Here’s Mud in Your Eye

Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, Montana

This might seem an odd introduction to a fly tying blog, but trust me there’s a connection, albeit fanciful. Which of the following would you chose as the answer to this question?

What is the meaning of “Here’s mud in your eye!

1. It’s is a congratulatory drinking toast, similar to “bottoms up!

2. A phrase a jockey might use to encourage other riders to come in second or worse (the first horse kicks up mud, but doesn’t get any in their face.)

3. The story of a biblical miracle where Jesus cured a blind man by placing mud in his eyes.

If you chose 1, 2 or 3 you’d be right. All three, even though unrelated, are correct. So what does this have to do with fly fishing and fly tying. Of course the answer is Odonata the order of insects known as Damselflies and Dragonflies. Damsel nymphs and adults have gotten a lot of attention from fly anglers over the decades as they are a prolific and important trout food source, especially in still waters. But Dragonflies on the other hand are more of an incidental food source for trout. There’s a lot of evidence that trout rarely feed on adult dragon flies unless they are haplessly trapped on the water surface. Dragonfly nymphs on the other hand provide an opportunistic and meaty meal for trout in both still and flowing waters.

There are some 463 species of Odonata in North America, of which approximately 320 are dragonflies. Worldwide, some 5000+ species of Odonata have been identified. Anywhere you find freshwater, it’s highly likely that some form of dragonfly will be around. Adults are common sights in the summer months, even though their adult lifespan is only two to three weeks. The nymphs on the other hand may live from two to six years before emerging as adults and have several characteristics that make them not only opportunistic trout food, but a good candidate for a trout fly.

maturenymph1The first characteristic is their size. Mature nymphs can reach two inches and are plump olive, brown or black creatures with big heads and big eyes. Whenever a trout can find a dragonfly nymph, it makes for a good meal. The second characteristic is that Odonata nymphs are insect predators, feeding on smaller aquatic life, voraciously. As such they are somewhat solitary underwater hunters that favor weedy areas of lakes, ponds and rivers as well as the low light periods of dawn and dusk. The third is there locomotive habits. Although they can crawl rather rapidly, they also swim with a little jet propulsion system in their abdomen that allows them to expel a small jet of water moving them forward in darts a few inches at a time. Mature nymphs must make their way to land to emerge as adult dragon flies. This migration period makes them very vulnerable to trout.

From the fly tier’s perspective, the dragonfly nymph is relatively easy to imitate and from the fly fisher’s perspective easy to fish. In researching this post, I was surprised to find very few fly patterns listed in my tying references that were specific to dragonfly nymphs. Probably the most celebrated dragonfly nymph pattern is Charles Brook’s Assam Dragon. Brooks discussed fishing dragonfly nymphs at length in Nymph Fishing for Larger Trout (1976) and the Assam Dragon was his favorite dragonfly pattern. Although the Assam Dragon seems an odd name for a trout fly, one can easily speculate Brooks had somehow been associated with members of the 25th Fighter Squadron (P-40s) in the China-Burma-India theater in WWII during his Air Force career. The squadron was known as the Assam Dragons, a mythical beast of folklore in the remote northeastern Indian state of Assam. The other most common dragonfly nymph patterns are Randall Kaufmann’s Floating Dragon (sometimes called the Lake Dragon) and Dave Whitlock’s Olive Dragon Nymph. From a generalist viewpoint, many references to fishing dragonfly nymphs recommend using woolly worms or woolly buggers. So what’s connection to “Here’s Mud in your eye!”?

Well in Australia, the dragonfly nymph is known as a “Mudeye”. “Mudeyes” seem to be a very important pattern down under. In Tasmania, home to over 3000 lakes in the Central Highlands, there are many different “Mudeye” patterns. In reality, most aren’t much different than Kaufmann’s Floating Dragon, but the name “Mudeye” seems so esoteric that it demands investigation. Unfortunately, why they call them “Mudeyes” remains a mystery. In looking over a variety of “Mudeye” or dragonfly nymph patterns two styles are evident. The fur flies descendent from the Assam Dragon style and the more impressionistic style of dubbed bodies, legs and large heads and eyes of the Kaufmann Floating Dragon style. There’s also combinations of both styles as seen in Skip Morris’s Furry Dragon.

