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Category: Fly Tying Tips

Fly tying tips by Walter Wiese

3 Tips for Creating Imitations of Impaired Insects

3 Tips for Creating Imitations of Impaired Insects

In this previous post, I talk about reasons to fish imitations of impaired insects, including both aquatic insects that are struggling or dead and terrestrial insects that have fallen into the water. In this post, I give three easy tips for creating imitations of impaired insects. Since all terrestrial insects are by their nature impaired, since no grasshopper or ant or whatever chooses to drop into the water for a dip, I’ll focus on aquatic insect imitations.

1. Tie Patterns to Float Low in the Water

Imitations of impaired aquatic insects don’t float high and perky. They float low in the surface film or even slightly underneath it. All flies tied to suggest these insects should do the same. There are a lot of ways of accomplishing this.

For mayflies, caddisflies, and midges, tying flies that either have hackle only above the hook (parachute and paraloop flies), have the hackle trimmed underneath, as in my Hazy Cripple series and most other cripple-style patterns, or lack hackle entirely, as in the Sparkle Dun or No Hackle flies, is the easiest way of accomplishing this.

Here’s an Improved Sparkle Dun, for example:

With stoneflies, use predominately natural materials such as hair and synthetic materials such as acrylic yarn rather than foam, or tie patterns whose back ends lack foam so they ride underwater while the front half is above. The Parks’ Salmonfly is a good example, as is the more-popular Sunken Stone.

Here’s a Sunken Stone:

Image of Sunken Stone Fly Pattern Serving as an Example in a Blog Article.
Image courtesy Fly Tying New and Old.

2. Include Nymphal or Pupal Shucks or Elements Suggestive of Egg-Laying

Impaired insects that are emerging often get trapped in their nymphal shucks, and through natural selection the trout have “learned” that these insects are easy prey and won’t fly away anytime soon. Likewise, insects that are egglaying have to dip their abdomens in the water and often get sucked under in doing so. The Sunken Stone pictured above features a brown egg sack suggestive of egglaying for just this reason, and is a good example of how to accomplish this for stoneflies.

Both egg sacks and nymphal/pupal shucks can be imitated by using a tuft of sparkly synthetic yarn in place of a tail. On mayflies, this shuck is usually brown, but olive or gray are good choices for some insects. The shuck should be paler than but otherwise match the general coloration of the nymph. On midges, gray is almost always a good color. On caddis, amber or ginger are good colors most of the time, one reason my Clacka Caddis has a ginger tail regardless of the overall color of the pattern. Tan and olive can also be good. Match the general color of the pupa.

Here’s my Clacka Caddis, in pink, an attractor color. Note the shuck, and also the fact that the hackle is trimmed underneath as I note above:

3. Tie Wings Either Spent or “Damaged.”

Dead insects or living ones with bent, broken, or otherwise damaged wings aren’t going to fly away. Match these features with “spent” wings tied to either side of the fly or a short “butt” wing. All species of common aquatic insects except stoneflies can be tied with butt-style wings. All insects can be tied with spent wings, though their orientation should be slightly different with mayflies vs caddis and stoneflies.

Here’s a good example of a wing butt for a mayfly or midge, as illustrated by the short bit of white yarn protruding from under the hackle on my Purple Hazy Cripple. Note also the trailing nymphal shuck. The hackle is trimmed short under the fly as well, though this is not obvious from the pic:

Purple Hazy Fly pattern to illustrate a point in a fly fishing article about tying mayfly wings to suggest crippled insects

The common feature of spent wings on all aquatic insect imitations is that they should be splayed out to the sides of the fly. With caddis, stoneflies, and midges, these should have a rearward orientation, with the wings protruding in a general “vee” shape. With caddis and midges, the wings should be at least roughly divided to either side of the fly at about a 45-degree angle. Here’s my version of a Caddis Cripple dry showing this feature, as well as clipped hackle to help the fly ride low:

With stoneflies, which normally carry their wings folded flat over their backs and only spread them to fly, there’s no need to “split” the wing, though you may if you like. Instead, simply splaying the wing completely over the top of the fly works fine. You can do this on an already-tied fly by mashing your thumb on top of the wing at its tie-in point to give it a crumpled appearance.

With mayflies, a truly spent fly, whether a drowned dun or an egg-layer that has dropped its eggs and died, lays with its wings at almost 90-degree angles to the sides. This is shown in all of the popular spinner patterns, as well as this image of the real thing:

spent mayfly showing wing orientation for a blog article on fly tying
Image courtesy Frosty Fly

That said, fishing imitations of spent mayflies underwater is very effective, and when spent mayflies are sucked under, their wings will splay backward somewhat. This can be matched by tying the wings back at 45 degrees as noted above for caddis and midges, or by using soft hackle that will naturally sweep back and pulsate in the current.


There are certainly other ways of matching impaired insects, but the above tips will put you on the right track, and are the three I use the most. Happy fishing and tying!

