Fly Tying for the WinterTime

December 29, 2009 by  

Our Outdoors – By Nick Simonson

From Bismarck to Brainerd to Balaton, the region has been blasted with the most epic blizzard since those doubled-barreled every-other-weekend storms from the winter of 1996-97. My wife and I crawled along I-94 to visit my family just before the Gulf-fueled, moisture-laden monster dumped 16 inches of snow. We were able to skate our way back on treacherous roads with near-zero visibility just in time to start the new week.

Though the storm didn’t stop our holiday revelry, it did put the kybosh on some well-laid plans for ice fishing with my brother and our buddies over the Christmas weekend. So instead, we gathered around the table and I watched my stack of poker chips and the bag of Chex mix in front of me disappear in an inverse relation to the snowdrift that grew just outside the living room window. As I missed open-ended straights and was out-gutted in 3-2-1, I discussed the future opportunities for ice fishing with my friends, whose company I was more than willing to ante up for. We failed to reach a consensus, but put a lot of options on the table along with our wagers. With the recent snowfall, one thing was a sure bet; I’d be spending a lot more time sitting at the vise than over an ice hole, and I started as soon as I was in the door of the house and unpacked.

With two pheasant skins in hand, I headed up to my office and settled in. The feathers on these late-season birds were nothing short of perfect. Iridescent browns, greens, reds and yellows were offset by shades of cream and gray under the white light of the desk lamp, a perfect palette for what appears to be a long tying season. To get in the rhythm, I began cranking out some of my favorite pheasant flies – a few nymphs to shake the rust off, some tried-and-true dry flies and a couple streamers that all incorporated the pheasant feathers on hand and reminded me of those awesome outings in much warmer seasons past, some half a world away.

The Carey Special Fly

The Carey Special Fly

A Special Fly

For a beginner, no homemade fly is more memorable than the one that lands the first fish. For smallmouth on the fly rod, it was an oversized Carey Special that did the trick and got me hooked on the ritual of cranking out a few dozen of these wet flies each season in for bluegills, trout and bass. An effective damselfly nymph-imitator, and a good all-around “looks edible” fly; the Carey Special utilizes a unique pheasant feather and the allure of peacock herl to trigger fish.
The Carey Special
Hook: Wet, 2X Long, Size 8-14
Thread: Black 6/0
Tail: Feather fibers from a church window pheasant feather
Body: Peacock Herl
Hackle: Three turns of a church window pheasant feather

Golden Parachute

Einar’s Parachute Hatcher Fly

Einar’s Parachute Hatcher Fly

When my fly fishing mentor handed me his custom parachute fly, I had no doubt it would catch fish, but I didn’t realize just how many it would bring to my hand. Standing in the cool waters of a Norwegian stream, I cast Einar’s Parachute Hatcher to each rising trout as we worked the pools that teemed with feisty wild browns in northern Norway over five years ago. We ended the two-day segment of the trip with over fifty fish. The memory of our time and success on the water seems as unreal now as the mountains of snow piled high in the front yard. Since then, this struggling mayfly imitator has been a staple in my box and has landed everything from those brown trout to surface-feeding bluegills and bass.

Einar’s Parachute Hatcher
Hook: Curved Scud, Size 12-16
Thread: 6/0, Color to Match Dubbing
Tail: Pheasant Tail Feather Fibers
Body: Dry Fly Dubbing
Post: Antron Yarn
Hackle: Dry Fly Hackle to Match Dubbing

Trusty Rusty

The Rusty Sparrow Fly

The Rusty Sparrow Fly

The final focus of my early efforts at the vise brought back visions of summer evenings of crappie fishing at the cabin and stripping this fly under the reddened surface of Big Detroit Lake as the specks slashed at every offering. The Rusty Sparrow is another great “something edible” fly that has a permanent spot in my streamer box and is a cabin fever induced modification of the classic Gartside Sparrow pattern. Incorporating the under-utilized filoplumes of the cape and a twist of rump hackle for its collar, the Rusty Sparrow is a great combination of substance and style. At least the fish think so.

The Rusty Sparrow
Hook: Arched Streamer, Size 6-12
Thread: Brown 6/0
Tail: Two Square Pheasant Rump Feathers
Body: Brown and Gray Dubbing, tied “buggy”
Hackle: Rusty Pheasant Rump Hackle
Head: Pheasant Rump Filoplume

Each of these flies’ hallmarks and their dependability come from the materials that form them. There’s hardly a feather on the entire pheasant’s body that can’t be used in some sort of fish-catching fly. I’ll tie up more of these, learn some new ones, and experiment with variations throughout this long winter season. I hope you do the same with the time winter allots us and when the piles of snow have melted and the world shifts from white to green, we can swap these patterns and others streamside on a warm sunny day somewhere…in our outdoors.

For step-by-step tying instructions for these three patterns and more fly tying and lure making tips, log on to or become a fan on Facebook by searching: Our Outdoors by Nick Simonson.


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