March Brown Spinners

Last Thursday I went up Big Pine Creek, following PA Rt. 44 into the village of Waterville, located at the confluence of Big and Little Pine Creeks in Lycoming County. The shop is 22 miles from my house, all on back roads. But it’s a nice drive through beautiful country; I take PA Rt. 973 West from Quiggleville through Salladasburg to get to Rt. 44. I was on my way fishing, and I wanted to stop in McConnell’s Country Store & Fly Shop to get a few tying materials. Here is a link to their web site:

I was surprised since it was  Thursday that my close friend Dave Rothrock, of Jersey Shore, was working in the fly shop. He normally works weekends. Dave and I chatted and caught up a little bit on things, but regarding the fishing, he said the shop had been completely cleaned out of March Brown fly patterns of every sort. This was due to the good fishing conditions on Big and Little Pine Creeks, in large part due to the warm winter, lack of snow pack, and stable stream flows. Good fishing created higher than normal demand for flies, consequently the shop was sold out. I haven’t tied commercially for quite a few years, but I figured I would tie up some March Brown Spinners for the shop to help them out, even though they didn’t order them, I reasoned they would be happy to get some. And I could use a little extra cash, can’t we all? 😉 So on Saturday afternoon, I tied up three dozen March Brown Spinners in size #10. Below is a group shot of my work:

March Brown Spinners, size #10.

After I did the first dozen, I thought for the heck of it, I wanted to see how my timing was. If I still “got it” for production tying. So I clocked myself, start to finish, one dozen. When I took the last fly from the vise, I hit my stopwatch and the timer read: thirty-nine minutes, twenty-eight seconds. That’s three minutes fifteen seconds per fly. I was kind of pleased with that, but I did mess with the tail for over a minute on the first fly right off the bat. The first fly was four minutes eighteen seconds…dismal for a commercial tying time.

I once had a visiting friend from England, who did not tie flies, but was curious about it, having never seen it done. He wanted to watch me one day. He sat there and timed me, commenting each time I finished a fly. I remember I was tying #14 Sulphur Spinners, my best time on those (with split tail) was two minutes, fifteen seconds. But I plodded on after my four-and-a-quarter minute March Brown Spinner. I did have the wing material prepped ahead of time. But that would really only add about two additional minutes, still keeping the average time -per-fly at about 3-1/2 minutes each.

Here is a macro of a single fly:

March Brown Spinner, size #10. The rabbit dubbed thorax actually suggests the legs.

March Brown Spinner

The ingredients are listed in order of tying procedure.

Hook: Standard dry fly hook, size #10. This hook is a Dia-Riki 300.

Thread: Danville 6/0 Flymaster, No. 47 Tobacco Brown. I’m going to start listing the Danville Chenille Company thread color numbers from their website for clarification with my fly patterns, after a recent forum discussion of the correct color of orange floss for Gray Ghost bodies.

Wing: Clear Hi-Vis or Enrico’s Sea Fibers (both are the same product, different name). This comes in a large hank or bundle, and it must be sorted – separated from the main bundle; and sized according to fly size – a bit tricky but not difficult once one does it a few times. Experience is a good teacher.

Tail: Two fibers of moose body hair. Moose body hair is very strong and durable.

Body – Abdomen: Brown Flexi-Floss, * wound over tying thread base.

Body – Thorax: Rusty brown rabbit dubbing.

Head: Tying thread, cemented.

* The footnote for the Flexi-floss – well, this is confusing. Like the Hi-Vis and Sea Fibers, fly tying material companies market the same product and call it by different names. I guess they have to do that. It is confusing, even to experienced fly tiers, to say the least.

Independently of other fly tiers, I began years ago using Flexi-floss for mayfly bodies, specifically for dry fly bodies. I made that decision because I discovered that Flexi-floss floats. Now, Flexi-floss, Sexi-Floss, Super-floss, Dyna-Floss, Floss-Flex, and I don’t know what else it is called, but this is a DuPont product. All the same. I googled “Flexi-Floss” and found a Fly Fisherman Magazine article by Mike Hogue, owner of Badger Creek Fly Tying Materials in Ithaca, New York. Mike would be a good material source to check out.

Mike’s article was about “The Flexi-Floss Dun.” I don’t get the photos on my computer for some reason, and Mike’s article of unknown date, was nevertheless informative. He did however lump Wapsi’s Span-Flex into the same group with Flexi-Floss, associating it as the same material. Span-Flex is not the same as Flexi-Floss, it is different. Span-Flex is a latex product. It has a dull, matte finish. It comes in different sizes, not diameters as the article stated because it is not round, but rather is rectangular or square depending on the size.  Span Flex comes in three or four sizes. The Flexi-Floss is also of a squarish shape, but more oval, not cut flat like Span-Flex. Both products are very stretchy. Span-Flex, however, will eventually rot. So it is not a good material for a framed fly. I have some Latex Caddis Larva in my fly box, made from Span-flex, that are at least five years old, and the bodies came apart. So what, you say? The Latex Caddis Larva is a pattern I got from Rick Whorwood in Ontario back in the mid-90’s before Span-flex came on the market. Back then we used dental gum bands that your kids put on their braces. One round gum band would make three size #18 flies, but the material had to be wound with hackle pliers. Span-flex cured that difficulty. The Latex Caddis Larva is a great fly by the way, one I would have on a short list of nymph patterns for anywhere in the country, due to its imitative effectiveness of the net-spinning Hydropsyche caddis larva.

I often used a #18 Latex Caddis Larva on Spring Creek during my live, stream-side instructional nymph fishing demos, more than once resulting in hookups of six, eight, or more trout, prompting immediate and keen interest in the fly by onlookers and their desire to obtain the “magic bullet” pattern. I usually planned for this and had some for sale. 😉  I have another story about this fly too, for another time. Span-Flex is a good material, it provides translucence and is very much affected by different shades of the tying thread. Just don’t make more than a year’s supply of any pattern with it.

Flexi-floss – is a glossy material. Also very stretchy. It floats. Span-flex by comparison, sinks. You can put Span-flex in a glass of water and it will sink. Put Flexi-floss in some water, and even if you force it down, it rises back to the surface. Hence, a superior material to incorporate into dry fly bodies. It is also translucent, and is the best synthetic quill body substitute I have ever seen. It requires no soaking. It is durable. It comes in many colors, and like the Span-flex, is also of significant advantage for fly pattern design, due to its translucence and being effected by the color of tying thread used underneath it. One color of Flexi-floss can be made into a number of different shades by changing the base thread color. It has been used for legs, ribbing, etc., but its real boon to tiers of trout flies is its ability to mimic not only the appearance of, as A. K. Best, says the “smooth, waxy-looking bodies of mayflies,” but it excels beyond other materials with its translucence.

I have samples of Blue Quills, Baetis (different colors), Cornutas, Quill Gordons, Chocolate Duns, Mahogany Duns, Slate Drakes, March Brown Duns, Sulphurs, Light Cahills, Pale Evening Duns, Pale Morning Duns, and spinners for these patterns with the range of colors of Flexi-floss.

Tying Instructions

Step 1: The fly is tied by first setting a short thread base for the wing. Then set the wing about 1/3 the distance between the eye and hook point, attaching it with a thread wrap and then securing it with about ten tight figure-eight wraps.

Step 2: Wind tying thread to the hook point, stop and attach two moose body hairs. Begin winding to the barb. By placing your finger on top of the fibers, they will slid to the sides of the hook shank. Moderate thread tension will move them into place on the sides of the hook shank by the time you reach the end of the body. Note in the macro photo, the tail comes off both sides of the abdomen, like a real bug, not off the top like most other patterns.

Step 3: Wind thread forward to the thorax, and attach the Flexi-floss with one wrap. Maximize thread tension (to hold the body material in place, if it slips out you need more tension), and s-t-r-e-t-c-h the Flexi-floss, then wind over it to the base of the tail, stopping a smidgen ahead of the tail, and then wind thread forward to the thorax. Leave a little room behind the wings for the dubbed thorax.

Step 4: Wind the Flexi-floss forward, secure with at least 3, and no more than 4 wraps. And I mean tight. Cut off. One six-inch section of Flexi-Floss, cut from the cable tie bundle, will make 6 – 8 size #10 flies.

Step 5: Dub the thread and wind the dubbing in figure-eight wraps, keeping the wing at right angles to the hook shank. Some spinners I have seen have a thorax that is too sparse, skinny. I like to imitate the natural bulge of the thorax of mayfly spinners; a more realistic body silhouette triggers more strikes.  Finish wrapping and whip finish the head, and the fly is done.

I just finished two dozen size #18 and #20 Dark Rusty CDC Comparaduns for an order; the nice thing about Flexi-floss, is it will split. Use your bodkin to skewer the middle of the material about a half-inch from one end, and pull the Flexi-floss away. This will split it; then simply grab the ends and pull it apart. This yields smaller width sections of material that can be used on tiny flies.

The bodies of these small patterns I dressed have a “quill body.” I’ll try to take photos tomorrow and add them to this post. That way folks can see the benefit of this stuff. Hope you like the flies!

(Edit – May 1st: One of these days I’m going to start making tying videos and put a few on Youtube I guess).

#16 Blue Quill Polywing Thorax Dun, tied with Flexi-Floss body.