mudeye1Whatever pattern or style you choose to tie or as I do, adapt to, anyone fishing lakes, ponds or slow moving water that holds dragonfly nymphs should have a few examples in their fly box. It is a staple pattern in Australia, but I suspect not so much here in the U.S. I always have a few in one of my fly boxes. They’ve proven very effective at dawn near the shallow weed-filled margins of Ennis Lake near the mouth of the many Madison River channels entering the lake. The depth at this south end of the is rarely greater than five or six feet, a perfect depth to fish dragon fly nymphs. My “Mudeye” pattern is a combination of different elements from other dragonfly nymph patterns I’ve seen.

  • Hook:#8 TMC 200R or Daiichi 1260 or DaiRiki 700, 720
  • Weight:10 turns of .015 lead free wire
  • Thread: 6/0 Black
  • Eyes:Small bunch of dark Moose Mane/Elk Mane or EP Fibers tied across the hook and trimmed close.
  • Tail:Short clump of black, brown or olive deer hair
  • Body:Black, Brown or Olive Dubbing, thick and overlaid with two Partridge hackles
  • Legs:One turn of Partridge hackle
  • Head:Black, Brown or Olive Dubbing to match body

With a good thread base, I wrap 10 turns of lead-free wire on the middle section of the hook. “Mudeyes” should swim right side up and the use of bead chain eyes will cause the fly to ride hook point up or upside down unlike the natural. The use of stiff hair or EP fibers for the eyes mudeye2keeps the fly right side up. I actually like using the EP Fibers the most. They are easy to handle and tie on across the hook and if trimmed to about 3/8” on each side, you can use a flame to shrink and seal each eye. Some tiers use burned mono, but its takes at least 100# test to create large eyes. Once the tailing and body are formed up to the eyes, two partridge hackles are overlaid and tied in. The overlaid hackles create a wide-body profile when viewed from the top or bottom, a technique I adapted from some Australian “Mudeye” patterns. One turn of partridge hackle is used for legs. The head is dubbed the same as the body winding the thread in and around the eyes.

Now to my albeit fanciful connection to the title of this post. If you tie up a bunch of “Mudeyes” and keep them in your fly box, the next time you find yourself and a friend on a suitable lake or pond you might say: “Here’s a Mudeye. Fish it blindly along the weedline. I will congratulate you when you horse the big one in.”

2 thoughts on “Here’s Mud in Your Eye

  1. Joe Duca

    Hi Mike, very informative post, thanks. I’ve seen the Assam and the floating dragon in an Orvis fly pattern index book I bought about 30 years ago when I started to tye flies. I had no idea until now that they were Brook’s and Kaufmann’s patterns. The book only gave a recipe and photo of the flies.
    When I clicked on the Skip Morris link, he mentioned the Jannsen dragon. That discription reminded me of a pattern by Gary Borger I read in a magazine and tied probably 30 years ago. For some reason I remembered it as a leach but it had to be a dragon after seeing the above-mentioned flies. It had a dubbed marabou body and head dubbed around the eyes. It was then trimmed narrow at the neck tapering to the oval abdomen. The head kept bulbus supposedly to create a disturbance in the body. I tested it in a pool off a high bank so I could see the action of the marabou. At first I lost sight of it, the fly was black. When I found it I was startled because it looked alive pulsing in the current. The other interesting component was the eyes. They were made of knotted peacock herl. They looked just like the compound eyes of an insect. Unfortunately I lost that fly and never tied another.
    I like the looks of your mudeyes, especially the overlaid Partridge to keep the wide profile. Dose the flared tail serve the same function? By the way, what are the objects you display your flies on? Thanks Mike for another excellent informative post. (I did pick all three 😉

    Reply
    1. Mike Cline

      Joe,

      We have a few small pieces of driftwood around the house from faraway places we were stationed at in the USAF. I occasionally use them as props for fly photos. The stiff tail on the mud eyes just helps keep the partridge feathers on top. The nymphs are pretty flat and other than the legs at the front, don’t have any wiggly parts at the tail. Glad you enjoyed the piece.

      Mike

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *