Category Archives: Clay Cunningham, Cody, Wyoming

Improved Stimulator?

Guest Blogger: Clay Cunningham, Cody WY, Former National Park Superintendent

I have almost always been successful when fishing with the stonefly nymphs I tied that Randall Kaufman designed. Probably most fly fishermen did. Kaufman’s patterns were well known from the several books he published on the tying of nymphs as well as dry flies. Randall followed up his very successful stone fly nymph design with his version of a series of adult stone flies that is known as a Stimulator. His original version had a yellow body and an orange thorax. With varies colors and using different hook sizes the original design can imitate many different stone fly adults including the original yellow body and orange thorax that might be taken for a Golden stone or the large Salmon fly. Dave Hughes’ book, Trout Flies has the dressing instructions for stimulators including golden, green and orange. Hughes also provides patterns for “fluttering stone flies” which follow Kaufman’s original design though they are larger and dressed with a lot of hackle. The extra hackle is intended to flutter in the water’s current and represent legs of the fly.

I have caught fish with Kaufman’s version of the adult stone, but I wondered if some improvements could be made to encourage trout to strike more often. The two pictures with this blog show some of the changes I made.  Kaufman’s patterns used Antron, fur, or synthetic dubbing for the body. I used 1 mm fly foam. I used a permanent magic marker to color the abdomen if needed. The original designs were ribbed with undersized hackle which allowed the fly to float quite well. I ribbed the 1mm fly foam with undersized hackle as well. With the combination of fly foam and hackle the fly floats like cork and only needs one false cast to throw off any water before delivering the fly to the water again. Kaufman’s originals use elk hair for the tail. I used goose biots which I believe gives the fly a more realistic silhouette when viewed from under the water by a trout. Kaufman’s designs rely on hackle to represent the adult fly’s legs and my design does too, but I added thin rubber legs which might flutter a little more.

I hope these changes provide more action.

Stoneflies with Color

Guest Blogger: Clay Cunningham, Cody WY, Former National Park Superintendent

Pteronarcy californica stonefly

In the Western waters when the Pteronarcy californica stonefly hatches, the fish abandon any elusiveness they may have possessed. Known as the Salmon Fly, it is one of the largest of the stoneflies. During the hatch if you didn’t see one land on you, you might think it was a bird. In the Yellowstone drainages the hatch can begin from the end of May to early June. This varies throughout the park depending on the water temperature at different elevations of the park. At higher elevations, a close relative of the californica species, the princeps species will hatch later than the californica.

The Salmon fly Pteronarcy californica spend up to three years as a nymph before emerging. During the months prior to the hatch in any one year there are three sizes of nymphs under the water in various stages of development. The nymphs are often the most numerous species in Western rivers and streams. It is wise to have some imitation of these prolific nymphs. After the hatch, there are two sizes that remain until their complete development. Just prior to a hatch, the generation that is about to hatch migrate from their rocky hiding places to shallow water where they eventually crawl out of the water and attach to nearby rocks or vegetation. That is where their husks split open and the wings emerge. It is the clumsy flying egg laying females that fly low over the water or settle on the water and deposit their egg’s while the fish are voraciously feeding. more…

Dry Fly Tails & Quill, Hackle Stem or Biot Bodies

Guest Blogger: Clay Cunningham, Cody WY, Former National Park Superintendent

For many years I used hackle, Coq de leon, pheasant, deer hair, moose hair, and a lot of other hair choices for the tails of my dry flies. When the artificial tapered nylon mayfly tail material became available in various colors, I switched to them exclusively for all dry flies. The material is buoyant and imitates typical dry fly tails extremely well. The survival of emerging duns long enough to molt and become “spinners” for mating is because they emerge in high numbers and many survive the feeding trout in very large numbers. This is the time when the water looks like it is “boiling” as the fish feed voraciously. Many of the massive numbers emerging eventually molt and become strong fliers and begin mating. Their life span then depends on the species I which often ends minutes after mating.

It is quite a mystery that when the water is virtually covered with emerging duns and I cast my dry fly imitation into the massive pile of crowded insects floating by that any trout would strike my imitation. My flies are not ugly or poorly tied, but even to my eyes they don’t look like the thousands of duns on the water during a hatch. Yet my artificial fly is frequently selected by fish. Why is that? more…