Carson Lake Special Wet Fly

Carson Lake Special – Don Bastian’s interpretation of this pattern. These are dressed on size #4 Mustad 3906 irons.

A customer in Colorado recently requested me to tie this pattern for him among some other traditional wet flies in a custom order for his collection. This is the Carson Lake Special, a regional pattern that is still sold in Colorado fly shops. He sent me samples, and says it’s an older pattern. He remembered his dad talking about it when he was a boy. I tied these flies in the photo on #4 – Mustad 3906 wet fly hooks; he wanted them that size for his order along with a couple traditional winged wets. When I asked his permission to place this pattern on my blog, he also thought maybe some people could help shed some light on the history or origins of this fly. Any input on this fly would be greatly appreciated.

Seems to me, even in this big hook size, the Carson Lake Special would really be a good fish catcher. It looks fishy as hell all get out, as we say here in Pennsylvania. Indeed, I believe it surely must be a good fly in the smaller 8’s, 10’s, 12’s that it is still sold in, otherwise it would not have survived. Most of the fly shop versions of the Carson Lake Special and other flies for that matter, are tied in Timbuktu and Timbukthree by non-fly fishing fly tiers as per usual these days for store bought flies, and I mean most places, the majority of shops and big box stores; flies come from Sri-Lanka, Kenya, Central America, and who knows where else.

My customer sent me samples that were store bought and one he tied; close examination of these had me elevate the rib with a bodkin on one of the samples and I found a definite rib, not wire; there was a rib, and it was definitely green which resulted in me using the green floss, twisted for the rib. The body would be natural dubbing because I got the impression the fly was in existence before the age of synthetic dubbings. He said he would be interested to see what I came up with, this is it:

Carson Lake Special

Thread:        White Danville Flymaster 6/0

Hook:             3906 Mustad size #4

Tag:                Lagartun green silk floss

Tail:              A single black or brown hackle tip, to match body color

Rib:                 Lagartun green silk floss, twisted

Hackle:         Black tied palmer, clipped; or brown tied palmer, clipped

Body:              Black Wapsi squirrel dubbing, or Brown Wapsi Squirrel dubbing

Hackle:         Collins Hackle Farm grizzly hen back, two turns

Head:             Lagartun green silk floss, finished with Danville Black Flymaster 6/0

After struggling through tying the first two I suddenly realized it was easier to clip the palmered hackle; then wind the rib, and also to clip the palmer hackle before you tie in the collar; I did that once too. Also, the Lagartun floss is multi-stranded, so I separated it into two and three strand sections to wind the tag, rib, and head. A bit of a pain-in-the-ass challenge, but it was necessary, even on this large hook.

If you tie any Carson Lake Specials to fish, I would appreciate your replies of successful fishing reports…or not-so-successful reports.

January 5th, 2012 additional comment:

My customer in Colorado received his order today, and sent me an e-mail. I was very pleased. Here is what he wrote:

“Man the flies look incredible! My dad loved the look of the Carson Lakes… in fact he said that those flies you tied were the first ones that he’s seen, that look exactly like the originals.”
“At some point I’d like to have a Q and A session regarding the technique that you used to tie them… as
I’d rather not open up the cases if I don’t have to.”
What his dad said is a real compliment to me; I don’t know how I managed to accomplish that; replicate an unknown regional pattern almost dead-on, without being actually sure how to proceed when I started, other than to give it my best shot. Must have been some luck and my fly tier’s intuition.

47 comments on “Carson Lake Special Wet Fly

  1. That has quite a unique look to it Don. I’ve never heard of the pattern before, but it looks…. like it has a challenge or two.

    • Thanks Darren, I never heard of it either…by “a challenge or two”…what do you mean? I could post the commercially-tied samples I was sent…

      • Challenging to tie. I think I would be thrown off with that proportion in the front, being so used to tying to the eye. Clipping the hackle can be tricky to keep things even and not go too short as well. 🙂 I have trouble with floss tags coming apart as well and I’d probably use the fold over floss technique. Looks tight Don.

      • Aaron Goetz says:

        Don, there is another variation on this fly also, it is know simply as the purple. There is one store that I know of that sells it.
        But sadly they are out. If I can aquire one I would like to send it to ya. It is quite the fish producer.

      • Don Bastian says:

        Hi Aaron;
        Nice of you to drop by! My knowledge of the Carson Lake Special before I tied them and posted this, after receiving the info from a friend in Colorado, was absolutely nil. If you could even get the recipe for the “Purple,” that would be great! Thanks for your comment!