First Trout of the Year on Drys – Spring Creek

The Flashback Pheasant Tail Nymph strikes again, size #20. This was the first trout I brought to hand yesterday in Fisherman's Paradise, and I also missed a half-dozen other quick strikes on this go-to nymph pattern. Smaller trout have a tendency to hit-and-spit real fast, often before you can react. And I don't care how good your reflexes are. When the trout started rising, I did what any respectable angler would do and switched to a Sulphur dun dry fly pattern and got down to some serious fishing.

I drove to Spring Creek near State College, Pennsylvania, yesterday afternoon to meet up with three of my friends,  who had come up from Maryland the day before. I was to meet Jack, Frank, and Mike, but I was running about a half-hour late. They were not at the prearranged meeting place when I arrived, so I positioned myself along the road in a highly visible location and fished. In about 15 minutes they pulled up and stopped. I hollered, “Where were you? Having lunch?”

“Yeah,” came the reply. They had gone back to Maria’s at the Lamb Street bridge in nearby Bellefonte, the same place they had dinner the night before. Old farts curmudgeons  geezers  friends like to keep a routine. It was 2:45 PM. We quickly agreed to meet up at Fisherman’s Paradise, which was no more than a mile upstream from where I was fishing. It turned out that a major contributing factor to this plan of action was the fact that Frank, originally from New Jersey, (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and now from Florida, (not that there’s anything wrong with that either), basically wanted to fish like he does in Florida didn’t want to suit up in his waders. Too much of that Florida arm-chair boat fishing I guess. :mrgreen:  The Paradise is a No Wading Zone.

Fisherman’s Paradise was the first-ever Special Regulation, Catch-and-Release, Fly Fishing Only Project in the entire United States. It was started sometime in the 1940’s I believe. And Pennsylvania Fly Fishing Legend – Author – The Dean of Fly Fishing – George Harvey had something to do with it. There is easy access to the water, much of the bank in sections on one side or the other is mowed lawn, courtesy of the staff of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. We weren’t there 15 minutes when the trout started rising. Talk about perfect timing. In fact when I saw nearly a dozen risers in one area I reckoned (like Clint Eastwood, he does a lot of “reckoning” in his Westerns), that it was time to stop nymphing and go dry. I tied a #14 Sulphur Comparadun to my 5x tippet. The first trout succumbed to this fly after just a few casts. Here he is:

My first trout of the year on a dry. The fish took this #14 Comparadun pattern, visible in its jaw. I don't use or own Flurocarbon. The tippet is my favorite dry-nymphing soft mono material, Dai-Riki Velvet. The fly is a simple pattern: Yellow Microfibetts split tail; Wapsi Superfine Sulphur Orange Dubbing, and bleached deer hair for the wing. And Danville #7 Orange 3/0 Monocord thread. I initially posted that it was Danville 6/0 but then I remembered that I'd been using the monocord on Comparaduns size #14 and larger. Stronger thread, doesn't break when you flare the wing.

Freshly hatched sulphur dun. I'm only an amateur aquatic entomologist, but I'm pretty sure this is Ephemerella invaria.

Mike was standing right beside me as I had landed my third or fourth trout. We had been discussing the sulphurs versus the Pale Evening Duns, E. dorothea. Just as I released the fish I saw this fly flutter into some grass at arm’s length. I exclaimed to Mike, “There goes a sulphur dun!” Then I asked him, “Do you wanna see it?”

“Sure,” Mike replied. I looked in the grass and located this bug, carefully picking it up by the tips of its ethereal wings. We observed the Sulphur Dun in my hand, and then I decided to place it on my knee, thinking photograph. The the camera came out, the shot was quickly taken. But it is interesting to note, as I was preparing to shoot, since the breeze was at times a bit gusty, the dun instinctively positioned itself in an aerodynamic posture heading into the wind. I had to wait briefly for her to pose. It was probably a female.

Yes, this photographic evidence, seeing significant numbers of sulphur duns hatching, and taking trout that were seen rising and some that were not, by just fishing seams, edges, eddies, and runs, I took 15 or 16 trout, and rose another dozen or so in just over a couple hours. I didn’t move 100 yards left or right. It’s safe to say the sulphur hatch on Spring Creek has started. Normally on Spring Creek one can see scattered sulphur duns starting around April 23rd to the 25th, with the main hatch getting going around May 8 – 10, but this year, well most of us are aware of the unseasonably warm winter and lack of snow pack in the north east. This has the bugs ahead of schedule.

Another trout taken on the Comparadun. You can just see the tips of the deer hair wing in its mouth.

Jack was lacking some sulphurs of the right size and color; he’d been using a #16 more Pale Evening Dun pattern, which the trout were not having. I took one look at his fly and said,”That’s too small. Not the right color. Ya’ need more orange.” I gave him one of my #14 Comparaduns and a Poly-wing Thorax Dun, also had to give him a dab of floatant too. What’s up with a guy going fishing and leaving his floatant at home? Jack has like, 6 bottles of Loon Aquel (my favorite) floatant at home. Good place for that when trout are rising and you want to fish drys. He had his excuses…none valid. Soon Jack was into some trout too.

Another dry fly brown. I lost my Comparadun by decorating the trees, so I tied on a #14 Sulphur Parachute Dun. It worked.

I must have been feeling an unseasonal Christmas Spirit, because I also decorated a tree on the opposite bank with my Parachute pattern. So I tied on this #14 Sulphur Poly-wing Thorax Dun. It too, worked. I lost four or five flies, decorating the trees.

Another trout on the Poly-wing Thorax Dun. Here you can clearly see the split Microfibetts tail, and the same Wapsi Sulphur Orange Superfine Dubbed body.

The abdomen on the Poly-wing Thorax Dun above is “tightened up” by “reverse dubbing;” a technique I developed ten years or so ago whereby the body is ribbed with the tying thread direct from the bobbin, after the dubbing is wound from the thorax to the end of the body. Ideally running out of dubbing exactly as you get to the tail. This produces a segmented look, and as noted, a tight, clean body. Expert commercial fly tier and author of several books, A.K. Best, noted in one of his books, quoting from memory: “Mayflies don’t have buggy bodies. They have clean, smooth, waxy-looking bodies.” Hence my preference to make tight, clean, slim bodies on my mayfly dun and spinner patterns. It has ginger hackle, clipped on the bottom 1/2 way between the hook point and shank to ensure right-side up landings 90-plus percent of the time. And a wing of dun Hi-Vis – a.k.a. Enrico’s Sea Fiber’s – a.k.a Poly Fluff, which is all the same acrylic fiber, but confusing. It results in fly tying material independent marketing ideas which do little more than confuse, befuddle, and confound fly tiers.

I have had two big-fish-that-got-away stories two days straight. On Thursday afternoon, the day before this trip to Spring Creek, I drove up Big Pine Creek and fished the Delayed Harvest Section below Slate Run. In less than a half hour I hooked a brown about 20″ in length on a March Brown Parachute Extended Body Dun dry fly pattern – my own design – that I had the pleasure of watching – and hearing – him feed. Though I know better, in haste or neglect, or both, since trout were rising when I arrived, I left on the 5x tippet from who knows how long ago without replacing it. A couple years probably. When I hooked that big trout, I had him on for almost two minutes, he never surface, but kept digging the bottom, and the leader eventually broke about a foot from my 4x section.

Not seeing many rising trout in one section on Spring Creek yesterday, I started working the far bank with my sulphur dry. I was placing the dun eight to twelve inches from the far side, getting the desired two to perhaps five feet of drag-free drift. I had one of those little rises – slow, deliberate, and delicate, not more than a dimple, not a slash like smaller trout often make. When I set the hook I knew I had the trout of the day. About 17″, but again he got into the heavy current mid-stream and the hook pulled out. No matter…the cast, presentation, tended drift, and successful rise and hook up is the true measure of how well you’re doing on the water.

One other interesting and kind of humorous thing happened too. Some stranger walked up and was watching me. He also started talking, giving advice, almost immediately. Sort of an armchair expert I supposed. Some folks are like that you know. I talked to him, but remember I was fishing. When the trout are on I’m not going to stop fishing just to have a conversation with a stranger. It’s akin to walking and chewing gum simultaneously. I can talk and fish at the same time.

Jack was off to my right. About forty feet away. There were six or eight trout working in an area in front of me. There was a large slack water area immediately under the rod tip, and for some distance out, say twenty feet. I played around and punched various types of casts up and across the currents, mending downstream, and I rose four or five of the trout. Missed ’em all. Or they missed me either way. Observing this, the  “expert” said, “There’s only one style of fly that works here.”

I replied, “I’ve taken trout on three different types of patterns so far; Comparadun, Parachute, and Thorax Dun.” And then, with perfect timing to accentuate my remark, right on cue, I set the hook in a trout.

I barely had a bend in the rod when he said, “You gotta go way down on your tippet size.” I didn’t know what he meant by that size-wise because I didn’t ask.

