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Frankensteining
How I took Skip Morris’s Predator and turned a perfectly good trout fly

into a bass and panfish slayer
 

Article and Photography By Jim Stuard

 

First off, let me state that when it comes to fly tying, most of us borrow from the greats. When you consider flies that are incredibly versatile, you quickly realize they are variations on an original theme.  And there aren't that many original themes.  Bob Clouser's eponymous Clouser Deep Minnow stands out as one of the great examples. I’m pretty sure I carry five or six variations of that pattern, and they all catch fish. The Clouser has received a lot of attention and innovation from fly tiers, so barring some new earth-shattering development in the tying materials world I won’t dwell on it further. But I'll continue to tinker with the parts, taking some here and moving them there.  Sometimes I create a regular Frankenstein. Once in a great while the monster gets up off the table...

With ‘Frankensteining’, I’m taking a workable, decent pattern and customizing it to do different things for the fisherman, sometimes far from the original intent of its inventor. In my case, I wanted to be able to fish different parts of the water column without having to change my gear. I fish two rods when on warm water lakes; a 6 or 7 wt for throwing big, wind resistant bugs and a very versatile 7’ fiberglass 4 wt with a floating line. The kayak I fish from is quiet as the grave, and I can often sneak to within 10-feet of the spookiest of fish and still not scare them off. I like floating lines from the kayak because they’re easier for me to manage than anything that sinks. I basically like letting the flies do the work for me. This is where the Predator comes into play. 

Skip Morris developed his Predator, as a more durable replacement to Randall Kaufmanns spun deerhair dragonfly nymph The original intent of the fly was to fish it as a floating fly on a sinking line, so that it would hover about a foot off the bottom of a lake. Snags would be prevented and Skip's results with foam, instead of the more porous deer hair, spoke to the veracity of his theories on fly design.  The original by Skip Morris was published in Skips book ‘Tying Foam Flies’. It’s tied in muted browns and tans and had no dubbing, so it’s not difficult to reproduce. If ever there were an minimalists interpretation of a dragonfly nymph, Skip's version was it. The Predator works very well for its original purpose - trout in lakes. But the Predator had potential for the fish that do live in our lakes; panfish and bass.

I didn’t come up with the idea of taking the Predator and using it for warm water species. I originally found out about the fly at a local club meeting where the Glenn River fly Company was doing a presentation. They sell a variety of some of the better fly tying kits available today, and that night Wayne Sampson, one of the co-owners, was tying from one of their predator kits. Their kits tend towards the end of the spectrum one might best describe as "impressionist bling."  The predominant colors are day-glo orange and chartreuse and, at a size 8 the kit flies were the same size as the original. My guess for this is that, based on water clarity and depth, most of what a fish sees is a silhouette. With that in mind, I think the day-glo colors were more for the fisherman to see the bug on the water than anything else. With their heavily dubbed thorax, they float, but not like corks. It’s more of an iceberg appearance where a lot of the fly is just under the surface. The hooks provided were heavier Daiichi 710 streamer hooks so they tended to keel the fly well and help it sit low in the water.

My personal epiphany came when I ran out of the kit materials and had to go out and start buying my own. I started experimenting with different materials to see what they’d do. I originally tied some of the day-glo versions with bead chain eyes and, to my surprise, they ended up being slightly negatively buoyant. No sinking line was necessary to get a nice slow fall.  You can even adjust the buoyancy by adding or subtracting eyes (i.e. the number of bead chain segments on the ‘truck’ of beads tied to the hook) and tying the foam thorax farther up the hook shank, or leaving it a bit loose so it’s not packed down by the tying thread. It seemed as though I was on to something. The fly remained visible under water and it got a lot of attention from the fish!  I decided to try something more realistic (at least by Skip Morris’s standards) and tie some up in brown, with black bead chain eyes. With short 3” strips to mimic the way a dragonfly nymph propels itself through the water, they were an immediate hit. More and bigger largemouth bass started hitting this fly in the same structure where I was previously, only catching bluegill.  

The experiments continued and I began to feel like a mad scientist.  Once a year, I fish in Michigan, on the storied Au Sable river system. Most of the really decent fishing occurs at night, but for the life of me, I can’t see what’s biting my flies out there; even when they’re on top. Enter the glow-in-the-dark Predator. After an exhaustive search for all things glow-in-the-dark, I came up with a passable substitute for dubbing, Wing Brite or Z-Lon. I then found some heavier ‘yarny’ thread that makes great tails. Next was the closed cell foam procured on Ebay. The legs were also from the devil's swapmeet, and looked quite nice. The glowy thread came from a giant store whose name ends in ‘Mart’. I got some glow in the dark paint from a Halloween makeup kit purchased at a Walgreens during that particular season. Hit that thing with a UV light and it pops on the water like it’s got batteries in it. The fish seem to like it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

On a lark, Joe Cornwall tied up a super-sized predator at a local club Tiie and Lie a few years ago. It was tied on a 3/0 bass hook and looked outrageous, but it was the seed of where I would take the Predator to its logical, freakishly monstrous Frankenstein conclusion. Since I bought that kit almost a decade ago, I've been bit by the foam bug in a large way. My wife picks the stuff up at local craft stores and I find myself going through my daughters craft desk periodically, looking for inspiration. We don’t have a bunch of well stocked fly shops here in Cincinnati, but we do have a Bass Pro Shop. They have a pretty good supply of fly tying materials, but the real bonus of BPS is the spinning gear/baits section. They carry all the necessary materials to generate just about any hardware lure you could imagine. It just so happens that a lot of those same materials translate well into fly tying. I’d been looking for an easy way to get a weed guard on a big bass style hook and found it in their bait hook department (yes, they actually have a department devoted to bait hooks). There, I found larger hooks with pre-installed wire weed guards. A lot of those bait hooks don’t have keeper barbs on them and are remarkably easy to tie with.  I now keep a selection up to 3/0. All you have to do is temporarily bend the guard in line with the hook and use a hand whip finish for tying. If I was going to go large on the Predator, I had to double up the foam layers to keep it on top. The much bigger eyes came from strings of Mardi-Gras beads. Of course, you can still play with the buoyancy by only using a single layer of foam, some lead wraps, or heavier eyes. That big hook will also start to take the fly down, once the dubbing gets wet.

Take a look at our Predator video podcast and see how we do the basic tie. The following pictures are some examples of predators I’ve tied for specific situations. Take some time to think about how your flies work and maybe you can come up with a more versatile bug with only a few simple modifications.

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