior of choice, but there are practical matters to consider as well.
Compartments tend to lend themselves well to beefier patterns, or large quantities of the same fly. For instance, if you fish a lot of Pheasant Tails and carry a lot of them with you, it’s far easier to dump them all into one compartment rather than trying to line up three dozen Pheasant Tails across multiple rows of foam. I find foam more useful when I am trying to organize a lot of different patterns but small quantities of each. It’s easier to see what I have.
The type of fly may also determine the best way to store it. Thin foam or magnetic boxes can be great for midges and nymphs but can crush the hackles on many dry flies. On the other hand, trying to carry midges in deep compartments can not only be a waste of space, it can be difficult to grasp them with your fingers when removing them from the box.
Finally, when you’re on the stream, you don’t want to spend your time hunting for flies or digging through your pack for fly boxes. Try to have a designated area of your pack or vest for boxes rather than burying them under a rain jacket somewhere. And if you carry five fly boxes on the stream, try to make them five different, or at least different looking, fly boxes. This will save you all kinds of time when trying to locate a specific box of flies.
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.
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.