“I’m using 5x,” I replied. In about four minutes I hooked another trout. He wandered off after I released that one. Good thing I didn’t tell him I was using a 7-weight floating, weight-forward line that I had fished with on Big Pine Creek the day before. He might have fallen ill. 😉 Point here is: Fly line weight was and at times is – irrelevant. I had thought about this as I prepared to fish, but my rod was still strung up from the day before. I didn’t see the need to de-string and re-string my equipment. Because my leader was so long the fly line weight was of no consequence to my presentations. I was not fishing smooth, shallow, glassy glides and pools in gin-clear water. Though if someone walked up with a freshly-made Martini I would have surely taken it. :mrgreen:

The heavier line actually allowed me to punch my casts more accurately and with more authority, despite the occasional gusts of wind. Jack had observed that, standing right beside me at one point (I had to give him a dab of floatant). We both saw a trout rise on the far side, near the opposite bank in shallow water, over fifty feet away. I stripped line out, threw the cast across current with a slight left curve / reach cast, the fly landed in perfect position, and it promptly rose the trout. He missed the fly though, or perhaps I missed him, but my point is that the presentation was right on. Jack said, “I’m impressed. All the way over there, first cast, and he took it.” It made me feel good to be back in the groove. But perhaps I was also a bit lucky too. I do love technical, tactical dry fly fishing. Where you have to constantly amend, adjust, and modify your casts, your position, angle of rod sweep, every aspect of presentation to obtain the “right drift.”

My leader was about 12 – 13 feet long, with almost six feet of 3x, 4x, 5x; the George Harvey concept of leader design. George’s basic leader design has in the last few years or so become christened as a “Czech Nymphing Leader.” I plan to expand on that topic and concept more in the future. The truth is, the only thing “new” about the Czech nymphing leader design is the name. George Harvey designed longer, more finely tapered leaders than what were commercially available, custom designing his leaders so far back in history that he constructed them with silk gut leader material, before monofilament was even invented. This was in the 1940’s, and the evidence on this is in George’s book, Techniques of Fly Tying and Fly Fishing, 1978 (I think). Also, his leader formulas, combined with his field research using Japanese beetles and 15″ sections of silk gut of all diameters, feeding gut-skewered beetles to rising trout that he had chummed up with a coffee can full of beetles, made him recognize that trout don’t care about tippet size, they care about drag-free drifts of what they eat. As his eyesight faded in his 80’s, George fished Tricos on 3x tippet because that’s what he could see to thread through the eye of the hook. His 3x tippet was about five feet long. And he used his slack-leader cast to present the fly. Enough digression, but this is relevant. My personal experience of the last 20 years bears out George’s research, though I do not rigidly adhere to his exact leader formulas, I do follow his basic leader design principles.

Green inch worm, a.k.a. Green Weenie. Yes, already, they come out when the leaves begin to sprout.

When I quit fishing, I was just getting into the Nymphmobile when I saw this guy on my car door. I placed him on the hood and took the photo. I know, it looks like Godzilla in a larval form, but it was only about 3/8 of an inch in length. Now and from here on through the rest of the spring, summer, and fall, this will be a go-to fly for any occasion when you don’t know what to use – well, you can always resort to a sinking inchworm pattern, a.k.a. Green Weenie. Or a floating version…in between the hatches when the trout may key on one bug, don’t forget these terrestrials. My biggest trout in Pennsylvania, a 26″ brown, was taken on a Green Weenie nymph. Sight-fished, too. That’s another story.

I will endeavor to post macro photos of the dry fly patterns here in the not-too-distant future, as well as posting a separate topic / essay on the Sinking Inchworm…

After the fishing the best part of the day was a late dinner of a grilled venison steak, rare, and a side of some penne pasta, sauteed baby bella mushrooms, and Alfredo sauce that I made myself. Well, OK, I lied a little. The Alfredo sauce came from a jar. Finished off with a neat nip of “Jack,” Special Reserve, Single Barrel, November 2011 Bourbon. Compliments of a friend. Yup. Life is good.

I hope to continue to write more of my fishing journal escapades like this in the current season, keeping in the theme of my planned expansion and diversification of topics, tying fishing related.

The Scarlet Ibis

Scarlet Ibis – photo credit Sandy Cole, Wikipedia. Used by Permission. Note the black-tipped feathers are only a few of the outer primaries, so you have a verifiable position of where the quills I used for these flies came from on the bird.

Back in the 1800’s nothing restricted the types of bird plumage that could be used for fly tying. The scarlet ibis was just one of the many exotic birds whose feathers were used for fly tying. Scarlet ibis plumage was used to create the wet fly of the same name. A good number of other patterns also used the wing or body plumage of this beautiful scarlet colored bird. The color scarlet, by definition, is a red tending more toward orange. Crimson on the other hand, is a deep red, tending more to the color of fresh blood. I thought the photo of this bird would be of great aid in making this post. Thanks to Sandy Cole, who also requested me to post this link along with the use of her photo:

More information on the scarlet ibis bird may be found at:

At the Pennsylvania Fly Fishing Museum Heritage Day Event in Boiling Springs last June, a man inquired of me if I were interested in tying some Scarlet Ibis trout flies from authentic scarlet ibis feathers. Of course, I replied in the affirmative, having never seen real scarlet ibis feathers before, and I was quite excited about the prospect. We made an agreement for him to send me the feathers and that was that. It was not until the Somerset, New Jersey, Fly Fishing Show in January of this year that he stopped by my table with the feathers; two pairs of scarlet ibis wing quills as shown in the next photo. The deal was I tie two flies for him, one snelled wet on a blind-eye hook, and one 20th century version, and in return for me tying these two flies I would keep the second pair of quills. A sweet deal for sure. I tied and included the Bass Fly version as a special surprise for my customer.

Authentic scarlet ibis primary wing quills, before the barb slips were cut for these flies…

So I tied a blind-eye version, using Mary Orvis Marbury’s 1892 book, Favorite Flies and Their Histories, and the second pattern was sourced from Trout, 1938, by Ray Bergman.

Scarlet Ibis – trout fly version from Mary Orvis Marbury’s book. The hook is a size No. 7, Mustad 3370 japanned, blind-eye. The gut snell is post-war Japanese. The oval tinsel tag and ribbing were wound all in one shot after I wrapped the floss body. The wing is tied tip-down as was customary during the 1800’s.

Scarlet Ibis – the version in Ray Bergman’s Trout. The hook is a size No. 6 Mustad 3399. Both the tail and wing were cut from the scarlet ibis wing quills, and the wing was tied tip-up as Dr. Burke’s paintings in Trout were accurately depicted painted from actual samples.

Scarlet Ibis – antique Orvis Lake Fly version on original 1800’s card packaging. The hook was about a size #2. Note the elaborate, ornate logo design on the packaging. The Tomah Jo is visible at left. Note all three flies have bite guards on the snells.

The above photo of the antique Scarlet Ibis fly was made possible through the courtesy of my friend and fellow tier from Sydney, Maine, Ed Muzzerol. Ed is also one of the contributing tiers for my current book project, Favorite Fishing Flies – 1892, The Whitefish Press. Hopefully the book will be released sometime in 2013. Ed and I had coffee Friday evening between my obligations at the L. L. Bean Spring Fishing Expo in Freeport, Maine, March 16 – 18, where I was one of the Featured Fly Tyers. Besides delivering his finished flies for my book, Ed had brought along some antique flies to show me because he knew I’d be interested. As I ogled the flies, I suddenly remembered I had my camera in my pocket. “Can I take pictures of these?” I asked Ed.

“Sure,” he replied.

The photos above and below are the results.

Scarlet Ibis – Orvis original Bass Fly version 1800’s. This photo was taken by me on a table in the 1912 Cafe at L. L. Bean in Freeport, Maine; hand-held, no flash.

Note the extra components beyond those of the trout fly version. This Bass Fly version has a two-part tag of tinsel and floss, a married tail, a peacock herl butt, and an oval tinsel rib (tarnished on the antique fly). The name label was on a piece of paper barely 3/16″ wide, impaled onto the hook point to designate the pattern since often different flies were mounted on these cards. The fly above the Scarlet Ibis is unknown, the other side had a Tomah Jo on it. Both the red section in the tail and the wing are authentic scarlet ibis feathers. I am not sure about the hackle.

Scarlet Ibis – Bass Fly

Tag: Flat gold tinsel and yellow floss

Tail: Scarlet ibis and white goose, married

Butt: Peacock herl

Rib: Oval gold tinsel

Body: Scarlet floss

Hackle: Scarlet

Wing: Paired scarlet ibis body feathers, back-to-back

Head: I used red wool over red thread. The antique appears to have black thread, though it looks like dark red (I zoomed it in to check, inconclusive).

Scarlet Ibis Bass Fly version – tied by Don Bastian. I placed the white strip on top of the scarlet ibis quill section in the tail; I think it looks better there than having the red strip right below the wing. The hook is a Mustad 3366 Size No. 2; a modern fly version of this historic pattern on an eyed hook for conventional fishing use. The wing is made from two paired feathers of Whiting American Hen Cape dyed red – a pretty good scarlet color for this fly. The hackle also came from the Whiting hen cape and was wound as a collar. Two strands of peacock herl (wound simultaneously) taken from near the eye were used to get long barbs of herl for the butt. A red wool head gives the fly a vintage appearance. I can’t wait to try this fly on some lake, pond, and river in Maine this spring and fall.

Group shot of Scarlet Ibis flies tied by Don Bastian – Orvis patterns, both trout and Fancy Bass Fly versions, and the version listed in Trout by Ray Bergman (bottom center).

