That'll Catch Trout

Don't throw those poorly tied flies away. They might be just what you need to match a hatch. I'll explain what I mean.

For several years in the late 1960's I helped teach a fly tying course at the Wilkes-Barre Campus of Penn State University. It was a happening in the Wyoming Valley. For each of those four years just about the same group of anglers took the course. Every year I'd see Jack Conyngham, Charlie Epstein, and a dozen other familiar faces eager to tie flies. After each class some of the students would ask me how the pattern they just completed looked. Many of these imitations had a bent or shorter than normal wing, sparse hackle, a long tail or other abnormality. When I didn't want to hurt their feelings about these less than perfect flies I'd reply, "that'll catch trout." Little did I realize how prophetic that would end up being.

Twenty years after that fly tying class I fly-fished the lower end of Spring Creek in central Pennsylvania one day in late May. Sulphurs began appearing just the day before on the stretch I planned to fish. Usually the first couple days of each year sulphurs appear for four to five hours and often the hatch begins in the afternoon. Trout often seem to go on a feeding frenzy when this hatch first appears. After those few days of afternoon hatches the sulphur then appears most often just around dusk.

It was a fairly warm afternoon and sulphurs began appearing by mid afternoon. Most of the duns escaped rapidly, flying off to nearby trees to rest for a day before they reappeared over the stream as spinners or mating adults. . Those duns that rested on the surface for any length of time disappeared quickly into the mouth of a Spring Creek streambred brown trout. I checked the surface and captured a few of the duns that didn't take flight. All of the mayflies lingering on the surface had one thing in common: All were deformed in one way or another. One had a wing half developed; the next had two short wings; the next one had no wings at all; and the next had the nymphal shuck still attached. Many anglers refer to these as stillborn duns. Trout seemed to sense that these imperfect duns that floated over them could not escape from the surface and they took them eagerly.

For a moment during the hatch I remembered those fly tying classes we conducted 20 years ago and the phrase "that'll catch trout" Since all these mayflies seemed to be cripples and malformed, why not try the poorest tied Sulphur in my fly box? Why wouldn't those less than perfect flies tied in that class copy those cripples better than a perfectly tied fly? I looked through a couple dozen Sulphur dry flies searching for one that was a bit torn and tattered. I found one that had only one wing and had evidently caught trout before.

I hurriedly tied this less than perfect pattern on to a 5x tippet and began casting. I cast a couple feet upstream from a trout feeding on cripples. Wow! On the first float past that trout it took the poor-excuse-for-a-Sulphur-pattern immediately. A half dozen other risers took that pattern before I quit for the day. Referring to a poorly tied fly and saying, "that'll catch trout" really meant something to me now.

I don't know why it is but in the more than 40 years that I've matched the hatches I've seen more crippled mayflies in four genera (Ephemerella, Drunella, Baetis and Ephemera) than in any other. These genera of mayflies include the sulphurs, blue-winged olives, little blue-winged olives and hendricksons.

You'll find hendricksons on many of our more important trout streams in East and Midwest. Hit this particular hatch when the early spring weather is inclement and hendricksons have difficulty taking flight and you're in for a memorable fishing-the-hatch experience. On warm spring days it's another matter-Hendricksons then often escape rapidly from the surface-except for the cripples.

Another hatch that I look for is the little blue-winged olive dun. If you fish almost any trout water across the United States in spring or fall you've probably encountered some heavy hatches of little blue-winged olives. There're especially heavy hatches found on many northeastern trout streams. Most of these species escape rapidly from the surface-except the cripples. Look for great hatches on tailwaters and rivers across the United States. Tie some of your patterns with shucks and short wings. .

Don't throw those poorly tied flies away. Try them the next time you hit a sulphur, little blue-winged olive or hendrickson hatch. And don't make fun of another angler's poorly tied flies-even if he or she is just beginning to tie flies. And when I look at one of these poorly tied patterns and say "that'll catch trout," it really does mean exactly that.

Note: My new book, How to Catch More Trout will be available April 1, 2001. Have your book store or fly shop contact Beaver Pond Publishing at the 724-588-3492 to get advance copies. The First Edition will be gone shortly.

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