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:
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:
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:
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!