Written by: Rich Strolis
[Editor’s Note: We have featured many patterns by fly tier, guide, and former Trout Bum of the Week Rich Strolis. His new book—Catching Shadows: Tying Flies for the Toughest Fish and Strategies for Fishing Them, from Stackpole Books—has been receiving a lot of attention and praise, including 5 stars on Amazon.com. Here’s a chapter on one of Rich’s killer patterns to give you a taste of what the rest of the book is like. Thanks to Jay Nichols and Stackpole Books for permission. Check out Rich’s website, Catching Shadows. ]
Stoneflies will forever be one of my favorite insects to replicate and fish. Some species grow large, making them a joy to fish as you can see them easily on the surface of the water, and due to their size, they are much easier to construct. Over time, many flies, both suggestive and realistic, have emerged to represent these prehistoric-looking bugs. Although many of the popular patterns are effective and fun to tie, the amount of time put into constructing them often gives anglers a heart-sinking feeling when they lose one.
I never contemplated designing a pattern for these insects until I was fortunate enough to make a trip out West right around Salmonfly season. For years I had always carried a few larger Stimulators in my dry-fly boxes for those few times when I could actually fish a hatch of those bugs. In the Northeast we aren’t typically accustomed to the lengthy prolific hatches of larger stones that hatch out West. If you open up many of the fly catalogs every spring, they’re filled with dozens and dozens of large stonefly patterns. Most of them are built out of foam and rubber legs, as both materials are readily available in a plethora of colors and sizes, float well, and are relatively inexpensive.
Although foam is a great inexpensive alternative to many natural materials, it lacks movement. You can, however, build a perfect silhouette of whatever you are trying to imitate. When I tie with foam, I prefer to incorporate other materials into the pattern recipe to create a fly that is less static.
I can vividly remember a rainy day at Dave Goulet’s fly shop when we were discussing the materials and pattern silhouette. Dave was a genius when it came to this stuff. He tied up a simple Golden Stone out of a single piece of foam and a sparse wing of elk hair. The fly was nothing more than one section of foam cut to the shape of the body, tied in at the head on a shorter-shanked, grub-style hook and a short section of wing. Dave tied up a pair and handed them to me to fish. I had been asking him earlier that day if he had any suggestions on stonefly patterns since I was not up to tying patterns for myself. At the time, I had been witnessing some good emergences of larger Golden Stones and needed something to imitate them.
That evening I went out and fished those two simple flies and caught a bunch of trout, completing my lesson for that day. That simple design was the building block for the stonefly pattern that I would build several years later, and the one that I fish exclusively to this day. I guess you could say I got my inspiration from Dave. His flies have inspired a lot of the designs and tying methods that I use frequently. Because larger Golden Stoneflies are more apt to emerge in the cover of darkness, I remembered this for a later date. Over a ten-year span of guiding, I could count on one hand the number of times I experienced an emergence of these insects during the day. I did, however, on a yearly basis experience the adults depositing their eggs during the day as they dropped out of midair to the water’s surface or skittered across the water to dump their precious cargo. These were the times that a surface imitation would work well. But I didn’t need a quick pattern to imitate these prehistoric insects until I made a trip out West.
One winter while preparing for a trip to Montana with my good friend, I was tasked with tying up a stonefly pattern that was durable, relatively quick to tie, and floated well. Mike was more apt to just buy a handful of bugs at the local shops once we arrived, but if you know me well, you know that’s just something I don’t like to do. No offense to the shop owners out there, but I prefer to tie my own, and that’s just what I planned on doing. Luckily, I had several months to gather my thoughts and scratch out some ideas on paper before tinkering at the vise. The entire time I was there I couldn’t get that pattern out of my head that Dave had given me several years prior. The only problem that I had was it seemed to be missing something. Just what I wasn’t sure, but I knew I had to build upon the idea to make it more appealing. Simply put, if my buddies had looked in my box and saw this pattern, they probably would’ve gotten a good chuckle, as it was pretty much a piece of foam with a clump of deer hair.
To make my efforts quick and easy, I opted to build the foam portion of the fly with the River Road Stonefly Foam Body Cutter set. The kit of cutters makes it easy to replicate the size and shape of a variety of the larger stoneflies. Simply grab your preferred color of foam, and pre-cut all of your bodies ahead of time. I suggest doing this regardless of how many flies you plan on tying, as it saves time and helps prepare in the construction of the fly. One thing I usually do is take an entire sheet of 2- millimeter foam and cut out all the bodies. Whatever I have leftover I place in a Ziploc bag labeled with the body style and size and catalog them away where they are readily accessible for the next time I tie them. Sheets of foam are inexpensive, so I typically purchase mine at my local craft store where I can pick up a sheet that is 12 x 18 inches for under a dollar.
Fishing the Busted Stone
By the end of our Montana trip, the Busted Stone held its own and kept right up with all of the local favorites on that trip. One day on the Big Hole, the Busted Stone was getting all of the action even with the high-water conditions.
When I got home, I tied up a pile more of these flies and fished them throughout the summer on my home rivers, and also passed a few handfuls on to my guide buddies. The overall consensus was these flies fished well and held up nicely to a battering of fish throughout the course of a day’s work on the water. My good friends, Dan and Tom Harrison of Harrison Outfitters, who specialize in float trips on the Deerfield River in northwestern Massachusetts, are the fly’s biggest advocates. I remember Dan asking for a few more of these bugs as he mentioned they had become a favorite searching pattern that particular summer. Tossed into the current seams or softer edges off of structure while floating, this fly consistently took fish in a variety of water conditions.
