Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Lady Becomes a Bug

Back in the early 1950's, the late Don Leyden of Connecticut and the late Charles DeFeo of New York City, both avid salmon fisherman, developed the Shady Lady (Bates & Bates, Fishing Atlantic Salmon; the Flies and the Patterns, Stackpole, 1996).  As those authors note, the fly " essentially the familiar Black Bear Green Butt, with hackling substituted for the wing."

The pattern:  Tail:  Black hackle fibers
                    Body:  Rear third: medium green flourescent wool (or other flourescent wool colors)
                               Front two thirds: black wool
                    Ribbing:  Fine silver tinsel (more about this in a bit)
                    Hackle:  Black hackle palmered heavily over the front two thirds of the body
                    Head:  Black

Photo from page 194 of Bates and Bates; my ties of the fly on the left, Leyden's ties on right:

                                          CLICK ON THE PICS FOR THE BIG PICTURE

Interestingly, the ribbing, as described in Bates and Bates, is only applied to the black wool (forward two thirds) of the body.  However, my salmon camp pal Bill Tomiello knew Leyden well, and sent me a couple Shady Ladies Don tied and gave to him.  On these Ladies, Don started the ribbing all the way at the back of the fly, going over the flourescent wool as well as the black.  Probably a good way to keep the butt tied down (an interesting - well, to me, anyway - side note:  the method of locking in the butt, be it wool, floss or whatever, by bringing a piece of the material back over itself is commonly referred to as "Dunc's (Warren Duncan's) method.  My friend Brian Cuming of Fredricton, NB actually showed the method to Dunc at a fly tying gathering years ago in Fredricton; Dunc just popularized it.)

Bill's note to me and the flies Leyden tied for him:

The traditional Shady Lady remains a very effective atlantic salmon fly.  But what's up with having to describe it as traditional ?  Well, I bet if you ask most salmon fly anglers today if they have a Shady Lady in their fly box, they're going to dig around and hand you one of these - AKA a buck bug:

Lots of similarities of course, to Leyden's creation...the main difference is the spun deer hair body (hence, buck bug).  Often, as in the case of this fly, the tail has gone from being a bit of chicken feather to the tyer's flash du jour; krystal flash in this instance.

Where did bugs come from?  As with many things fly fishing, depends on who ya ask.  If you want to have some fun, get a bunch of old fly anglers together and ask questions like, "Who gets paternity for the dry fly in America ?" or "Who invented the streamer ?"  The discussion can get ugly quickly, trust me.  But I digress.

The good Reverend Elmer Smith (he of Bomber fame) is given credit in several sources for the development of the buck bug.  Dick Stewart and Farrow Allen, in their Flies for Atlantic Salmon (Northland Press, 1991) reported that "It is generally believed that the idea for the buck bug came from Father Elmer Smith...and is essentially a direct descendant of the highly successful Bomber that was introduced on the Miramichi during the early '60's."

Michael Brislain, in his Bugging the Atlantic Salmon (Goose Lane Editions, 1995) comes right out and says it: " 1970, Father Smith developed and used the first bug patterns, supposedly on New Brunswick's Nashwaak River."

But...but...but what about Bill Carter and his Carter's Bug???  It's 1961, and Bill (long story short)  is watching salmon in a pool, tosses a little piece of moss into the pool from his rock ledge vantage point, and watches big salmon attack it.  Goes home and ties what becomes Carter's Bug with loosely packed deer hair to imitate that piece of moss (paraphrased from Dewey Gillespie and Walter Kitchen's Where the Rivers Meet; The Fly Tyers of New Brunswick the 2nd Time Around. Their great bio's of New Brunswick tyers can be found at .

Here's a Carter's Bug, tied by none other than Bryant Freeman, the man to see for a Carter's Bug since Bill stopped tying.  Bryant has a great fly shop, Eskape Angler in Riverview, New Brunswick, and lots of history and beautiful flies on his site: .  You can learn the correct way to tie and fish the Carter's Bug there - if you don't have some in your fly box, you should.  It has always been a very effective fly.

