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A Party of Blondes

By Joe Cornwall

In the summer 2006 issue of Fly Tyer magazine Bill Logan contributed an excellent article and shared his Big Secret grasshopper and cricket imitations.  What really caught my eye about the article, in addition to the fine flies, was Logan's introduction.  What do you call a collection of grasshoppers, anyway?  As Logan points out, other groups have specific names.  There is a murder of crows, a herd of cattle, a pack of wolves, a shrewdness of apes, a battery of barracudas, and a murmation of starlings.  Logan wasn't happy with the more-or-less standard cloud of grasshoppers.  Instead he proposed we refer to the leggy little insects as a circus of grasshoppers.  I loved the idea - and the phrase.  It is fitting and wonderfully suggestive! 

I've not found any specific literary allusions which provide an appropriate moniker for a collection of blondes; neither the beauties we see  on TV nor the flies we are about to discuss.  That's too bad, because the name was right there all the time.  We should have been calling them a party of Blondes!

“If I had only one pattern for all big fish in both fresh and salt water, I’d choose the Blonde.” That’s from the man many call the world’s best fly fisherman.

Those are the words that appear in bold type in the opening of a 1963 article in Outdoor Life magazine by Joe Brooks. Brooks goes on to share the story of this amazing fly pattern by telling the tale of its introduction to the Patagonian trout fishery; the trip that propelled this fly into legendary status.

Argentina

Brooks wrote: “What do you have there, a shaving brush?” Jorge Donovan asked me. We were standing at the Boca of the Chimehuin River, on the east slope of the Andes in Argentina and I was tying a 1/0 Platinum Blonde fly on my 3X tippet. The long, tandem-winged bucktail did look a little like a shaving brush. But the only lather I had in mind was the foam a big brown trout would whip up when he hit that fly.

“This was my first trip to Argentina, back in 1955. Packing my tackle at home I kept thinking about the 10, 12, 14 and even 20-pound brown trout that Jorge Donovan had told me were in the Argentine rivers. Remembering that old theory that a big trout likes a big mouthful, I had reached into my salt-water tackle box and picked out a handful of “blonde” flies - big, white bucktails that I used for striped bass."  From such humble beginnings our sport received one of its finest flies,  the foundation for a family of patterns.

Jorge Trucco, writing in the April 2004 edition of Power Fibers, had this to say; “The Patagonia region of Argentina is, fishing-wise, so similar to the American west that all American flies apply to Patagonian fly-fishing. Here again, Joe Brooks pioneered this trend of American flies in Patagonia. And what’s more, he brought some patterns that were actually uncommon in the West, he introduced the “blonde” in five versions: honey, black, strawberry, platinum and Argentine. The “blonde” was originally a saltwater fly and it was tied with bucktail on a 3407 Mustad hook, and was not designed to attract trout, however, these “blonde” flies were extremely effective on big browns, especially in the Chimehuin…”  The fly shown in the image above was tied by Dan Bailey circa 1955 and is pictured in Brooks' book Fly Fishing.

The first brown trout Brooks caught on that “shaving brush” weighed nine-and-a-half pounds. Fishing with Jorge Donovan and Bebe Anchorena, Brooks managed three more fish over nine pounds in the course of that first amazing day. After giving a handful of Blondes to both Donovan and Anchorena, those experienced anglers discovered for themselves the validity of the big fish – big fly axiom. Bebe Anchorena went on to catch a brown trout of more than 24 pounds on a Blonde, making him, at the time, the unofficial world-record holder for brown trout on a fly (fly records weren’t kept separately then). In one felled swoop Patagonia had become one of the most fabled destination fisheries on the planet, and the Brooks Blonde fly had become a classic.

In the forty-four years since their popular introduction, the Blondes have been replaced in most fly boxes by a series of variations on the theme. Contemporary salt water fly fishers add an epoxy coating and holographic eyes to the head and call it a Surf Candy. It doesn’t take a critical eye to see that Lefty’s Deceiver bears an obvious family resemblance. Add lead dumbbell eyes so the hook rides inverted and you’ll get to the Clouser Deep Minnow. In a little more than a half century since its creation the Blonde-style fly has penetrated the sport of fly fishing to its very core. It’s changed our aesthetic perception of what constitutes proper fly design while at the same time opening new opportunities to target ever more challenging quarry.

