This is a Fran Betters fly called the Usual. Fran had a shop in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York and was the originator of a number of famous and deadly patterns. Fran wrote in his pattern book that he had a rabbit foot on his bench and he didn’t know of any patterns calling for the material. He gave it some thought and finally came up with a simple dry and gave several to a friend. The friend came back and wanted more flies. The fly had not yet been named and his friend referred to it as “the usual” so Fran used that for the name.
The beauty of this fly is its simplicity. You only need hook, thread and a rabbit’s foot. Snowshoe rabbits spend a lot of time on the snow so it follows that the hairs on the underside of the foot are naturally waterproof. They are crinkly and have a beautiful translucent look that makes a very buggy fly. At the base of the hairs is an underfur that makes a perfect dubbing. My favorite colors are natural as well as dyed in olive, bright green and orange; I have a dun colored foot I want to try this spring.
Recipe for the Usual
Thread – Appropriate for the dubbing, try orange as well
Hook – 8-16 dry
Tail – Snowshoe foot hair
Body – Snowshoe foot underfur
Wing – Snowshoe foot hair
Wrap a thread base on your hook. The hairs you want from a rabbit’s foot are directly under the bottom, between the toenails and the ankle. I break the foot apart to make it easier to get at the hairs I want. Using sharp pointed scissors I cut a small clump of fur. I pull out the underfur with my thumb and finger or use a small comb. Set the under fur aside for dubbing later. Tie in a small bunch of hairs for a tail. Fran uses a short tail but I prefer a tail as long as the body. Feel free to experiment. Then take larger bunch of hair and tie in a wing. You want a single wing, not two. Use your fingers to splay the wing hairs into one wide wing. Next, dub some underfur onto your thread and wind a body onto the fly, including some in front of the wing as a thorax. Here’s a good trick to try: Fran likes to use a hot orange thread that shows through the dubbing. There is no hackle. The lack of hackle allows the fly to sit down low on the water and present a very buggy profile. This is a well-engineered fly that is consistent with the originator’s style. It was another of Fran’s flies, the Haystack that inspired the well known Comparadun series.
That’s all there is. This fly is simple to tie and it is hardly seen in Maine. Don’t let that keep you from tying this little gem. It’s a great fly that is easy to tie once you learn to dub the crinkly under fur. Stay with it because that crinkle in the fur is what makes this fly so buggy and helps it float. It is also an inexpensive fly to tie, I paid a bit over a dollar for each of my rabbit feet (www.theriaultflies.com) and I’ll get dozens of flies from a single foot. I own snowshoe feet dyed in at least eight colors. My four-year-old son, Peter, is particularly fond of the chartreuse one. And since Hex hatch mayflies have a hint of bright green, he may be onto something.