Guest Blogger: Michael Vorhis, author of ARCHANGEL suspense thriller, OPEN DISTANCE adventure thriller & more to come
The thing about big game fish is that they’re jerks. They bite innocent minnows in half. They murder ducklings. They lie around in shadows like lazy cowards, letting tiny warm-blooded mammals — our dear distant cousins — scurry through life harvesting leaves and grasses to feed their babies, and then the brutes sneak in and steal their efforts, their dreams, their lives…and their protein.
And I aim to make them pay.
There’s a lot of buy-in for the theory that “big fish want big meals.” While it doesn’t tell the whole story (because there’s nothing quite like the brilliant paradox of catching a large trout on a tiny fly), the theory clearly nails it from a statistical perspective.
We can take this theory in several directions:
— Ignore it and flog away with Size 18 dries, wetflies and nymphs like I’ve been doing, hoping to accidentally drift just the right color and wiggle past a big ol’ kype, thereby to beat the odds; or
— Become a “wooly buggers only” angler, hauling in good fish but never knowing if there could be even bigger ones that scoff at buggers; or
— Use crawdad patterns more often in hopes they’ll unlock the possibilities; or
— Tie on huge articulated streamers, and smack them down, and dream, and pray; or
— Tempt the brutes with red meat.
I’ve decided to take a stab at the last one.
The requirements of my mouse pattern are that it must look like a small rodent, that it must not sink below the surface film (at least at rest), that it must be light enough to heave with a 5-weight floating line, that it should absorb as little water as possible, and that it must be easy to tie.
I know that many tiers claim mousy realism is needless, citing the silhouette seen from below as the only thing of importance, but I’ll use this fly in six inches of ultra-clear water in autumn too, which means what it looks like from the side is of some value. I won’t have as many chances at a lurking steelhead as Alaskan mousers do, so a pair of black eyes, a couple of wiggly feet, a lighter belly color and a tail that squirms around a bit should all help my chances.
I looked at a commercially tied mouse pattern that cost seven bucks and decided to try to tie my own…and I’m glad I did because it proved easy to do. Here are the steps I used, with first-pass success:
1. Assemble the relatively few materials: Dark brown-dyed deer hair (inch-long, even less, is all you need), a wide thin rubber band, a couple of black glass or plastic craft beads, a 3-inch piece of dark brown yarn, a streamer hook, your usual black thread (6/0 or heavier), and if you want, a little dollar-store bottle of flesh-colored fingernail polish.
Figure 1 – The Materials
2. Cut the yarn to the length you want the tail to be (I make mine just a little longer than a real mouse might have because I believe in the accentuated-feature “caricature approach” to fly tying), and dip or coat the far end in head cement so it doesn’t unravel in use and turn this mouse pattern into a huge three-tailed mayfly. Make a knot in it a little less than an inch from the far end so that the yarn has a “kink” in it, which will help it turn and whip around a little when you’re stripping in of ferrying it across the current. Mice use their tails to help propel themselves in the water, so a bit of wiggle can only help. Tie the tail to the hook shank.
Figure 2 – Tail
3. Using your scissors, cut two feet from the rubber band, as shown in Figure 3. The rubber is important because these feet will appear to “paddle” the mouse forward when stripped in soft nudges; the number of toes per foot is not, since not many fish will be experts on how many toes a mouse is supposed to have. Tie the feet in back by the hook bend, and using your best thread-magic contrive to make them hang down one on either side a little apart from each other, at an approximate right angle to the hook shank.
Figure 3 – Feet
4. The hard part is already done! Spin the deer hair clump by clump from the hook bend to the eye, tying each clump down within an eighth inch of the end of the hair you’d snipped, to maximize use of the natural tips. You need not spin it really dense; it will float and look like the real thing…and less material means less weight and less water absorption. Per mouse, I use less than a square inch of deer hair from the hide from which I’m taking it. I do try to spin the hair just a little more dense around the head area (most of which will be trimmed off anyway), just so it’s easier to form a head shape.
Figure 4 – Spinning the Deer Hair
5. Tie the hair-spinning off at the hook eye, and if the black thread shows after you’ve whip-finished, that’s fine because it makes for a little black nose.
6. Turn it upside down with the vise and trim the belly flat, all the way across. Those rear legs should become very visible now; be careful you don’t cut them off. Trim the head area smaller, more angular, and less fluffy than the body. A normal scissors works fine since the trimming needs are minimal. A serrated scissors works a little better but it’s not necessary. I use a little battery-powered moustache trimmer to get the head how I want it.
7. Glue the black beads onto the head to represent eyes. It’s the fastest and easiest way; use enough glue, but if one should fall off in use, just glue another on or let the thing wink thereafter at the fish, to make them mad.
Figure 5 – Trimmed & with Eyes
8. If you like, slather a small amount of cheap flesh-colored fingernail polish on in the belly area, to simulate bare skin partially showing through. Nail polish doesn’t coat spun-and-trimmed deer hair all that easily so a second coat will help. Don’t waste time or add weight laying it on thick or trying to make it a precise and wide belly — it’s just a hint of light-toned realism to get their gastric juices going
Figure 6 – Optional Flesh-Colored Underbelly
I tried adding rubber ears on one, but decided it wasn’t worth it because it made it more difficult to spin the deer hair dense enough for a decent head. Plus, ears are just extra weight…the realism is more than enough without, and anyway the important realism is realism that wiggles as though alive.
Early morning, late evening and night are the best times for fishing one of these things because that’s when fish expect to see rodents active. But in late autumn when fish have extra incentive to prowl the shallows to fatten themselves up, it’s worth trying it any time of day around logs, sticks, weeds and overhanging banks. They say the V-shaped wake a mouse pattern makes when it’s stripped forward or swung from an eddy into a slow current draws big fish from the four winds. I intend to strip mine in stop-and-go style, like a real critter growing tired and expending effort in short bursts — I want those rubber feet to stream backward and drop, stream backward and drop…like they’re swimming the thing forward. They also say that if a fish strikes a mouse pattern and fails to set the hook itself, the angler should leave the fly in the water and keep swimming it; big trout will very often smash into a rodent presumably to stun or disorient it, then turn around and take it on the return charge.
The end result of my own tie is shown in Figure 7 and Figure 8. It proved more than equal to the expensive commercial ties, and quite easy and fast to make. So IN YO FACE, duckling and cute mini-mammal brutalizers! My daughter, ever one to point out Daddy’s minor failings, tells me it looks like a tiny hedgehog instead of a mouse. If trout refuse it because in their culture hedgehog meat is reputed to have an aftertaste or to not go well with a stonefly nymph garnish, that’s a chance I’ll have to take.
Figure 7 – Mickey Hedgehog
Figure 8 – A Herd of Small Wild Hedgehogs
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