So here we have two "sets", if you will, of essentially brown bugs being developed at approximately the same time in New Brunswick.  That happens.  I bet Aelian wasn't the only guy on the planet dapping some kind of fly into his home stream/river/lake/pond/whatever back around 200 A.D.   Oh, wait, that's right, Dame Julianna invented fly fishing....ok, I won't go there (lol, see above, dry fly paternity.  gets ugly fast).

But we're still not up to the buck bug Shady Lady, are we?  We need to explore some more, shall we say, divergent opinions first.  To get to the Shady Lady, somebody had to start using dyed deer hair for the body.
Enter THE GREEN MACHINE, the fly, to use my buddy and ridiculously good New Brunswick fly tyer Rob Feeney's description of it, the fly I love to hate.

On Gillespie and Kitchen's site (, there's a biography of Emerson Underhill, wherein Emerson tells the story of how he was experimenting with deer hair, to tie, of all things, the Shady Lady.  He dyed a lot of different colors, epecially green, and was spinning a hook with it when a young fella, who had been watching (this was at the farmer's market in Doaktown, NB in the early 1980's) named it the Green Machine for Emerson.

At the same time - and this is related in an article that Jerry Doak, proprietor of the famous W.W. Doak Fly Shop in Doaktown, NB ( wrote for American Fly Tyer magazine in 1987 as well as in Steve Raymond's Blue Upright; The Flies of a Lifetime (The Lyons Press, 2004) - an uncle of Miramichi guide, name of Evelock Gilks, was with a sport in Labrador where they saw an "unidentified, green clipped deer hair flies" in use.  He relayed the intel to Evelock, and he and some others played around with colors. They didn't have a lot of white deer hair to dye, so the brown they dyed green came out kind of olive. Eventually the fly got greener, and was known locally as the Green Gobbler.  I'm pretty sure it was Bryant Freeman who, after a great day with the bug, named it the Green Machine.  Jerry Doak did a heck of a job promoting the fly, and it's likely the most used fly on the Miramichi these days (he said with a sigh.)

So once again a fly may have evolved in two locations (albeit very close locations at the same time.  It happens.

The only Green Machine I'll ever tie (unless of course, someone orders them from me, then I'll be more than happy to tie 'em):

If you want to learn to tie one, my bud Howie Gould is the best there is at buck bugs, and you can watch his step by step video on tying one at his blog:

Ugh, sidetracked by the Green Machine.  Where were we?  Ah, yes, the Shady Lady.  This one appears to only have one possible answer:  the Shady Lady became a buck bug the day, back in the early '80's, that Emerson Underhill was having trouble making the hackle behave on some chenille-bodied Ladies he was tying.  He reasoned he'd have less trouble with a spun deer hair body, and he did.  The bug buck Shady Lady was born (read more on  It was about 1980.

I've fished a buck bug Shady Lady once...and hooked and landed a grilse on the first cast with it.  So I of course promptly switched back to a hairwing.

Well, yes, I know the bug version works, but I still like the original flavor better:

Friday, March 14, 2014

Fulsher, Krom and Warren

I've been blessed to have fished with, and been mentored in my fly tying, by three of the finest gentlemen and salmon anglers of their generation:  Keith Fulsher, Charlie Krom and Bob Warren.  Many of my favorite memories of fishing the Miramichi include these men...learning experience after learning experience, and laugh after laugh.

I can't even fathom the fly tying knowledge represented in this photo, taken at a fly tying expo at Ramsey Outdoors in New Jersey some years ago:

Click on the pics for enlarged photos!

Left to right: Ted Patlen, Bob Warren, Keith Fulsher, the late Warren Duncan, and Charlie Krom

I first fished with Bob at what was then Vin Swazey's Tuckaway Cabins (now Bullock's Lodge) in 1998. He netted my first fish, a grilse, hooked on a Black Bear Green Butt tied by Keith Fulsher; Renate Bullock captured the moment (Bob no longer smokes):

A year later, salmon camp became quite a place for a neophyte salmon angler like me.  Here's coffee time with the group:

Left to right: Bob Warren, the late Dr. Dick Jogodnik, Vin Swayze, Charlie Krom, Pam Bates Richards, Keith Fulsher, and the camp lightweight, yours truly.