That’s not to say that the Blonde isn’t still an active part of the arsenal. There are many coastal anglers up and down the Atlantic seaboard who still carry Honey Blonde and Platinum Blonde flies for stripers, redfish and more. A scaled down marabou variation, the Mara-Blonde, has found a permanent home in the boxes of trout anglers and panfishers alike. Enormous Blondes, tied both with natural materials like Arctic Sheep and synthetic products like Polar Fiber, are staples in the boxes of those who obsess over pike and muskie. A few fly fishers even carry Blondes in their traditional dress and sizes.

The Blonde History

One might think that, as famous and influential a pattern as the Blonde is in the fly fishing lexicon, we would have an equally well-documented genesis and history. After all, we can trace the Adams dry fly all the way to Len Halladay and the very pool on the Boardman River in Michigan where it was first cast! There is no question about the true originator of the Quill Gordon. But the Blonde has some mystery, perhaps as every real blonde must.

In the 1966 edition of Joseph Bates’ book Streamer Fly Tying and Fishing, Bates writes “Joe Brooks’ “Blondes” in suitable sizes are excellent flies for tarpon, as well as other game fish. The Homer Rhode, Jr. Tarpon Bucktail illustrated in Figure VIII-3 probably was the father of this type, because Homer gave me some of them prior to 1950, and they were illustrated in Streamer Fly Fishing, which was first published at that time.”

On the key to the color plate that depicts the Argentine Blonde as representative of the “Brooks Blonde” Bates credits the fly as being “Originated by Mr. Homer Rhode and [emphasis added] Mr. Joe Brooks.”

In contrast, in the 1958 book Fly Fishing Brooks states “Many flies designed for fresh water have proven equally efficient in the salt, and conversely a number of streamers and bucktails designed for fishing the ocean flats have turned out to be highly effective in fresh water, especially for big trout and salmon. One big white bucktail, the platinum blonde, and an equally big fly made of yellow bucktail, called the honey blonde, have proven just about the best flies I have ever used for really big trout.”

“They were originally tied for striped bass and in an effort to make the fly large and extra long-winged, one piece of bucktail was tied on top of the 1/0 hook and immediately behind the eye, and another length of bucktail was tied just in front of the bend of the hook. It proved a very good number for stripers and that first fall after it was tied I also tried it in Montana for big browns and rainbows. It worked like a charm and I came up with some nice fish, from 3 to 7 pounds.”

It sounds like Bates’ comment, added to the 1966 edition of Streamer Fly Tying and Fishing, was intended to set the record straight. Brooks’ 1958 statement above is almost a third person perspective as regards origin, but he stops well short of even mentioning the Homer Rhode Jr. Tarpon Fly. By the time of the publication of the article "Those Deadly Blondes" in the December 1963 edition of Outdoor Life magazine, Brooks was explicitly claiming credit.

“Back in 1939, when I used to fly-fish for stripers in the Susquehanna River near Port Deposit, Maryland, and in the shallows of the Chesapeake Bay, I used a white bucktail on a 1/0 hook. I took plenty of small stripers, but for three years nothing over six pounds came to my flies. That’s when I started thinking about a bigger fly, something that would look like the size to seven-inch long alewives, herring or anchovies, such as stripers feed on. I tied a three-inch-long white bucktail wind right in back of the eye of a 1/0 hook, another three-inch wing at the bend of the hook, then wrapped the body with silver tinsel. That was the Platinum Blonde, the first of the series. It raised the average weight of the stripers I took.”


To add a bit more to the confusion, Bates suggests that both the Homer Rhode Jr. Tarpon Fly (illustrated but not pictured in a color plate in the Bates book) and the Brooks Blonde were influenced by flies designed for Pacific Northwest steelhead. “Attempts to impart maximum action into streamer and bucktail patterns have resulted in the splayed-wing style discussed in Chapter VIII and illustrated there in Figures VIII-1 and VIII-3 and also in the patterns based on Joe Brooks’ series of “Blondes” which seem to be a development of the Homer Rhode Jr. Tarpon Bucktail illustrated in Figure VIII-3. The point should be stressed that these are by no means confined to salt water uses. Splayed wing types make very successful steelhead patterns and are becoming increasingly prominent in other areas of fresh water angling.”

