Classic Video: How to Tie the Copper John

In 1993, John Barr began working on the nymph pattern that was to become the Copper John, a process that would take three years. After several design and materials changes, he declared his invention finished in about 1996. Since its introduction in the mid-1990s, the pattern has become one of the best-selling nymphs around the world, and for good reason. The fly simply catches fish. Although it doesn’t imitate any one mayfly nymph too specifically, it suggests a whole range of larvae. Plus, it sinks like a stone and has just enough flash to draw trout from several feet away to take a good look. You can fish the Copper John alone, as part of a tandem nymph rig, or as a dropper of a grasshopper or other large dry fly.

In this great video from Tightline Productions, Tim Flagler offers easy-to-follow step-by-step instruction for tying the Copper John. He notes that some tiers might be put off by the number of materials, but the fly doesn’t require any really fancy skills to tie. As usual, there are a couple of tying tricks that will simply make you better at the vise: an easy way to get splayed-biot tails perfect and tips for using epoxy.

          Copper John
          Hook: 2X-heavy, 2X-long nymph or streamer hook, sizes 10-20.
          Bead: Gold Cyclops bead, size to match hook.

          Weight: .015 lead wire.
          Thread: Black, 8/0 or 70 denier.
          Tails: Brown goose biots.
          Abdomen: Copper Ultra Wire, brassie-size.
          Wingcase (top): Pearl Flashabou, saltwater-size.
          Wingcase (bottom): Strip of black Thin Skin, slightly
                 narrower than the width of the hook gap.
          Thorax: Peacock herl.
: Speckled brown hen hackle.

          Adhesive: 5-minute epoxy.

4 thoughts on “Classic Video: How to Tie the Copper John”

  1. this fly was invented by Bob White, the artist and Alaska guide Bob White. Barr gets the credit but the fly was invented by Bob


    Dear John,

    It was a pleasure to meet you at the Hooked on a Cure event. I’m glad that our paths finally crossed, and that we had the opportunity to compare notes about our respective fly patterns… The “Copper John” and the “Copper Bob”.

    I felt badly when you told me that some fly shop owners had communicated to you that you were being accused of violating the client/guide relationship, and had lifted the idea of for the “Copper John” from me.
    Nothing could be further from the truth… I’ve never guided you in either Alaska, Argentina, or Chile. As I mentioned to you at the event… some folks take a perverse pleasure in stirring up the pot, and then sitting back and watching the ensuing show. Thankfully, we were able to meet, enjoy each other’s company, and compare notes before anyone tried to poison our friendship.

    I’m writing this open letter to you in an attempt to set the record straight… something I know that you’d like to do also. This is what I tell folks when I’m asked about the origin of the Copper Bob…

    – I designed the “Copper Bob” in the winter months of 1988, while guiding in Argentina. The fly was inspired primarily by my needs as a guide, and by some of the ideas and nymph patterns that other guides and my fishermen shared with me. The “Copper Bob” was designed to be a “guide’s fly”… one that is effective, easy to tie in quantity, durable, and allows clients to fish a nymph deeply without the encumbering (and often tangled) use of split shot.

    – I introduced the pattern, with both one and two shades of wire (for segmented bodies) to Alaska that same year… the summer of 1988… with great success. It became a standard pattern at the lodge where I guided (Tikchik Narrows Lodge), and I gave away so many of them out to the other guides that it necessitated many a late night tying session. It was first tied commercially (exclusively for Tikchik Narrows Lodge) during the winter of 1990 by three or four fly tyers who guided in Alaska during the summer months, and lived in Missoula in the off season. All of these very talented guide/tyers contributed their own ideas and twists to the concept, and Interestingly enough… it was one of them who named the fly… up until that point… we simply called it a “Copper-Bodied Pheasant Tail”. Many of these friends still actively guide and tie commercially in Montana and Alaska. Several other commercial tyers have been fulfilling the lodge’s annual needs ever since.

    – The Copper Bob quickly became more of a concept than a distinctive pattern… we tied it on short shanked hooks with heavy copper wire to imitate clinging and crawling mayfly nymphs… we tied it on long shanked hooks with finer wire to imitate swimming nymphs… We tied it tiny for midge pupa, and we tied it large to look like an immature stone flies. We made them light to imitate PMD’s and sulphers, etc.,
    and dark for other mayflies. We bended the concept to produce soft hackles… copper bodied wet flies… Damsel fly nymphs… and even Steelhead patterns. All of these patterns have been around since the beginning… but none with the notoriety and commercial success of the standard, Copper Bob.

    – The original Copper Bob was tied without the bead head that your pattern utilizes, as bead headed nymphs were just coming onto the scene at the time. Even after bead headed nymphs became all the rage, I still preferred to guide and fish with the original pattern. I believe that this style affords the guide or fisherman a greater degree of flexibility, allowing it to be to fished plain, for mid depth drifts, and with whatever size and color bead added to the leader for deeper drifts. The bead slides down the leader while casting, eliminating the
    “ball and chain” effect of a split shot. I carry a selection of multicolored brass, copper, and tungsten beads for just this purpose.
    If you try this… watch your tippet, as it’ll gradually fray and need to be replaced periodically. Eventually, we began tying them in both styles… with and without beads… and with and without rubber legs.
    The epoxy part was added later by my friends at the Montana Fly Company.

    – When I’m asked why I didn’t promote the concept/pattern, I remind folks that, at the time, I was a working guide in a very competitive area, and that my primary concern was to keep the fly a secret for as long as possible. Our guides were instructed never to leave any flies
    in their boats, and to use the heaviest tippet possible, as to not leave the pattern in the jaws of the fish we hooked, where it might be found and copied by our competitors. The Montana Fly Company approached me about producing the pattern, primarily because, one of those early tyers of the pattern now works for them. He knew of it’s origin, and was kind enough to ask if I’d mind lending my name to the pattern. Like you… I enjoy receiving a royalty for every one sold.

    John, I can assure you that I was just as surprised to see the “Copper John” hit the market as you were to hear of the “Copper Bob”… and just imagine what Frank Sawyer would think if he could read this!

    I’m very pleased that we finally had the chance to meet, and to share our stories. I hope that this letter will put any controversy to rest.

    Now… let’s go fishing!

    Most sincerely,
    Bob White

    Whitefish Studio & Small Fry Cards
    PO Box 261 – 240 6th Street
    Marine on St. Croix, Mn 55047

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