Scarlet Ibis flies and wing quills. Note the exact perpendicular cuts of the slips relative to the barbs taken for the wings – always cut perpendicular to the run of the barbs, never parallel to the stem. This provides for better accuracy in the visual measurement of your scissors tips when cutting straight across the barbs.

Scarlet Ibis – Orvis Version

Tag: Oval gold tinsel

Rib: Oval gold tinsel

Body: Scarlet floss

Hackle: Scarlet

Wing: Scarlet

Head: Scarlet wool if desired

Scarlet Ibis – Bergman Trout Version *

Tag: Flat gold tinsel

Tail: Scarlet duck quill section(s). It was customary to use just a single quill section on tails; somewhere along the line in the 20th century tail slips from matched pairs became popular; and that is my preference so perhaps that has also influenced fly tiers in their wet fly tying.

Rib: Flat gold tinsel

Body: Scarlet floss

Hackle: Scarlet

Wing: Scarlet duck quill sections

Head: Black thread, or scarlet wool of desired.

* I wish to clarify that the “Bergman” version of the Scarlet Ibis in Trout is not Ray Bergman’s personal pattern of this fly. Like all of the more than 400 wet flies in his books, Ray merely published popular and standard pattern recipes of his day as they were commercially produced and most commonly available. Ray originated only one wet fly, the Quebec, published in his last book, With Fly Plug, and Bait, 1947. I have several Bass Fly Scarlet Ibis patterns tied up.

Opening Day on Spring Creek, Pennsylvania – Part II

Here is a photo to start this off – what it’s really all about:

I wanted to begin this post with this photo — more pics and text will follow throughout the day — right now I’m having coffee, breakfast, tending the wood stove fire to fend off the chill, and I gotta tie a few flies too. This was one of 27 trout I brought to hand yesterday.

It is now early afternoon on April 15th. Yesterday, breakfast was the first order of business. Almost. I arose at 5:05 AM, loaded my two small coolers with food and beverages, sat down and tied six flies that I thought I might need for the day, loaded the car with the few remaining necessities that had not been packed the night before, and drove the entire distance of 1/4 mile from my house to the bottom of St. Michaels Road. I parked my car and walked through the doors of the Quiggleville Comunity hall, one of the little villages in the Cogan Station mailing district, for the Annual Fishermen’s Breakfast. Quiggleville, a collection of about ten houses, is actually where I live, since Cogan Station is a pretty large, mostly rural mailing district. But I live outside of “town.”

...held annually at the Quiggleville Community Hall, PA, Rt. 973. Rumored to be one of the best Fishermen's Breakfasts in the area...

Quiggleville Community Hall

Not too crowded upon my arrival...

Inside the doors. My friend and some-time fishing companion, Joe "Ma" Radley is seated on the left in the yellowish jacket, wearing the olive green hat. There are plenty of "Ma" stories, but for another time. She's a real character...

For seven dollars, this breakfast is all-you-can-eat: Coffee, orange juice, home fries – hand-cut from real potatoes the day before by the friendly volunteers at “The Hall,” sausage, liverwurst, pancakes, and the lady line-cook will make your eggs – scrambled, sunny-side-up, or over easy, to order. Lots of locals come help, they donate stuff, and the sausage patties are made from bulk, hand-formed. Not pressed out in some big factory where who-knows-what can end up in the mix. Volunteers constantly mingle the tables serving refills on the coffee. This has been going at this location for 15 – 20 years.

They even decorate the tables with appropriate seasonal items. The forsythia and grape hyacinths off to the left are not made of plastic.

The view into the back of the "Nymphmobile" after we loaded TG's gear. When I saw how much stuff he was bringing I thought he was planning to fish for a week. Note the home-made multi-grain hamburger rolls on the lower left...card table, fishin' rods with a couple spares, the orange tin has about 12 different spices in it.

The rear of the Nymphmobile on location along Spring Creek Road in Centre County, PA, parked at the scene of the day's fishing / relaxing / eating / hanging-out-with-friends excursion.

About 8:20 AM, downstream view of where we were parked. Note the guardrails along the stream.

Upstream view from where we parked...besides one affable fellow we later learned was from Maryland, these two ducks were the only other visitors at this spot on our arrival. The water is pretty low, but it was running perfectly cold at 52 degrees F. This riffle is where the osprey make a kill.

Truman took this photo of me, my sixth or seventh trout and it wasn't even 9:15 AM.

This was my first Opening Day on Spring Creek since 2008, the result of the way my life ran the last few years…and this was my first Opening Day – period – in Pennsylvania since 2009 when TG & I met at Rose Vally Lake in Lycoming County  with our ultralight spinning gear and fished for bluegills and crappies. We sometimes did that to beat the “usual” Opening Day crowds. Spring Creek, open all year under no-kill restrictions, has been fished for a few months already and by Opening Day, most people that have been fishing Spring go elsewhere on the First Day, because they can. There were seven anglers in this entire stretch all day – five of them were part of our group.

Another brown that took my #20 Flashback Pheasant Tail nymph.

OK, here I have to announce: the six flies I tied at 5:20 AM in the morning, were San Juan Worms. Yup. Mr. Classic Wet Fly, as some may think, is also a nymph fishermen. And unlike some folks, I’m not ashamed to admit that part of my nymphing repertoire includes junk flies. I had lost my “junk fly” box last fall somewhere along a stream. It contained an assortment of flies sometimes known as “The Guides Revenge.” I’ve unashamedly shown it to folks over the years, always before opening the box, prefacing it with the statement, “No matter how bad or tough the fishing is, one of these flies will always get you a few trout.” And then I opened the lid to show a collection of flies that more closely resembled a bag of jelly beans – “Green Weenies,” (chartreuse sinking inchworm patterns), glo-bugs and egg patterns in an array of colors and sizes, and San Juan Worms of various persuasions. Trout eat worms every time they can; the red garden variety, night-crawlers, and aquatic worms, of which there are some in Spring Creek. Trout eat other fish eggs. Trout eat inchworms that fall into the streams from spring into fall. They even eat them in January and February when no terrestrial green inch worms are about.

Catching some trout off the bat is a good confidence-builder, and as I stated, four trout seasons came and went since I last fished Opening Day in Pennsylvania on Spring Creek with my friends. For sure, I needed a fix of catching some trout. I had a need to feel the sensation of success that comes after making a cast with a nymph rig. This can be described as intense concentration, nerves set on hair-trigger response, mending and tending my drift, eyes on the indicator, then a reaction almost as fast as a mousetrap-slamming-shut that is rewarded by sticking the hook into the jaw of a trout whose eating habits at the moment had a significant degree of association to the slightest alteration in the natural drift of my strike indicator. Fish on! It worked very well. Twice I hooked and brought to hand two trout on back-to-back casts. I tried hard to even out at ten trout on the wine-colored San Juan Worm, but I stalled at nine for some reason. About 10:30 AM I tied on the #20 Flashback Pheasant Tail Nymph.

TG intently watches his drift...

A few seconds later...Fish on!

A spot that contains cover, holding areas, and feeding lies. Spring Creek is a limestone stream; note the different coloration in the water. The shallow area in the foreground is darker because you can easily see bottom. Any time the color shades to this lighter, milky-greenish shade, it is an indication of depth, however slight at times. This drop off would be over my hip boots. These are all holding areas for trout. The linear edge where the color changes is a mix of both depth and current change - this is a seam; a perfect lane to drift a nymph (or a dry fly) in. It is critical in most situations to set up your cast and tend your entire presentation with the objective of obtaining a drag-free drift through a specific target zone. I consider this area too small for a two-fly rig. I prefer to fish with a single nymph pattern when the water is low, primarily because I believe the effective nymph fisher needs to be constantly aware of the slightest changes in every individual fishing area that is targeted, and this must sometimes be considered for each and every cast. Constant fine-tuning of one's rig in the form of adjusting indicator placement, amount and location of split-shot, possibly lengthening or changing your tippet, and lastly, the fly choice, will produce greater fishing success.

Around ten AM I tied on a #20 Flashback Pheasant Tail nymph and took a trout within a couple minutes. I missed and hooked a few more during the remainder of the morning, but at 11:30 I headed back to the car to join TG for a beer. He had other lunch.

Rick was reading the paper, and TG began unloading the "stuff" from the car so we could set up the gas grill.

Jeff Laws from Maryland adjusts his hat as he spins a yarn. The fellow in the background is Mark, also from Maryland. He was one of the two other anglers parked at this spot. Yes, that's a linen tablecloth. Albeit a cheap one.

When I mentioned to Mark that I had a close friend in Bel Air, he stated, “I play in a band in Bel Air a couple times a month.”

“Really?” I asked. “What instrument?”

“Dobro,” Mark replied.

“Do you do mostly bluegrass?” I queried.

“Yeah, ” Mark replied.

Mark had packed a ham and cheese sandwich for his lunch, but when we offered him something off the grill, at first he declined, but I think it was the aroma of the grilling mixed venison / beef hamburgers that got to him. You know how the aroma of grilled meat excites your taste buds. TG convinced him. “Are you sure?” he asked. “We got hot dogs, hamburgers, three kinds of cheese for cheeseburgers, steaks, pickles, macaroni salad, pretzels, chips, crackers…” Truman’s followup read like the menu from an outdoor picnic buffet.

