Fly Tying Videos
Fly Fishing Podcast
FFOhio Team
Warm Water Rivers
Flatwater Guides
Site Map


Fly Box Porn  ─ Part 3

Dry Flies for Them Ole Brown Fish

Article and Photos By Joe Cornwall


Originally Published in Country Anglin' Outdoor Guide, March/April 2006

Iím sitting here watching golf and drinking a beer.  The weather outside doesnít inspire dry fly confidence, its 34 degrees and snowing!  What better a time to take stock of the fly boxes and stock up for next year, though?  And a fly box in the hand is bound to lead to daydreams Ė daydreams of warm June sunsets and scrappy bronzebacks sucking down caddis in a facile rhythm.  Next to me, my smallmouth dry fly box is on my desk, freshly filled and ready for action.


I like nothing more than smallmouth on a dry.  Not a store-bought rubber legged plastic cone, but a real dry fly.  Feathers and hackle, deer hair and dubbing combining to imitate − or perhaps just suggest − an ovipositing caddis or struggling mayfly are the materials that fulfill this ďjones.Ē  The rod Iíll use, when the conditions are right, is a 7 foot 9-inch Orvis Far & Fine with a long-belly WF 5 floating line.  The leader will be an 8 to 10-foot Ritz classic taper ending with a 4X tippet.  And the sound of the fly in the air, supported by the dense harmony of nature, will be sublime.


There are eight patterns in the eight compartments of my box.  Itís a clear plastic box with a snap lid, a memento from the Indianapolis Fly Casters from a seminar I did there.  I carry a dozen or more of each pattern spread throughout two or three sizes. This box will see me through the full season.  There is seldom a time when I donít have the right flyÖ or one thatís close enough.  There is seldom a time when I even think another pattern is needed.


The first two compartments are full of Bivisibles.  I carry a dark and a light Bivisible, both tied in the traditional manner with two or three turns of white hackle for a face.  I have each shade in size 10, size 12 and maybe a couple 14ís.  Of the two, Iíll grab for the dark one first.  Itís tied with a furnace brown hackle.  The neck I use yields feathers that are black at the center and a rich chocolate brown on the tips.  The resulting dark fly is easy to see and cuts a sharp silhouette for subsurface viewers.  It seldom fails to provoke a reaction.


When the sun is a bit higher, or if the naturals appear to be on the tan or gray side, Iíll opt for the light Bivisible.  I use a barred ginger neck and red thread for a multi-color speckled effect in the finished product.  With either Bivisible, a liberal coating of Ghink ensures floatability even when the fly is aggressively skated across the mirrored tail-out of a pool.  Thereís nothing that will shatter complacency like the sudden slash of a brown bass aggressively hitting a fast moving bug!


Right next to the Bivisibles is a compartment of Royal Trudes.  I only carry this pattern in a size 10.  I think this is a neat fly because it has been so versatile for me.  Itís been effective when fished on top as a traditional dry, when stripped under and fished as an active wet, or when dead-drifted, after itís fish-soaked and crushed, on the bottom as a nymph.  Iíve taken uncounted rock bass on a Royal Trude.  Green sunfish, too. 


It was this fly that gave me a most memorable outing one warm May evening.  I was fishing the East Fork of the Little Miami at a well known stretch below the dam.  I was fishing the fourth pool down, the last pool before private land makes the river a stranger to me.  I saw flashing in the current tongue leading into the pool, swirls marking the fins of fish taking just below the surface.  I tied on a Trude and soaked it to make it fish flush in the surface film.  Casting up and across, and fishing the fly dead-drift on a soft tippet, I managed to hook and land 38 smallmouth bass from 8 to 16-inches long in the next two hours.  And the whole time I never moved an inch upstream or down!


Across from the Royal Trudes I have a compartment of Adams dries.  These are all tied delta-wing in the original manner.  I have about half a dozen size 10ís and about half a dozen 12ís.  The 10ís are tied on a 1xl hook, to make them just a little longer and leaner.  I think it makes them look like little crane flies, but when the hackle is clipped flat on the bottom they make a dandy brown drake or hex spinner, too.  Whatever they imitate, I fish them whenever Iím searching for actively feeding fish.  I canít say why, but I never fish the Adams anyway other than right on top, dead-drifted.  It only seems proper.


The Adams is a neighbor to a cube of Cooper Bugs in 10, 12 and 14.  This simple fly, also known as a Tuttle Bug or Doodle Bug, is about as unimpressive as they come.  The simple floss or herl body and the stacked deer hair shellback make it hard to believe this ďplain JaneĒ fly is a pure fish-catching machine.  But it is!  Fish this one when the sun is high, the temperatures warm, and beetles and ants are active.  The Cooper Bug fishes very low in the waterís surface, so it can be hard to see.  Sometimes Iíll tie one off the bend of a Royal Trude.


