This fly is another old one that you don’t see much anymore, although it is fished around the world in various versions. Originating in the western U.S., this pattern is named for the ground squirrels that stand by their burrows like “picket pins”. Typically, as a pattern migrates to another part of the country, there are always a few changes to accommodate local tastes. This fly’s original recipe called for gold wire ribbing; that became brown hackle tied palmer style when the fly arrived on the East coast. Palmer style hackle is simply a hackle that is wound up the body as a rib instead of being wound at the head as a collar. Although the original wing material probably came from the ground squirrel it is named for, here we use gray squirrel. I think a red tail brings a lot more strikes, and I’ve been known to use dyed squirrel tail for the wing as well as the original gray. Notice that there is a peacock herl head tied in front of the wing. Don’t leave that off; I think it is an important feature and makes it a useful imitator for stoneflies, dragonfly nymphs etc.
Recipe for the Picket Pin
Thread – Black
Hook –4X long, size 8-14
Tail –Brown or red hackle fibers
Body – Peacock herl
Rib –Brown hackle palmered
Wing – Gray squirrel
Head – Peacock herl
Tie in the tail and then tie in a brown hackle feather by the tip. I’ve seen a recipe that called for the tail to be the tip of the hackle feather, not a bad method. Then tie in perhaps three or four peacock herls for the body. Peacock herl has been a fish getter for centuries so buy good herl and use it. After you’ve tied in the herls but before you wind your thread forward, consider twisting the herls and the thread together to make a peacock herl “rope”. Without a wire rib this technique will hold the herl together and make the fly stronger. Wind the herl rope forward but stop well short of the eye so you can leave room for the rather large head. After you tie off the herl, wind the hackle feather forward to the tie off point and trim the excess materials. Tie in a squirrel tail wing and finish the fly by tying in more herl for a large head. Be sure to make the head full and wind it back to cover the thread wraps used to secure the wing. Placing a drop of cement on the thread wraps before you wind over them will help hold the wing on when a fish takes it; gray squirrel is a slippery hair and easy to pull out. I use cement that is diluted 50% with thinner for those jobs when I want the cement to penetrate thread wraps and glue the material under the wraps.
I’ve substituted black hackle and clipped off the top when I hoped the fly would be taken for a stonefly. You can imitate both caddis and mayfly fly emergers with it. Fished dry, it could be taken for a Dobson fly or a hopper. Like all good flies, the Picket Pin can imitate several food sources and with substitutions you can soon have your own “secret fly”. If you want a head start on that, try a size 14 with woodchuck for the wing and grizzly for the hackle.
Start with the recipe I’ve shown you; it doesn’t use expensive materials, it’s easy to learn and you’ll catch fish with it. A youngster will catch fish with it too if you’ll take the time to show them.