      • John Crumbliss says:


        I searched for awhile to find the fly my friend’s Grandpa Wayne told me about and I found this post. I am super excited to have found it and I would like to place an order if at all possible please. I will be taking him fishing on my boat, and he said I would NEVER find these Carson Lake Special wet flies. He also mentioned the Purple variation as well as the brown and the black. He used to ROCK the Grand Mesa lakes here in Colorado with those flies so please respond with good news for me 🙂

      • Don Bastian says:

        Hi John;
        Nice to hear from you! And you can surprise your friend with the Carson Lake Specials! I’ll gladly tie them up for you. 😉 I’ll send you an e-mail early this week.

      • P. Hutchison says:

        A man named Dow Jones came up with the Carson Lake Special fly. He was my wife’s uncle. He lived in the Grand Junction, CO area and at one time (sometime in the 40’s we think) worked as a game warden. The area he patrolled, etc., was the Grand Mesa. He and my wife’s father used to walk down into Carson Lake on the West end of the Grand Mesa. They were both avid fly fishermen. There was originally both the black and brown versions. As a small boy, my family and cousins and aunts, uncles would spend our summer vacations on the Grand Mesa and we still do spend many wonderful days there each year. There was a sporting good store in Grand Junction at the time by the name of Gene Taylor’s. The owner, Gene Taylor and Dow Jones would often sit in the back room of the store and tie flies, especially the Carson Lakes. FYI, I have done much research on the fly, found there are varying attempts at the pattern and honestly, most don’t even come close to the originals. Even some of the outlets in Grand Junction and places on the Grand Mesa and surrounding areas who sell flies don’t have the original pattern and most don’t even look like the original. My wife’s father, my younger brother, my son, and I all tie flies for our families and friends. The two patterns you show here are excellent examples of the original’s. I was quite excited to see the “real” Carson Lake displayed. Thank you.

        P. Hutchison

  2. Bruce says:

    That’s a neat pattern and it looks real buggy. The fish ought to see that as dinner.

  3. Kelly L says:

    Don, these flies are really unique looking. I love them. I wonder why they trimmed the hackle on the body though? At first I thought it had a bead head, now that would work good too I think. I may have to try these before long. Thanks for putting these little gems on your blog.

    • Hi Kelly;
      Thank you for your comments here. The tag and head are both made of the same color of floss, and the thread except for the black at the eye is white under the floss components, to keep the color light, especially when wet. Clipping hackle is not a new technique, there are other patterns that used it. On this fly the combo of clipped body and long collar makes for an especially rough, buggy appearance.
      There is a fly around here in Pennsylvania called the Kelso, and a version of that called the Red Ass Kelso, I tied them so long ago that I’ve almost forgot the dressing. Ah, peacock herl body, grizzly palmer, and red floss fore and aft as on the Carson Lake Special. Just came to me…like the information in an old Rolodex file. I think the Kelso was the same but with green floss. Thanks for your comments!

  4. Love the classic appearance plus adding a bit more… well, elegance (i.e. the floss tag and sub-head). Definitely a regional pattern because I couldn’t find anything more by googling, though perhaps it is tied in other regions under different names.

    Peter F.

  5. Hi Peter:
    To answer your question, no, the book might be ready by the January show 2013…not this soon…so far I have the flies from only one of my tiers…I only signed the contract three months ago. Been working on it though…most of the recipes have been researched and typed.
    See you in a couple weeks…cheers!

  6. Jimbo Busse says:

    I have been tying and using the brown body version of that fly for about 30 years. I’ve never seen the black body version until now. I got the pattern from an old friend who said he had been fishing it for at least 20 years. I use it when no hatches are prevalent on the lake and fish it deep and slow.

  7. Steve Taylor says:

    I grew up on the Grand Mesa and tied Carson Lake Browns and Blacks for the local general stores and a sporting goods store in Grand Junction in the early 80s. I recall a few different variants, but I took my pattern from tearing apart a fly I got from an old rancher I occasionally got an afternoon to go fishing with. Not sure how old that fly was, but most of his gear looked like it was from the 60s, just from comparing it to my Granddad’s stuff. Tied on a Mustad 9671 or 9672, depending on what was available in town–I only knew of 2 places near there to get fly tying supplies then, and had to improvise to keep up with orders. If I had more time, I could order from Reed Tackle and chose the 9671.

