Ruined For Life – Part I

Guest Blogger: Michael Vorhis, author of ARCHANGEL suspense thriller, OPEN DISTANCE adventure thriller & more to come

A Chinook Head

I’m ruined. Not from the stock market or some grand jury indictment, but because I’ve tasted the raw power of the Chinook Salmon. Ended up tasting that salmon too, but still it defeated me, because I’ll never be the same. Like the motorcyclist who hops on a volcano-powered Suzuki for the first time or a hardballer who gets ahold of a fastball by sheer luck and thereafter can’t stop himself from swinging for the fences, all I can think of these days is the brutish muscle of the wild Chinook.

So goodbye, beautiful little micro-stream trout dimpling yourselves up to germ-sized mosquitoes just after dawn! You may one day occupy my thoughts again, but today is not that day. When I imagine myself on the stream now, the fantasy is suddenly a serious river, with a rapids below me that roars rather than gurgles, and I’m gripping a surf-casting-length rod in two white-knuckled hands. I’m doing the semaphore-esque gyrations of a spey man, and I’m shooting a T-17 sink tip…whatever the heck that is…farther than a normal man can see.

And when I feel the urge to sit down to my tying bench, it’s not to wind myself up a sniveling little Copper John, no…it’s not to join a few strands of golden pheasant tail to a #18 hook bend, or to spin some tiny tuft of dull olive dubbing onto wispy gossamer thread. Can’t help it–even buggers now seem small. I find myself thinking in terms of tying something roughly the size of a goose.

There’s a staple, an ubiquitous warrior, in this business–a serious go-to salmon and steelhead pattern: It’s called The Intruder, probably because of what it does to your dreams. There are many flavors and versions of this streamer, including variants of the “Hoh Bo,” variants of the so-called “Guide Intruder,” and probably a hundred other individual tyers’ names…and yet they all have one commonality–the “stinger” hook. It’s a hook that trails along behind the body of the fly by roughly 1.5 inches, and it is the essence, the very definition, of the Intruder, with every other feature pretty much just a matter of variation and preference. A stinger hook has a triple purpose: (1) It assuages the fears of fishermen who think overlong-shanked hooks give fish “leverage” to pry the point from their jaws, (2) it avoids the streamer itself being chomped on throughout a protracted fight, and (3) It gives fish who strike casually and with ambivalent aim a pointy surprise.

The fly itself used to be tied on a long-shanked hook, after which the bend and point were cut off, leaving only the loop to which the stinger was later applied–I think the cut was done to comply with single hook laws and because removal from a toothy predator’s mouth doesn’t need the extra complication of a second point and barb…but that’s a guess.

Then came articulated shaft extenders (J.Stockard stocks numerous types) and tube fly technology, and hook-wasting faded for some tyers into distant memory…although not for all, as I’ll explain. I don’t see a big advantage of shaft extenders vs. tube fly approaches for the Intruder (and I suspect tube fly versions are not called Intruders anymore, but I could be wrong). But a good long hook shank is still a superb way to go, and “wasting” a big hook can be no more expensive than using one of the other methods, and often far less. I’ve found 4x-long 7/0 carp hooks that make big, strong, fabulous Intruder shanks, at very low cost. So I’m tying mine with the articulated shaft extenders and with the shafts of long stout hooks.

Articulated Shaft Extender

Regardless of what serves as the shank, the stinger hook itself can then be easily attached, and easily replaced…not that that’s any big advantage in my opinion, but then I’ll no doubt change my mind the moment a 40-pounder straightens a hook out on me. But the hook is attached on the stream, and so the angler can cram a bunch of hookless Intruders into a fly box with abandon and still hope to snake one out without them all hooking together like those monkeys-in-a-barrel toys…and without putting a piece of thumb meat on a hook as bait. And an angler can also expeiment with different hook sizes and bends, even right there on the stream. Big ol’ Chinooks may need a larger hook than a Coho, for example, so it can depend on what’s running.

Big Hook Shaft

All the various versions of Intruder look good, and people swear by each, so I won’t presume to guess which are better than which…and it surely depends more on the river, the light, the flow, the fish species, and the angler. So myself, I’ve just picked a few variations randomly for my own fly box, and will add more as time permits…and as they get mangled.

So then the next decision is color…and it’s an interesting topic I think. My migratory salmonid experience is still a little light but I think my powers of observation are not. I’ve noticed for quite a few years that every pink or purple streamer I’ve ever seen is promoted as a steelhead or salmon fly, and I think the number of local non-migrating trout I’ve ever caught on any fly that had purple or more than trace amounts of blue in it could be counted on a couple of hands. This could be just strange statistics at work, but that’s been my experience–olives and browns and blacks and reds and greys have prevailed with non-migratory trout populations. And such a large slice of Intruder patterns tied in front of a video camera these days seem to lean heavily on purples, pinks and blues. There’s some chartreuse and orange in the picture too of course…more often than not it’s used in combination with the purplish and bluish hues, or with a lot of black or really dark purple (an excellent color) for contrast.

