Retread Flies

Remember October’s Steelhead Fly Pattern of the Month? That Brownbagger got snagged on a rock the other day and after some pulling came back without a point and barb. The good news is that proves the pattern getting down to where the fish are. Of course the flybox then has to be replenished. So why not reuse the material from the damaged fly. The orange bead is a natural item to reuse, but so are the lead wire, chenille, and rubber hackles if possible. Perhaps you can not salvage the materials in the original lengths and amounts. No problem. Simply tie the fly on a smaller hook. And maybe give it a new look like a thicker profile. Here’s the recondition Brownbagger…or retread Brownbagger.

Soil and dirty materials reused to fashion a new and fish-worthy fly!

What rocks…how do you get snagged in the rocks? Well this photo from the other day says it all. From somewhere on the middle Rogue River…rock on…err, the rocks are on right and left now!

Driftboat taking a two-pack down the rocky slide.


Huge white sturgeon caught in the lower Rogue River

Wayne Van Burger and Travis Cooper are at it again. This past Friday they set out to finish an episode for the new FSN Northwest show The Joy of Fishing. Travis is the technical wizard…you know photographer, editor, post-production manager, designer, video man…et al! Wayne, an educator and coach for 35 years with a lofty track record and accolades, well…Wayne is passionate fisherman and outdoorsman.

Together they set out Friday morning on the lower Rogue River to target green sturgeon. Guiding was Dennis Graves, a man with 50 years or more experience targeting these beast of the lower Rogue River. To use Waynes own words, “What we ended up with was a WHITE STURGEON that we estimated to be 10ft.-12ft. in length and over 400 pounds.”

Fisherman’s luck…wow! I think they far surpassed any set goals for the day. What a great addition the white sturgeon catch will make to their upcoming FSN Joy of Fishing episode on the green sturgeon of the lower Rogue River.

As Wayne wrote me, “It took me just under two hours to land (and I was TIRED puppy when finished).
We had no idea we’d catch one even close to this size. Most Green Sturgeon weigh 100 to 125 lbs.We were under sized to say the least with the equipment we were using.”

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Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear Nymph

Food for trout, and on the Rogue River the steelhead like it too!

When one thinks of steelhead flies very seldom does the G.R. Hare’s Ear come to mind. That is unless you fish on the Rogue River. A dependable trait of the Rogue River steelhead is that they feed during their time in the river. The majority of the year what is available are the many mayfly, caddis, scuds, and stonefly nymphs that live in the fast water. I like my G.R. Hare’s Ear nymphs in size #8 and #6 to mimic the smaller bugs. I also like the gold beadhead which compliments the oval, gold ribbing and adds additional flash. I imagine I could tie the G.R. Hare’s Ear in larger sizes to approximate the stonefly nymphs, but the Carpetbagger patterns do that well. The deadly combination I like to fish is the Carpetbagger as the point fly with a G.R. Hare’s Ear as a smaller dropper fly.

I learned a good tip on how to get a consistent looking turkey wingcase on a G.R. Hare’s Ear. The tip comes from Al and Gretchen Beatty who tie a lot of commercial flies.

My application of the tip might be a little abbreviated from what I learned, but it gets good-looking results. After dubbing the abdomen and tying off the gold ribbing tinsel, tie down the turkey wing case strip with a couple wraps about midway in the feather strip. Pull both ends of the strip back towards the rear of the fly and dub a small hump around the shaft of the hook right in from of the “now” two strips. Pull the forward strip over the hump and bind the reminder down to just behind the eye of the hook. Now go back and dub the thorax as you usually do. You will not have to cover the whole area of the thorax as you will have already dubbed the hump section. Pull the rear, remaining section of turkey strip over the “hump” and all the dubbed thorax to create the wingcase. You should achieve a full, good-looking wingcase that will not collapse or disappear into the thorax material of your G.R. Hare’s Ear Nymph.

Kaufmann’s Signal Light

Randall Kaufmann's Signal Light pattern, working good for steelhead on the Grande Ronde river of Oregon.