“OK,” Mark gave in, “I’ll save my ham sandwich for dinner.” So I grilled him a burger, topped with pepper jack cheese, served on a toasted multi-grain roll that TG had made a couple days earlier. And boy are they ever good. We had a nice time – chatting, hanging out, sipping beer, relaxing, eating, listening to the birds, then all of a sudden another angler flew in.

Someone excitedly declared, “There’s an osprey! He just landed in that tree.” When I looked up, I had never seen an osprey so close. There were five of us sprawled about the parking lot, and this one apparently had little fear of humans. He was perched atop a large dead snag in a tree just fifty yards across the creek. He sat there for the best part of twenty minutes. He didn’t fly away as I expected he might as I advanced to rest my camera on the Fish Commission roofed bench / rules / regulations / stand for some pictures. I needed a rest since I did not bring my tripod. I zoomed in to 24x and shot away. Below are some of the photos I took:

Note the different head positions – the bird was surveying his surroundings, but mostly he was perched like this:

This osprey was primarily in this pose, head down, keen eyesight intently watching the riffle below his perch. Hunting...well, more appropriately, fishing. He remained here for the best part of twenty minutes.

One of the guys was watching when the bird made its move. “There he goes!” someone exclaimed. We all looked over in time to see the raptor drop from his perch, his wings swept back like an F-15 in a steep dive, and SPLASH! Right into the riffle. The bird remained on the water for almost ten seconds as we all watched, spellbound, as no one said a word. We wondered. Then the bird rose from the water clutching a fish. And of course, he had to fly right back by our position to show off his catch. It was a large sucker. We later surmised that the bird was arranging his grasp on the fish, adjusting his talons to get an aerodynamic start to his jumping off flight. (They are smart enough to point the head of the fish into the wind). A couple of us applauded his skill as he flew off.

Here is a link that my Canadian friend Rick Whorwood, sent me a few months ago. It contains incredible film footage of ospreys fishing.

After lunch we all resumed fishing. I walked up stream and took eight trout from one area, below some boulders and debris. Again, I was still fishing the #20 Flashback PT. In fact except for one five-minute period when I attempted to take a trout that had risen a few times on a #18 Baetis Dun pattern, which he ignored, I only fished two flies all day.

We caught a few little guys like this. Small trout are always a joy to see, they are evidence of Spring Creek's healthy natural brown trout reproduction. There is no (intentional) stocking in Spring Creek. Note the beautiful red spots, the red tip to the adipose fin, and the white edging on the anal fin.

Big brother of the fish in above photo.

Another on the Flashback PT. I'm not usually one to change flies if what I have on my tippet is catching trout.

About a fifteen fish of the day for me. Not huge, but sometimes size really doesn't matter.

Another image of the same trout. I took mostly macro images because it's hard to get good full-size photos when you're shooting pictures by yourself, with one hand. I found out too that most cameras are designed for right-hand operators.

My friend Dave Lomasney, from Maine, asked in a comment to this post if anything was hatchin’. I was getting to that in the More to follow segment.

I gotta go mow some more grass…(What I wrote Sunday evening at 6:15 PM).

OK, hatching activity, yes there was some, and a few trout rose, but it was sporadic and so did not convince me to switch over to drys. First off mid-morning, a tan caddis was hatching, and I only saw maybe two – three splashy rises. Not enough to tie on a dry. For me anyway. I know some that would have…we have a term for them…a couple of my friends are like that.

We saw a few of the usual #18 Baetis duns hatching, not many. By early afternoon the Baetis activity had intensified, still only a few trout rising here and there. Nothing steady. The BWO’s hatched all afternoon, just not in numbers significant enough to bring the trout up. My experience in this situation is, if you see a few BWO duns and a scattering of rising trout, there’s lots more fish working the nymphs.

By about 4:30 PM I started to see a few sulphur duns. Early for them…I’ve seen them sporadically start on Spring Creek in other years by about April 22 – 24, but it might last only 15 minutes a day. I suppose I saw about three dozen sulphur duns, not a hatch for sure, but it’s an early start. At this rate, considering the unseasonal weather and low water conditions we’re having, the Green Drakes will be coming off Penn’s Creek by May 20th. Of course, we’re talking the weather and it could all change next week.

In the early afternoon, I was fishing in the riffle about where the osprey made it’s kill, and after about 15 minutes, TG, who was still relaxing in a lawn chair (he had a good excuse – surgery five weeks ago, so he still needs to pace himself). He was only 75 feet away so why he called me on the walkie-talkie is beyond me, but I guess he wanted to whisper. He cued the mike and said, “Hey D! Don’t look now but you got company.”

I’m looking up and down stream, all around, thinking another fisherman was nearby. He started laughing. “Look up in the tree, moron.”

When I looked up, I saw that the osprey had returned. Now it was even closer to me than it had been at lunch. The bird was only about 75 feet away. I thought what are the chances, but it could happen, and said to him, “Hey if you really wanted to be entertained you should not have told me he was there, and just sat back and waited to see if that osprey would make a dive like, twenty feet away from where I’m standing. For sure, that would’ve made me come unglued.”

There he was again...later in the afternoon I was fishing farther upstream when all of a sudden I heard, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. I looked up to see him passing barely twenty feet over my head. This bird apparently has little fear of humans.

Lew (left) and Jeff fishing the afternoon session. They both landed a fair number of trout here, but these guys tend to nymph with more weight than I do, and they also take more suckers, considering their flies are running closer to the bottom where the suckers are. Jeff did take some trout on drys.

This was a great day, spent on the stream with good weather, good fishing, great food, and enjoying the fellowship of friends. We need to do this again…soon!

Tomorrow morning I’ll try to take a macro photo of the Flashback Pheasant Tail Nymph and write the recipe and include them here too.

Monday, April 16, 2012: OK, I finally got around to tying a fresh nymph, took a few pictures and posted them here:

Flashback Pheasant Tail Nymph, Size #18, 1x long nymph hook. Silhouette was more of a concern than lighting or trying to get the fly totally focused...

Head-on can see the twist in the Krystalflash wingcase. I've never magnified one of these this much before...

I brought 18 trout to hand Saturday on this fly, though I was fishing a #20. This pattern is my favorite nymph for whenever and wherever Baetis and other BWO's species are present and active...which includes most trout streams.

Flashback Pheasant Tail Nymph

Hook: Standard nymph hook, 1x long, size #14 to #22.

Thread: I normally use Uni-Thread 8/0 Dark Brown, but I was out of that and also out of Danville Flymaster 6/0 Dark Brown, so I used what was at hand, UTC 6/0 70 denier, brown. I really don’t care for the UTC thread. It has less twist than Danville, flattens out faster, but the individual strands are more delicate than Danville and it frays more easily. I make it work if I have to, but it’s the least favorite tying thread I use.

Tail: 5 (larger sizes) or 4 or 3 (smaller sizes) fibers of ringneck pheasant cock tail fibers.

Rib: Fine gold wire, counter wound

Abdomen: Formed from the same fibers of PT as used for the tail.

Wingcase: Pearlescent Krystalflash, this one used 10 strands. More or less depending on hook size.

Thorax: Peacock herl, usually two strands. If tied in properly the nap of the herl will face toward the tail. The herl fibers represent the legs very well; tying in legs of an additional material is unnecessary in sizes #16 and smaller.

Head: Formed from the tying thread, cemented.

This fly has been successful many places. My brother Larry, & his daughter, Emily caught trout in Maine’s Kennebec River near Bingham. I caught trout with it in Montana’s Ruby River. Spring Creek, as evidenced by my fishing last Saturday. Anytime there are BWO’s hatching, try this nymph.

Opening Day on Spring Creek Pennsylvania – Part I

I had a great “official” Opening Day on Saturday April 14, on Spring Creek in central Pennsylvania with some of my friends. I just downloaded 82 photos from the day into my computer. But having arisen this morning at 5:05 AM for the local Fisherman’s Breakfast, the 2 hour-round trip driving and a full day of fishing, the main post on the day will have to wait until tomorrow, because to tell ya’ the truth, I’m kinda beat. But I did want to post this one photo of another angler we saw today; he (or she) didn’t seem too bothered by the presence of a few less talented anglers such as ourselves. This guy obvious fishes for a living.

We had the awesome privilege of watching this osprey dive, splash, clutch, and fly off with a large sucker barely fifty yards from where we watched. Another time he flew by less that thirty feet above the stream with yet another catch. I still caught more fish than he did ;-). You don’t realize how large these majestic birds are until you see one up close.

Tips and Information – Easier Use of This Blog

I would like to note a couple things that may make my blog simpler for my subscribers and visitors to use and a little easier to navigate. Easier to find things you may be looking for…

I am very busy tying for orders right now; a diversity of flies – some classic wets, some nymphs, and drys in the form of mayfly duns, spinners, and emergers. I am also working to develop a complete list of my original patterns that I have created over the last 25 years. I didn’t realize until I started my “list” that there are so many patterns. For one thing, I haven’t posted many of my original classic-style wet fly patterns anywhere, except (writing like I often do from memory), the High Priestess, Riffle King, Riffle Queen, Guinea Blue Bottle, Yellow Page, Orange Ibis…those are the ones I can remember at this moment. Including those patterns, some of which go back to postings in early 2010 when I began my blog, I have exactly 50 different wet flies in traditional style patterns that I created.

