Tuesday, November 3, 2015


“Just show ‘em something they’ve never seen before.”

    When it comes to traveling and fishing, this is a piece of timeless advice that I increasingly give, am given, and practice. Local knowledge imparted by fly shops and marinas across the country is invaluable, but the very fact that it’s accepted knowledge implies the idea that such patterns are widely and frequently implemented. The same goes for fishing your home waters. Patterns that fish see time and time again eventually lose effectiveness as fish learn. Yamamoto grubs and Wooley Buggers will always take fish, but not like they used to.

    About two years ago, one of my high school teachers who lives on the lower Rivanna River found a fly box full of rusty flies washed up on his island after a substantial rain. As I was the only one he knew in the area that could put the flies to use, he brought them to me one school day.

    Inside was a collection of streamers, foam dry flies, and poppers—all unique. At least I had never seen the likes of them before. Most had rusted hooks, but all found their way into my fly boxes, nevertheless.

    The following winter, sometime in late December, my brother and I headed over the mountain to fish a well-known trout stream. We fished hard from late-morning through early afternoon.

    The upper boundary of public water was in sight, when I got into position to fish what would be the last run of the day. Feeling the need to switch up tactics, I was excited to tie on one of the mystery streamers that washed up on the banks of the Rivanna several months earlier.

    It was essentially a Woolley Bugger, tied with a webby hackle, lots of flash, and mottled marabou. In no way was it a revolutionary design or concept, but I would not be able to reproduce the complimentary rusty and dirt matted in the fibers of the fly at the vise, nor could a replacement be found at the fly shop.

    In about twenty minutes, 12 stocky rainbows fell prey to the mass of feather and dirt. The rusty hook posed no issue upon hookup.

    Also in one of the weathered corners of that washed-up fly box was a foam grasshopper pattern, complete with realistic rubber legs, eyes, flash, and wing. Of this fly, however, there was only one copy, and I could not, no matter how much I searched, find a replica for sale.

    Because of its density, and therefore the splat it made on the water when it landed, I am convinced, this fly is extremely effective on larger brook trout during the terrestrial season, which typically runs from mid-summer through early fall.

    On one particular night, while fishing a well-known brook trout stream near my home, I came upon a large pool edged by grass that hinted at the presence of grasshoppers. I lost no time in clipping off my attractor dry fly pattern and swapping it for the meatier foam hopper.

    Splat. On my first cast, a healthy 10-inch native brook trout rose from the depths and hammered the fly. Upon landing and examining it, I discovered the remains of a large ant and a five-inch centipede in the fish’s gullet. An ambitious fish, no doubt about it.

    A few plying casts later, my fly landed at the head of the run leading into the pool and was gulped down and pulled to the bottom by a brute of a fish. A few tense moments later, my biggest brook trout to date was hanging heavy in my net.

    Over the course of its two-year life in my box, this fly has caught several species of fish, and big ones at that. It is a go-to when fish are feeding on the surface, and continues to reproduce, even after losing legs and chunks of foam. I guess some flies are just “fishy.”

    Both of these patterns have often placed me in (in retrospect) dangerous positions I probably shouldn’t have assumed to retrieve them. I have chased the hopper downstream after breaking it off on multiple occasions. And when these patterns are finally gone from my box, they will be just that, never to return. Perhaps that is why they are so effective, because they are irreplaceable, unique. I can only hope I’ve harvested some new good luck charm from the bank of some river or branch of some snag when that time comes.

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian

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