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My Driftless Bakers Dozen Fly "Concepts"

Everyone does a dozen so flies so why not one up them and add another fly? This is MY baker's dozen for the Driftless Area which reflects my style and how I like to fish. Your list may be quite different. This is mine at this point in time. Had I written this 10 or 20 years ago, there would be some differences. In another 10 or 20 years, there will probably be more differences. Some of that is changes to the streams and hatches of the Driftless, some if it is changes to what flies are available today that were not 20 years ago, and some is that I fish differently now than I did 20 years ago.

Maybe a dozen, baker's dozen, or anything short of a hundred flies is foolhardy but here is my foolish list. My caveats are that I like fishing dry flies so my list is slanted that way. And I am not much for fly patterns - they are a guide, not a recipe. Change the hook, sub in or out a material, or whatever you think will help you catch fish in different situations. So I called them "concepts" rather than fly patterns. That and it let me totally fudge things up with more than 13 fly patterns.

This is why you should tie your own flies (another post for another day).

My List - The Driftless Baker's Dozen

2 - Coulee Cranefly (pretty similar video and Driftless Angler)

3 - Low Rider Cricket (pretty similar video and my pattern below)

4 - Morrish Hopper (video and link to cutters)

7 - Perdigon Jig Nymph (In The Riffle, McFly Angler, and Eagan's Rainbow Warrior videos)

8 - Brush Hog (Driftless Angler and my version below)

10 - Orange and Partridge (Videos by Davie McPhail and Hans Weilenmann, and my variation below)

11 - Milwaukee Leech (Driftless Angler; similar to Bloody Black Leech and Easy Simi Seal Leech)

13 - You really didn't think I'd go without the Hippie Stomper, did you? (Andrew Grillos video and Driftless Angler)

The bonus #14 would be a mouse pattern - probably the Master Splinter mouse fly. It is great fun to fish mice at night but it didn't make the full list. The Partridge and Orange (Orange and Partridge?) is the one that has the most tenuous place on the list but I wanted some sort of swinging fly on the list. And the CDC and Elk is listed first for good reason while the rest are in no particular order.

Dry Flies

My choices were the CDC and Elk, Coulee Cranefly, Low Rider Cricket, Morrish Hopper, Quill Bodied Parachute, and Andrew Grillo's Hippie Stomper. I have covered the mayflies with the parachute, caddis with the CDC and Elk, and craneflies with the Coulee Cranefly. The list is pretty terrestrial-centric but I fish a lot during the summer and fall when terrestrials are king and fish the "hopper/dropper" set up, particularly before the "weeds" make it less than fun on many streams. The terrestrials cover the ground from low floating and subtle (cricket - which is really as much a beetle as it is a cricket) to the high floating and garish (Morrish Hopper and Hippie Stomper).

Low Rider Cricket (Wendelburg Cricket variation)

Hook: #8 to #16; 2xl dry fly, preferably ring eye

Thread: Black 8/0

Abdomen: Mixed black and brown Australian Possum

Wing: Turkey tail (glued) or WebWing

Head: Black deer hair, bullet style

Legs: Black round rubber legs

Indicator: Small piece of foam, color of your choice

Tying Notes: This is basically my version of a Wendelburg Cricket. I make a dubbing blend that is probably 2/3rds black and 1/3rd dark brown Australian possum and then I add a bit of ice dub in UV black (or other colors - just make stuff up as you tie) to give it just a bit of sheen. I like it to be pretty natural so I go light on the ice dub. Dub a thick abdomen, tie in the turkey tail wing and trim to length, and then tie in the deer hair so it is reversed and will form a bullet head. After securing the bullet head, trim the fibers on the bottom third, tie in the legs and then the foam indicator - I like pink because it stands out well for me. I call it a cricket but it is as much a beetle as it is a cricket, particularly if you were to use a standard length hook. It rides low in the water and is the perfect fly for those frustratingly slow moving glides that in my experiences do not see as many anglers and have some surprisingly large fish in them.

If I had written this 20 years ago, there would certainly have been some different flies on the list. I don't think the Morrish Hopper was a thing 20 years ago and you could choose any hopper you prefer. In all honesty, I don't think hoppers are necessarily the most productive mid-summer flies but they are a ton of fun to fish so it gets included. And the Hippie Stomper wasn't a thing either. I'd have probably replaced it with a Sparkle Dun but today I don't fish them as much because I have not encountered the mayflies I used to in the Driftless. I would have had a parachute hares ear in place of the quill bodied parachute. I am not entirely sure why I have gone away from the parachute hares ear - it used to be my go-to prospecting dry. I know many would have the Pass Lake on this list - or maybe they would put it on the wet fly list - but I have had better luck on that fly in Northern Wisconsin and the UP of Michigan than I have in Driftless streams. It very well could be operator error.

Nymphs and Wet Flies

Yeah, I probably cheated on the nymphs by grouping a few things that are not one fly pattern, particularly for what I labeled the "Perdigon Jig Nymph". It is probably my lack of knowledge of the whole "Euro nymph" thing. And yes, I am missing John Bethke's Pink Squirrel, a Driftless Area staple that I have used successfully in several states. Forced to choose, I went with a scud instead. I figure most fish are taking the Pink Squirrel as a scud or a cased caddis. I think the Brush Hog is pretty cased caddis-ish and will work well enough as that. I typical tie and fish a really simple ribbed, dubbed scud and I do not bother with a shell back. If I'm feeling super fancy, it gets a few flank fibers for tails and antennae. I prefer it on a straight hook to a scud hook and pro tip* - twitch those scuds - they are active swimmers. (*yes, that was a joke!)

