Pair of simple flies prove deadly for early-season trout
Is there anything better than standing knee-deep in a trout stream on a perfect spring day?
The current pushes around my legs while I listen to the special music of the water as it tumbles over the rocks in the riffle before me. I watch the shimmering highlights on that busy water, sparkling like hundreds of tiny diamonds in the April sun as I target my next cast.
The fly line settles delicately on the water and drifts naturally downstream as the flies sink toward the stream bottom where I expect a trout to be waiting. A subtle twitch of the leader tells me I guessed right. I raise the rod tip and feel the electric surge of a brown trout fighting the sting of the hook. A perfect day just got better.
I’m sure most trout fishermen have experienced the imagery described in that opening paragraph. I was privileged to repeat that scenario multiple times last Thursday afternoon. But that great day on the water almost didn’t happen. My plans that day were to catch up on some chores around the house, including writing my column for this week.
A friend of mine sent me a text message and asked if I could meet him at lunchtime to pick up a batch of flies I had tied for him. At that meeting, he reminded me that rain was in forecast for Friday and through the weekend, which could mess up the fishing. That’s what convinced me to adjust my plans and take advantage of the glorious weather that afternoon.
A couple of hours later, I was pulling on my waders beside one of my favorite small streams. The stream was clear, but the water levels were a bit higher than I would have liked. Despite that, I strung up my favorite small-stream fly rod, an Orvis 7-foot, 4-weight that casts like a dream. I rigged a pair of dependable flies to my leader and headed downstream to a pool that usually produces a fish or two. On the third or fourth cast, a fat brown trout snatched one of my flies and elevated my confidence. A little more than three and a half hours later, I had managed to coax 21 more browns and rainbows from a nice stretch of pocket water before calling it a day.
I fished the entire afternoon with the same two patterns, a pair of flies that have become my go-to offerings for early-season trout. The first of those is my version of the classic Pheasant Tail Nymph. I tie it on a 2X long nymph hook like a Mustad 9671 or TMC 5262, or a 1X long wet fly hook like the Mustad 3906B or TMC 3671. For weight, I use a tungsten bead in metallic brown, although copper or gold will do fine. For the tail, use three or four reddish-brown fibers from a ring-necked pheasant tail feather and another six to eight fibers wound around the hook shank for the abdomen of the fly. I like to rib the abdomen with fine copper wire to make the fly more durable.
Next, make a short thorax from dark brown or reddish-brown dubbing or peacock herl. Finish the fly by winding two or three turns of a brown or reddish-brown soft hackle next to the bead. My preference is feathers from the head or neck of a hen pheasant, but brown partridge or brown hen hackle also work well.
The other half of this deadly duo is a simple soft-hackle wet fly tied on a 1X long wet fly hook like the Mustad 3906B or TMC 3671. For this pattern, I like a tungsten bead in metallic olive or gold. The body is hare’s ear dubbing, the same material used to tie the popular Hare’s Ear Nymph. Keep the body on the slim side and rib it with fine, oval silver tinsel. Finish the fly with a couple of turns of gray partridge hackle. Grizzly hen hackle, brown partridge or hen pheasant also make effective variations.
I tie both patterns in sizes 12, 14 and 16 and switch to the smaller sizes as the season progresses and water levels get lower and clearer. Most of the time, I fish them together with the Pheasant Tail Special at the end of the leader and the Hare’s Ear on a short dropper 15 to 18 inches above the point fly.
In higher flows as I experienced last week, I’ll add a small split shot 6 to 8 inches above the dropper and another between the two flies to get them down as necessary.
I believe the Pheasant Tail Special provides a likely imitation for many of the mayfly nymphs that hatch on many streams during the early and mid-season. The Hare’s Ear Soft Hackle, on the other hand, mimics emerging caddis pupae, many species of which are important food sources in most trout streams throughout the year.
Regardless of what they fish think they are, these two patterns have become consistent producers for several seasons now. They are always in my fly boxes and quite often on my leader.