I was not tying salmon flies yet, but watching Keith and Charlie at the vise surely piqued my interest!
(photo by Pam Bates Richards)

Among hairwing salmon fly tyers, the phrase "Fulsher and Krom" is synonymous with what has become a classic salmon fly tying book, Hairwing Atlantic Salmon Flies, published in 1981 by Fly Tyer, Inc.  My copy is well worn!

A beautiful sampling of their original creations is pictured in Joseph D. Bates, Jr. and Pamela Bates Richards' Fishing Atlantic Salmon; the Flies and the Patterns published by Stackpole in 1996 (more about this book later):

The best part of doing the Yale Angler's Club fundraising auction back in the late '90's or thereabouts was hanging out with Keith and Charlie.  They always sat way in the back of the room; it was fun making eye contact with them as I went through the auction and seeing if I could make them laugh.  I think I did.

Keith Fulsher's first book centered on Thunder Creek streamers, named for a Wisconsin stream.  Tying and Fishing the Thunder Creek Series was published in 1973 by Freshet Press.  My copy has survived moves from New York to South Carolina to Vermont (and looks it).

The last time I fished with Keith was a few years back down in New Jersey.  He gave me this little Thunder Creek treasure at the end of a fine day.  What a memento!

In 2008, Atlantic Salmon Fly Tyer; A Memoir, by Keith, was published.  My cherished copy:

I always enjoyed receiving, out of nowhere, one of Keith's flies in the mail:

Charlie Krom is still busy cooking up new flies at his home in Tennessee.  Last year he sent me a copy of the notebook he put together on his Three Hackle Holographic Spey Fly series.

I told Charlie that I was going to give the Three Hackle a try in the colors of my Celtic Beauty (claret and dark green.)  I had dyed up a batch of silver pheasant, teal and pintail in dark green; I thought they'd make a nice front hackle over a smaller dark green rooster saddle feather underhackle.  I sent Charlie a batch of them, and wouldn't you know, not long later I received this letter:

Up close and personal, fly number 2:

Couldn't resist making a stab at it myself:

I'm very anxious to swing Charlie's Three Hackle Holographic flies in the Miramichi this summer!

Like Keith, over the years, Charlie sent me some beautiful flies:

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Bob Warren netted my first atlantic salmon.  2014 will mark the 16th year we've been in salmon camp together.  These days his way better half Linda comes along, too (and usually out-fishes at least me!)

Bob edited the inspirational (that's the only way I can describe it) Fishing Atlantic Salmon; the Flies and the Patterns, mentioned earlier in this post.

A few of his creations are included in the book:

If you click on the photo above, you'll see a key to the flies on the page.  Bob's Cutty Sark is number 5, his After Eight is number 2, his Green Prawn is number 4 and his Bullock's Bar is number 10.

Bob also did the hairwing conversions of classic featherwings in Dick Stewart and Farrow Allen's Flies for Atlantic Salmon (Northland Press, Inc., 1991).

I would not venture out onto a salmon river without two of his creations:  the Cutty Sark in the Summer, and the Golden Pheasant Spey in the autumn.

A Cutty tied by Bob:

He spent an awful lot of time with me, teaching me how to get the teal feather to behave (its the tented wing on the Cutty).  Slowly, I think I'm getting it...but I don't think I'll ever get my heads to look like his...or Charlie's or Keith's for that matter!

Then there's the Golden Pheasant Spey.  Ask my bud's Howie Gould and Paul Elson if its an effective fly.  Heh heh, I hooked fish in front of them and behind them last October on the Northwest.  Did I mention they got blanked? Sorry guys...couldn't resist - they smoked me over the next couple days, anyway.

I no longer have one of Bob's ties of the GPS; mine will have to do for the up close and personal:

It is featured, along with several other of Bob's creations, in Bob Veverka's richly done Spey Flies; How to Tie Them (Stackpole 2004):

Do these two flies work?  If one picture is worth a thousand words, here's three thousand words on the subject:

I've been profoundly fortunate to meet and learn from these three men.  Would that we could all bend feathers and fur around a hook the way they can.  I'm very proud to call them friend.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The RBM Salmon Fly

RBM stands for Renate Bullock's Muddler, a fly that is pretty unique among atlantic salmon flies swimming the Miramichi system.   Designed by Renate back in 1993, my good friend and two-handed casting mentor Bill Tomielli of New Jersey was the first to tie it to a tippet and hook a salmon with it that year.  It hooked five salmon it's first day in the river.