The Perdigon style fly can be tied in a number of different colors and "flashinesses". They are slim and thus get down quickly which I think is key to their success. The certainly do not look all that much like food but then again, you would be shocked at what trout will put in their mouths. The two standard nymphs that everyone learns to tie early on are the pheasant tail and gold-ribbed hares ear. They are both super versatile but I chose the PT over the GRHE because the Brush Hog fills that thick-bodied nymph niche. I will tie a ton of variations on the PT nymph that I can fish from the surface or just below it to the bottom of the stream but adjusting hooks and weighting. I will substitute a bright orange or pink thorax for the peacock herl or any number of other variations. Pheasant tails also come in a variety of dyed colors. It is an incredibly versatile platform. I'm sure these are all different patterns, whatever that means.

Brush Hog Nymph

Hook: #18 Heavy nymph hook, jig or not

Bead: Tungsten or brass bead

Thread: Black 8/0

Tail: CDL fibers (optional)

Body: Mix of natural hares ear or squirrel and purple Ice Dub

Collar: Purple or black Ice Dub (or whatever you want)

My Brush Hog
My version of a Brush Hog - I don't get too worked up about what they look like so long as they're small and thin.

Tying Notes: The Brush Hog is - at least for me - a cranefly larva imitation so I typically omit the tail most of the time. I mix up a good bit of dubbing and keep it on hand. I don't overdo the purple ice dub in the mix but I like a bit of sheen in the mix. When I first saw the pattern, it was tied on a normal nymph hook with a bead and later it moved to a jig hook. I do not have a strong hook preference but I do like jig nymphs mostly because they snag the bottom a little bit less.

Partridge and Orange Soft Hackle (my version)

Hook: Wet fly, #14 to #18

Thread / body: Orange Pearsall's Silk Thread

Thorax: Touch-dubbed mole

Hackle: Partridge soft hackle

Partridge and Orange
A Partridge and Orange with a little oversized hackle to match the long legs of the crane flies I use it to imitate.

Tying Notes: This one is pretty straight forward. My only change - and I don't think it is my change but I picked up somewhere - is to very sparsely touch dub a little mole fur on the thread for maybe the last 25% of the fly's length. Does it matter? I don't know but it looks better to me. Why this soft hackle and not something else? Again, I don't know but it is one that has worked for me and I wanted something that can be swung. I do think it is pretty effective as a cranefly imitation which is the major hatch in May and June for me. I will add a small CDC wing for something a little different.

The Perdigon style is probably not new but it is certainly new to me in the past few years. Again, I am less than informed about "Euro nymphing". There is no replacing the PT and the Brush Hog is simply a fly I have done really well on. Twenty years ago, without the Perdigon and the Brush Hog, I suppose I'd have a GRHE replace one of them and I suppose that would make room for the Pink Squirrel.


I picked two - the Milwaukee Leech and a sculpin imitation. The leech is what I fish most of the time. The Milwaukee Leech is a do-it-all streamer for the Driftless. It is my early season fly of choice, cast it upstream and retrieve it just barely faster than the current. This was my friend Todd Durian's favorite fly and he was a master at fishing it. Next, I choose a sculpin imitation as they are the most common (non-trout) forage fish in (most) Driftless streams.

Milwaukee Leech

Hook: 2-3xl Nymph hook

Bead: Your choice - tie with brass and tungsten to adjust drop rate

Thread: Black 6/0

Tail: Black Marabou - 1-4 strands of Krystal Flash (optional)

Body: Arizona Simi-seal, loop dubbed

Hackle: Olive dyed partridge or other soft hackle (Optional)

Milwaukee Leech
A Milwaukee Leech I bought from the Driftless Angler - I tie a lot of variations on this theme.

Tying Notes: The pattern in really pretty simple but there are a few things that I think make it work better. First, the dubbing color is unique to this pattern and to the best of my knowledge is not sold anymore. It's dark but with some olive and red highlights. The key - I think - is it to put the dubbing in a loop and go with a light hand. What I think makes the fly work is the translucence that comes from the dubbing used and it being used sparsely.

The sculpin I could be talked into changing for a mouse (#14 on my list), a soft hackle bugger (though the leech does much the same thing), a Zoo Cougar, or most likely, a small Brown Trout imitation of some sort. Twenty years ago, these would be different choices for sure. The Milwaukee Leech did not exist so I'd have a soft hackle bugger in its place. And the "sculpin helmets" did not exist so my sculpin would have certainly been different. In their place - and still a really good choice - would be Woodchuck Muddler which can be pretty "sculpin-ish".

The Wrap-up

I figured I would do a "Driftless Dozen" as a conversation piece. These are my choices - at least when I wrote the article. There is nothing magical about my choices but they are what have worked for me after many years of fishing the Driftless Area. I certainly fish more than these 13 flies but I would certainly be OK with fishing just these 13 flies. They will be different from yours and in ten years, my list will probably have evolved. Maybe it was useful. Was it?

What would your list be? Am I overlooking any thing that is a "must have" fly for the Driftless?

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1 Comment

The idea of fly “concepts” allows the tier/fisherman to tweak the pattern for the conditions on the stream. I tie my EHCs (and other dries too) with more hackle or less hackle or none, and choose one to use based on the flow in front of me. I tie a favorite wingless wet with very soft hackle for pools and gentle currents and stiffer hackle for faster runs and pockets. It wasn’t my idea - which of the old time writers covered this? - I don’t recall.

One of my favorite flies is a wingless wet mentioned already, the Red Horse Fly. I was invited to join a group that fished SE MN for a weekend early each spring. I…

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