    I occasionally tied these patterns as dry flies when requested, but usually had better luck with the wet version when using them. It was a very simple pattern–green thread, two brown or black hackles tied in at the back so the tips made the tail, wrapped forward and trimmed close to the shank, with black hackle at the front and a green head made from the thread. I found that it was quicker to trim the body hackles before tying and would usually prep 50-60 of them before a tying session. I made them in sizes from 10-18, but 12 and 14 were always the quickest to sell out.

    • BOB says:

      I grew up on the Grand Mesa in the late 50’s and early 60’s. My dad used the Carson Lake fly, mostly the black one. We always fished deep with them. We have used them all over the west, and caught fish when no one else did. I’m don’t tie flies, but I sure use this one. Just need to know where I can get more.

  8. Don Mear says:

    Don, I live in Grand Junction, CO, and fish Carson Lake several times a year. It really not much of a large lake, and contains only Brookies. There are very few in the area who have actually seen the original, but from what I gather the pattern you have tied is pretty much what it looked like. Some argue the original had two tail feathers, but most tie it with one. Your rendition is quite nice, and I’m about to tie some up in anticipation of Spring.

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hello Don;
      How nice of you to post your comments about Carson Lake and the pattern! Yes this fly pattern was sent to me by Ira Davis, of Colorado, near Denver. He’s a commercial / custom fly tier that had me recreate this fly, through e-mail correspondence. It was a fun project, and I admit it looks like a good pattern. I wanted to tie some up for my fishing this season, but never got to it…hopefully you will. Let’s hear of your success fishing it!
      Thanks again for your comment!

  9. matt h says:

    According to my child hood my grandfather started the Carson Lake fly. My grandfather Ward loved to fly fish on Grand Mesa near Grand Junction, Colorado, and liked a particular lake (Carson lake) and made the fly by trial and error until he found what worked and the Carson Lake Special was born. Him and his brother started selling it in their local hardware store. My great uncle Dewey was making flies for a local sporting goods store and started selling the fly. That is how it became popular especially on the western slope in Colorado. Don’t know if it’s true, but I hope it is.

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hello Matt;
      Sorry to delay my reply so long – this Carson Lake Special seems to have really come back to life with renewed vigor, thanks in part to folks like you who keep adding to the lore of the pattern. Your story is indeed interesting, and I’ll accept it as your account of origin the pattern. Your first-hand experience with your grandfather is good enough for me. That’s a classic account of the creation of a fly pattern. Thanks for sharing your story!

  10. matt h says:

    I did have several original Carson lakes that my grandfather made but unfortunately as I was struggling to save my life as I was floating down the little Laramie River in Wyoming in my waders I lost all my flies

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hi again Matt;
      That would have been fantastic to have a photo of one of your grandfather’s Carson Lake Specials…wow, an original! From your comment here though, things might have turned out differently. Good thing all you lost were your flies…coulda been worse. Thank you so much for sharing your accounts on the creation of the Carson Lake Special.

      • Matt Hutchison says:

        Talked to my parents and found out more of the story. My grandfather started making the fly in the ’40’s. My grandfather started the fly but uncle Dow, not Dewey, would sell them in local shops. Their is a lot more to the story but my parents have several of my grandfather’s fly boxes and said that there are some Carson Lakes in them, so as soon as I can I will get some pics.

      • Don Bastian says:

        That’s great news Matt! I can’t wait to see the original Carson Lake Special. Way cool!

  11. Matt Hutchison says:

    I was reading some old post from DUBBN and he was almost correct. Dow Jones was a game warden and my great uncle. He and my grandfather Ward fly fished together from day one. My grandfather helped Dow stock fish, or should I say, just a reason to go fishing. Ward would make several different patterns and give them to people and the Carson Lake was one of them and that is how Dow started making that pattern. Dow would make the fly for different stores like Gene Taylor’s Sporting Goods. I remember seeing Dow 30 years ago when I was little and watching him tying flies as we talked. He would make several hundred flies a day in his retirement years. Both my grandfather Ward Lovelace and Dow Jones are related to me on my mothers side, but my grandfather on my dad’s side was friends with the both of them and they fished together often, and remembered getting the Carson lakes from Ward and how he always gave Dow crap about taking credit for his flies. So I do believe the Carson Lake Special was hatched by Ward Lovelace, my grandfather. Like I said I will get picks of the fly I have noticed several different variation of the Carson lakes but not many like the original.

