Designing a fly pattern rarely starts at the tying bench. For me, it most often starts with a vague idea, a spark, that glows and gets kicked around a fair bit in my head before I ever even sit down to try it. Sometimes, that spark turns out to be a complete dud, and thankfully, it usually makes itself apparent pretty quickly. Other times, the prototypes show a bit of promise and through some technique tweaks and material replacements I can come up with something that is very often, much better than what I originally imagined. The MW Special is one of those flies that traveled a lot of miles through my head before ever coming to fruition, but I am pretty proud of what it finally came to be.
The premise for a new foam stone came from my good friend and former Umpqua Feather Merchants Fly Czar, Brian Schmidt, mentioning something about maybe developing a Charlie Boy Stone pattern based off of my Charlie Boy Hopper. I liked the idea and brazenly thought to myself, ‘Well, this ought to be easy!” The Charlie Boy Hopper is one of my first commercial patterns and frankly, is one of those flies that took far longer to become the simple, effective pattern it has than it really should have. My brain has a way of overcomplicating things and that dang fly took me a whole summer, fall, and winter to fine tune and polish up. Reasoning that so much of the hard work was already done, I foolishly thought that I could just sit down and tweak a few parts and have a killer stonefly adult pattern magically fall from my vise. Wrong again, Craven.
As I sit here typing this, I have a rather large fly box overflowing with about seventy-five prototype flies showing the progression of what has turned into a pretty craftily designed fly pattern sitting near my right elbow. Dumping them out shows me how far off I was to start and how far the pattern has come since its inception…and just how far away it got from the Charlie Boy Hopper. Frankly, now I am thinking of designing a new hopper pattern using some of these techniques and materials just to come full circle. I love to sit down at the vise with an end in sight and a solid idea in my head, but the design process isn’t often pretty, and this box of junk sitting here is a testament to that.
I won’t bore you (or ruin my reputation) with the ugly missteps along the way, but rather I think I’ll maybe just focus on the final product here and how all the pieces came together.
Adult stones have a pretty robust body and are one of the few insects that are truly large. The salmonfly version is tied as large as a size four, while the smallest skwala version is matched by a twelve. That’s a pretty wide overall range of sizes for this bug and creating a pattern that would extrapolate down to smaller sizes was indeed a little tricky. In the beta versions of the Charlie Boy Hopper, I toyed with foam extended bodies built on a needle and as it turned out, I needed to come back around to that idea for the MW Special. With the body in hand, it took but several weeks of tweaking to replicate both the abdomen and thorax of these Jurassic bugs with the same piece of foam. Like I mentioned…some of them weren’t pretty.
Moving onto the wings, I have noted over the years that so many fly patterns are tied to match a happy little hopper or stonefly with his wings neatly folded over his back like he’s posing for a Glamour Shot. The reality is, these real critters seems none too happy nor prepared for a crash landing in the water and are often bent, broken and splayed when flopping along a bank. I wanted to create a fly with splayed wings to match the foul mood and panic of the natural when finding himself struggling to get back to dry ground. I originally used 3-D EP Fibers in gray for the wing, then Brian Schmidt popped back in at just the right moment with a proprietary mix of fibers incorporating a bit of UV Flash called Umpqua Stonefly Wing and I knew it would be perfect. As of right now, this material is unavailable but promises to be soon. Stay tuned.
The legs on the MW Stone started off so simply, literally tearing them straight off the Charlie Boy Hopper and tying them in the same way…the catch came later when my detail-oriented side came out and wasn’t happy with the fact that a real stone has six legs and my prototypes only had four…and I had no way to add the extra set without really jamming things up. I admit I laid awake a few nights trying to solve this one and I’m now happy to say I’ll show you the midnight epiphany that solved the leg issue in a wonderful way in the following tutorial.
In a fit of looking out for the other guy, I also added a bright pink hot spot to make the fly a little easier to find on the water and created yet another trouble spot for myself along the way. The short tuft of cerise McFlylon I added to the top of the fly was very visible from the top and served the purpose wonderfully, but as it turns out, was completely visible from the bottom of the fly as well, and that just wouldn’t do. A bit of tinkering resulted in the pink-over-black staggered indicator on the finished product. The initial, longer clump of black McFlylon hides the pink from the bottom view and does double duty as a contrasting indicator for flat light situations. Sometimes these things really do work out for the best.
And finally, I opted to get a little artistic for the coloration on this fly to better match the natural. While the belly of the fly remains somewhat monochromatic, I do mottle it a bit with a few smears of marker then come in with a black marker to add the variegation to the top and sides of the body as well as adding eyes. Someone asked me just the other day why I bother to marker up the top of a fly, and the simple answer is; because it makes me happy. I love the finished look of this fly, it gives me confidence in the pattern and it makes me happy. If plain, drab and boring make you happy, go ahead and skip the marker work. I like to smile when I tie a fly on so I’ll keep markering them up. And I add the eyes because I already had the marker in my hand and it’s just the right thing to do. There you go.