Adding credence to this hypothesis is the fact that Brooks discusses the high-tie wing, which he calls “breather flies,” in detail. In the article "Flies Worth Their Salt" published in the June 1965 issue of Outdoor Life, Brooks writes: “In the salt, the technique of handling a fly is as important as the fly itself. The breather flies, for instance, must be played so that the big, feathery wings flow flat against the hook as you retrieve but fan out when you stop. The blondes, while tied differently, call for the same type of retrieve. With these flies, one bucktail wing is tied on top of the shank immediately behind the eye of the hook; the other wing is well back where the bend of the hook starts. The strip-and-stop retrieve causes the upper wing to work up and down, as tantalizing an action as the in-and-out workings of the breather flies.”

Bates concurs but continues to assign credit for the creation of the Blonde style of fly to other, earlier tiers. “In Chapter VIII we noted that flies of the “Blonde” type had been used most successfully (especially in salt water fly fishing) for several decades prior to the publicity which was given them in the early 1960’s. The high wing, also discussed in connection with the Schwab patterns and others, and illustrated by the “Orange Steelheader” and the “Bellamy, “ for example, in Plate VIII gives pronounced action in fast or turbulent water or when fished very actively, plus affording complete freedom from fouling the hook. A type of fly such as this, so popular with and so productive for so many eminent anglers, should suggest to the rest of us that a lot more can be done with it to help us to hook more fish.”

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The Modern Blonde

Regardless of its true originator, a lot can be done with a Blonde to help us hook more fish today. The Blondes are as easy to tie as they are to use. Like its cousins the Deceiver and Clouser, the Blonde can be tailored for maximum efficiency in particular waters or under specific conditions. Lead wire can be wound on the hook shank for a faster sinking presentation. When fishing with a fast retrieve the weighting especially helps to exaggerate the opening and closing of that hypnotic bucktail wing.

While bucktail is the traditional material for wings and tails on this fly, a myriad of other materials both natural and man-made make possible Blondes more than six-inches long or less than an inch from tail to head. Material stiffness can be tuned for fly size, water velocity and anticipated retrieve rate. Even the angle of the forewing can be tuned from the traditional 30-degrees to a steeper or shallower angle to maximize inherent action. This is a fly pattern that is easily customizable.  Some of my favorite variations include fox tail, squirrel tail and raccoon tail.  Bleached raccoon tail with pearl Flashabou makes for an excellent stoneroller minnow or creek chub imitation!

Brooks’ original tie is simplicity in itself. Two materials, thread and a hook combine to create an illusion of life in the water and a minimalist elegance of form in the hand. The first Brooks Blondes were tied on a ring-eyed, tinned hook with an O'Shaughnessy bend. I like to use a classic up-eye salmon fly hook for my Blondes. The “first wing” or tail of the fly is bucktail tied about twice the hook shank length off a point opposite the hook’s point. The bucktail is trimmed near the hook eye so as to make a smooth underbody.

Brooks stated that he used silver tinsel for the body on all the Blonde variations except the Honey Blonde and Strawberry Blonde. No mention is made of a rib, but I’ve always liked the look of an oval tinsel rib over a flat tinsel body and that is the way many of the flies in the accompanying photos are tied. Additionally, it’s important to remember that all tinsels at the time of this fly’s creation were metal. If you use a Mylar or synthetic tinsel you should lightly weight the shank of the hook under the bucktail butts. That little bit of weight goes a long way towards improving the action of a blonde by ensuring the wings “breathe” as intended on pauses in the retrieve.

Finally a front wing of bucktail is tied in front of the body and canting up at a thirty-degree angle. Brooks suggests taking a few wraps of thread behind the bucktail wing to fix this upward slant in place. I’ve found that if you trim the butts of the bucktail rear wing blunt, the acute angle of the body will force the wing into place allowing for a cleaner tie-in. The fly is finished with a neat thread head.

Click Here for a Look at Blonde Siblings

The Flies That Inspired and Defined the Brooks Blondes

Working A Blonde

A Blonde is an easy fly to fish. There are just two rules you need to remember to ensure success with a Blonde. First, never tie on too tightly. Second, remember to pause regularly and don’t rush the strip. Using an open knot like the non-slip mono loop knot or Homer Rhodes loop knot will fulfill the first condition. Using a snapping, staccato retrieve with a pause twice as long as the strip will fulfill the second.
 