Renate ties it with both blue and black heads, and a variety of floss body colors.  Her basic recipe:

Hook  - Mustad 3665A, most often in sizes 4 and 6
Tag     - flat silver tinsel
Body   - floss of several colors (chiefly chartreuse) underwrapped with silver mylar
Rib      - flat silver tinsel
Wing   - 6 strands of fine, limp, pearl flashabou  and 6 strands Krystal Flash
Collar  -  wrapped black hen under unclipped deer hair
Head   - deer hair clipped muddler-style

She often uses the two-tone RBM pictured above in the fall; here's one of her favorite summer variations:

I think one of the fly's most important features is the pearl flashabou in the wing.  It flashes incredibly, and I vividly remember watching the fly, on a day when the Miramichi was particularly clear, swing and sparkle across the current...right into the corner of the mouth of a grilse that came out of nowhere to grab it.

That experience with the RBM was all I needed to tie up a batch of them in Renate's recommended color schemes.  She fishes it June through October, varying the size and color to suit the river's mood.  It even takes kelts in the Spring.

She told me recently that last fall, Bill T. tied one up with a copper body, copper and gold flash and a black head that he hooked two salmon with during his week on the river.

The RBM is now "calendar quality", too!

Renate is an incredible person.  She started salmon fishing with her husband Fred on their honeymoon at Rocky Bend in 1966.  She was, as they say, hooked.  In 1977, she and Fred acquired their riverfront home in Boiestown from "Griff-Inns" Outfitter Clayton Stewart.  She got her first guiding license at about that time so that she could take family and friends salmon fishing...right out the front door (color me green with envy concerning the place Renate calls home!).   She sent me these winter photos of her "back yard" just the other day:

In 1986, downriver neighbor Vin Swayze approached Renate and Fred about leasing their pools (School House, Pine, Elbow and Home...I've landed salmon in all of them) for sports coming to his Tuckaway Cabins outfitting business.  The deal was done...and Renate became a Guide 1...the first licensed female guide 1 on the river, working for Vin.

I hooked my first atlantic salmon, a grilse, under Renate's tutelage, in 1998.  Kind of a funny story, really:  It was my first morning ever fishing for salmon.  I was with great friends Pam Bates Richards and Bob Warren. The late Gardner Grant knew of my impending trip, and gave me a small box of flies for the occasion...tied by none other than Keith Fulsher.  Renate picked out a Black Bear Green Butt for me and tied it on my tippet ("turle knot, what's a turle knot?!).  I stepped into the river at Elbow Pool, and on my second feeble cast, I hooked a grilse.  Landed it, remarking, "What's so hard about salmon fishing?"  Renate and I with that first fish:

About a dozen years later, Renate said something, in an email to me, to the effect that when she first met me, she wasn't sure she was going to like me.  But wouldn't say why.   That summer, on the river, I wheedled it out of her:  it was my cocky comment about salmon fishing not being so tough years earlier that got her dander up.  Fortunately for me, she learned, over the years, that I often say dumb things, and now she just laughs at with me!

Renate is a patient teacher.  She is an incredible caster in her own good as any I've ever seen...and imparts her knowledge subtly and understandingly.  She just seems to know when to step in and lend a hand to a struggling caster.   But can she hook and land fish?  ha.  Her best is a 37 pounder.

Renate's talents as a cook and host make for memorable meals and occasions.  I relish (pun intended) invites to the table she sets!

She even brings that kind of thoughtful largesse to the boat!  Renate, Vin and I usually get to take an early summer brook trout trip...we never go hungry or thirsty thanks to her!

Renate was elected to the Atlantic Salmon Museum (in Doaktown, NB) Hall of Fame in 2012.  She stands in awesome company, and very deservedly so.  I was proud to be there as she accepted her award.

And delighted when she broke out her accordion to give us a rendition of her song, "The Guiding Lady."

Photographer, guide, chef, musician...Renate is all those things, and more; she's a friend.  I hope you get to fish with her and enjoy her experiences and talents at Bullock's Lodge ( ).  The fishing is as good as it gets on the Miramichi there, and it is the most reasonably priced atlantic salmon fishing on the river.