Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Whether you fish moving or still, cold or warm water the Debutante is one of the most effective and versatile flies you will find anywhere.

Soft hackle flies have been around and catching fish for a very long time because fish simply can’t resist the action of the hackle collar. The Debutante is no exception. 

The fly I now call the Debutante started out life as a completely different pattern. Desperate to find an easy to tie damselfly nymph pattern I began twisting marabou barbs on a hook. One thing led to another and I found myself fishing a super simple pattern (called Non Specific) that consisted of nothing more than marabou barbs positioned and wound on a hook to produce a tapered silhouette with a slender undulating tail. It fished (still does) really well for both trout and panfish but I seldom leave things alone when there’s tinkering to be done.

This is the time I should mention that over many years of tinkering with it marabou has proved to be one of the most reliable and versatile fly tying materials you can strap onto a hook. This has been proven many times over in widely varied situations when fishing flies of identical silhouettes tie with other dubbings. When observed underwater marabou catches light like no other material. The light refraction qualities of marabou falls somewhere between most natural fur dubbings and Antron fibers.

The next incarnation is what I now call the Twisted Damsel. This pattern has a double tail, one short and one long with bead chain eyes and a touch of flash in the tail. Again it is simple but deadly anywhere damselfly nymphs are present. I have been tempted to tinker with this fly many times but it’s so effective that tinkering seems a bit ridiculous. This is something that’s hard to learn in fly tying and design. When it works really well stop jacking around with it!

The next incarnation took me back to the Non Specific and the addition of a soft hackle. Next came a rib then a bit of weight tied with and without a tail. At the time I was fishing East Newton Lake outside of Cody, WY. East Newton is one of those places where, as a fishing writer fishes you either write about it or wish like hell no one else ever had. The trout are big and picky most of the year. At North Fork Anglers, the fly shop in downtown Cody it’s accepted knowledge that if a fly consistently catches trout at East Newton it will catch trout anywhere.  It took a long time to make the Debutant one of those flies.
The extremely clear water at East Newton made it easy to stalk trout in the shallows and judge their reaction to different stages of the development of many flies. It also turned out to be a great proving ground for trout running the weed bed edges and those keying in on mayflies as well as caddis throughout the year.

The recipe used for the Debutante has been revised so many times it takes up nearly 50 pages of notes. The combination of materials was determined by underwater observation and the reaction of trout when they see it. Almost universally a trout will react curiously when the fly moves into their field of vision. The speed and action that the fly is fished will determine whether the trout will take.

The Debutante is definitely a great stillwater fly for trout, panfish, carp and the occasional bass. If you’ve spent your fishing life thinking large bass won’t feed on small insects it’s time to rethink that position. The only reason I don’t usually use the Debutante to target bass is that the small hook gape seldom allows you to land a large bass. Tying one over a size 10 is difficult except with the absolute largest marabou feathers. I have been able to tie some up to a size 6 but it’s rare and I hold onto those for special occasions.

The method of fishing varies greatly depending on what the fish might be keying on at the time. The Debutante is designed specifically NOT to imitate any one insect or insects in general. There have been times when a olive brown or pale olive version has been used to imitate small baitfish species with tremendous success. For these reasons the best I can say in general is to try and imitate the dominate food source at the time in size, color and action.

Darting the fly quickly around shallow weed edges is an excellent way to trigger a baitfish strike from a lurking trout or panfish.

Working the fly with short erratic strips near the surface is a good way to trigger strikes during a mayfly or caddis emergence. For particularly selective trout during caddisfly emergences the tail can be clipped of to give a better silhouette of the caddis pupa.

During periods of little to no hatch activity work the fly around underwater structure or weed beds with really slow, short, deliberate strips. This is the time to try using a larger point fly and a Debutante as a dropper. Many times even really big trout and panfish will take the smaller fly in favor of the larger point fly. My go to in this situation is usually a Super Dragon (another and later incarnation of the Not Much).

Venturing out onto rivers throughout Wyoming and Colorado the Debutante has proven to be highly effective used as a nymph or emerger. Dead drifted like a standard nymph the soft hackle, tail flash and peacock thorax adds to the fish attracting ability. Used with a down and across or Leisenring lift technique put the fly in front of emerger feeding fish for excellent results. Just match the size and color to the insect they are keyed on.

Where the Debutante really shines in moving water is inducing strikes from extremely selective trout. I first read about the technique in Challenge of the Trout. When a really finicky feeder is encountered that won’t take other imitations try this technique. Move to a position across and slightly downstream of the feeder. Measure your cast and “splat” the fly even with or just behind the eye of the trout 3-6 inches out from the trout’s eye. When executed properly the feeding trout will instinctively turn and strike the fly. The take is always fast and vicious with a very high hook up percentage. This is an experience every fly fisherman should enjoy. The takes are spectacular!

For all you tyers out there here are the recipe and tying instructions. Photos coming soon.

Hook-   S80-3906 3X heavy nymph
Thread-   Color to match thorax
Tail flash-   2 strands Krystal Flash
Tail/abdomen-   Marabou barbs
Thorax-   Peacock herl
Collar-   Partridge, grouse or hen pheasant soft hackle

1-      Start the tying thread 1/3 of the way back on the shank from the hook eye. Trim the tag end and move the thread to the middle of the shank.
2-      Catch in the Krystal Flash and cover the butts forward to the thread starting point.
3-      Catch in the ribbing wire and position it on the back side of the hook.
4-      Wind the thread back to just over the hook barb covering the ribbing wire and Krystal Flash while keeping the Krystal Flash on top of the hook shank. Cut the Krystal Flash leaving a tail equal to the hook shank length.
5-      Move the thread forward in one open wrap a distance equal to 4 thread widths and let it hang.
6-      Select a group (18-16 barbs) of long slender marabou barbs from a blood quill and strip them from the stem so that the tips are as even as possible.
7-      Measure tips to a length equal to the entire hook length less the eye. Transfer that length so that it is over the position where the thread is hanging. The barb tips will be positioned over, and slightly longer than the tail flash.
8-      Take one very snug thread wrap making sure the barbs are positioned exactly on top of the hook shank.
9-      Make 3 threads back to where the thread stopped when tying in the tail flash.
10-   Fold the butt ends of the marabou back over the tie in point and take two very tight thread wraps moving forward. This action locks the marabou barbs in place.
11-   Wind the thread forward to the original starting point and let it hang.
12-   Grasp the butt ends of the marabou in a rotary hackle plier. Twist the marabou barbs into a slender tapered rope.
13-   Wind the marabou forward to the starting point where the thread hangs and tie it off securely. Trim the excess butts.
14-   Tie in 2-3 strands of peacock herl and wind a thick thorax on the hook to 1 hook eye length behind the hook eye.
15-   Prepare and tie in a soft hackle feather by the tip. Do NOT cut the tip as you normally would on a soft hackle fly.
16-   Fold the tip back over the top of the thorax and secure it in place.
17-   Wrap the hackle, tie it off and trim the butt. Take several thread wraps over the hackle stem to train the hackle fibers backward creating a shroud around the fly.
18-   Whip-finish.