This fly is an old favorite that seems to surface every few years and then disappear for awhile. Part of the reason is that wet flies have fallen out of fashion and the Grizzly King is an old wet fly. I remember this seeing this fly in my father’s pattern book 40 years ago and it was considered old, then. The original dressing is attributed to a Professor John Wilson of Edinburgh University, Scotland. Colonel Bates credits the streamer version of this fly to Gardner Percy of Portland, Maine. The fly is supposed to represent a form of caddis fly and that explains why it works so well here.
I use this fly in both wet and streamer versions and I pretty much tie it in size 12. Ray Bergman’s classic Trout goes into great detail about different sizes depending on which species of trout you’re fishing over. Size 12 works best for me, although I think this fly in smaller sizes would fish well. If you’ve got the eyes for it, downsize to a 14 or 16 and let me know how it works for you.
Recipe for the Grizzly King
Thread – Black
Hook –8-12 wet (4x hook for streamer)
Tail –Red duck quill or hackle fibers
Body – Green floss
Rib – Thin gold Mylar
Throat – Grizzly hackle fibers (hen if possible)
Wing – Rolled mallard flank, for streamer use grizzly
While the old version called for red duck quill angled upward for a tail, I think red hackle fibers work fine. The Mylar should be very fine; I use size 16/18. The throat hackle is tied in beard style and will have better movement if you use soft hen grizzly hackle. It is a good technique to use white thread on the hook shank under the floss. Wet floss over dark thread can become too dark. That is especially true of yellow or gold floss but the green floss seems to do fine with dark thread under it. If you are inclined, using white thread for the first part of this fly is a good habit. The old recipes speak of “rolled” mallard flank as opposed to the highly stylistic swept and pointed wings you see on other wet flies in old color plates. I think that is a concession to the fact that after several fish chewing on those wings, they become shredded anyway so why not roll them to begin with. You have to admit, when the old writers recommend fish proofing the wings, that’s a sign of a good fly. Just cut a small bunch of mallard flank fibers, roll them between your thumb and forefinger, and then tie them in. A rolled wing can make for a lot of bulk and a huge head. Use as fine a thread as you can to avoid that. As for the streamer, keep the hook as small as you can and use grizzly hackles for your wing. Percy’s recipe calls for four hackles, two on each side. I use two hackles and I let the wings angle up a bit. I think it has better action tied that way. I’m sure it all depends on how you fish the fly, so keep in mind that you may want to stick with the tried and true recipe.
This is a venerable old pattern that deserves more use than it gets. Ask the oldest, best, fly fisherman you know about the Grizzly King. Watch his eyes when you ask. If they look away quickly and he tells you he doesn’t think much of it, check the side pocket of his fly wallet. I bet he has a few.