Then I have (presently) eight streamers, and about a dozen nymph, emerger, and dry patterns, not to mention a number of original Wooly Bugger designs, most of them created back in the early to mid-1980’s before the Bugger ever made it into national fly tackle catalogs around 1988-1989. That my friends, is another story in and of itself…and one in the works. I have told many audiences at various presentations over the years about my introduction to the Wooly Bugger, and then I always add, “That fly almost destroyed my fly tying and fishing career.” The actual number of all my original patterns is pushing close to 90 or so.

I am also writing some articles and getting ready for some fishing, not to mention that now warm weather has arrived I need to be doing some outdoor work and grass mowing.

Anyway, for easier use of my blog:

1) All the photos have a triple click feature; you can click once to enlarge the image, then a second click enlarges the image to full screen.

2) There is also a search tab. My friend Peter Frailey, superb photographer, who has an excellent blog: asked me about that this morning. My search tab is a little lower than it should be to get “noticed.” I might be able to move it up to a more prominent position, but the technical maintenance of this site is something I learn slowly. The search tab is right under the calendar. All you have to do is type in any word or phrase you are looking for and all the topics that match the words and phrases will come up.

3) Feel free to send me an e-mail at anytime if you have questions, suggestions, or comments.

Thank you all for your continued patronage and support of my work! I am very grateful to each of you. Tight lines and threads, boys and girls!

A School of RSP’s

This photo is 2-1/2 dozen of my original variation of the Picket Pin, formerly known as the Red Squirrel Silver Picket Pin, now called by a name that is much easier and faster to say, the “RSP.”

My friends, brother, niece and I have been fishing the RSP since the early ’90’s with great success. I have used it primarily in Maine, though I don’t doubt at all that it would take trout in any stream where “red fin minnows” abound. My dad used to call them that, I think it’s a local name for Black-nosed Dace.

RSP minnow imitation, size #8 - 4xl, an original streamer fly by Don Bastian. Anyone care to play, "What's wrong with this picture?"

Here is the recipe:


Thread: Danville Flymaster 6/0 Brown

Hook: Size #6 – #10 4x long. This pattern could be made larger, but I have always fished it in #8 and #10.

Tail: Brown schlappen fibers or hen hackle

Rib: Oval silver tinsel

Body: Flat silver tinsel

Hackle: Brown schlappen or hen fibers

Wing: Red squirrel. Fox squirrel was used on these, the markings are the same as red squirrel with the reddish-brown tips and black center.

Head: Peacock herl. Use two strands; winding two at once gets the job done faster, but moreover, two strands of peacock herl are twice as strong as one. Add a drop of head cement before winding the herl.

Here is a link to my Magalloway River Brook Trout Trio post, with photos of three big brookies caught last May on the RSP:

Here is the link to the RSP Product page on

More RSP's - from a different, earlier batch than the ones above. Same hook size, this photo was added on April 13th.

RSP - tied and photographed by Bob Petti of New York. Bob is one of the contributing tiers for my upcoming book, The Favorite Flies of Mary Orvis Marbury. The river in the background is the Upper West Branch of the Delaware River, the date Bob took the photo was Opening Day in New York, April 1st. He noted unfortunately, he was unable to get the RSP into a trout's jaw. Better luck next time Bob! Thanks for sharing the photo.

Cornell Wet Fly

The Cornell is an unknown wet fly pattern that is listed in Ray Bergman’s Trout. It is also in J. Edson Leonard’s book, Flies. Both dressings are identical. I checked Marbury’s Favorite Flies… but it is not there. The Cornell is identical to the Black Prince, with the exception that the “Prince” has a red tail and gold tag. The Black Prince is a pattern I fished often and caught lots of trout with in local Pennsylvania streams in my younger days, going back even before I was old enough to drive.

I had a customer in California contact me a couple months ago about tying an order of the Cornell in various sizes for her to fish with. She wrote of being inspired by her father, who had a long-standing interest in Ray Bergman’s books and his regular Outdoor Life column that he penned as Angling Editor of that publication from 1934 until 1959.  My customer’s reasoning to order four dozen Cornell’s was that Ray strongly suggested in his writings that wet fly anglers should have a basic black wet fly pattern in their arsenal of fishing flies. I agree. Lots of the bugs in a trout’s stomach are often just “black stuff” – such as ants, crickets, beetles, midges. As a boy, every time my brother Larry, and I fished with my dad we always cut open the trout’s stomachs to see what they’d been eating. That was dad’s advice.

Cornell Wet Flies tied by Don Bastian, sizes #12, #14, #16, & #18.

To complete my customer’s order I tied one dozen in each of these sizes; #12, #14, #16, and #18. To be honest I previously tied few if any, winged wet flies smaller than size #14 in my entire tying career. But tying small- sized wet flies is just a matter of scaling down the regular components. I wanted to keep the pattern uniformity consistent, and I knew from previous experience that the smallest size of flat tinsel or Mylar tinsel would be too wide on even the #14. So I opted to use two different sizes of oval gold tinsel for the ribbing; small and very small sizes. As you can see the fine oval tinsel allowed me to maintain the consistency of five wraps of ribbing on all hook sizes. The hooks I used are Montana Fly Company 7076 – 1x long nymph hooks. (Initially I posted this hook as the 7026, a 2xl heavy wire nymph hook. So much for writing from memory…) There are three coats of head cement on each fly, the last being Black Pro Lak, which I prefer using to keep the head color nice and black, not grayish or milky as often occurs with clear head cements.

Regarding my use of black head cement, I have been using Black ProLak for about 18 years. There are other brands of black head cement / lacquer on the market, but I stand by my experience of using ProLak for an extended period of time. Like many cements that fly tiers use, if ProLak is thinned at the correct, self-leveling consistency, not too thin, and applied carefully with a small bodkin under good light, it works very well, won’t smudge into the wings and hackle unless you have an unexpected and involuntary “hand-twitch,” and I have always been very satisfied with it. I have applied Black ProLak cement to the heads of at least 6,000 flies; the actual number is probably higher than that.

I have been asked at shows why I use only one coat of Black ProLak. The answer is, besides needing only one coat, I say, “It’s too dangerous.” But I have only ever ruined to the relegation of “the fishing box” a handful of flies in the last 20 years. I have also had a few flies that were less than the best I am capable of producing, for whatever reason at the time of tying. No matter what your hobby or profession, one occasionally has a day when things don’t go quite right.

Size #16 Cornell wet flies.

Here is the recipe:


Thread: Uni-Thread Black 8/0 (I am currently out of my favorite Danville Flymaster 6/0).

Tail: Black duck quill sections (only one barb each, doubled from matched pairs on the #18’s).

Rib: Fine oval gold tinsel

Body: Black floss

Hackle: Black, tied as a false hackle or beard.

Wing: Black duck quill sections.

Head: Black

I mailed the flies last week. Here is what my customer had to say: “The Cornells arrived Friday and I must say they are absolutely beautiful!!  I am actually wondering if I should use them.  Your packaging, by the way, is reminiscent of the very early japanned cardboard Richard Wheatley fly box.”

Of course I told her to “fish with them, that’s what they are for.” Below is a cropped macro image:

Cornell wet flies, one dozen, #16. Tied by Don Bastian as part of a custom order.

In the not-too-distant future I will be setting up a custom-order page on The Cornell and many other traditional wet fly, streamer, and dry fly patterns can eventually be ordered there. Thanks for your interest in my work. I hope everyone has a good fishing season! I am excitedly looking forward to the official Opening Day of Trout Season on Pennsylvania’s Spring Creek near Bellefonte with friends.

Some photos and fish tales may be in order…

A Fishing Journal From 1997

I began this simply as a letter to a fly fishing friend on April 15, 1997, and have since updated it several times, sending it to my fishing buddies and interested anglers. This is just a sampling of what Spring Creek and Fishing Creek in Central Pennsylvania have to offer.

Note: Until today, April 5, 2012, the most recent editing of this article had been done about ten years ago. Long before I was on-line I was writing letters like this to my friends. Much of my writing was a sort of fishing journal typical of this article. The subject matter is still relevant, and I thought this might make for interesting reading about some great trout fishing experiences. There is also some valid tactical fishing information here. This entry  is over 3000 words in length so reading it will take a bit of your time. My updated editing is in parenthesis. I intend to add some relevant photos to this post as time permits.

I also want to preface this article by noting my extensive nymph fishing experience. At the Somerset New Jersey Fly Fishing Show, I asked Aaron Jasper to sign my copy of Dave Klausmeyer’s new book, The Master’s Fly Box, since we are both featured in that book. As Aaron signed my copy, he asked, “Do you ever fish nymphs, Don?” A reasonable question, since the flies in my chapter are all traditional wet flies. I did submit my RSP but it didn’t survive the author’s cut.

I replied to Aaron, “The license plate on my car is NYMPHS.

I love tying and fishing wet flies, but posted on my profile on Classic Fly Tying Forum is my conviction (and that of Pennsylvania fly fishing legend George Harvey) that “Nymph fishing is the most effective method to take trout consistently”. For many years I conducted three-day nymph fishing clinics on Spring Creek. These sessions always began with my 1-1/2 to 2 hour stream-side nymphing demonstrations, on public water. On some occasions I used whatever water was available and conducted my demonstrations.

