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Flies of the Wolf River

Updated: Feb 25

Wisconsin's Wolf River is probably the largest and most historically well known trout stream in the state. Many would state that the best days of the Wolf are in the rear view. Some claim the river to be the first victim of climate change. Others would say that the river was always dependent upon stocking and reduced stocking is at least part of the reason for perceived declines. My truth would be that that the river was always relatively seasonal, reduced stocking and climate change are both current issues, and the river is far from "dead" as some seem to think. Thirty and more years ago, a favorite joke on the river was the the Potamanthus hatch was of the species "neglectus" as the hatch, or at least the fishing of it, was so hit and miss due to summer river temperatures. Climate change has probably accelerated the summer warming and the river is not stocked as heavily as it once was. Like many rivers of the Wolf's size, summer means warm water and trout head to coldwater inputs and the river's tributaries. The Wolf River Chapter of Trout Unlimited is the 50th TU chapter in the nation and the oldest in Wisconsin which gives some idea of the river's historical significance.

What makes the Wolf River so unique is that it has some of the best mayfly hatches in Wisconsin and the Midwest. My understanding is that river still has spectacular hatches in May and early June. The Brown Drake (Ephemera simulans) and sulphur (Ephemerella dorothea) hatches are legendary. I do not fish the Wolf as much as I once did but I typically take part in an August weekend gathering with friends on the river where we chase smallmouth and on occasion, when the water temperatures are right, a few trout might be caught. The river provides some great summer Smallmouth Bass fishing - and with some proper planning - some of the most beautiful floats in the Midwest. It also has some of the best whitewater in the Midwest so do some scouting first.

Ed Haaga with shadow box
Ed Haaga with a shadow box of his Wolf River flies. (George Close photo)

Most of what I know of the Wolf River and its historic fly patterns comes from my time spent with George Close, my dad's uncle by marriage. George was born in Texas but grew up in my hometown of Waterloo, WI where he met my grandmother's sister, Betty (Elizabeth). They eventually moved to Kiel where they settled and raised their family and they had a cottage on the Wolf River near Langlade. George was one of my mentors - we built my first fly rod together and I learned to tie flies from him before I had ever fly fished. George was a creative and innovative fly tyer that was the generation behind Ed Haaga and Cap Buettner, the two names probably most associated with the history of the Wolf River's fly fishing. I can not - I will not - write the history of the Wolf as others know it much better than I do but I can offer some insights on the flies that I learned to tie from George.

Cap Buettner
Cap Buettner in the Close cabin on the Wolf River. (George Close photo)

This is in no way meant to be a comprehensive list of all the patterns of the Wolf River but a quick introduction with links to some other sources to learn more and see more photos of these flies. Again, it is a story I do not feel totally comfortable telling but I can share what I know and remember from when George Close taught me these patterns.

The first two flies - Cap's Hair-wing and the Close Carpet fly - were developed to match the river's Brown Drake hatch and share a lot of similarities. Both use deer hair for the tail and body and thread as the segmentation for the body. The key to tying a good body and tail is to use deer hair that is not hollow and to loosen thread tension as you move rearward to reduce the tail flare. While the wings of each are deer hair, the hair-wing is a divided upright wing like a Wulff style fly whereas the Carpet Fly is tied in the "Compara-" style. The Carpet Fly certainly borrows heavily from Cap's Hair-wing, the tail and body are the same.

Cap's Hair-wing (Adams Hair-wing, Hair-wing Adams, or The Ed Haaga Fly)

Hook: Mustad 94840 or equivalent, size #10-16

Thread: 6/0 black

Tail/body: Deer hair or moose hair

Wing: Deer hair, divided

Hackle: Brown and Grizzly

Head: Thread - color of your choice

Pattern taken from George Close's article in "The Hornberg Fly Fishers Handbook" (cover photo below). For more:

Close Carpet Fly

Hook: Mustad 94840 or equivalent, size #10-16

Thread: 6/0 Brown (or your choice to match naturals)

Tail/Body: Deer hair (non-hollow)

Wing: Comparadun deer hair

Thorax: Antron carpet fibers in a dubbing loop

Head: Thread - color of your choice

For more, see: and

Both of these flies are pretty easily adapted to imitate a variety of larger mayflies- change the size and thread color to match the insect you are trying to imitate. Both tyers typically treated the body with flexament to make the flies more durable - I doubt either would have an issue with a little UV resin playing that role today. I have used the Close Carpet fly as a White Fly (Ephoron leukon) imitation with good success. If you do not have "the carpet", it is an antron carpet that George used in a dubbing loop and there are many reasonable substitutes for the carpet fibers. The more important idea is that the fly was created to provide a lower floating Brown Drake imitation for when fishes were not eating the higher riding hair-wing fly that had been used for many years.

