The Gravel Gertie


Meet the Gravel Gertie. You’d think that this was a secret fly but it isn’t; rather it is another one of those great flies that you don’t see much anymore. I remember this fly from the 1960’s; my dad had one in his box and a few of the shops stocked them. I haven’t used one in years but when someone asked me about this fly I realized that it had been out of use for so long that it’s officially a sleeper. One of the few references I can find say the fly is great for gravel bottomed rivers; I can’t confirm that but I thought I’d pass it along. I don’t know who originated it but I hear that the name comes from a Dick Tracy comic strip character.

Normally, this part of the column would tell you what baitfish or insect this fly is trying to mimic. Someday, someone will publish an interview with one of those supposedly super selective trout or salmon. If they do, I hope they ask the fish why they would chomp on something that looks like a black and white barber shop pole with an orange tail and pink throat. Until that day comes along, I have no idea what the fish think this fly is. I know that it is a well-respected fly among “thems that knows” and it’s easy to tie.

Recipe for the Gravel Gertie

Thread – Black

Hook – 6x streamer hook or Mustad 3665A, size 6 or 8

Tail – Red or orange wool    

Body – Black and white chenille, alternating

Throat – Pink wool or hair

Wing – White calf tail, under red fox squirrel tail

The hook is a 6x long streamer hook. The Mustad 3665A is the hook you’d use for a Maple Syrup or a Big Trout Only fly and it’s a good hook for this fly as well. The recipe calls for the tail to be orange wool, I substituted red; your fly’s body will look better if you tie in the wool yarn behind the eye a bit, lay the yarn on top of the hook shank and wind over it with thread. This will prevent an ugly hump at the base of the tail. The tail is a bit long and when you brush out the yarn, it has a full appearance. The body is two colors of chenille, black and white. Strip the fuzz off the first quarter inch of the chenille and you’ll see a thread core.  Tie in both colors of chenille at the tail by these thread cores. Then wind forward both colors to get the spiral barbershop pole effect. Tie off behind the eye; leave enough room on the hook shank to tie on a wing and throat.

The throat is supposed to be pink wool, rather long. I used calf tail here and you can as well. The wing is white calf tail a bit longer than the body. On top of the white calf tail wing tie on a small bunch of red fox squirrel tail about half as long as the white calf tail wing. Two wings and a throat is a lot of material, don’t use too much. Sparse will get you a lot more hits on this fly. You can substitute for the tail and throat. Red and orange are common color swaps in Maine.

This is one of those flies that not everyone is aware of or taking the time to tie. It has a respected history and if you want to throw out a streamer that the fish haven’t seen before, this is a good one.

Posted in Fly patterns | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

The Ballou Special


The Ballou Special is said to be the first marabou streamer and was created by A. W. Ballou of Litchfield, ME in 1921 to imitate smelt off the mouth of the Songo River mouth in Sebago Lake. There is some pretty good documentation around about how this fly was developed and it’s clear that there was considerable trial and error. We all benefit from that because not only does this fly fish well, the marabou wing is something that once you learn how to tie it, you can transpose it onto other streamers. Marabou is inexpensive, and it’s a deadly addition.

Recipe for the Ballou Special

Thread – Black
Hook – Size 6 streamer hook
Tail – 2 Golden Pheasant crests, curved down
Body – Silver Mylar
Wing – White marabou, over red bucktail
Topping – Peacock herl
Eyes – Jungle Cock

Start this fly by tying in the tail. You don’t see a lot of Golden Pheasant crests on flies these days and that’s a shame, the material is not that expensive and there is something about the color that really adds to the attraction factor. Be careful not to bunch up the thread here, wind your thread back to the eye. Tie in some Mylar gold side up. When you start to wind the body, the Mylar will roll over, exposing the silver side. Wind the Mylar to the tail and then return to the starting point-any gaps you made on the way down will be covered by the return trip. Next, tie in about a dozen red bucktail fibers, extending just past the tail. If you have one, use a buck tail with very fine hairs. Bucktail is not expensive where I buy it and I am allowed to pick through and select tails that have fine, straight hair. Thick, heavy hairs will flare easily and make for some very tough to tame streamer wings. Don’t use a lot of thread wraps to tie in materials on this or any other fly. Marabou is a bulky material and there are five different material tie-ins behind the eye of this fly; if you use too much thread you’re going to have a pretty big head and that is not necessary. Except for the marabou, three to five wraps are all you need, use some thread tension and a drop of head cement if you feel the need.

