Simple Flies – Soft Hackle Streamer

Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, Montana

What is known as the Soft Hackle Streamer is a Jack Gartside creation of some 25 years ago.  A prominent fly tyer and innovator, Gartside created the traditional Gartside Soft Hackle Streamer as a simple concoction of marabou and mallard flank feathers.  The original uses a solid colored marabou with a few turns of barred mallard flank to add some mottling to the front of the fly.  A few strands of tinsel were added for some flash.  Of course it is the seductive nature of soft hackle type feathers that make this style of fly a productive streamer.  Even using the Gartside formula, it can be tied with just about any color combination you want.  What’s different today are some newer materials that adapt brilliantly to the Soft Hackle Streamer design.

Whenever it was introduced, Barred Marabou created opportunities to add more realistic contrasts to streamer type flies.  It is now a common addition to Woolly Bugger tails and a variety of saltwater patterns.  The introduction of finely barred marabou by Hareline and Montana Fly has provided a material perfectly suited for the Soft Hackle Streamer design.  Add on Fish Masks and eyes by Flymen Fishing and you have the perfect combination for a simple to tie but upgraded Soft Hackle Streamer.

My adaption of the pattern includes the use of hen hackle and Polarflash for a body and mini-barred marabou for the wing.  The hen hackle and flash add a sharp contrast to the body underneath the marabou wing while the barred marabou replaces the need to add a mottled flank feather.

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Pine Squirrel Woolly Bugger – Revisited

Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, Montana

My first post for the J. Stockard blog back in July 2014 was about the Pine Squirrel Bugger, a non-traditional adaptation of the woolly bugger style. In the intervening six years I’ve tied 100s to fish with, donate and swap. Over the years, the Pine Squirrel Bugger has continued to produce on SW Montana trout. When I look back at what I wrote in 2014, it is evident that my buggers have subtly evolved somewhat since then.

Probably the biggest improvement has been the use of barbless hooks from Firehole Outdoors. When I went with the Firehole Sticks, I first used models 718 and 839 in size 6 and 4. But that changed when the models 811/860 were released. The straight eye streamer hooks are a perfect match for the Pine Squirrel bugger. The heavy wire hook has eliminated the need to use any lead-free wire in the fly. On a short, stout tippet and sink tip lines, these flies get down quick. The tying steps haven’t changed much in six years. I did abandon the use of super glue on the body as it tended to foul the Pine Squirrel hair during wrapping and I haven’t noticed any loss of durability on the water.

The most important adaptation has been using Finn Raccoon fur for the tail instead of Marabou. The Finn Raccoon is very supple and has a built-in contrast between the guard hairs and under fur. It is available in a wide variety of colors so is very adaptable to the bugger style. More importantly, I find it far more durable than the fragile marabou. These buggers catch fish and I found that after just a few fish, the marabou had lost much of its bulk. Not so with the Finn Raccoon.

In 2017, I wrote about the importance of color contrasts in fly design and how fish respond to contrasts in flies. As such, most of the Pine Squirrel buggers I tie today have contrasting colors of Finn Raccoon in the tail. Typically a dark color on top and a lighter color below. Big Hole River trout are noted for their preference for flies with bright yellow in them. As such I started tying a few Pine Squirrel buggers with fluorescent yellow or orange fur for the under tail. This creates quite a contrast in the water. Seems to do the trick no matter where I fish them. In addition to creating the bi-colored tails with Finn Raccoon, I begun adding grizzly, dyed grizzly or Cree hackles to each side of the tail flat-wing style. This creates a barred look and adds to the overall contrasts in the fly. Had to do something with all those bugger packs.

Although the wire wrapped, zonked Pine Squirrel bodies haven’t really changed, I did experiment with two modifications. One was the use of two colors of Pine Squirrel. I wrapped the rear 2/3rds of the body with one color and then used a different color for the forward 1/3. Usually the forward section was somewhat darker than the rear section. I thought this gave a good impression of sculpin coloration. The second modification adopted a technique from a very popular fly out here in SW Montana, the Sparkle Minnow. This sculpin imitation is essentially tied almost 100% with flash material making a bright, sparkly fly that gets recommended for clear sun shiny days on Montana streams. Instead of using Pine Squirrel for the forward 1/3 of the body, I’ve used several wraps of an EP Minnow Brush or palmer chenille to create a bright, sparkly front end for my Pine Squirrel bugger. The few times I’ve been able to fish these, they have produced.