George Close
George Close at the vise in their Kiel, WI home.

Talasek's Killer is a wet fly created by Neil Sandvidge for Bob Talasek whom owned the fly shop that Cap Buettner once owned and Ed Haaga had tied for on the banks of the Wolf River on the east bank of the river. I had met Bob (1993-1996?) on a trip to the shop with George the day after fishing the Oxbow where George landed and I photographed a 19.5 inch Brown Trout that George caught on a woodchuck Muddler, another favorite pattern of his. The Sulphur hatch that evening never really materialized but he saw a commotion in the riffle, put on a muddler, and swung it in front of the big brown's face. It made for a much more interesting evening than did waiting for a hatch that never materialized that evening. And so it goes...

Talasek's Killer (wet fly)

Hook: Mustad 3906B or equivalent, sizes #12-16

Thread: 6/0 black

Tail: Brown hackle fibers

Body: Black (silk) floss

Rib: Flat silver tinsel

Hackle: Brown

Wing: Wood Duck flank fibers, wet fly style

Talasek's Killer (Variation)
My Talasek's Killer with what I had available - CDL tail, an embossed tinsel, silk floss, and a ligher brown hackle.

This one is a pretty straight-forward wet fly and the wing is much simpler to set than most wet flies. It is generally fished in that down and across style associated with wet flies. I tied this one with what I had available - in place of brown hackle, I used a lighter mottled brown soft hackle for the collar and Coq de Leon fibers for the tail. Play around with the wing position - this one has a pretty highly cocked wing, the original, as I remember it, the wing was set lower.

Ed Haaga, Geoge Close, and Hans Weilenmann flies
My little piece of history - flies by Ed Haaga, George Close, and Hans Weilenmann

This is part of a display fly box that I see most every day so it is a topic that gets a bit of my brain many days. Not a Cap's Hair-wing to be found but the Woodchuck Muddler, Hornberg, and some interesting nymphs and wet flies along with some high floating dry flies.

Wolf River Brown Trout
A historic photo of a Wolf River Brown Trout - the diverse hatches and fishes allow them to grow large.

I hope this is a bit of what keeps the history of the Wolf River and its flies alive. I think it is important that we have some idea of the history of our rivers and their fly patterns. The Wolf may not be the place that attracts anglers from across the state and the Midwest as it once did. However, many of the characteristics that once made it "THE" trout fishery of Wisconsin are still present. The river flows through an amazingly wild corridor known as much for its whitewater and scenery as its fish. The hatches that earned the river its great fame are still there and these hatches and the abundance forage fishes still help produce fish that grow quickly and large. And the bonus Smallmouth Bass fishing that was always present has gotten better and is more appreciated today.

Thanks to all that came out for the evening - the recording is posted to the Wisconsin Trout Unlimited YouTube Channel. A few after-the-event notes:

  • Do you know the location of the rock with Cap's plaque on it? Nobody on the River seems to know where the rock is located. I'll forward any information to Wolf River TU. (Edit to add - see the comments for the location!)

  • Dan Ferron, a friend of Ed, Cap, and George, had some interesting insights into how to tie the flies. In particular, he mentioned that Ed Haaga typically put a few moose mane fibers in the with deer hair for the tail and body of the hair-wing to keep it from flaring. He also reiterated an idea I had learned from George; do not cover the wing butts with thread, both tyers used the deer hair wing butts to aid in flotation.

  • Thanks to all that helped make the evening a success. "Shout outs" go to Andy Killoren, Steve Heuser, and Zach Buchanan for doing the heavy lifting and running the show.

  • The Wolf River Trout Unlimited Chapter has information on access and their projects on their website. They're also on Facebook and Instagram.

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