This fly is a beautiful little wet fly from Down East Maine. It was originated in the late 1800’s by Tomah Joseph, a Passamaquoddy who did some guiding in the Grand Lake Stream area as well as being the tribe’s representative in the state legislature. The fly was effective and it was soon copied and sold to other sportsmen. There are a number of versions of this fly and frankly, most of them don’t resemble one another. That happens to some flies, they fish well but materials become harder to get and substitutions creep in. Sometimes the newer versions are improvements. The version I’m showing you here is from Ray Bergman’s Trout and it’s deadly.
Recipe for the Tomah Joe
Thread – Black
Hook – Standard wet fly length, size 6-12
Tail – Yellow hackle fibers
Body – Silver Mylar
Butt – Peacock herl
Throat – Yellow and red hackle fibers
Wing – Barred Wood duck
Start by using a standard wet fly hook. By this I mean that you don’t need a long shank nymph hook. Wet fly hooks are generally made a bit heavier to make them sink. That’s a tradition; you can use any standard length hook you like. I use a Mustad 3906 or a Moosehead standard wet fly hook. Start your thread at the eye and wind a close layer of thread back to the bend. Tie in some yellow hackle fibers for a tail. If you cut the butts at an angle you’ll have less of a bump to cover with thread. Tie in a peacock herl for a butt (sometimes called a tag). The butt or tag should be just over the barb. This will only take a few winds of herl. Tie it off and cut away the excess herl. Now wind your thread back to the eye and take a minute to wind enough thread to smooth out the underbody. If you don’t do this now, your Mylar body will have more bumps than the Stud Mill road in March. Tie in some Mylar behind the eye and wind back to the butt and then forward again to tie off after you’ve put down two layers. Always use two layers of Mylar, the second layer covers any gaps made when you wound the first layer. I like a silver body on this fly, Bergman tied it either silver or gold. Some waters fish better with one color and not the other; that’s just something you’ll have to experiment with.
Tie in a throat, beard style, of yellow and red hackle fibers. Yellow high and red below, both rather long. Tie the wing in next. This is where the substitutions probably started, leading to the number of versions out there. Wood ducks were almost driven to extinction in the early twentieth century from loss of habitat. For a while, you couldn’t find many Wood duck flank feathers and even fewer barred ones. So tiers made do with what they could get. The Wood duck is thriving now; you can thank Ducks Unlimited for that. The feathers are available in most shops, so that’s what I use. Cut off two small sections of the barred flank feather (or one larger one and fold it over) for your wing. Use the pinch method to tie it on top of the hook shank, just behind the eye. Try using your middle finger and thumb instead of the index finger and thumb. This is a Don Bastian technique that holds the wing material much straighter while you tie it in.
If you ask around, you’ll discover that there are other versions of this famous fly. I’ll probably write about another one in the future. By the way, no one knows how old this pattern was when Tomah Joseph decided to share it. He did share it and we are the better for it. Tie up a few of these and try them out in the remote waters of this amazing state. Think about what it must have been like to fish here in the late 1800’s. I think about that all the time.