For the angler that likes to fish unweighted streamers, it’s hard to not fish a woolly bugger style fly. The Pine Squirrel bugger is a proven fish taker. They’ve been a popular contribution to a number of streamer swaps as well. To that end there is no better investment a tier make than a few zonked Pine Squirrel skins and a few patches of Finn raccoon.

Simple Flies – The Bi-Visible

Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, Montana

The Bi-Visible pattern was conceived and named sometime in the 1920s. It is most commonly referred to as the Brown Bi-Visible, but as a pattern, brown is just one iteration of the versatile pattern. For the fly tier, the Bi-Visible is indeed simple. For the angler, the Bi-Visible is both “Visible” on the water and if tied with quality dry fly hackle is a high floater that retains its flotation properties well.

The Bi-Visible was popularized by angler and author Edward Ringwood Hewitt in his 1926 work Telling on the Trout. Fishing in waters where trout preferred darker dry flies was problematic in low light or conditions with shadows and glare on the surface. Seeing a small dark colored fly during an evening rise can be frustrating. Hewitt wrote that the addition of a bright white or cream hackle to the front of an otherwise dark colored fly improved its visibility to the angler immensely. But the Bi-Visible as we know it today has its roots in flies many centuries old, the Palmer. First documented in the 1600s, the Palmer Worm introduced the tying technique of wrapping a hackle from the hook bend forward to the hook eye. The technique eventually became known as Palmering and is used today in a wide variety of wet and dry flies. Probably the most contemporary use of palmering hackle on dry flies are the Elk Hair Caddis and Stimulator. The densely wrapped dry fly hackle for the body on these flies makes them high floaters. From a simplicity standpoint, the Bi-Visible couldn’t be easier to tie. Rube Cross in The Complete Fly Tier (1936) dedicates an entire chapter to the style.


To tie a Bi-Visible start a thread base and tie-in a typical dry fly tail if desired. Deer or Moose Hair can also be used for tailing. With the thread at the hook bend, tie in the body hackle. If you use hackle from a cape, tie in the feather at the tip. If using a saddle hackle, you can tie in at the butt. Apply dubbing to the thread and wrap a thin body 2/3rds the way up the hook shank. Dubbing is optional but does provide a soft base for the hackle and can add another level of contrast to the fly. Wrap the hackle forward in tight turns over the dubbed body, tie off and clip. Tie in the front hackle at the butt and wrap forward in tight wraps. Bi-Visibles should be heavily hackled. Finish the fly with a whip finish or half-hitches.

Color variations and combinations are a matter of choice, but an over-arching principle should be a bright, lightly colored front hackle that contrasts with the body hackle. White, cream or silver badger hackles make excellent Bi-Visibles. One technique uses two contrasting hackles for the body with the lighter hackle extended to the front of the fly. An “Adams” variation can be tied using a dark brown hackle and light grizzly hackle over a gray dubbing. Both hackles are wound forward to the 2/3rds point but only the brown hackle is trimmed. The grizzly hackle is wrapped all the way to the hook eye to create the light colored front hackle. Some authors also tout adding a couple of turns of bright hackle to the front of more traditional flies to create flies like the Royal Coachman Bi-Visible.

The Bi-Visible is not only easy to tie, but it floats well and is unbiased when it comes to “matching the hatch”. On the Big Hole River not too long ago, there was an early morning Brown Drake hatch along with some caddis and small stone flies. Fish were steadily feeding in tight seams along a grass bank. It was difficult to see what they were actually feeding on. The morning sun was at my back and the glare on the water made seeing a dry fly let alone getting a good drift at 40’ somewhat difficult. I tied on a size 16 Bi-Visible and had no problems seeing the fly or getting the drift I needed. It is a good pattern—a simple, but effective fly—to have in your fly box.