The original recipe for this fly calls for four marabou blood feathers. That’s way too much for my taste but your mileage may vary. Some recipes use only two feathers-still too much for me. You can use, as much or as little marabou as you think is right for your situation. I suspect that the original marabou used for this fly was from the Marabou stork that was available at the time but is now endangered. The marabou we use today comes from domestic turkeys raised for the meat market. My bet is that the turkey marabou may be thicker and we don’t need as much as Ai Ballou did when he was developing this fly.

What I do is I strip a small bunch from a quill and use that. I like my wings just fine. You may need a few more thread windings due to the nature of the marabou but don’t over do it. Top the fly with about six peacock herls. You can use as many as a dozen, depending on how thick your herl is. The topping is meant to represent the dark back of a baitfish, in this case a smelt. Peacock herl is iridescent and is a fantastic material. Try not to use herls that are stiff. The marabou is very soft and gives great action in the water; you want the topping to be flexible as well. I use Jungle Cock eyes because I like them on this fly. If you don’t have any, it’s all right to paint eyes on the head. All baitfish imitations work better with eyes, but it’s your call.

This classic Maine fly is over 90 years old and it’s the original marabou streamer. It has brought an enormous number of salmon to the landing net and still does to this day. That’s a good resume where I fish.

Posted in Fly patterns | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Magog Smelt


The Magog Smelt is a well-respected streamer that came out of Montreal and was designed to imitate smelt in the Vermont-Quebec border area.  The fly went on to be tied in larger sizes and used over striped bass.  It is easily identified by the purple bucktail in the wing, as well as by its teal shoulders.  I’ve selected this streamer to show you for several reasons.  First of all, it is a fine example of a traditional fly that catches fish.  I see it around but it seems to fall into the category of second class streamers-the kind you dig out if your usual favorites don’t seem to work that day.  That’s sad, because this fly has a fine reputation and should be seen on a leader more often.  My second reason for picking this fly is the way it is put together.  This fly has three colors of bucktail, a layer of peacock herl topping, teal shoulders and a hackle fiber beard.  That’s six different materials all tied in at the head.  Seven, if you remember to count both shoulders.  This can make for a bulky tie if you don’t plan ahead; however if you tie in everything correctly, this fly has great action and great coloring.  That’s a good resume for any streamer.

Recipe for the Magog Smelt

Thread – Black

Hook – Streamer hook, size 6 for landlocks, size 2 for stripers

Tail –Teal body feather fibers

Body – Silver Mylar

Throat – Red hackle fibers, beard style

Wing – Sparse layers of bucktail, white just above the Mylar, yellow above that, then purple

Topping – 4-6 peacock herls

Shoulders – Teal body feathers, one third as long as the wing

Eyes – Optional, I use painted eyes.

Here are some things to remember as you tie this streamer.  Start your Mylar a good eighth inch behind the hook eye.  Use the size of the hook eye itself as a guide, the distance of two “hook eyes” is just about right. You’ll need this space to tie in all the hair of the wing and you don’t need a layer of Mylar under all that, just adding to the bulk.  After the tail and Mylar body, it’s time to tie in the beard.  Keep the mass of feather fibers below the hook shank and use only three or four thread wraps (side by side, not on top of each other).  Trim the excess.  Keep the hair count of each layer of bucktail to about ten hairs each.  This is enough to show the colors but not so much that your head will be too large.  This will also allow the bucktail hairs to move more freely and give it more action.  That’s an important point to remember; less material means more action.  You may be tying streamers that look great, photograph well and make your friends jealous.  But they don’t seem to catch fish.  You may be making one of the easiest fly tying mistakes there is – too much material.  Think about it.

