mk sulphur emerger

Guest Blogger: Mary S. Kuss, Life-long avid angler, licensed PA fishing guide (retired), founder of the Delaware Valley Women’s Fly Fishing Association 

This tactical pattern is most useful in flat, slow-moving water where trout get a long look at the fly before making an eat-or-don’t-eat decision.  It suggests a “stuck-in-the-shuck” dun, and can work well when targeting rising trout that have refused more conventional patterns.

Sulphur Emerger Hatches

Here in the mid-Atlantic region Sulphur season typically begins in mid-May with the “Big Sulphur” (Ephemerella invaria) which averages size 14.  Next comes the “Little Sulphur” (Ephemerella dorothea ), which can overlap with the invaria hatch.  They start out as a size 16 and typically drop to size 18 later in the emergence.  On tailwater streams, they can be as small as size 20.  Dorothea hatches are often strongest from dusk through dark, although they sometimes come off sporadically throughout a cloudy afternoon.  This hatch can go on for several weeks.  CDC works better than deer hair as a wing material on the smaller sizes. 

This pattern is not very buoyant, but that can be an asset on selective trout.  To fish, treat the wing and head only with Frog’s Fanny.  You may need to clean, dry, and re-dress the fly after each fish, but it’s worth it when you have to work hard for every take. 

This pattern as shown is a good general Sulphur emerger that fishes well during either the invaria or dorothea hatch, although there are some differences in both size and color between the two types. It’s also worth noting that the coloration of these insects at all life-cycle stages can vary significantly from one stream to another.  It’s always worthwhile to get a few naturals in-hand and carry a few flies with color tweaks for a closer match.  For this pattern, adding a bit of pink or orange to the thorax dubbing can make a difference, especially on streams that get a lot of angling pressure or late in the hatch when the trout really have the naturals dialed in.  

Sulphur Emerger

MK Sulphur Emerger Recipe

Hook:  Light wire curved-shank emerger (TMC 2487 or equivalent)

Thread:  6/0 Danville Cream or Pale Yellow, or 8/0 Uni Light Cahill

Tail:  Pheasant tail fibers, natural

Ribbing:  Ultra Wire X-Small, copper

Abdomen:  Pheasant tail fibers

Thorax:  Hareline Rabbit Dubbing, Light Cahill or Pale Yellow. 

Wing:  Coastal Blacktail Deer body, bleached

MK Sulphur Emerger Tying Instructions

1. Mount hook in vise, tilting the eye downward to expose more of the hook bend.  Start thread at head position and wrap back not quite to the apex of the hook bend. 

Sulphur Emerger step 1

2. Start with a pheasant tail feather with fibers long enough to form both the tail and abdomen of the fly.  Select a clump of about 6 fibers, making sure the tips are even before tearing or cutting from the stem.  Catch in with two soft thread wraps, and adjust length to suit.  Take a couple of firm wraps to secure, and then make a few touching thread wraps over the fibers slightly back into the hook bend.  Pass one turn of thread under the tail to spread the fibers, followed by two touching thread turns ahead of the tail tie-down point.  Trim off pheasant tail butts closely and set aside. 

Sulphur Emerger step 2

3. Adjust the hook to a normal position in the vise jaws.  Cut a piece of Ultra Wire about 6 inches in length, which will be enough for a few flies.  Catch in at the tail position, with the end extending forward about to the 2/3 mark.  Wrap working thread forward to about the 2/3 mark, binding the wire tag to the hook shank as you go.

Sulphur Emerger step 3

4. Catch in the reserved clump of pheasant tail fibers from Step 2 by the tip end, with the butts extending rearward.  If you tore the pheasant tail fibers from the stem in Step 2, cut away the “hooks” at the butt end of the clump.  Make thread turns back to the base of the tail, binding the fibers to the top of the hook shank as you go.    

Sulphur Emerger step 4

5.Advance the working thread to the 2/3 mark.  Grasp the clump of pheasant tail fibers with hackle pliers (an E-Z hook style works best), close to the end of the clump.  Wind the pheasant tail fibers forward, in touching but not overlapping turns.  If the fibers spread too much, twist lightly just enough to gather them together.  Wrap up to the working thread, tie off pheasant tail fibers and remove excess.

Sulphur Emerger step 6

6. Counter-wrap the ribbing wire forward to the working thread, making four to six turns of wire.  Catch down wire and remove excess.

Sulphur Emerger step 6

7. Bring the thread nearly to the head position, leaving room for the wing and thread head.  Thinly dub about an inch and a half of working thread.  Wrap the dubbed thread rearward, overlapping the front edge of the abdomen so that the dubbed portion forms about 1/3 of the total body length.  Then wrap the dubbed thread forward again to form a thorax slightly larger in diameter than the abdomen.  Take care to preserve space for the wing and head.  Pluck any excess dubbing from the thread.

Sulphur Emerger step 7

8. Clean fuzz and short hairs from a small clump of deer hair and even tips.  Offer up to hook, with the tips extending back just to the hook bend.  Put a small drop of thin head cement on the hair at the tie-down point.  Make two soft wraps of thread around the wing and apply tension to flare the hair.  Try to keep hair on the top of the hook.  Use several firm, in-place thread wraps to bind down securely.  If three or four thread turns fail to secure the hair clump, you may want to try again with a bit less hair. 

Sulphur Emerger step 8

9. Pull hair butts to the rear, and bring the working thread ahead of the hair butts.  Form a thread head and whip off.  Pull hair butts to the rear and put a drop of cement on the thread head.

10. Separate the hair butts from the wing, lift above the hook and shear off  leaving a short stub.  If any hair has wandered to the underside of the hook, trim it off flush with the dubbed thorax.  Groom up as desired.    


Mary Kuss

Mary Kuss

Thanks to everyone who commented on my post. Unfortunately I am not able to provide video of the tying process. I apologize for that, I know it’s the norm these days. But I am 70 and retired from my fly fishing related employment. At this point it’s just not worth it to invest in video equipment.

David Jobes

David Jobes

Great fly I have used it about 15 years with great success.



Is there a video instruction? I am 81 and have a little trouble with written instructions!! So sorry-fly really looks good!!!!



Very cool easy to tie pattern, just what I like. Thanks

Mary Kuss

Mary Kuss

My pleasure, Alice. Thanks!

A. Miller

A. Miller

Another great pattern, thank you for sharing!

Mary Kuss

Mary Kuss

Erik, the only dumb question is the one you don’t ask. The primary differences between this fly and the Klinkhammer is that the latter has an upright wing and a parachute hackle. The two flies would function similarly as a mayfly emerger pattern. Either pattern could be modified to fish for as a caddis imitation. I’ve never seen this done with a Klinkhammer, but you certainly could. I suppose you’d tie a down-wing and perhaps post up the butts of the wing material and wind the hackle around it? An X-Caddis would be a lot easier to tie.

Erik Larsen

Erik Larsen

Thanks, Mary! You write well and anticipate many questions. Here’s one that feels dumb but I’ll ask anyway: How is this much different than a klinkhammer caddis? Is it maybe worth tying because it could be used as a caddis, thus increasing its overall worth in the flybox?

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