"A few years ago we stopped using a traditional down-and-across streamer technique and began developing more active presentations.  We shed our passive, "search-and-hope" streamer techniques and attitudes and applies new methods with a calculated approach.  This has made a world of difference."  Kelly Galloup and Bob Linsenman rattled the traditional trout fishing world when they wrote those words in the May 2000 issue of Fly Fisherman magazine.  "A streamer must appear as a substantial meal, threaten a fish's environs, and create the right  "crippled" action.  If it does all of this, it has a good chance of instigating an attack.  It should also be easy to cast, otherwise you won't use it for long."  This wasn't about trout, certainly!  Instigating attack?  This had to be talk about saltwater fishing.  Most sweetwater specialists, even those of us chasing smallmouth and largemouth bass, stuck to our tiny size 6, 8 and 10 flies.  The Michigan trout team showed us the way back to our "shaving brush" roots.

 

The results Galloup and Linesman were getting, and the resultant success of their book Modern Streamers for Trophy Trout: New Techniques, Tactics and Patterns marked a moment when the active presentation that provoked a rapacious response became as acceptable, even in the most conservative of fisheries, as the swung or drifted cast. The sport had come full circle and the techniques, learned in the salt forty years before, had come back to influence their very source.  The jerk-strip retrieve was, and is, the same method espoused by Brooks and his contemporaries.  It's the correct action for a "breather" high-wing style fly ─ it's the correct action for the Blonde.

 

"It [The Jerk-Strip Retrieve] works so well because it forces the fish to react to two basic instincts ─ territoriality and vulnerability.  First, the fish sees the prey that has accidentally trespassed into its territory and now must escape.  Second, the prey seems to be slightly injured and has trouble swimming, but not to the extent that it can't escape."  Galloup and Linesman created several patterns expressly designed for this bold, frenetic fishing style.  Their choice for a baitfish pattern is the Stacked Blonde.  Using a Keel hook in a most ingenious way, the team created a high-tie wing pattern with the broad outline and essential shape of small sunfish, crappie, shad or shiner.  Using this fly and technique, Galloup and Linesman proved conclusively that large trout will react in much the same way as striped bass, smallmouth bass, redfish and other top predators.  It was certainly a reprise of the lessons of Rhode, Brooks, Apt and others.

Galloup and Linesman put into clear, precise words a technique that had been passed down from fisherman to fisherman in the convoluted family tree of fly fishing history.  They systemized a method of fishing with roots to the early saltwater days.  Years ago I used a similar technique with particularly good success on the harbor pollack along Cape Cod’s Scussett Beach jetty in May and early June. I fished the Portuguese Blonde, a fly that enjoyed some regional popularity at the time. Its color combination is a reflection of the colors in the Portuguese flag, (Cape Cod and southeastern New England enjoy a thriving Portuguese community.) Back then I fished a ten-weight Lamiglass fiberglass rod and used a home-made shooting head of lead core trolling line. Those fish averaged five pounds and would rip line off my Medalist 1498 with alarming ease. When a pod came crashing through and busting bait I almost always managed a hit and sometimes two on each cast. I landed about one-in-three fish I hooked and lost a LOT of flies in the process. The combination of red and a bit of green seemed to make the fish particularly vicious, and the easy-to-tie nature of the Blonde made the pain of a dozen or more lost flies per trip tolerable.  The most memorable aspect of those outings was the aggressive, fast retrieve that made the fishing so exciting and productive, though. 

The Portuguese Blonde  has since proved itself to be productive on shad as well as largemouth, pike and perch.  I still fish this pattern in late spring and early summer when I’m bank shooting for husky largemouth in off-color water. I have found, however, that most flows in the heartland are better served by the more subdued patterns. The Platinum Blonde and the Martini Blonde are always invaluable for smallmouth bass, hybrid stripers and trout anywhere you go. During the first warm days of summer, when the striped shiners are in their full spawning colors, the Pink Blonde is the “must have” pattern. In northern climes where perch are common I find I seldom go wrong with the yellow Honey Blonde.


