Cycles of the Stream: Robbing the Cradle

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

Some time back I offered up a streamer pattern of my own design. Built on an inverted “swimming nymph” hook, it has many advantages, including:

— Serious snag resistance without need of a point guard

— Natural upright swimming

— Ease of tying

— Ease of adding weight to achieve various depths without impacting its swimming posture

— Hair body that moves like water itself

— Ability to mimic nearly any small baitfish

— Positive hooking when a fish takes it

— Easy casting, courtesy of minimal water-holding materials

With typical whinery and self-importance I named it the “Needleback Minnow” in honor of what it always does to my thumb when I try to tie one.

But it has really proven to be among my top go-to flies, especially the little grey-and-beige version. I thought I’d revisit it now, because now is the time when one particular “cycle of the stream” should be on our minds.

It’s autumn. Salmon are spawning, as are brown trout. It’s a cycle we know of, and so does the Oncorhynchus mykiss, the rainbow trout…and that includes the savage vagabond gangs known as steelhead. They’ll have their own orgy in spring, but they come up the rivers early, to gorge on what eggs the spawning browns and salmon serve up. And they hang out after the egg supply has dwindled, waiting for the newly hatched fry, which are naïve, slow, and delicious.

Steelhead are ruthless cradle-robbers, and along about December and January we can capitalize on that.

So, to the tying benches! My favorite version of my little Needleback Minnow, which has earned my respect repeatedly the last few years since the day I first tried it out, mimics the newly hatched “alevin stage” fry by employing a bit of orange yarn at the underbelly area, to represent the visible yolk sack of such innocents. I like to use two-tone orange yarn for improved yolk sack realism, although I don’t know if it matters.

Figure 1

For a body I use supple hair–pseudo-hair works well and is durable, but anything that flows well in the water will do. I simply use a darker hair for the top half and a lighter for the belly. A pair of glued-on 4mm eyes completes the similarity to a little fish.

To revisit an older post, the real trick of this pattern is in its sub-structure. An inverted Daiichi “swimming nymph” hook makes for a terrific streamer hook. After putting on the yolk sack yarn, tying in a dozen strands of looped deer hair to act as a weak “swim bladder” keeps the bend of the hook downward like a kind of keel, and keeps the dorsal “spine” of the minnow aimed toward the water’s surface…and voila! It’s snag-resistant like crazy. A few turns of weight-wire halfway down the “keel” can help it settle deeper if desired, without it doing a literal nose-dive.

Figure 2

This pattern doesn’t need to be an alevin-stage fry, but I invariably install the orange wisps of yarn to every tie because the result works so well.

After the deer hair (and weight-wire if any), simply tie in back hair and belly hair, in whatever color you think will represent the little feller you hope to impersonate. You can even use light-colored hair and then stripe it with a marker if you like. I like a simple grey dorsal hair, and beige/ivory belly.

Figure 3

And I always, always, forget that the hook point is facing up, and impale my thumb on it while tying; hence the name. Your mileage may vary on this ritual; I swear I’m not doing it to “blood” the hook.

The reasons I’m revisiting this pattern are to follow up and report how well it works–all year, in fact. And I’m returning to this pattern now in particular, because we’re approaching the time of year–the part of one particular cycle of the stream–when rainbows eagerly feed on brown and salmon fry. It’s an annual cycle upon which we can focus and rely. And this pattern is terrific–rainbows hit it and so do steelhead, and savagely, and I’d bet a nickel any game fish will.

Figure 4

This highly productive little pattern can be tied in any size, but for trout and steelhead I tie it small–just a little over an inch long, using a #8 swimming nymph hook. It’s fished just like a wet fly–drifted, stripped, swung. Without weight-wire it can mimic little minnows feeding on tiny bug hatches near the surface, where the larger fish lurk below them. Nearer the bottom it fishes like a little minnow moving among the rocks and pebbles. Swung through riffles it mimics a little minnow doing its best in current heavier than it can handle. Trout love it.

And the sharp up-riding Daiichi hook goes easily through their bony upper lip, for secure hook-ups. Serves ‘em right for trying to rob the cradle!

4 thoughts on “Cycles of the Stream: Robbing the Cradle

  1. Joe Dellaria

    Hi Mike,
    Nice tie. Thanks for sharing!

    You are making it harder for me to keep my New Years resolution to reduce the number of flies in my box!
    All the best, Joe

    Reply
    1. Michael Vorhis

      Joe, keep the resolution, but don’t do it at the vise–tying new fly designs is too much fun. Instead, clear out the fly box the way I do it–store most of your flies high in the trees surrounding your favorite rivers. I’ve got quite a collection up in my “backup storage.”

      Seriously, I actually lose very few flies and part of the reason is that I tie slowly, so I hate snags. You might like this one–it fell out of a desire to make a snag-resistant little “minnow.” So it had to swim belly-down. I considered bass popper hooks until I saw this one and knew it’d be perfect. The deer-hair “float bladder” works like a charm. It’s simple fly to tie and it turns out they’ll hit it all year long. I’ve tied different colors but seem to reach only for the grey-and-white–I guess I need to give other colors a chance. This one casts as easily as a wet fly and I just work it like one. Another real good material if you have the colors you want is canine hair–strong, and it flows. Learned that from Mike Cline, who recommended I try Finn Raccoon–it was good stuff, and I found that Aussie Shepherd from a haircut my neighbors gave their dogs, and fox from a roadkill, work just as well. Anything that flows and is durable.

      Your mileage will not vary. You’ll like it. : )

      – Mike

      Reply
      1. Joe Dellaria

        Hi Mike,
        Thanks. I loved your line about storing the flies in a tree. I am with you, I hate losing flies. I have even resorted to climbing up the tree, going out on the branch until I can either reach the fly or the branch bends down to the ground (this has become increasingly effective as I have gained weight).

        I will have to give this a try. I still have a few open slots in my fly box.

        I got out Monday. It was a weird day. I had flushed a large trout the previous outing and I wanted to see whether he would feed early in the morning (i.e. sun-up). He refused the first set of flies which did not run deep enough. I switched to a tungsten head mini-girdle bug (If you use a long enough dropper it can tick the bottom in over 4 feet of water). I call it my depth charge. First swing he nailed it. A fat and feisty 15″ fish. It was hit and miss for the next 7 hours. I managed about 8 fish in that period. The switch went on at 3 p.m. and I caught 11 fish in the next 2 hours. Loads of fun.
        All the best, Joe

        Reply
        1. Michael Vorhis

          Sounds like a real good day Joe; decoding the tough cases is so satisfying when you manage it.

          I laughed out loud at the mental image of you climbing trees and bending branches to the ground. I dimly remember the days when I’d actually try such a thing.

          I have another “swims upright” fly I’m about to submit an article about, vaguely similar in principle to the Needleback Minnow structural concept. Wait fer it, wait fer it…. : )

          – Mike

          Reply

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