 “Trout Season in North-Central Pennsylvania”

    The Monday after (the 1997) trout season opened, I spoke to Ron Poles of Benton, Pennsylvania. (Ronnie and I met in 1989 when we were both working for Cathy and Barry Beck). He had fished Opening Day weekend on the freestone Fishing Creek in Columbia County near his home. In relating his weekend of fishing, he complained, “Nada fly! Not one mayfly hatched.” That’s typical of early season, considering the normal cold water temperatures on freestone streams. (Most freestone waters don’t get major hatch activity going until the water temperature attains 50 degrees). I couldn’t hold back from enthusiastically sharing  my fishing experiences on the limestone waters of Fishing Creek and Spring Creek during the same weekend. As I began, Ronnie kept telling me with an envious tone of voice, kidding of course, that he didn’t want to hear it. (Ronnie was a good friend, an affable fellow that joined us during the 1990’s on some of our trips to the Moosehead Lake Region of Maine. He passed away a number of years ago. Not long after this letter was written, Ronnie and I spent a memorable day fishing together on Penn’s Creek and Big Fishing Creek near Lamar, Pennsylvania).

On Wednesday April 9, (1997) Ted Fauceglia, with his superb macro-photography of mayflies, presented the evening program for our local (Susquehanna) Trout Unlimited Chapter. Thursday afternoon, he, Dave Rothrock, and me went to Fishing Creek in Clinton County. We started fishing at 1:00 PM, without any noticeable insect activity. During a half-hour period, I began to see some Baetis duns drifting by, and then some larger flies. The “Spring Jumbos” as Ted calls them, turned out to be Quill Gordons, which began emerging in numbers sufficient enough to incite several larger trout to feed on the surface. A short while later, the hatch was compounded further by the addition of some Blue Quills, and then, finally, Hendricksons added to the buffet of mayfly duns. Individual trout were taking some or all of the above, both randomly and selectively, as all four species of mayflies hatched simultaneously. I took 3 nice browns and 1 brookie on a #12 dubbed-body Quill Gordon, which may seem surprising to those expecting Quill Gordons to be a size #14. As a rule, limestone-bred aquatic insects tend to be of larger average size than their freestone counterparts. Five more trout took a #12 Olive Hare’s Ear Nymph – a good Quill Gordon nymph imitation, drifted through the runs after the hatch subsided. This wonderful fishing took place in under three hours.

For the opening weekend, my friends Rick Whorwood and Jim Poling came from Ontario, arriving mid-afternoon on Friday April 10th. Another friend from Maryland, Jack Tokach, met us on Fishing Creek, where we fished from 4:00 PM til dark. During that time, we took trout on #22 Griffith’s Gnats, Blue-wing Olive parachutes, midges, and small Blue Quill Patterns. Subsurface, we fished small midge larva, San Juan Worms, #18 & #20 BWO nymphs, taking fish consistently until we stopped fishing on account of darkness. I netted a 16″ rainbow on a Griffith’s Gnat, and another 20″ rainbow on an egg pattern. The combined total for the four of us was over fifty fish.

Saturday, we fished Spring Creek in Centre County. We were joined by Truman McMullan of Pennsylvania and his boyhood friend Jeff Laws, also from Maryland. Rick landed four trout right beside the parking lot on a #18 BWO nymph before the rest of us had our rods rigged. We experienced much anticipation and nervous fingers trying to rig our rods, and Rick of course, couldn’t keep it subtle as he hollered, “Fish On!” with each hook up.

For the next two hours, everyone took some fish on a wide variety of nymphs. I had seen four trout rising sporadically in one pool – riffle area I was fishing around 11:00 AM, but I couldn’t get onto them. About that time Rick and Truman came walking past, and TG said, “We’re gonna go get a snack and a beer.” Arriving at my van I placed my rod on the windshield and secured the grip with a wiper blade, and as I did this I  noticed a few Baetis spinners resting on the window glass. Suddenly a light went on in my mind, and right after a beer a few hard pretzels, I anxiously returned to the same spot I had been fishing, delighted to see the same four trout still rising. Basing my pattern choice on the bugs I saw on the windshield, I tied a #18 Baetis spinner onto 5x tippet. (A Baetis spinner is a chocolate brown fly with spent wings of clear Hi-Vis). Bingo! Each of the four browns succumbed to this fly, one right after another. Shortly afterward, Baetis duns began to hatch. Rising trout followed on cue, and for an hour and a half, the browns fed heavily, snapping the duns off the surface, despite the 45 degree water temperature. As I mentioned earlier, the cold water on limestone streams doesn’t seem to inhibit either the bugs or the fish. It had begun to drizzle, and the weather was overcast – perfect conditions for this type of heavy hatch to occur. Truman netted 12, and missed many more, in one pool where more than 40 trout were steadily rising.

When the hatch petered out, we enjoyed a stream-side bar-b-cue lunch. We were back on the water about 2:30 PM, and it was still raining. For a half hour or so, nothing much happened. Then, during a stream-side conversation with Rick and Jim, I happened to notice small mayflies drifting next to shore. Catching one in my hand, I showed the small dark fly to them, and then looking more intensely, pointed out and said, “There’s one! There’s one! There’s one! Another one! And another!” We were amazed by the numbers of mayflies that had suddenly appeared. Looking over the flat-water pool, there was no sign of feeding activity among the patter of raindrops, but there were now scores of small duns across the water. I said, “It’s gonna’ start happening again!” meaning another Baetis hatch was probably just beginning. Then a single trout rose, and within a few minutes that lone feeder was joined by a half dozen more. Inside of ten minutes, over thirty trout were feeding on the duns in front of us. It kept drizzling, the air temperature was around fifty, and the duns floated haplessly on the surface as the trout gobbled them up. In another ten minutes, the number of rising trout doubled! No exaggeration, there were sixty or more trout feeding in the pool we were fishing! (Spring Creek is No-Kill, no tackle restrictions, and is not stocked. These are stream-bred fish). About 4:00 PM, Truman stopped his truck in the road opposite the pool to say goodbye over the guardrails, since we were fishing right beside the road. He had to leave early, but told us that Jack and Jeff had the same thing going on in the pools upstream where they were fishing.

There was a pod of six or seven trout between 15″ and 17″ that fed as a pack right in front of me. They poked their heads out of the water repeatedly, accentuating their feeding activity with audible slurps! For some reason, perhaps because we didn’t have the right color fly, we had a bit of a tough time. Another reality was the shortage of dark-bodied Baetis patterns in my fly box. There were so many flies on the water though, that quite possibly competition with sheer numbers of the naturals was the most limiting factor. These fish also experience heavy fishing pressure, which makes them drift-shy. We caught some more trout, but not one right after another. Nonetheless, it was truly enjoyable to see such a huge hatch, on opening day, and Spring Creek was not crowded at all. The steady rain splattered the surface of the pool so intensely that we could not make an accurate assessment of the number of duns on the water, though it seemed that every square foot of the surface was occupied by a Baetis dun. It was the heaviest Baetis hatch I’ve ever encountered. That’s what Spring Creek can offer under the right conditions, which is so fertile and contains so many trout, all acclimated to the colder water.

During my very first weekend nymphing clinic in 1995, we had also enjoyed trout rising to Baetis duns on March 16, even with ice in our rod guides, a high temperature for the day of 29 degrees Fahrenheit, and a stream temperature of only 40 degrees.

While I was fishing with Jim Poling I took the opportunity to pick up a stone to show him the bug life. The rock was no bigger than my hand, the first one I randomly selected from a shallow riffle. Among the moss, there were over two dozen cress bugs, three dozen larger sulphur nymphs (size #14), and dozens and dozens of #18 and smaller dark olive, and blackish-gray mayfly & caddis nymphs, unidentifiable to my amateur entomologist eye. There were easily over 100 individual insects on that one rock. A second rock yielded a comparable density of “bugs.”

On Sunday, we fished a different section of Spring Creek, five of us, and everyone began to catch trout immediately on nymphs. Bead-head caddis larva (one of the first basic fly designs introduced in 1991, very similar to what are now part of the trendy group of patterns called, “Czech nymphs), dark sulphur nymphs, Baetis nymphs, brassies, flash-back pheasant tails, etc. About 10:30 AM, dozens of trout were found rising in a long pool. They appeared to be midging – Griffith’s Gnat time again! It worked well as usual, not on every fish, but I caught my share. Again, some Baetis were on the water, and the others took some fish on dun patterns, but a heavy hatch never materialized. The trout still took various nymphs readily. By lunch time, the five of us had caught nearly 60 trout.

We went to Fishing Creek after lunch to finish the day. There were midges, some Baetis, and rising trout in the pools. Few other anglers were around, so the four of us had the water to ourselves for an hour. This is unusual for Fishing Creek. Later, a couple more anglers arrived, but that was it. We caught lots more trout on a variety of small patterns. In late afternoon the air temperature dropped around 4:00 PM as the bottom fell out of the thermometer, and there were even some slushy snowflakes at one point.