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hi Matt;
      That is all really great information on the history of the Carson Lake Special. It’s got to be exciting to find out that your grandfather created it! Thank you so much for sharing your stories on this fly. it will be great to see the photos of his originals…thanks again!

  12. Great Tie!!!
    I Can remember using a pattern similar to these flies that belonged to my Dad in the 1950’s.

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hi Larry;
      It’s so nice of you to share your early experience. It’s a good bet those flies your dad used were Carson Lake Specials. Thanks for your comment!

  13. Mark says:

    I’ve fished with both black and brown Carson Lake Specials since I was a kid here in Colorado. My dad and I have caught more fish with these than any other up on The Grand Mesa.

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hi Mark;
      Thanks for your input and fishing information on the Carson Lake Special fly. I still have an original Carson Lake Special, tied by the fellow who created the fly, and some additional info to write in a blog post. Thanks for your comment!

  14. Bill Enstrom says:

    Don, your rendition of the Carson Lake Special is dead to rights. I have fished the lakes where this fly originated and you nailed it.. This fly originated near the top of the grand Mesa in western Colorado. I have used and tied this fly for 45 years and my father and my grandfather both used this pattern.. Thanks!

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hello Bill;
      How nice of you to post a comment and to compliment my rendition of the Carson Lake Special. Thnak you! I initially tied it according to a sample and to a few suggestions from fly tier, Ira Davis, near Denver. Inspecting my work, it was initially his father who thought I had gotten the fly right. I am very happy that I did, it makes my part in this recreation of an historic pattern all worthwhile. And more enjoyable.
      I do have more information on the Carson Lake Special, photos of a pencil drawing on tying the pattern that someone sent to me, and a photo of an original, tied by the grandfather of the man who sent it to me. Eventually I want to do another article on the fly.
      Thank you again for your comment! Really appreciate your input!

      • Bill Enstrom says:

        I too as a young boy learned to tie this fly with the guidence of Dow Jones. I would ride my bicycle to his house and watch him carefully. I enjoyed many stories of Dow and his wife Ida(sp) telling stories of fishing with my grandparents. These patterns along with muskrats, black and brown Woolley worms,and the imfamous “green bug”are the foundation of the Grand Mesa 5 flies that always made it to my fly box. Thanks for the memories!

        Bill Enstrom

      • bugflikr says:

        I am trying to catalog flies from the “old timers” here in Western Colorado. I’d love to be put in contact with Bill Enstrom and Matt Hutchison. I have heard of a few others and have one from just last summer from a guy I met up at Kitson on Grand Mesa. He named it the Orange Thrasher – not to be confused with orange Asher which is usually much smaller and not at all alike in shape.

  15. Scott says:

    The information submitted by my son Matthew about the origin of the Carson Lake fly is true. Dow Jones was my wife’s uncle and was indeed a game warden way back when. He and my father-in-law Ward Lovelace fished the lakes on Grand Mesa at every opportunity. While they are both credited with many successful fly patterns, it was the Carson Lake that stood out. We still use the Carson Lake today, 4 generations. The pattern submitted by Steve Taylor is pretty much the accepted pattern by the family. Several variations find their way to the lodges on Grand Mesa, and there is some success with them all. The pictures of the ones you came up with look very interesting to me and we will make some up and try them also. Thanks for helping to revive the interest in the Carson Lake Special. I was actually surprised to hear that it wasn’t just a local geographic favorite. While tying up a few of these flies today, I decided to add a little input. I know my son Matt posted several messages here. Good fishing to you.

    • Scott Fairbanks says:

      If you have originals of the Dow or Ward flies I could photograph I’d like to add them to a set of articles and a book I’m working on. I can be reached at 970-261-3541. I’ve lived in Mesa County nearly 20 years and I’m only beginning to unravel a few of the mysteries of fishing on the Grand Mesa. Any additional insights you can share will help. For example, I have used some of Dow’s original tied muskrat nymphs and done very well with them. I seem to be missing something in tying them. Mine just don’t quite get the same results.

