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The Eddy Line: The Dirty Dozen

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Firebeads and the worm, two of the dozen flies we love to hate. PHOTO BY PATRICK STRAUB

Twelve flies you love to hate


Although clothing manufacturers would want us to believe otherwise, fly fishing is not a fashion show. It is placing an imitation of something we hope a fish will eat in the right place at the right time and making it look real. It may be closer to thievery than beauty. But it sure is fun.

My fly-fishing fun comes from fishing dry flies to rising trout. Other anglers are less finicky toward a chosen method, perhaps deep nymphing to fish unseen or dragging streamers in the depths where big fish lurk. But we can usually agree there are some flies during certain conditions we just cannot do without. Here’s that dirty dozen list.

1. San Juan Worm: A very simple fly, but ridiculously effective in certain situations. As rivers come out of runoff or when a river is rising due to rains, worms are a readily available food source. In certain tailwater rivers, such as the Missouri and Bighorn, aquatic worms are abundant. We might feel fishing a worm is akin to cheating, but, there are times when a bend in the rod turns a frown upside down.

2. Firebead Anything: Especially effective in late winter or early spring, a firebead is a fly tied with a bright orange or pink bead in place of a copper, silver or black bead. A firebead is a bright symbol to a hungry fish—like the icing on a cupcake to a little kid.

3. Griffith’s Gnat: Midges often hatch in clusters and the Griffith’s gnat is tied to imitate a cluster of midges on the surface. From thirty-plus feet away, good luck picking your fly out of the crowd.

4. Cat Puke Salmon Fly: The name may be great, but, this fly blows. Sure, it has caught a lot of big fish and is worth having, but, it is designed to fish partially submerged, which makes it hard to see. Plus, it is a salmon-fly imitation and trying to hit a salmon fly hatch in its prime is a feat in its own right.

5. Sucker Spawn: Brightly colored billowy material designed to imitate the spawn of a sucker fish. Need I say more?

6. Black Ant: Usually fished in small sizes, a black ant can be hard to see. Rarely used but damn effective, if you have the eyesight to see this fly, fish it and it will produce.

7. Trico Mayflies: Hatches of tricos occur early in the morning, sometimes even before dawn. Smaller than most midges, tricos hatch in late summer. On most trout rivers by late summer the trout have seen plenty of anglers. If you think a trout may be picky enough during the meat of the day, try using tiny flies in the early morning hours before your coffee hits you.

8. Moorish Hopper: The legs are thin and supple, which means they have great action while the fly floats on the surface. This fly catches a lot of fish. But because the legs are so supple, they are delicate and rarely last for more than one or two fish being caught. Great for fly shops because they sell a bunch, but not great for your pocketbook.

9. Green Butt Skunk: A steelhead fly sneaks it was onto the list. Similar to the firebead in using bright colors to attract a fish, this fly puts its attractant in the rear.

10. Squirmy Worm: I hate to put two worms on this list, but, that’s the point of the list, right? The first-ever worm was rumored to have been tied on April 20—weed day—using strands from a Kush Ball as “Dazed and Confused was on the background. It ain’t pretty but it works.

11. Lightning Bug: It looks more like a space ship from a George Lucas movie than a trout fly. But, the force is strong in this one.

12. Pat’s Rubber Legs: This one is on the list because it is just so gosh darn simple yet catches so many fish. Something so simple can be so excellent.

Similar to asking a woman her age or calling a teacher by their first name, asking to look into someone else’s fly box is fly-fishing nicety to acknowledge. And any angler who fishes a lot is lying if they tell you it is because they don’t want you to see their secret patterns. Nope. It’s because they probably have some of the same naughty flies that you do.

Patrick Straub is a 20-year veteran guide and outfitter on Montana’s waters and has fished the world over. He now writes and manages the social media for Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures. He is the author of six books, including “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing” and has been writing The Eddy Line for seven years.

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