When trout are spread out, and the food selection is diverse and bountiful, a well-placed adult stonefly imitation can spark the interest of even the wariest of fish, often bringing some of the larger trout to the surface. They just can’t seem to resist such a large meal. This is a tactic that I love to employ in the summer months on my local waters. I’ll often spend the day casting to the edges, current seams, and soft edges, prospecting blind for an opportunistic feeder. When I fish this way, I cover large expanses of water in a day as I may take a cast or two to a likely lie and move on. A well-placed cast will often bring a fish up on the first drift or two, and if nobody is home, I move on.
Without a doubt, Golden Stonefly color combinations are the most prevalent colors that I tie and fish for the Busted Stone, but others for different locations could easily be incorporated into the design. Shades of brown, black, and orange have also worked for me, but as usual, feel free to experiment with color combinations. The palette of colors that you could tie this fly in is diverse, as there are dozens of colors of rabbit dubbing available as well as the color spectrum of foam.
Over time I found that although this pattern uses some buoyant materials, it will sink in the water column in some circumstances. After getting covered with the slime from several fish, or while fishing in heavy current, this fly will have to be redressed with floatant. To make the fly a little more buoyant, I will often tie a few of them with multiple layers of foam as opposed to the single layer of foam. This makes a larger fly, but it will ensure that the fly will float much longer without the need of extra floatant. If I’m concerned that the fly will sink, then I will pre-treat the wing and underwing with some sort of pretreatment like watershed. This little trick will often help the fly clear water and slime from a fish a little easier, meaning the fly will require little dressing between fish and more time floating high on the water.
Step-By-Step Tying Instructions
Golden Busted Stone
Hook: Tiemco 2302, sizes 6-12.
Thread: Yellow, 6/0 or 140-denier.
Adhesive #1: Head cement.
Underbody: Golden Stone Hareline Hare-Tron Dub.
Adhesive #2: Superglue.
Overbody: Yellow foam, 2 mm.
Legs: Black Barred Hot Yellow Hareline Grizzly Flutter Legs.
Underwing: Quick Silver EP Trigger Point Fibers.
Overwing: Natural elk, cleaned and stacked.
Head: Yellow foam, 2 mm.
Tools: Chernobyl or Stonefly Body foam cutter, lead wire, dubbing brush.
1. Start your thread directly behind the hook eye, and wrap the shank to a point in line with the hook barb. Once you reach the barb, spiral-wrap the thread back to a point approximately one-third of the hook shank behind the eye.
2. Dub a uniformly tapered noodle of Hare-Tron Dub on the thread and cover the hook shank leaving a space bare about two hook eyes’ length behind the eye free. The dubbing should end
at the midpoint of the hook shank. You can add a drop of Loctite Ultra Gel Control Super Glue to the top of the dubbed body to aid the next step.
3. Cut a body consistent with the size of the fly you’re going to tie with a Chernobyl or Stonefly Body foam cutter. Leave extra space at the flat end of the foam body to ensure that you have extra material for the bullet head. You can stack multiple foam bodies for higher-riding patterns, which are useful in heavier water.
4. Attach the foam body to the top of the dubbed body with four loose thread wraps. The tail of the foam should extend slightly past the end of the hook. After making the four loose wraps, pull the thread tight and wrap two or three more tight wraps of thread. This measure will ensure that thread doesn’t cut the foam.
5. Cut a pair of Grizzly Flutter Legs from a hank. Tie them in the center on top of the foam with two loose thread wraps.
6. Pull one grizzly flutter leg to the near side of the hook and the other to the far side so that they stay alongside the fly. After placing them accordingly, take two or three more tight thread wraps over them to lock them in place.
7. Dub another uniform dubbing noodle of Hare-Tron Dub to the thread. Wrap a layer over the thread wraps separating the legs, then advance the dubbing noodle through the front of the
fly to a point behind the hook eye. Take a piece of lead wire and wrap it over the legs to keep them out of your way for the remainder tying sequences.
8. Pull the foam over the dubbed body and loosely lash it down to the fly and return the thread to the point where the dubbed body ends.
9. Grab a section of EP Trigger Point Fibers, and tie them in by the middle of the hank. This will form the underwing of the fly and help support the over wing.
10. Fold the other half of the underwing backward over the rear of the fly, and trim it with your scissors. Make sure when you trim the underwing so that it extends to the tip of the foam tail. Comb the fibers out with a brush to form a V taper.
11. Cut a pencil-size bundle of natural elk hair from a Compara-dun patch and comb out the underfur. Align the tips in a hair stacker and transfer the bundle to the top of the fly. Take three loose wraps over the butt ends of the hair to hold it in place, then take four to six more with increasing pressure.
12. Dub a small, uniform dubbing noodle of Hare-Tron Dub, and cover the thread wraps and butt ends of the elk hair. Be sure to start dubbing from the hook eye toward the base of the wing, leaving the tying thread hanging at this point of the fly.
13. While holding with your thumb and pointer finger, fold the section of foam back over the top of the fly to form a bullet head.
14. After securing the bullet head with a few thread wraps, whip-finish and cement the thread wraps. Cut the section of foam at the base of the wing to your liking. I like to have a short tag roughly the same size as the bullet head.
15. Invert the fly in the vise, and brush out the underbody with a piece of velcro or a small dubbing brush. Brush the fibers so that they extend out to either side, creating a buggy underbody. Pull the Flutter Legs together for uniformity and trim them accordingly. Leaving them a little longer will create added motion in the water.
16. The completed fly as seen from the underside. Notice the bugginess created by combing the fibers out.
17. The completed fly as seen from the topside. Notice the underwing is seen through the overwing. The key is to not overdress the wing in general so that the underwing shines through.