I like to use the Blonde as a searching pattern and fish it aggressively. I’ll fish this fly in size 1/0 on a seven or eight-weight rod.  In case you have some trepidation, an eight-inch smallmouth bass will absolutely crush a three-inch long size 1/0 streamer.  Don't mistakenly think this is too large a fly
it's not!  I almost always use a sinking tip line, and for smallmouth fishing in Ohio and the Midwest I particularly like the mini-tip lines. I fish the fly one to four-feet deep (typically while wading) by casting across-stream  to a point upstream of likely cover and mending the line so the fly approaches the spot with a broadside view. At the critical moment I then mend the line again, this time to induce drag.  This will turn the fly so the head is pointing downstream and the fly is moving just faster than the current. It's escaping! I'll then add an abrupt, disrhythmic series of six-inch ‘snaps’ on the line, interspersed with half-second pauses where the fly is allowed to sink three or four inches. It's crippled!  I use a short four to six foot leader of fluorocarbon, typically two feet of 20lb. test for the butt and three feet of 12lb. test for the tippet. Almost nothing could be simpler or more effective.

 

Click Here for a Tour of Blonde Fashions!

Pictures of all the named Blonde Flies with variations...

Side Stories...

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Tying The Blonde

Adventures in Fly Tying Brings You the Blonde - Video Style!

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History of The Blonde

Blondes In Argentina

Blonde History

Blonde Siblings

Modern Blondes

Working A Blonde

Blonde Fashions
 

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The Stacked Blonde

A detailed look at the Stacked Blonde is coming soon!

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Evolution, The Deceiver

The Blonde's biggest limitation was length, bucktail peaks under 5":  In those pre-synthetic days Lefty Kreh made larger, longer, denser imitations using a saddle hackle tail and adding a bucktail belly.  This is the number one saltwater fly ever!

A detailed look at the Deceiver is coming soon!

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Clouser's Vision

Turn a Blonde's upside down by using lead dumbbell eyes and you get one of the most productive flies in the sport!  It took more than 30 years from the birth of the Blonde  for Bob Clouser to experiment with the idea, and then another 10 for Tom Schmueker of  Wapsi Fly Company to cast the first true lead dumbbell eyes.  The rest is the stuff of legend!

Click the Image to be taken to the

Clouser Sidebar Article

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Evolution Continues- The Hair Deceiver

A detailed look at the Hair Deceiver is coming soon!

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Lefty and Bob Form A Partnership - The Half & Half

A detailed look at the Half & Half is coming soon!

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The Mara-Blonde

A variation that was designed for Scandinavian perch, is amazing on Midwest crappie and is a "go to" for trout anywhere.  This fly is even more effective when it's tied on the right hook - but you won't find that hook in a fly shop!

Click the Image to be taken to the

Mara-Blonde Article

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A Cat's Whisker Away

Invert a Mara-Blonde with bead-chain eyes and use Crystal Flash to avoid fouling the tail and you'll end up with this killer pattern!

Click the Image to be taken to the

Cat's Whisker Article

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Blonde Links

 

Surf to these spots if you want to know more about Blondes, Argentina, big trout and sunny saltwater flats...

 

Striper Moon Forum Board - A Discussion of Blondes

 

"To know the Chimehuin and the Boca, you must first understand its history" - Bob White takes you to Patagonia

 

Erik "The Swede" Andreasson shares his Mara-Blonde and a few other Scandinavian patterns worth carrying!

 

Bob's Bucktail Deceiver - Bob Popovichs ties this killer pattern in an on-line video!

 

Lee Schechter explores Classic Saltwater Flies in this Atlantic Saltwater Flyrodders article!

 

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Research Citations

 

Magazine Articles

 

"Those Deadly Blondes"

Joe Brooks,

Outdoor Life; December 1963, ppg 24-27, 72, 73

 

"Flies Worth Their Salt"

Joe Brooks,

Outdoor Life; June 1965, ppg 60-63, 96-98

 

"Jerk-Strip for Trophy Trout"

Kelly Galloup; Bob Linsenman 

Fly Fisherman; May 2000, ppg 31-34 & 48.

 

"Blondes Have More Fun"

Capt. John Kuminski,

Fly Tier; August 2004, ppg 72-75

 

 

Books

 

The Complete Book of Fly Fishing

Joe Brooks, Outdoor Life Books

1958

 

Streamer Fly Tying and Fishing Joseph Bates Jr., Stackpole Books 1966 edition

 

Trout Fishing

Joe Brooks, Outdoor Life Books

1972


Streamers and Bucktails, The Big Fish Flies

Joseph Bates Jr., Stackpole Books 1979 edition,


Clouser's Flies

bob Clouser, Stackpole Books

2006

 

Stripers and Streamers

Ray Bondorew, Amato Publications 2006

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