Adventures in Fly Tying... February
Joe's Smelt - A Classic New England Streamer
Fly and Text by Joe Cornwall
Video Production by Jim Stuard
Joe's Smelt is a fly commonly used for landlocked
salmon in New England lakes. If the fly is tied with a pearl Mylar
body instead of silver it becomes Jerry's Smelt. Regardless of the
details of the body, this fly is most often tied in a tandem version for
trolling. It is certainly not a fly I've seen in regular use in
the Midwest. In fact, it was an article in Fly Tyer magazine that
prompted me to include it in this video podcast series. There are a lot
of reasons to carry this fly in your streamer wallet, not the least of
which is the ubiquitous nature of the smelt as a baitfish.
According to Smelt Fly Patterns (Amato Books,
ISBN 978-1571880710) "The American smelt (Osmerus mordax)
inhabits the western Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic west to the White Sea,
and their drainages. It occurs as an anadromous form or is
landlocked as in the Great Lakes and many other smaller lakes in
southeast Canada and the northeastern United States. The
landlocked variety is common in many of the deep, cold water bodies of
water in the Northeast. Wherever it is found, it is an important
forage fish for game species." This tells us there is a lot of
water where this fly is an accurate match of what the big fish are
eating. But even in areas that don't have a population of smelt,
flows like the Ohio River and its many tributaries, this is still a
pattern that can serve us well. It's an easy tie that is a great
imitation of a slim-bodied shiner. When adapted to our specific
needs by inclusion of a sparse underwing of pink bucktail, we have a
great imitation of a small striped shiner. And striper shiners are
among the most common of the shiner species in our creeks. They
are a common meal for smallmouth, largemouth and spotted bass, saugeye
and white bass.
Hook: Mustad 94720 size 6 or similar 6xl
Thread: 140 Denier 6/0 black
Tail: Red hackle fibers
Body: Silver Mylar tube, Body Braid or
silver flat tinsel ribbed with silver oval tinsel
Pink bucktail, very sparse. For use later in the year use white
bucktail, also very sparse.
Wing: Mallard flank feather in this tie.
The original used teal or canvasback duck, which has darker markings.
Throat: Red hackle fibers
Optional painted eyes on thread head.
Start with the hook in the vise and wrap a
layer of thread as a base from the eye of the hook to just above
the point of the hook. Strip and prepare some red hackle
fibers from a schlappen or hen hackle and tie in as a tail.
The tail should extend past the bend of the hook no more than the
length of the hook's gape.
Tie on the body braid. This is a great
way to get a good, shiny body. The original uses Mylar
tubing tied in in the back with red thread and changing to black
thread for the front tie-in. You can also use a flat siver
tinsel with an oval silver tinsel braid. You might want to
experiment with a short, pearl cactus chenille, too!
Wrap a thin, even body that will provide a
great imitation of the silver flash from the sides of a smelt or
shiner. This is a great pattern to imitate any of a number
of thin, silver baitfishes.
Add a beard of red hackle fibers the same size
and bulk as the fibers used for the tail.
Although it is not used on the original version
of this fly, I like a sparse underwing of bucktail to provide just
a tad thicker body. In the springtime striped shiners
develop a lovely pink blush along the flanks. Using pink
bucktail provides a very accurate imitation of this coloration in
the water. Later in the year, after July, you can revert to
white bucktail or even leave it out entirely.
The pink bucktail tied in. It should lie
close to the shank of the hook and be very sparse. For a
size 6 fly I'll use 20 or so bucktail hairs. Count them to
get an idea of how sparse you really want this underwing. Too much
material will ruin the action of the fly.
The key to this fly is in the selection of the
wing feathers. Not only does the feather need to be long
enough to cover the hook, it needs to be symmetrical. If you
use a feather like the one shown on the left you'll have a
streamer that spins and doesn't look right. You need to find
a feather where there is good symmetry with both sides providing a
mirror image and the feather stem as the dividing line.
Tie the flank feather on the hook perpendicular
to the hook bend. This fly is tied in the flat wing style.
As such it will have a great swimming motion with slight
side-to-side action when drifted on a tight line. The
feather will also fold over the body providing a semblance of
Form an neat thread head and finish with a
series of half hitches or a whip. Add a couple coats of head
cement for a tough, durable finish. This is a great pattern
that's unique and easy to tie.
Don't be afraid to experiment with different
colors in this pattern. Use a wood duck flank feather and
gold tinsel for an excellent imitation of a a golden shiner or
immature carp fry. Use pheasant "church window" feathers for
an imitation of a log-perch darter. Or maybe you can use
mallard dyed olive with an orange beard and gold tinsel to imitate
a small yellow perch - a key baitfish for smallmouth bass on Lake
Erie. This is a great pattern to play around with!
Till next time, tight lines and productive flows…