Sunday, December 31, 2017

Second Shifter

The Second Shifter is a stream version of the stillwater Shape Shifter fly. I found the Shape Shifter to be effective in streams but sorely in need of refinement due to the requirements for smaller size and added flotation. On my first time out with the final incarnation of the Second Shifter I landed 4 rainbows ranging from 14” to 18” during a midge emergence on the Dream Stream section of the South Platte River in central Colorado. This pattern has since proved extremely effective along the entire South Platte River when chironomidae are present in good numbers and a good trailing searcher fly between active hatches.
Guadalupe River rainbow that fell for a purple Second Shifter

During a recent outing on the Guadalupe River downstream of Canyon Lake in central Texas the Second Shifter proved the fly of the day out performing a number of other proven patterns.

The history of the Second Shifter closely follows that of the Shape Shifter which was developed on the prairie lakes outside of Cody, WY over the course of 3 seasons. After seeing how effective the Shape Shifter was on stillwater I tried it repeatedly in the rivers of Wyoming and Colorado. When I could keep afloat it proved very effective but the floss “breathers” on the Shape Shifter just aren’t capable of shedding water well enough to make it feasible in moving water.
A South Platte River Rainbow taken on a purple Second Shifter.

Early incarnations of the Second Shifter tweaked more than the breathers as I searched for triggers that would make stream trout rise to the fly. Flashy tail materials induced rises but also resulted in a refusal rate of about 60% in bright daylight conditions. In low-light conditions the acceptance rate was well above 90%, an adequate rate of acceptance for any fly fished over trout conditioned to being hooked and released.

A close examination of the fly in a glass of water answered the question of why bright conditions caused such high refusal rates. When viewed from below, in water, the marabou abdomen emits a soft “glow” that mimics the gasses trapped in the husk of an emerging chironomid. Bright, flashy tail materials caused an even more intense glow in bright conditions making the fly appear 1-2 sized longer with a brilliant “flash” at the tail. In low-light conditions the tail more closely resembles the tail breathers on an emerging chironomid. Replacing the tail with a “snub” of marabou more closely resembles the tail of a natural in both conditions.

An added bonus to the water examination of early incarnations of the Second Shifter also revealed a lack of “glow” around the thorax which is one of the main reasons for the success of Shape Shifter. This was quickly remedied by replacing the marabou thorax with UV dubbing. The UV dubbing comes in a wide range of colors making it easy to match any shade of chironomidae.

Fishing the Second Shifter is pretty straightforward as dry fly fishing goes. For the most part it’s a simple matter of matching the size and shade of the dominant chironomidae on a given river. The difficult part is tying them down to the ultra-small, 28-32 size chironomidae that appear on a good number of rivers. Beyond size 26 the thorax proportions become visually exaggerated. As yet I haven’t been able to test whether this is a fatal flaw in the smallest versions but hope to soon.
This Dream Stream cutthroat took a black Second Shifter on a cool afternoon.

I generally fish this fly on the surface of slick pools and runs where I can keep an eye on the bright foam breathers, though there is a fairly short range of visibility with the smaller sizes. In that case I fish it as a trailer to a slightly larger more visible dry on a 16”to 24” tippet attached to the bend of the point fly.

There are multiple benefits to fishing the Second Shifter as a trailing fly even when it is visible. The first is the ability to show the fish another fly giving them a choice. My preferred point is a size 16 or 18 Royal Trude, a pattern that just looks like fish food. The second benefit is the slightly large fly alerts trout to the presence of possible food, though they may not take the point it gets them focused on the surface in the vicinity of the smaller fly. The third benefit is to use the point fly as a focal point for the angler. It is often possible to pinpoint the Second Shifter once the point fly has been located. However, even if the smaller fly can’t be located it gives the angler a range of surface area to focus on in search of indication of takes or interested trout.

This pattern does benefit from the application of floatant but it MUST be a product that is compatible with the marabou and foam. My preferred floatant for this and all of the J Wood marabou bodied patterns is Loon Lochsa. Lochsa is also compatible with CDC making it a good addition to the vest of any dry fly angler.

The Second Shifter is also very effective fished “wet” just below the surface. By omitting the floatant and allowing it to just penetrate the meniscus the foam brings the fly to the surface but the surface tension holds it submerged just like the natural insects. There are times when this is a more effective method than keeping the fly on top. When fished through slightly rough currents it’s extremely difficult to see the fly or keep it on top. One fine afternoon while trying to do just that I discovered a pod of hungry rainbows at the tailout of a riffle that found the fly quite acceptable subsurface. It turned out to be one of those times where I caught trout until the feed finally gave out, 14 trout to be exact. So far that’s been the most I’ve taken in a single location with the Second Shifter. I’ll keep trying whenever the opportunity arises but for now, not too shabby.

Follow are the tying instructions for this killer fly for those of you who want to tie your own. For fly shops, guides, etc, this fly can be purchased through the CATCH Fly Fishing dealer program.

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