On Friday May 2, good friend Bill Fish and I spent a little over four hours on Spring Creek, starting about 10:00 AM. We both got a few fish right away, and then separated because I was lagging – taking my good ol’ time as I fished a large riffle into a nice pool. I caught my third trout, a big one, at 11:15 AM in the pool where Bill had started. I spotted this fish in the shallows and thought it was a huge sucker, because they were spawning  and were very active moving about the riffles. When the fish got within twelve feet of me, I saw spots! He was feeding in a seam off the edge of the current in two feet of water. This was sub-surface sight fishing, and I changed patterns four times. He finally took a #20 Goose Quill nymph (one of my original nymph patterns), and ran downstream almost 100 yards before being brought to net. (I followed him, he never took me into my backing – why would I allow him to do that?). It was a 20 inch brown, which I photographed and measured. (One of these days I’ll start converting some of my 35mm slide images to digital).  When I caught up with Bill, I discovered that he had landed over a dozen trout on five different colors of Bead-head Caddis Larva. I did likewise on sulphur nymphs, flash-back pheasant-tails, etc. for the remainder of the morning.

About 12:30 PM, we arrived at a flat pool where lots of trout were rising. I tied on a #18 Baetis spinner, since few duns were about, but there had been spinners in the air over the riffles all morning. In thirty minutes, I hooked and landed six trout, had a few long-distance releases, and several missed rises, which all-in-all provided plenty of action. Then, I went immediately below the pool to the faster water where Bill and I had earlier found three nice trout rising from the depths, feeding within four to twelve inches below the surface. Sure enough, those same trout were still rising to feed on something beneath the surface. What were they taking? Earlier attempts by both of us with some nymphs, emergers, and drys had proved futile. As I pondered my strategy, I remembered Charlie Meck’s advice about sunken spinner patterns. “Why not give it a try?” I said to myself. I placed a #8 micro-shot about four inches from the Baetis spinner that was tied to my 6x tippet, and a small strike indicator about 18″ above the fly. Two casts, two fish, bang, bang! The third and largest trout, positioned closest to the head of the run was about 18″, and he moved suspiciously twice within the area of my drift without making a detectable strike, though I suspect the fish took the fly so subtly that I failed to detect the take. I never hooked that one.

I then walked upstream to the head of the flat pool, and there, in the faster water, with the same rig, I missed five strikes in succession before taking a nice rainbow. In the next half-hour, I caught six more from that run on the sunken spinner, which was drifting just a few inches beneath the surface in two to three feet of moderate flow. The best fish were two browns only a few casts apart that were 16″ and 17″ respectively. I am definitely going to use this sunken spinner technique again.

Bill had brought a cell phone along because he wanted to check in at his real estate office. Upon doing so around 2:00 PM, he received tragic news that one of his best friends had passed away just hours earlier. We quit fishing and headed home so he could be of some comfort to his friend’s bereaved family. Life goes on beyond the trout stream, and the fishing would be there for another day.

Late April and early May finds the Grannom and other caddis species hatching on Spring, Fishing, and Penn’s Creeks, along with blue quills, crane flies, and the ever-present Baetis. Soon the March Browns will follow, and the Ephemerella rotunda sulphurs predictably start early in May. This type of fishing is likely to continue through Sulphur time – mid-May thru early-June. The heavy hatching and feeding activity I’ve described is not always predictable, it occurs only when conditions are prime. But even on average days, the patient, watchful observer can usually find a few surface-feeding trout, if only in scattered locations.

The added ingredient of scattered March Browns and the sporadic but beautiful #12 Yellow Cahills further enhances the mid-season fishing on Spring Creek. By the second week of June, as the larger rotunda, invaria, and Epeorus vitreus sulphurs dwindle in numbers, the surface-feeding activity becomes compressed into less than thirty minutes right at dusk as the small Ephemerella dorothea duns become the dominant insect. While some trout surface-feed on these #18 pale evening duns which literally seem to rise from the riffles in droves, most of the big trout can be observed in the failing light, rising repeatedly from previously out-of-view depths to become visible as dark subsurface shadows, intercepting the emerging nymphs just prior to the moment of eclosion at the surface film. The best tactic for this situation is a tandem dry fly and nymph rig, using a buoyant #14 sulphur spinner, quite visible in the fading light, and a #18 Pale evening Dun nymph on the point, tied to the bend of the hook with about 18 to 24 inches of tippet. Use 4x for both patterns. That’s right, 4x! One has only a short time span, perhaps less than fifteen minutes to fish during this period, and if you break off in the bushes or a fish, you’re basically done for the evening unless you have exceptional night-vision to rebuild your leader. Not to mention the valuable fishing time it would take to reconstruct your rig even with good lighting. If proper dead-drift presentation with a slack leader cast is made, the heavier tippet does not negate your chances to take fish, and in fact allows you to apply more pressure to subdue each fish as soon as possible, which enables you to quickly move on to the next trout before darkness sets in. Besides the abundance of hatching insects make the fish less cautious as they gorge themselves.

By late-June, the angling pressure during the week drops off dramatically, with the summer months providing very good fishing opportunities. Along with the Sulphurs, the terrestrial fishing begins, and continues all summer long. Bank-hugging browns often can be taken with a cautious approach and an accurate presentation of an ant, beetle, hopper, or cricket, even during the mid-day hours if you can stand the heat. To avoid heat exhaustion, drink lots of water. Tricos start in mid-July, a second Trico hatch occurs in September, and both Tricos and terrestrials provide good fishing until the heavy frosts. There are also significant summer and fall Baetis hatches that can occur anytime from August through October, with almost nightly summertime bursts of surface-feeding activity right before dusk.

By persistently drifting small cress bugs and other nymphs through runs and riffles, above all taking care to make the proper dead-drift presentation at the right depth, one can take trout consistently throughout the day. You may not always “hammer ’em”, but it is possible to catch trout routinely when there is no hatch. And, don’t forget sunken terrestrials, especially ants, as summer nymph patterns. (My favorite is the hard-body, shiny Black Ant wet fly tied in the Bob McCafferty style that was presented in Bergman’s Trout and With Fly, Plug, and Bait).

Wet Black Ant - a great default "nymph" pattern for spring, summer, and fall.

This photo of the Black Ant is almost “too macro,” (It was among the very first images I ever took with my Canon G9 Powershot). but I want to convey the pattern image. Below is the set of this pattern that I have for sale. I will very likely be listing this pattern for sale on my product pages at

Wet Black Ant wet fly / nymph selection, tied by Don Bastian.

See also:

Immediately after summer thunderstorms, Spring Creek is almost a sure bet for good sized browns on a Wooly Bugger. The only thing you have to do is be there when the conditions are perfect, though the reality is that one can encounter any type of favorable or adverse weather conditions at any time. Like an imaginary roulette wheel in the sky that spins throughout the day, the weather is largely a matter of luck, especially if you pre-plan your visit and are unable to take advantage of the “perfect” time on short notice. Regardless of weather, the best time to go fishing is whenever you can! Fishable water temperatures can always be located somewhere, and the trout eat quite well all summer long.

Wheatley Fly Box - this belongs to my niece Emily, tied by Don Bastian. Nymphs on flat foam. Left to right: Zebra Midge, Disco Midge (lower left), and five rows of my favorite, Flashback Pheasant Tail (using pearlescent Krystalflash for the wingcase), a row of Hare E. Roosters (an original pattern), and two rows of Gold-ribbed Hare's Ear Nymphs. The first row has shiny black wingcases made of black scud back, something I started using about ten years ago. The row on the right has wingcases made of black Antron yarn.

Don’t subscribe to the notion that the trout fishing in the East is over by the end of June. In the heart of Central Pennsylvania’s “Golden Triangle” – Penn’s Creek, Fishing Creek, Spring Creek, the fishing goes on 365 days a year. You don’t have to go to Montana to enjoy good summer trout fishing!

Wet Fly Box

My good friend, Truman, aka, “TG”, with whom I have spent a few weekends recently tying flies at my cabin – see this post: has just today completed the filling of his Wheatley swing-leaf clip wet fly box for our fall trip to the Moosehead Lake Region of Maine. Here are the photos he sent me of his wet fly box:

Going from memory, seriously, I’m not looking any of these patterns up – Top half: Unknown, Yellow Dun, Something (yeah that is the actual name of the fly and not a feigned guess), Roosevelt, Royal Coachman, Allerton, unknown.

Bottom half: Whirling Blue Dun, Alexandra, Fosnot, Emma, Neverwas, Hawthorne, Forsyth. So far not too bad for an old fly tier.

OK, here’s more guessing on my part (It’s after eleven PM and I’m kinda tired); Top half: Rube Wood, Beatrice, King of the Waters, Black Gnat, unknown, Bishop, Rich Widow.

Bottom half: McGinty, Queen of the Waters, White King, Katydid, Trout Fin, Olive Dun, Alder. Edited April 11, 2012: I missed another one…TG told me the one I thought was the Olive Dun is actually the Cowdung.

And the last compartment of Truman’s wet fly box:

All photos by T. G. McMullan. So, 28 different patterns in his box, and yes, I speak truthfully when I say I named these patterns from memory, without looking them up. I am very appreciative of the good old-fashioned friendly support and interest in wet flies, and in my blog. Thanks to your support my blog statistics are continually increasing.

On these 28 patterns; I only missed three…(Actually four – as noted above, the one photo, the Cowdung was erroneously thought by me to be the Olive Dun). As I say, (still) not too bad for an old fly tier. Nice work TG! Now I know that I don’t have to do any tying for “our” trip. 😉 I can just plan the meals and think about where we’re going to fish…thanks buddy!