Here is a hot steelhead pattern working well right now for steelhead on Oregon’s Grande Ronde River. I hear small sizes like #8 and # 10 are good.

Originated by Randall Kaufmann, the Signal Light pattern features numerous steelhead catching materials and colors. In my opinion, undoubtly the largest trigger is that black marabou wing. Getting that wing to look right can be frustrating to the fly tyer. I’ve decided on a couple little techniques to get that right look to the wing.

Number one is use the prime tips of the marabou plume. Pinch the correct amount of marabou tip together and bind down tight with a couple wraps of thread at the correct spot on the hook.

After the wing is attached the forward excess of the marabou plume must be cut away. To do so easily, and with a quick and close cut, I’ve found that twisting the excess marabou feather into a tight rope and cutting close to the tie down thread wraps with my strongest sissors, will give me little remaining bulk and fuzz in the head area. Any remaining stray fuzzy ends can be sparsely wet and trimmed very close with your quality sissors.

Handling the tie off of the marabou plume wing in this way, allows me to quickly and easily achieve a small, neat head appropriate to the overall look of the fly.

Rogue River hatchery steelhead

A re-run, retread, hatchery steelhead from the upper Rogue River.

They are back in the upper Rogue River! The early hatchery summer steelhead are back for a second run through the fly water of the upper Rogue. As is customary each year the fish hatchery on the far upper Rogue recycles early returning summer steelhead back down river to swim free again.

Like an old pair of truck tires given a second life, these “retread” steelhead give fishermen a second chance to catch them. This year because of the demise of Gold Ray Dam and it’s fish counting station, the 2010 Rogue retread steelhead are being trucked even further downstream all the way to the Gold Hill boat launch. That will give bait and plug fishermen who ply the waters below the former Gold Ray Dam site an opportunity at them too.

Above Gold Ray, in the fly water, retread steelhead act just the same as their wild brethren…that is they take flies well. Sometimes as well or better. I wonder if they get hungry from all that time spent in the hatchery? This Rogue retread hit a Beadhead G.R. Hare’ Ear Nymph. Carpetbagger Stonefly Nymphs, egg patterns, and swinging wet flies all attract the ready retread. Some people will argue that the retread will not fight as well as the Rogue River wild native fish, and that they are not a desired catch. I’ve seen them go both ways, sometimes as lame as a duck, and on occasion as hot as a fresh run native. They are after all from Rogue River brood stock, and they are after all steelhead who have spent time in the wild Pacific Ocean. These guys just got to enjoy a short little pit stop in the Cole M. Rivers Hatchery on the Rogue.

Marabou Spey Patterns

A swinging fly for the Spey rod sporting golden pheasant and marabou wrapped Spey style.

No name for this Spey pattern yet, but I decided to do another with a little hotter color combination. The recipe remains the same. The tail and butt section remain pheasant, but this time it is the red of the golden pheasant flank. The balance of the body is yellow, orange and red marabou wrapped Spey style. The collar is of a golden pheasant tippet. The fly is winged with a couple goose wing feather strips.

Armchair Steelheading

Steelhead flies can be colorful and exotic concoctions of bird, floss, tinsel and thread.

Steelhead flytying can take you from the nuts and bolts of everyday hard working patterns, to the romance and beauty of fanciful creations. Indeed when you can’t get to the river, an hour or two at the vise can be just as rewarding as a day spent there. While this would not be the first fly I’d tie on for fishing an October Rogue River, there are times when fits of fancy cloud the practical thinking of the mind. The romance of swinging beautiful flies for one of the most magnificent of freshwater gamefish can be oh so tempting. The right stretch of river, the solitude of the moment, and the chance of that monumental hookup…these are reasons we create and play with our dressing at the vise. So on occasion we throw the old recipes away and pull out the boxes of pheasant, goose, duck, marabou, tinsels and silk and fashion creations that we dream will succeed. Somewhere, sometime, somehow…for time at the vise should be just as rewarding as time on the river.