The topping should extend past the wing tips.  I like to use peacock herl that has natural, pointed ends.  Not snipped off square.  I think they look and move better.  Although the red beard may disappear under the shoulders, that is all right.  It is meant to be red gills seen from below.  I think that teal feather shoulders tie on a lot easier than silver pheasant and they seem to stay in position easier.  If you prefer jungle cock eyes then by all means add them.  I use black on white painted eyes on this fly.

Give the Magog Smelt a try.  Once you take the time to tie on all of the materials correctly you’ll be happy to have that skill.  It’ll make a difference in all your flies.

Posted in Fly patterns | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

The White Wulff


The White Wulff is a great fly to have for the Hex hatch that occurs annually. I’m always a bit cautious when I write about a famous fly. This is because all flies evolve over time and bit-by-bit small changes are made to the original dressing. Fly fishermen can be a bit of a pain by insisting that a fly is no good if it doesn’t have same materials as the original did, even if the dressing is decades old. These same fishermen are the first to add a red tail and call the fly a “secret version”. I like and respect the original dressings, but it’s time to admit that it is all right to make substitutions. We do this for lots of reasons: the original material may be no longer available or too expensive, the substitute material is easier to work with and wasn’t around when the original fly was developed and lastly, because the substitution catches more fish. While, to substitute or not is your call, the substitutions I’m going to suggest for the White Wulff will make a better fly. They’re not my ideas; however I’ve tried them and they work.

Recipe for the White Wulff

Thread – Black

Hook – Size 6, 2x long

Tail – White buck tail

Body – White wool

Hackle – White badger, heavy

Wing – White buck tail

Try these substitutions. First, use white calf tail for the tail (it’s just plain easier to use). Second, use white polypro yarn for the body because it doesn’t absorb water. Third, use chartreuse calf tail for the wings. This last suggestion was considered a secret a few years back but the secret has been out for a long time now so if you haven’t heard about it, give it a try. Some species of mayfly have a greenish tinge when they first hatch and the chartreuse wings seen through the white badger hackle imitate this color.

The badger hackle is used because the black center of the hackle feather creates a thorax effect without adding bulk to the fly. The original Wulff is usually tied with hackle sized to be one and a half hook gapes, which is long but works well in moving water. For a Hex hatch on still water, you should size your hackle to be just a bit over the hook gape. This will allow the fly to sit lower to the surface, more like the insect you are trying to imitate. In fact, more than one fly fisher (myself included) has been known to use their clippers on the water to clip off the bottom of the hackle to allow the fly to sit lower.

I use a 2x long hook for this fly to allow a very bushy hackle. Wulffs are a difficult fly to tie when you don’t have enough room for wings and hackle both so it’s worth it to use a long shank hook. It’s also closer to the size of the bug you’re trying to look like. For the wings, tie on a thick bunch of chartreuse calf tail. Then divide it into two wings using figure eight wraps and put a few wraps of thread around the base of each wing. A drop of cement at the base of the wing on the thread wraps helps me a lot. You’ll be able to bend the wings forward while you start the bushy hackle well behind the wings. Then you’ll be able to bend the wings backward to make room for a heavy hackle in front of the wings. If you’ve never done this before, practice this technique on a hook shank a half dozen times. It’s simpler and a lot less frustrating to get a method right when you don’t have a half finished fly invested just about the time you attempt the hard part.

Lee Wulff developed the Wulff series eighty years ago and it is still talked about today. Walk into any fly shop and look in the fly bins; you’ll see a lot of Wulffs. Use the Internet and search for “wulff fly” and see what happens. Lee’s fly and its many cousins are in a lot of fly boxes; you should have a few, too.

Posted in Fly patterns | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Warden’s Worry


The Warden’s Worry is a venerable old bucktail that has been in the Maine streamer arsenal since it was first tied by Warden Joseph Stickney in the late1920’s.  Some flies are designed to imitate a specific insect or baitfish and others are designed to imitate a variety of food items.  Then there are times when you just don’t know what the fish are biting and you have to try a fly that can imitate multiple possibilities; this is one of those flies.

