I feel that tradition, and respecting and honoring the past is an important element in modern steelhead fly tying. My own personal style as a tier mixes elements of old and new in a way that I hope is both respectful and innovative. I enjoy creating new patterns, and also adapting older pattern recipes to suit my fishing needs. Through talking to other steelheaders I know that the practice of modifying traditional patterns or color schemes is common. A review of the many variations of the classic Green Butt Skunk, shows how individual tiers will adjust a concept and make it their own, not unlike how a jazz musician might jam on a classic tune. I feel a sense of greater connection to the sport when fishing a pattern that links me to the past in some way.
A favorite adaptation of mine is based on a fly called the Railbird. I “discovered” this fly on one of my readings of Trey Comb’s masterwork, Steelhead Fly Fishing, one of the great links between steelheading past and present. Trey provided a recipe, but no photo, and attributed the pattern to the late John Benn (1838-1907). My suspicion is that the original Railbird was tied with a dense, bulky palmer and a long wing on a short shank, down eye trout hook – the common dressing style in northern California and southern California at that time. My version takes a sparser, low water approach, and uses an up eye salmon-style hook along with some of my favorite materials to create a translucent, buggy look in the classic color scheme.
Thank you, Mr. Benn. I wonder what you would think of steelheading if you were around today.
Happy Holidays, everyone.
Take Care and Fish On,
Railbird 2001 Recipe
Hook – Alec Jackson Steelhead Iron, #5-9
Thread – UTC 70, black
Tag – Amber wire, 3-4 turns
Tail – Grizzly dyed claret saddle hackle fibers
Body dubbing – Claret angora
Hackle - Grizzly dyed claret saddle hackle, palmered along body
Rib – Amber wire counter-wrapped through the hackle for durability
Collar – Yellow dyed guinea fowl feather
Wing – Natural Lady Amherst Pheasant tail, 6-8 fibers.