Fly-fishing patterns are constantly changing

Roger Lowe of Waynesville ties many of the traditional western North Carolina fly patterns.

Changing old favorites, developing new ones

Fly patterns constantly evolve as fly tiers originate new patterns and modify standard ones in an endless effort to find something that looks irresistible to a trout.

Some flies were created for specific streams or sections of the country. Many proved so effective that they were copied and used in other areas. The Ausable Wulff, for example, was created by Francis Betters in 1964. It was first used on the Ausable River in New York’s Adirondack mountains, according to “Flies for Trout” by Dick Stewart and Farrow Allen. Trout fishers throughout the East now fish with this all-purpose dry fly.

The Royal  Wulff, another must-have, all-purpose dry fly, was patterned after the old Royal Coachman, which has been around for more than 100 years. Stewart and Allen list Lee Wulff as the originator. But other sources say the fly was created by New York’s Q.L. Quackenbush. Wulff did create the Gray Wulff and the White Wulff. A number of flies were patterned after Wulff’s creations. These nclude the Tennessee Wulff, which is like the Royal Wulff except it is tied with green floss instead of red in its middle.

Hatch patterns are tied to imitate a specific aquatic insect such as the mayfly, stonefly, caddis and midge. These are all common in the Appalachians and most other areas of the country. Nymphs are the immature versions of common aquatic insects. Anglers use these in sub-surface efforts. Although some hatches are seasonal, a few, such as Blue-Winged Olives, Yellow Caddis and Yellow Stones, can be found throughout the year. Midges also can be found throughout the year.

Don’t forget terrestrials

Terrestrials include non-aquatic insects such as the inchworm, sourwood worm, grasshopper, cricket, damsel fly, crane fly, ant (flying and crawling), honeybee, yellow jacket, Japanese beetle, junebug, cicada and lightning bug. Terrestrials are an important food source for trout from early spring to first frost.

Non-imitative flies, often called attractors, resemble a variety of insects but none specifically. Common attractor patterns include the Adams — the female Adams with its yellow egg sac is particularly effective on area streams — light and dark Cahill, Royal Wulff,  Royal Coachman, Tennessee Wulff, Humpy, Irresistible, Thunderhead and the various Palmers.

Attractor flies are especially favored by many mountain trout fishers because they usually are bushy flies with thick hackles, palmered bodies, buoyant wings and tails and furry bodies. These traits allow them to float well on high-gradient streams.

Mountain fly-tiers created several attractor patterns. The late Fred Hall of Bryson City created the Adams Variant, a high-floating attractor pattern. Anglers often credit Hall for creating the Thunderhead, also a high-floating pattern. But Allene Hall, his widow, said he “was just the first to start tying it around here.” The Halls turned out thousands of Thunderheads, a pattern that many mountain anglers swore by.

Other favorites

Other traditional favorites include the pale Yellow Palmer, a fly favored for the streams in the Little Cataloochee area. Another favorite includes the Jim-Charley, a local pattern used on the Big East Fork of the Pigeon River and on the Davidson River. Anglers love the Smoky Mountain Forked-Tail, which has mallard wings, blue dun hackle, orange body, and a forked tail of mallard feathers.

The Coffey Stone Nymph, originated by Frank Coffey of Maggie Valley and utilizing scrap latex from the old Waynesville Dayco plant is another favorite. The Secret Weapon, which was used by mountain fly fishers long before the popular Prince fly came into use is also favored. The Horse Hair Nymph simulates a hellgrammite, and the Cabe Hopper is a deadly grasshopper imitation created by the late Jack Cabe of Jackson County.

Other patterns created by local fly-tiers and fly fishers include the Charlie Whopper. Anglers tie it as a black fly with mallard up-right and divided wings, a mallard tail, gray muskrat body and grizzly and brown hackle. Charles Messer of Haywood County created this fly.

Yellowhammer, Yallerhammer

Roger Lowe of Waynesville, a third-generation fly fisher and fly-tier, created the Hazel Creek, which has white hackle tips for wings, golden pheasant  tippet tail, body made of light yellow poly yarn, and grizzly and brown hackle. Lowe, who ties and sells many of the traditional patterns, is the only fly-tier still tying the Coffey Stone Nymph using the original Dayco latex. He acquired the material when he was an employee of Dayco.

One of the most notable Great Smoky flies is the Yellowhammer, called Yallerhammer by many locals. No one is certain who originated the Yellowhammer, although many believe the Cherokee may have tied the first one, wrapping the bright quills of the yellow-shafted flicker around a hook reverse-palmer style.  After the flicker became an endangered bird, fly-tiers switched to other materials, dyeing grizzly.

Roger Lowe is author of “Roger Lowe’s Fly Pattern Guide of the Great Smoky Mountains.”  The book has photos of popular Smoky Mountain patterns, when and where to use them, materials required tie the flies, and information about the origin of many of the patterns. Lowe also is author of “Smoky Mountain Fly Patterns,” which lists flies, nymphs and dries, for each month of the year. The publications are available at Brookings Anglers in Cashiers where Lowe is a full-time trout fishing guide. He can be contacted at or calling 828- 743-3768.

About Robert Satterwhite 180 Articles
Bob Satterwhite has been writing about the outdoors, particularly trout fishing, for more than 25 years. A native of Morganton, N.C., he lives in Cullowhee, N.C., close to the Tuckasegee River, Caney Fork, Moses Creek, and several other prime trout streams.

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