There is another time when Iíll grab for the Cooper Bug.  If I see smallmouth charging tiny fry against the shallow bank at sunset, Iíll put on a Cooper.  Fished with short, sharp strips this is a great miniature slider.  When hunting on such shallow grounds, smallmouths are particularly spooky.  Youíll find the soft landing and minimal disturbance of this fly makes it a perfect choice for those clear, flat flows that demand long casts and fine presentations.


A portly Goddard Caddis in size 8 commands a place in my warm water dry fly box.  The trimmed spun hair body helps this fly land with a splat sit heavy in the surface. This is a fly that just screams ďEASY MEALĒ and smallmouth seldom ignore it. Iíve seen reluctant fish move three feet to eat this fly!  I like to hit pockets near old wood or under low branches and let the fly sit for a second or two.  Then I give it a twitch.  On a good day there isnít need for a second twitch.


The Elk Hair Caddis would be conspicuous if it were absent.  Itís there.  In sizes 10 and 12 with a green or tan body.  A few are in black.  The EHC is a very serviceable grasshopper imitation.  In black it makes a nice cricket.  It can be fished with a twitch, with a drift, or skated.  The Elk Hair Caddis is at its very best on the fast pocket water in constricted riffles.  Wherever Iím forced to hit a two-foot foam line over a foot-and-a-half pool of knee deep water in an ankle deep rush, Iíll tie on the EHC.  It floats like a life preserver, is easily visible to all parties involved, and is tough enough to recover its composure with just a back cast or two.


The last resident of this box, this dream of summer, is a Fan Wing Coachman.  Now Iím not sure how many fly fishers in Ohio carry this old warhorse, but Iím willing to bet itís not many.  I donít think Iíve even seen anyone tie a fan wing dry at a fly fishing show in Ohio! 


In fairness, there are a few reasons for this lack of popularity.  First, Fan Wing dries, if tied improperly, can twist a tippet into an unholy mess.  This happens far more often if one attempts to use too light of a leader.  The ďrule of threesĒ is in effect here.  The tippet should not be smaller than the fly size divided by three.  Thus, a size 10 needs a 3X, a 12 a 4X and a 16 might tolerate 5X.  Use the right tippet, in the right material (Maxima in this case) and tangles will be minimized.


Second, Fan Wing dries are difficult to tie.  They demand careful selection for shape, and matching of feathers for size and curve, if the fly is to work its magic. Without proper attention to detail, a Fan Wing wonít land on its toes, but will flop, crippled, on its side.  Iím not sure if the fish care, but it spoils the image.


Image is what a Fan Wing is all about. Nothing is as pretty when itís floating on a glassy run.  In the middle of a bright day, under a gray cover of cloud, or in the soft glow of sunset, the Fan Wing provides a perfect point for contemplation.  The drift alone can make you smile almost as much as the widening rings of a take.  Sometimes you just have to dress up and get out on the town!  Thatís why I carry the Fan Wing Coachman in my kit; because there is nothing classier than its bold peacock body, ruddy brown rigid hackles and proud white fans.


Well, the beer is gone, J.B. Holmes is winning, and itís still snowing out.  I think Iíll get to work on my nymph box next.


Dark Bi-Visible

Beautifully simple and elegantly versatile describes Hewitt's Bi-Visible. Think of this as a floating woolly worm and let your imagination take it from there.

Light Bi-Visible

Make it dance across the tail-out of the pool using a long tippet and high, reaching cast. The take is always violent!

Royal Trude

You could just as easily substitute a Royal Wulff, but I like down wings on my warm water dries. Under low water conditions you can clip the wing off this fly with your nippers and fish it as an "ant" pattern in the surface film.

The Adams

Tied as a down-wing or delta-wing patter, this is what the first Adams dry fly looked like. It was originally tied as a caddis imitation. The Adams is the fly to pick if you only carry one dry fly.

Cooper Bug

It is amazing how far two materials and a hook can take you. Don't ignore this productive and versatile pattern because it looks "too simple" to be effective!

Goddard Caddis

Meat and potatoes, please. This is just too much of a mouthful for predators to pass up. Splat it down on the water or treat it with floatant and skate it, it's a versatile pattern.

Elk Hair Caddis

Vary size and color and this becomes whatever is needed. The EHC is one of the most universally effective patterns in fresh water fly fishing.

Fanwing Coachman

Ages old, this classic fly is rarely seen on the end of a tippet. It is just as effective today as it has been for the past two centuries!