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Wonder-ful, Wonder-ful!!! - A Hot New Smallmouth Bass Fly!


Flies Tied By Rich McElligott

Story and Photos By Joe Cornwall

I'm a "road warrior".  To earn a living I'm one of those guys who gets on an airplane almost every week to travel to nondescript hotels, typically in cities with nice names but fungible business parks, to have virtually identical meetings in thoroughly bland conference rooms where fun is certainly a foreign concept.   Still, it pays the bills.  After a few hundred flights you learn to just roll with the punches.  Sanity, on the other hand, is something every true road warrior fights to protect.  Some do this by playing golf, and some devote themselves to hunting out sports bars where they dissect new techniques in scotch drinking.  I fish.  And so, in July, I found myself a guest of the Illinois Smallmouth Alliance at an event on the shores of the Fox River just outside Chicago.

 I'd been in touch with John Loebach of the ISA regarding an event they'd planned.  They were getting a bunch of warm water fly rod designs together for a grand morning of casting, coffee and camaraderie.  A week or two before the my scheduled journey to the Windy City I fired an email to John: "It looks like I'll be in Chicago on Thursday and Friday of this week. I'm going to try to extend my stay a day and fish on Saturday, leaving late Saturday afternoon and driving back to Cincinnati. Fire up some details on your Fox River outing, if its still on."

Not only was the event on, but John took some time off on Friday afternoon to get me out onto the Kankakee for my initial introduction to this beautiful, and startlingly enormous, blue-ribbon smallmouth river. I'm going to do everything in my power to have more "business" opportunities in the vicinity of this fabulous fishery!

Saturday morning was the day of the event, a cooperative outing sponsored by One More Cast, an awesome Chicago-Land fly shop owned by Joseph Meyer.  It was as we were setting up a dozen or so state-of-the-art warm water fly rods that Rich McElligot approached me with a small, plastic fly box and a sly grin.

"Joe, I'd like to share this with you," said Rich.  "These are my Wonder Worms.  I've been using them for largemouth and smallmouth bass for several years.  It's a variation of Jack Gartside's Wiggle Worm."

The foundation of the fly is a product not normally found in fly shops.  It's no secret that the most inspired and creative fly tiers spend a lot of time shopping fabric shops and hobby stores and that's just where you'll find Patons Bohemian yarn.  Patons Bohemian is the material Gartside uses in his Wiggle Worm, but Rich has made the pattern his own through the incorporation of several new wrapping techniques.

The ISA Bug is a particularly good fly for smallmouth bass in rivers and creeks.  Essentially a Wooly Worm with rubber legs instead of a palmered hackle, the unique use of the Patons Bohemian Chenille delivers a large, lifelike body that fish will hold onto for a while.   Rich says; "I've used the wonder worm for two years, and that morphed into the ISA bug, named for the Illinois Smallmouth Alliance.  Now the design has become an ultimate worm when it's tied on an extra wide-gape worm hook.  I'm still trying to perfect a wacky worm type fly. Those experiments turned into the nice legs that you'll see on the craw fly I gave you."

Rich says he prefers an Eagle Claw 410 jig hook with a 60 degree bend or a Mustad 3388 iron for these flies.  Medium lead eyes or plenty of lead wire wraps send the creation to the bottom where most feeding is done by both bass and trout.  Cone head weights are also incorporated into pattern variations.  The tail is a 3- inch piece of chenille.  To get the right action, hold end over a candle flame or lighter and melt the tail to a taper.  Rich cautions to try not to flame the chenille, which will ruin the material and could cause a nasty burn if you're not careful.  For the body, use an 8-inch length of chenille.

Here's Rich describing the tying steps: "Start with lead eyes or wire to weight the fly as needed. Unweighted flies will sink once they absorb water and become almost neutrally buoyant. Tie on the tail section on the hook shank just as it starts bending down and remember to keep the tapered end pointed out!  Next, tie on the chenille for the body right on top of previous tie in. Now, holding the tail straight back, wrap the longer body section backward around the tail 4 or 5 times.  Pinch the end of the overlap spot and wrap forward 4 or 5 times. This forms the taper from the tail to the body.  Now make one wrap under the hook, then secure the chenille with the tying thread.  Advance the thread to the eye and finish wrapping the chenille forward."

You can vary the amount of wrap-over to make a longer or shorter body taper, and you can use multiple colors to make the head a different shade from the tail.  Multiple layers of the chenille build up bulk quickly, and sometimes that bulk making a sonic signature in the water is the equivalent of a bass dinner bell.  This is a simple pattern that really fills a need in the warm water angler's arsenal.  Get some Patons Bohemian and experiment for yourself.  I'll bet you're rewarded with an effective selection of patterns.

And thanks for sharing this with us, Rich!

The Wonder-Ful Worm and a shot of the fly under water.  This is the fly fisher's answer to a Senko!

The ISA Bug is a great imitation of a crayfish!

This is Gabe.  Rich named his frog creation Gabe in honor of his grandson.  It's a very creative, and very realistic looking fly with a LOT of potential.  Rich says "the frog is really something, but it does get heavy when it's soaked.  I think a combo of the legs with a foam body or a spun deer hair head might be easier to cast."  My own experience is that the frog is certainly not beyond the ability of my 8-weight bass rods, but it's in the upper registers of what's comfortable with a 6-weight.  It pushes water and swims in a most realistic manner.  I think this fly could be a real bass tamer anywhere that leopard frogs are an important part of the food chain.


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