Origins: Based on an old Idylwilde pattern called the LE Leech
Hook: TMC 5262, #4 or Gamakatsu B10S, #2
Thread: 6/0 Uni, Black
Tail: Black marabou with topping of black Lite-Brite or equivalent
Body: Thread wrapped black
Collar: Olive marabou, palmered behind and in front of eyes
Eyes: Large Lead or Non-Lead Dumbell Eyes
A good friend, great fisherman and one of my early mentors, Paul Swenson, once told me that the basis for all great flies is to have no more than three ingredients. I can’t say I follow this train of thought to a tee, but when I find one that does conform to these standards, I always remember those words. The brilliance of this fly lies in its simplicity: quick to tie, few materials, and useful in a variety of situations. There are a lot of factors to consider when looking at a streamer these days, color, weight, size, profile, etc. One of the more overlooked is the weight:surface area ratio that determines whether or not a fly will sink quickly in a current. There are loads of heavy streamers out there that just don’t sink, they have too much surface area to cut the current. The BFE is nothing but a couple of marabou feathers, lead eyes, and a thread body, it is a perfect example of a fly with a weight:surface area ratio that allows it to plummet. When this fly is wet, it reduces in profile to nothing and cuts right through the current. It can be effectively fished in a variety of situations, I love to fish it upstream on a floating line, almost Czech nymphing it, swing it out at the end of the drift. I also use it on sink tip lines in big currents, reach casting a long line over a large run, stacking some slack into the drift to allow the line and fly to sink, and then fishing on a swing or stripped retrieve back across the current. This is a deadly fly in fast pocket water when fished on a floating line from a drift boat as well – it’s a guide favorite in the Box Canyon of the Henry’s Fork.
Tail: Pine Squirrel Zonker Strip; black, olive, or white
Body Dubbing: Ice Dub; black, olive brown, or pearl
Collar: Marabou, tied in a dubbing loop or palmered; black, olive, or white
This fly always has a place in my flybox whether I’m headed out to fish waters both moving or still. It is a variant of a deadly fly from the ever-inventing mind of John Barr. The original is a great fly that came to fame on the Henry’s Fork and Silver Creek, quickly proving its usefulness in waters of spring origin. The squirrel strip offers a lively underwater display and the long marabou fibers of the collar both add a very defined shape to the overall fly and have a muting effect on the squirrel strip’s color. Our BSA version is tied with a tungsten bead on a somewhat larger and more substantial hook than the original, and is tied to be fished more as a streamer in bigger rivers. We have also added a small anti-fouling loop off the back of the hook to help the slender squirrel strip not tangle in the hook. I suppose it imitates a small fry more than a leech when tied like this. It enters the water quietly and is highly effective in shallow and low water conditions. It also holds up to the larger trout of rivers like the Missouri in Montana, the brown trout rivers of Iceland, and the productive waters of both Chilean and Argentine Patagonia. This has also proven to be a very effective lake fly in this size in our home stillwaters like Hebgen and Henry’s Lake as well as the lakes of Patagonia in the south.
Welcome to the first edition of Dispatches, a new series which reports on the Big Sky Anglers crew as they travel the globe in search of angling adventures. Each edition of Dispatches will feature an interview with one of our angling pros while they are on assignment or travelling for fun. Our crew might be hosting anglers in a remote destination, guiding clients on our home waters, or exploring new fishing territory at home and abroad.
This edition features BSA co-owner and head guide Jonathan Heames who is reporting from a remote island in Chilean Patagonia. Jonathan has been fly fishing in Chile for nearly 20 years, and his perspective and knowledge are impressive. Give a listen to what Jonathan has been up to, and stay tuned for more reports from the BSA crew.
“Where are you right now? How did you get there? Where are you off to next?”
“What is your target species? Why did you pick this location and time for that species?”
“How are you targeting these fish?”
“What’s one thing that’s happened on your trip so far that you didn’t expect?”
“What are the conditions like?”
“What’s been your favorite piece of gear on this trip so far, and why?”
“What’s the best thing you’ve had to eat?”
“Have you learned any new words or phrases?”
“What’s your playlist been on this trip…what tunes are you listening to?”