Fly Tying Vid: Mayer’s Mini Leech and Discussion of New Fly Design

Fly Tying Vid: Mayer’s Mini Leech and Discussion of New Fly Design

Mayer’s Mini Leech and Discussion of New Fly Design

This one is a little different. I first tie a basic leech pattern, Mayer’s Mini Leech, then go through the steps I’ve taken to develop this basic idea into a different pattern imitating a small sculpin. This is the process I typically follow when designing new patterns, and I thought viewers might be interested in my mindset as I work out a new fly.

New Sizes of Bob Hoppers for 2019!

New Sizes of Bob Hoppers for 2019!

new sizes of Bob Hoppers
Peach Bob Hoppers will be available in #10-14 for 2019.

For 2019, all of the most popular and effective colors of Bob Hoppers will be available in additional sizes. Peach and pink, the two most effective colors in general, will be available in #10 through #14. Depending on color, we’ll have most colors in at least one additional size, sometimes #10 and sometimes #12, and we’ll certainly be playing with even larger versions. Salmonfly Bobs, anyone? In the past, we’ve only had these in #14. The larger versions worked great with the high water and plentiful grasshoppers we had last year, and are big enough to float tungsten-headed nymphs. Full availability for these new sizes of Bob Hoppers will be in late May and June. We expect to sell out of all of them no later than late August, except for guide use, of course…

Check out this post for a video on how to tie these larger Bobs.

Top Three Spring Creek Flies for Late February

Top Three Spring Creek Flies for Late February


Provided it’s warm enough you can stand it and not so windy you blow away, late February can be a great time to fish the Paradise Valley spring creeks. While streamers can draw a few big eats and if you luck into a calm day in the 30s or 40s there could be midge or winter BWO hatches, nymphing is the way to rack up the numbers. Here are my top three flies for late February. They remain good in March, too.

If you don’t care to tie these flies, we sell the first and third in the shop.

NOTE: rainbow trout spawning activity begins on the creeks in February. It’s important to let them do their business in peace. Make sure to avoid fishing or walking over redds (spawning nests), which are areas of shallow gravel that the fish have swept clean of algae and debris. These areas will look paler or brighter in color than other gravel. Some redds can be quite large, larger than a dining room table, but most are perhaps three feet in diameter. It’s okay to fish the deeper water downstream of these redds, and in fact these areas are often the best areas to target non-spawning fish, since the spawning activity leaves eggs in the drift and also disturbs aquatic insect larvae/pupae and nymphs, which the fish in the deeper water pick off.

Top Flies

All of these pattern should generally be ticked along the bottom with or without a shot, and should be fished in pretty small sizes. Use 5X or 6X tippet. Fluorocarbon is not a bad choice.


wd-40 nymph
WD-40 Nymph

This simple nymph is my favorite pattern overall in February, regardless of where I’m fishing. It does a good job imitating both BWO nymphs and midge pupae, making it an excellent crossover pattern covering the two most important food items on the menu at this time of year. Fish it in #18 and #20, with or without a gold beadhead. The wing case can be replaced with tinsel if you want a bit more flash in the pattern.

  • Hook: #18-22 scud.
  • Bead (optional): gold brass.
  • Thread and Abdomen: 8/0 olive-dun.
  • Tail: lemon wood duck flank.
  • Wing Case: lemon wood duck flank.
  • Thorax: gray dubbing.

Red/Black/Brown Triple Threat Worm

triple threat worm
Triple Threat Worm

San Juan Worms of all kinds are good choices in late winter and spring, but on the creeks they must be slender and sparse. The tricolor Triple Threat Worm has worked well for me on the creeks for more than a decade.

  • Hook: #16-18 scud (on the creeks, #12 is great on larger water).
  • Bead: gold brass.
  • Thread: 8/0 or 10/0 black.
  • Front Segment: red midge Ultra Chenille.
  • Rear Segment: brown midge Ultra Chenille.
  • Body: Black micro tubing coated with head cement.

Pink Flashtail Mini Egg

flashtail mini egg
Flashtail mini egg

Some might regard eggs as cheating, but they do “match the hatch,” since as I noted above some eggs drift loose after spawning. These eggs invariably die, and take on a pale creamy pink appearance when they do. This particular egg pattern adds a hint of flash and is realistically small. Other similarly-small egg patterns are also worth a shot.

  • Hook: #16-18 scud.
  • Thread: white 75-100 denier gel spun.
  • Tail: small pearl or opal tinsel.
  • Egg: January or other pale pink McFlyFoam, with an orange eye spot, spun and clipped round.
Fly Tying Demo – Saturday February 2 2019 – Colorado Springs

Fly Tying Demo – Saturday February 2 2019 – Colorado Springs

I (Walter) will be giving a fly tying demo at Peak Fly Shop in Colorado Springs, CO, on Saturday February 2, from 10AM until noon. I’ll be tying “Tourist season flies for the Yellowstone River,” with a heavy emphasis on dry flies.

Looking for copies of my books? I’ll have them available for a discounted rate, cash-only.

Hope to see you there!