That’s a lot of historic weight–a lot of belief held by many thousands of excellent anglers, a lot of confidence in the colors closer to the ultraviolet end of the spectrum. I see few reds, yellows or browns anywhere in evidence in Pacific-run steelhead and salmon streamers–they’re tied, surely, but I have not seen many. And the last time I ganged an orange streamer with a pink rabbit-hair zonker, the Chinook that came to call voted instantly for the pink one.

My unofficial theory: Once a fish has been to the sea, maybe its eyes change a little…the very rainbows that used to chase reds and olives and browns, now that they’re steelheads they go after magentas. The theory sounds silly and maybe it is, but one way or another these fish become more a sucker for colors approaching the indigo shades. Yes, chartreuse and orange seem to defy that theory, so maybe the lesson to learn is more that migratory fish want “high contrast” and essentially “gaudy” flies, more than they require UV-spectrum shades. However one imagines it, remembering the popularity of what everyone else seems to tie and use should steer us to good Intruder color choices.

Colors of Materials

Matching fly color to river conditions is a topic fraught with unsubstantiated opinion, but also with experience that proves out. Some swear by chartreuse for Chinook but less so for Steelhead. Clear water and sunny days see some anglers bringing out the oranges and even reds, although usually mixed with black for contrast. More turgid flood-stage water tends to need extra visibility help so out come the pinker hues, although pink does quite well on clear sunny days if swinging and stripping in the partial shadow of trees.

So going with pinks, purples and blues, with some chartreuse-and-dark-blue and orange-and-black thrown in, is an excellent plan. Think bright with an effective silhouette. Black, for the ultimate silhouette, can also be really good, some say especially in winter. Then gang them together on the leader and see what shades work, and I’ll bet a nickel the shorter wavelengths will prove themselves overall.

Intruders can imitate baitfish, big leeches, perhaps shrimp or crayfish or other swimming crustaceans…you name it. Whatever it appears to be, make it look like it’s in trouble and/or it’s getting away.

Part 2 of this article will go into materials selection, tying techniques, and basic features of the tie itself.

6 thoughts on “Ruined For Life – Part I

  1. Jim Murphy

    Love the blog but I’m still “hooked” on small streams, size 20-14 drys, nymphs, runs, ripples and pools and finikie little brooks, browns and regular old boring rainbows. Someday you’ll probably turn from the “dark side” and return to the ligth….but your blog got me thinkin.

    Reply
    1. Michael J Vorhis

      Jim, I’m with you a hundred percent. The title was just a teaser–I’m not really ruined for life (as a later article will clarify). Got out 2 weeks ago to throw some real big streamers on my local river using a spey rod…switched back to the 5-weight 9-footer after 2 hours and my brain said, “Ahhhhhhh, now that’s nice….”

      Reply
  2. Mary S. Kuss

    I enjoyed Part 1 of your article on Intruders, and am looking forward very much to Part 2. I didn’t take that “ruined for life” bit seriously. I suspect that you share my view that when it comes to different flavors of fishing, variety is the spice of life. I’ve used some Intruder patterns for big Smallmouth Bass and they worked very well indeed. I was having a lot of fish come unbuttoned on a #6 Egg-Sucking Leech patterns one day, and on impulse switched to a chartreuse and black Intruder I happened to have in my box. Landing percentage dramatically improved. I do think there’s something to the theory that it’s easier for a fish to throw a long-shank hook.

    Reply
    1. Michael Vorhis

      Thanks Mary. Intruders are a blast to tie, in part because they’re such a monstrous splash of color and form. Note that I have caught nothing yet on the ones I’ve tied, but they look good to me and they move well in the water–that’s a start. I do believe that eyes greatly improve the effectiveness of a fish-imitating streamer.

      Thanks for sharing your experience about the risks of long hook shanks–there are a lot of us who’d rather learn that lesson from reading your experience than by losing fish.

      Variety is a spice of fishing life, yes…but I admit an ongoing partiality to the kind of fly fishing Jim Murphy described. Anyway I can’t blame big salmon or spey; my own ruination began long before they entered my life. There was this cheesy billiards place behind the town, see, where cigar smoke ruled and where the nuns of the school dared not go looking for hookey-playing boys, and…well, never mind.

      Reply
  3. David Townsend

    The use of a sacrifice hook shank for the front of an intruder tends to fray the connector line (or even wire)after prolonged use. I have switched entirely to commercial shanks or tubes for this style fly after having lost a couple of fish because of broken off stingers.

    Reply
    1. Michael Vorhis

      Haven’t had mine in service that many hours and I’ve been using three different kinds of shanks (one of them a large rounded-metal bobby-pin, which makes for a very strong & very heavy fly). But I noticed the possibility of the fraying you mention David; good point. I started bending a loop in the shank’s aft end and coating it with something, to try to keep that from happening. If nothing else it’ll help some. The huge 7/0 carp hooks I bought to use as shanks do also make real nice flies, although I might just leave the hook bend on ’em, as it’s big and sharp and serves as a bit of a keel to ensure up is up and down is down.

      Reply

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