      • says:

        Scott, I just wanted to let you know that I received your e-mail in regards to the Carson Lake Fly.  I will be more than glad to assist you in any way I can.  In response to your question of whether or not we have an original Dow Jones Carson Lake Fly, the answer is “I don’t think so.”  My wife’s father, Ward Lovelace and Dow Jones spent much of their life fishing together on the Grand Mesa.  We still have all of Ward’s fly books and also a small index card box with many of his fly tying “recipes”.  I will go through the many fly books we have of Ward’s and pull out the fly’s that I am familiar with, hopefully there will be Carson Lake among them.  While Dow gained some celebrity for his flies, which he deserved, Ward produced many fly’s of his own that were also inspired by the Grand Mesa.  As my father in law, Ward shared these with me and encouraged me to tie my own fly’s which I did and still do.  Ward also shared with me/us many fishing stories of his and Dow’s fishing experiences on the “Mesa”.  As a side note, my father was taught how to fly fish by Dow Jones when my father was 16 years old.  My wife and I didn’t realize our connection in this way until several years after we were married. My wife (Dorothy) will be contacting her older brother and sister in law to see if they can help with contacting Dow’s family in hopes of recovering as many of Dow’s fly’s and patterns as possible.  In the event that we are successful, no matter to what extent, I will gladly share all information we receive and with fingers crossed, some samples of Dow’s fly’s.  Due to the fact that family ties in this direction have deteriorated over the years, due to death, etc., this may take some time, but I feel confident that there is a positive outcome. I am enlightened by your undertaking for your book.  There are a few books out that deal with “Fishing the Grand Mesa”, and I have at least thumbed through most of them and read several, but they are a where to and how to guide to catch fish with no mention of the history. The Grand Mesa holds a special place in the hearts of my family, including children and grand children.  My father’s family, including brothers and parents, built a cabin on Sunset Lake near the Mesa Lakes Resort.  My father and his two brothers Hod and Don spent weekends building the cabin.  Unfortunately I didn’t have the foresight to question when, exactly where, etc.  While my father was a Marine during World War II they all agreed to sell it.  Every year for many year’s my father and his brothers and their families all spent 1 or 2 weeks each summer on the Mesa as a family vacation.  I and my cousins were in heaven during these trips.  The Grand Mesa holds such a special place in my families hearts that my grandfather on my fathers side and also my grand mother, my father, my father’s dog Sheba and my younger brother Gary all  have had their ashes spread on the Mesa after their parting. I suppose this, coupled with the part that the Mesa played in her families lives is why she and I are still together.  HA I hope your book comes along and again I would like to say that I would be glad to help in any way I can.  Feel free to e-mail me at any time.  I am in the process of getting a new cell phone and hopefully the same number, but in any case, if necessary I will be glad to share my cell number with you when I figure out what it is for sure. Thanks again for the e-mail.   My first name is Philip but I have always gone by my middle name “Scott”.    

  16. bugflikr says:

    So glad to find your blog!

  17. Loren D. Anderson says:

    How exciting! I just now stumbled onto your website and the discussions regarding the Carson Lake. As with several others offering comments, I fine-tuned my tying skills under the tutelage of Dow Jones. What a grand old guy and not a pretentious bone in his body! I wouldn’t even guess how many hours we spent talking fishing down at Gene Taylor’s. I still have some notes from him somewhere regarding the history/development of the Carson Lake pattern. He for sure should get the credit for popularizing the pattern. It was so deadly – especially on the Mesa – that my dad, Red Anderson, wouldn’t fish without them – especially the black version. Over the years I’ve taken all sorts of warm water and salt water species with the fly and it can be deadly on steelhead. My memory is pretty dim going back into the ’50’s and 60’s, but I think the original name of Carson Lake may have been Hog Chute res. The pattern I’ve tied thousands of is the ultimate of simplicity: emerald green thread tied down on the bend a ways; two neck or saddle hackles splayed back-to-back tied in for a split tail; the shafts of those hackles twisted together, wrapped forward, and tied off allowing for a slightly long head; a furnace hackle wrapped for the black version (grizzly for the brown); and finished with a tapered emerald green head. Although I’m now a steelhead fishing guide in Salmon, Idaho, I really miss the Mesa, Dow, and one of the finest guys ever – Gene Taylor.

  18. Loren Anderson says:

    If there is a way to add a photo to this discussion, I’d be glad to post a picture of one of the several thousand Black Carson Lakes I’ve tied over the years. Though similar, the original differs in a number of ways from those in above photo of this article. Two hackle feathers laid back-to-back are tied in by their tips at the rear of the fly to form a split tail. The thread (emerald green) is wrapped forward then the two hackles are twisted fairly tightly and wound forward and tied off allowing for a rather longish head – there was no rib on the original. The Black Carson had a brown hackle. The vast majority of flies I tied were on Mustad 9672 hooks in #12 – #8, although I tied some for personal use in #16’s and as big as #2’s for night fishing. It’s also a pretty effective fly for steelhead!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s