The reputation of this streamer was made on trout ponds shortly after ice out by dredging it slowly along the bottom imitating an emerging nymph. Other fly fishers tell of it working for them on hot summer days when fished over a spring hole. I’ve trolled it along shoreline rocks a month after ice out and taken fish with it. However you choose to fish it, this streamer deserves the respect of every angler that ever casts to salmon or trout.

There are several things I like about this streamer.  First is its style; there is something very neat about fishing a streamer that can be called an old Maine standby.  Secondly, I like the construction. The bucktail wing and the hackle fiber beard on this fly will push water, sending a sound wave to predator fish. If you want big fish, go for their predator instincts. And finally, I like the body color. Yellow-orange, that some people would call burnt orange is a color that I like the looks of when it gets wet. I was trolling one of these streamers last spring and I observed the color as I was letting the fly out and to me; it seemed a very life like gold color. Mind you, colors change as depth increases but I happen to troll this fly on the surface so I was looking at a pretty good representation of the fly and what it looks like in the water.

I use natural fur dubbing for this fly because the recipe calls for it to be a picked out fuzzy body and the synthetics tend to lay flat and smooth when compared to the natural furs. The original recipe calls for a mix of yellow and orange wool.

Thread – Black

Hook – Size 6-10 streamer, 6X long

Tail – Red duck quill

Ribbing – Gold Mylar, flat or oval

Tag – Gold Mylar

Body – Yellow-gold dubbing, picked out fuzzy

Throat – Yellow hackle fibers

Wing – Natural tan bucktail from top of tail

Mount up a 6X streamer hook and start your black thread. The tag comes first and then the tail. Tie in a rather longish clump of red duck or goose quill fibers. Now attach your ribbing. I use flat gold Mylar but there are people that prefer gold oval for the rib. Wind on a long body using yellow-gold dubbing.  You can substitute chenille here, the fly is tied that way in New Hampshire and it works there. Wind your gold ribbing forward and tie off. For the throat, tie in some yellow hackle fibers, beard style. Here is a great tip: spend $2 for some dyed turkey flats.  This will be a package of small but wide feathers that are a bit stiffer that ordinary hackle fibers and they make great tails and beard style throats.

Top the fly off with a small bunch of natural tan-brown hairs from the top of a deer tail. Don’t stack the ends of hair; the wing tip should be tapered. The wing should extend to the back of the fly and the taper should end just above the end of the tail. The recipe calls for this fly body to be picked out fuzzy. I agree, so I do that.  You can use a needle bodkin or try my favorite dubbing tool. I took an old toothbrush and used a razor knife to cut the bristles off short. I mean very short, about one quarter inch long bristles.  This brush will now have bristles so stiff that you simply rub it along the dubbed body of a fly and the dubbing is picked out fuzzy, instantly.  This re-tooled toothbrush will tear your gums to shreds, though, so be sure to retire it. You also glue a small piece of Velcro to one end of a Popsicle stick, another great tool to pluck out bodies.

If the Wardens Worry is not in your streamer wallet, take the time to tie this fly and fish it; you’ll be glad you did.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Magalloway


The Magalloway is a traditional wet fly is named for a famous river in western Maine and was an old pattern when Bergman wrote about it in the 1930’s. The attractor colors are well tested and this fly brings in fish. I received a letter from Allen Messer in Poland, ME asking for an article about this pattern and I have to confess that it sounded familiar to me but I couldn’t place it. When I looked it up I recognized it and sure enough there were some sitting in one of my boxes. I had done well with it in the Deboullie area when I stayed at Red River Camps and I still had a few. I tie and fish so many patterns that the name had slipped my mind but not the pattern. This little gem pulled up quite a few brookies for me one afternoon on a trip a couple of years ago; you should give it a try.