The Henry’s Fork of the Snake River is one of the most diverse fisheries in the western US. With over 70 miles of fishable water, each section has such a unique character that it is like having eight rivers rolled into one. Water types on the Fork range from tailwater canyons to flat, technical spring creek water, with freestone canyons and low gradient riffle-run sections as a nice bonus. The Fork also has great diversity in elevation above sea level, with its headwaters at Henry’s Lake located 6472 feet, and the lower reaches of the river down around 5000 feet. In times of extreme weather here in the high country surrounding West Yellowstone (elevation 6666 ft), it is possible to head down to the lower elevation “banana belt” where you can find nicer weather and water conditions that make the fish and fly fisher both a bit happier. Nearly the entire river is sourced from natural groundwater springs, the largest of which forms the river’s headwaters and is aptly named Big Springs. Due to the strong influence of groundwater, the Fork experiences a very minimal runoff by local standards, and almost always has several fishable sections in the early season (April through the month of June).
All of us here at Big Sky Anglers are excited to have an outfitting license for the Henry’s Fork. We are now the only fly shop in West Yellowstone with this license, and we are among only eight outfitters total that are license holders for the river. Guiding on the Henry’s Fork allows us to treat our customers to great fishing opportunities at times when many other local waters are blown out, closed to fishing, still frozen or otherwise unfishable. And, all of this exists within a 35 minute to 1 hour drive from the shop here in West Yellowstone.
The lower elevation reaches of the Henry’s Fork in particular exhibit great diversity of geology, gradient, scenery, and fishing. Each section has its own unique character, ranging from sections with large average sizes of trout that offer chances at true bruisers on dry flies, to other sections that are home to larger populations of smaller fish that offer the an angler the chance to relax a bit, learn a lot, and bring a few fish to hand. The beauty of the Fork is that there is something for every angler regardless of skill levels. We feel that it has been a misconception for years that the Fork is an experts-only river, and while there are sections where even the most experienced can test their skills and wits, there are other areas where newer anglers can still have a good time.
Though it is legal to fish year round on many of the sections of the Henry’s Fork, the fishing really begins to shape up in April, with good baetis hatches and some March brown activity occurring in several sections. Stable water conditions, a rarity in the mountain west in April, make for reliable angling conditions, even if the weather is still a bit unpredictable. Nymph fishing usually dominates during April. While hatches can be prolific, they are typically short lived. There is also some good streamer fishing when water temps are warm enough.
The fishing during the beginning of May can be considered an extension of April conditions… until the salmonflies begin to hatch. This usually happens around the middle of the month. Because the Fork has numerous tributaries and springs that change water temperature between river sections, the big bugs begin hatching and reach their peak in each section at different times. Often the hatch will appear in a section upstream on the river and a few days later will begin to happen in a downstream stretch. Fishing with a guide who has been on the water every day affords visiting anglers a HUGE advantage for this very reason. While targeting the salmonflies can be a bit tricky because of unstable weather in May, there are typically 5-7 great dry fly days with salmonflies . And when the dry fly action isn’t perfect, the nymphing with big stonefly imitations can be outstanding.
Nymph fishing and dry/dropper fishing gets us through the end of May and into the beginning of June when the most exciting hatches of the year begin. Usually we start with golden stones, PMDs, and caddis, which overlap with small olive stones and yellow sallies. Next come the flavs and green drakes, followed by gray drakes, which create some of the most exceptional match-the-hatch dry fly fishing of the year. This is often a mix of blind fishing with dries while looking for targets. For the angler who prefers to target and cast to rising fish, the combination of a reliable spinner fall in the morning, blending into a PMD hatch in the afternoon, followed by a flav emergence in the early evening, this is absolute paradise. These hatches offer a real chance at some very large trout in some sections of the Henry’s Fork, and for those who are willing to trade quantity of smaller fish for overall size of fish taken using extrememly visual methods early June is tough to beat.
And remember, all of this happens before the Madison is even done clearing up from runoff for the year. Once the fishing begins to wane at the end of June on the lower Henry’s Fork due to rising water temps, the salmonflies will have just begun to establish themselves on Montana’s Madison and the upper Henry’s Fork gets into full swing with a repeat of many of the same hatches described above. We’ll be there and hope you’ll be there with us!
Jonathan Heames, Co- Owner and Head Guide
Big Sky Anglers Co-Owner and Senior Guide Jonathan Heames looks forward to early season on the Fork all winter long.