The Wood Special

wood special

This fly is an old New England favorite, the Wood Special.  Joe Sterling of Danforth, ME developed the fly in the early 1960’s.  Joe also created the famous Joe’s Smelt streamer, I’ll write about that one in a future column.  I am fortunate enough to have a stack of 25-year-old copies of American Fly Tyer magazine and I have the issue where Joe tells the story of the Wood Special.  Joe has an interesting tale about a fishing trip, wrong turns in a fishing lodge and a night inventing a fly for some insurance executives on a northern Maine fishing trip.  His fly worked well and went on to be popular here as well as Canada.

The first thing you notice about the Wood Special is the bright orange body.  Orange is a great trout color; it can imitate a juvenile trout or any number of insects.  The next thing you notice is the wing; it’s a wood duck lemon breast feather tied flat.  This gives a unique profile to the fly from different perspectives and it is probably why trout strike this fly so aggressively.  I should point out that there are a number of variations to this fly’s recipe.  Joe was pretty clear about how he tied the fly and I’m using his recipe this month.  Nevertheless, I had no trouble finding a half dozen different versions in local tackle shops, my own library and online.  Everyone claims to have the original and correct version.  I’ve used several of them, they all work fine.

Recipe for the Wood Special

Thread – Black

Hook – Mustad 3665A

Tail – Golden Pheasant crest tippets

Body – Florescent orange chenille

Throat – Brown hackle barbules, beard style

Wing – Wood duck lemon breast feather

Eyes – Jungle Cock, tied short

Substitutions, very thin ice here.  Changing one of the ingredients to a well-loved fly is a controversial thing.  I do it all the time, but others treat a fly’s recipe like it was scripture, so be warned.  Since Joe developed this fly, Jungle Cock has become very expensive.  Most tiers don’t bother with eyes and they feel their flies catch fish just fine.  I’m a big believer in eyes with few exceptions.  This fly is one of them; I think it does not need an eye so I don’t go to the expense of putting a Jungle Cock feather to use.  Another thing that people change is the wing; they use mallard flank instead of the Wood duck.  Woodies used to be hard to get and the supply dwindled.  They are coming back now so the feathers are available but still a bit expensive.  An old standby is mallard dyed brown.  I happen to be a duck hunter so I have a supply of wood duck feathers.  If the cost is more than you want to pay, mallard dyed brown will work.  Take a good look at the body.  I think the florescent orange chenille body works fine but is open to substitution, especially since we have so many other choices today that Joe Sterling didn’t have.  You should try yarn, Uni-Stretch or even loose dubbing.   There is a tier in Quebec who has a similar fly tied with orange seal fur that I think would be a killer here.  Seal is tough if not illegal to get so I plan on mixing up a florescent orange seal substitute dubbing to try out this spring.   Current versions of this fly are ribbed with silver Mylar and have a grizzly hen hackle.  I think those are good additions but if you are a stickler for original recipes, the 1978 article that Joe wrote did not call for ribbing or hackle other than the brown beard.  It is possible that Joe made some changes to later versions of the fly.  I wish I knew.  I think I prefer the later versions so I tie some that way as well.

Take the time to tie this fly in whatever version strikes your fancy.  It’s an old Maine standby that won’t fail you and few stuck in your hat visor will tell people that you know a thing or two about the puckerbrush.

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About PuckerbrushFlies

Fly fishing father
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2 Responses to The Wood Special

  1. Dave Hopkins says:

    Hugh:
    Reading an article you posted on the Woods Special. You mentioned Joe Sterling told a story in American Fly Tyer magazine about developing this fly. I will explain why I would love to have a copy of that article if you would be so kind.

    I have a passion for tying flies and fishing. I have a buddy who started MACS Trading Post in Houlton. He had bought out Brown’s Trading Post when he started. Brown’s had bought out Joe’s Tackle Shop when Joe died. I have several blanks (single and tandem hooks that have the bodies and tags/tails tied) ready for Joe’s Smelts and Woods Specials. I just need to add the wings, hackle etc. I believe they are leftover from production runs from Joe Sterling. I would like to make a shadow box with that article and a couple Woods Specials. Any chance you could copy the article and send it to me?
    Dave

    • Hi, I still have that magazine article and would be happy to send you a copy. I moved a week ago and everything is in boxes so please be patient and when it surfaces I’ll contact you and send it along.

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