Recipe for the Magalloway

Thread – Black

Hook –  Standard wet fly hook, size 6-14

Tail – Yellow hackle fibers or Golden Pheasant Crest

Tag- Gold Mylar

Butt- Black chenille, size fine

Body – Light brown wool

Hackle- Brown furnace

Wing – Peacock sword          

You can tell how old a pattern is when you notice how many versions of the pattern are floating around. Each version substitutes a material for another. My favorite substitution for this fly is yellow Golden Pheasant crest for the yellow tail. I used yellow hackle fibers here but the pheasant crest has a sparkle to it that I like on attractors; it’s entirely possible that the original pattern called for the pheasant crest tail. Tie on the Mylar for the tag with the gold side to the hook shank. The Mylar will roll over to gold side out when you wrap the tag. Tie off and tie in a yellow tail, your choice of material. The butt is a single wrap of fine black chenille. The body is light brown wool. There seems to be a wide range of what people think is light brown, and I am no expert. The old wisdom on body color is light in the spring and progressively darker into the fall. Pick a shade and tie it on. Wrap forward and tie off behind the eye. Leave room for the wing and hackle, there is a lot of material on this fly.

The wing is a clump of peacock sword. This is an inexpensive material that is useful on a lot of patterns. Peacock sword is not the same as peacock herl, same bird but a different feather. The wing should extend back to about half the tail. Lastly, tie in a hen furnace hackle. This is dark brown hackle with a badger stripe down the center. Don’t panic here if you don’t have this material. You can use brown hackle for this fly. If you have hen hackle then use that. If all you have are rooster hackles, don’t wind it in on like a dry fly hackle. Pull off a small bunch and tie it in as a beard style hackle. If you happen to have hen hackle, then wind on a few wraps, tie off and use a few thread wraps to force the hackles to lay back a bit. If you spaced everything right, you’ll have room for a head.

This is a good fly from the old school, you won’t see many of these around and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the way trout grab it.

Posted in Fly patterns | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Eddie’s Dragonfly Muddler Nymph


This fly is a nymph that you can cast like a streamer, and even troll with. A friend of mine trolls this fly slowly on a sinking fly line a few weeks after ice out on a pond in the North Maine Woods and experiences full body slams by 2-3 pound brook trout. This nymph was originated by the late Ed Reif of Bangor. The first time I heard Ed talk about it was in his shop over 25 years ago. He convinced me to buy the materials to make it and try it. Trying to tie a spun deer hair fly intimidated me in those days, so I didn’t attempt it until a few years ago. It turned out to be easier to tie than it looks. Like most good flies, I think this fly imitates more than one food source. It definitely is a nymph but like all muddlers, it has swept back deer body hair “legs” and a big spun deer hair head. When it is trolled slowly, these body parts move water, attracting predator fish. Big ones.

Recipe for Eddie’s Dragonfly Muddler Nymph

Thread – Olive 6/0
Hook – Size 4-8 streamer, 4X long
Tail – Olive marabou, short
Body – Olive mohair, chenille or wool yarn
Wing – 2 wide feathers from a hen neck, grizzly dyed olive
Head – Muddler style spun deer hair dyed olive

Start your thread on a streamer hook. The fly works well weighted or un-weighted, depending on your style. Add weight if you like. For the tail you can use marabou. Ed personally told me that he used the marabou like fluff from the base of the hackle feathers used for the wing. These are grizzly hen neck feathers dyed olive. I tear off some of the fluff and tie it on as an ovipositor (egg laying organ). I then use olive mohair for the body. Stop winding the body about a third of the hook shank back from the eye. This is where you’ll leave room for the muddler style head. On top of the wound body, tie on two olive grizzly hen feathers. They should lay flat on top of the shank and extend to the tail. Hen feathers have rounded tips and are a bit wider than rooster saddle; they work best on this nymph.

Last is the spun deer hair head. Use dyed olive deer body hair. The first bunch provides the 20 or so deer hair tips that sweep back to form the nymph legs. From there to the eye, you can tie on two more short bunches of deer body hair and spin a muddler style head. Clip the head short on the top and bottom, squaring it off, on the sides. Put some head cement or super glue in the hairs of the head and use your finger and thumb to squish the top and bottom of the head to form a flat dragonfly like head.

That’s it! Spinning deer hair is rarely successful the first time you try it. Be persistent and take the time to tie up several of the nymphs and you’ll get the hang of it. Fish this fly in the spring; you’ll be glad you did.

Posted in Fly patterns | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment