Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Evolution of Modern Streamers

Large predatory fish such as bass, trout, and pike species eat smaller fish. Predatory fish are the target of anglers for their strength and sport and have been for centuries. Over time, fly fishermen developed flies to take advantage of a predatory fish's ferocious tendencies.  While I am no fly fishing historian, I believe it was Isaac Walton who coined the term artificial fly in his book the Compleat Angler written in the 17th century.  However, I understand fishing with feathers tied to hooks dates to earlier human history.   Isaac Walton referred to the palmer fly giving rise to the venerable Woolly Worm.  The Woolly Worm, evolved into the ubiquitous and ambiguous Woolly Bugger, which may be the most common or at least most recognized streamer available.

The Woolly Bugger can imitate a minnow or swimming insect depending on the size of hook and color scheme.  Suffice to say, the use of flies to imitate smaller fish or swimming prey dates back to the beginning of fly fishing history.
Beyond the Woolly Bugger, fly fishermen developed feather-wing streamers ("featherwings"), which were far more complicated and either represented a particular baitfish or worked as an attractor pattern such as the images below. 
(obtained from
Classic featherwings were as much pieces of art as they were fishing tools. The flies were sparse and tied on extremely long shanked hooks.  From my informal research, this style of fly represented a fly angler's attempt to engineer a longer streamer with a larger profile*.

A practical observation reveals a few structural weaknesses in these flies.  First, extra long shanked hooks create a lever which can pry the hook loose from a fishes jaw during the fight.  Second, these flies do not use materials which allow for inherent motion with or without angler encouragement. And third, the fly is relatively two dimensional with very little footprint in the water and insubstantial profile.  Featherwings simply swim horizontally through the water and if paused the fly will remain motionless and slowly sink; relatively static.  The Woolly Bugger incorporates marabou as a tail which never stops moving, each fiber appears to wiggle when in the water.  However, like feather-wing streamers, the Woolly Bugger swims horizontally through the water and its size is limited to the length of the hook shank.  Both feather-wing streamers and the Woolly Bugger and its family tree caught fish, however the effectiveness of the fly patterns was limited.

In my opinion, the next major evolution of streamer patterns was the Clouser Minnow created by Bob Clouser for smallmouth bass.
Bob Clouser added weight to the front of a bucktail streamer two create a jigging effect.  This design allowed a streamer to dive when the angler stops imparting action to the fly, thus the fly could swim horizontally then vertically.   The added weight also allow the fly to be fished at a variety of depths.  Additionally, the jigging effect gave an erratic wounded effect to the fly, which would stimulate an attack.

While incorporating weight certainly advanced streamers and streamer fishing, there was still room to grow - enter Kelly Galloup and company**.  Mr. Galloup operated the now closed Troutsman Fly Shop out of Traverse City Michigan.  I believe that shop really started to change the streamer game.  Michigan trout streams do not generate the volume of big trout as western streams.  Probably because the western streams have more prolific bug life.  However, when a brown gets to be a certain size (in Michigan and out west) they primarily eat other fish and ignore insects but for a few select hatches.  Big browns do not eat very often but when they do they will eat other trout, lampreys, mice, frogs, basically anything that will fit in their mouth and Michigan fly tires started experimenting with streamer design to trigger a feeding instinct.  For instance, Galloup's Zoo Couger is a basic Muddler style pattern with an extremely large deer hair head that pushes water and a mallard flank feather along its back.  These two designs cause the fly to cut through the water in erratic and unpredictable ways, dipping, diving, wobbling, gliding at odd angles when stripped giving it both a large auditor footprint as well as a life like action.  Unlike the Clouser Minnow, the Zoo Couger didn't simply "jig" but it fought the water and struggled against the current giving it a truly attractive swimming motion.

Next came articulation.  By using a wire or monofilament loop glued to the hook, a fly tier could create a jointed fly that resembled the swimming motion of a deadly jointed Rapala and more importantly an injured baitfish.  This design was revolutionary for two reasons.  One, the articulation point gave the fly exceptionally lifelike movement in the water.  When coupled with materials such as marabou like the Woolly Bugger, and weight like the Clouser Minnow, the fly tier can design a fly that appear to swim mostly on its own without much intervention by the angler.  And two, the angler can make an extremely large fly with short shanked hooks, thus increasing the hook to catch ratio, thereby eliminating some of the structural issues of the classic featherwings.

The articulated streamer is the most recently evolution and tyers are continuing to tweak the design. A recent modification was created by Tommy Lynch, a fly called the Drunk & Disorderly ("D&D"). This fly takes designs from the Heifer Groomer (an articulated Zoo Cougar), the Swimmin' Jimmy (a Heifer Groom that uses an offset front hook).  Below are some of my versions of a D&D.

 What's different about this fly is the use of an inverted wide gap swimbait hook upon which the deerhair head is tied.  Also, the wide deerhair head is cut at a sharp angle causing it to dive and swim erratically.

I'm finding that the use of nontraditional fly hooks is perhaps the most recent small step in the evolution of the streamer.  With the flow of information now, I can't wait to see what comes next.

Here is a video which shows how to tie a D&D:

Tight Lines.

*There is a history to these flies, a history that has been well developed by academics and one that I am not qualified to discuss.  My observations regarding these flies are purely based on my fishing experience.

**Again, I am no historian and I am certain there were a number of creative streamer tying evolutions between the Wooly Bugger and Kelly Galloup, which I have omitted but such detail is for another post.

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