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The Incredible Crane Fly Larva – Part II – A Killer Pattern For Large Trout
After reading how trout like to eat crane fly larvae I went in search of them to see what the fuss was about. Not far from my home in Boulder, Colorado runs a small stream called Boulder Creek. I waded into the stream and began turning over rocks looking for crane fly larvae. Lo and behold, the stream was full of giant crane fly larvae (Tipula abdominalis). I collected a few samples, put them in a quart jar and took them home to my fly tying bench. You can imagine my wife’s delight when she saw the jar of “worms” sitting on my fly tying bench. But don’t worry, she expected such strange behavior. A jar full of “worms” was always preferred to road kill.
To duplicate the translucent effect of the crane fly larvae, I began experimenting with different combinations of ligase dubbing until I found the perfect mix to match the larva’s color (the ligase dubbing product produced a more transparent effect than other dubbing materials) I used the loop dubbing technique to construct the imitation. The Mustad 9672 #2 hook was the perfect length to match the size of the crane fly larvae in my jar. When done, I dropped the simulation into the jar to see how close I came to matching the actual “bug”. My imitation was so perfect that I couldn’t tell the difference between a real worm and my imitation without the hook sticking out of it! I can’t wait to try it out. I went fishing on my favorite river, the North Platte in Wyoming, on a state lease called “Treasure Island” about 15 miles upstream of Saratoga, Wyoming.
Later at the end of my fishing day I met two fly-fishermen back in the parking lot and asked them if they had any luck. Expressing his disappointment, he told me that he had only caught two trout. He complained that the river was too high and the water too cloudy. They were local and assured me that the fishing would soon be over; Then they asked me how I did. Proudly I responded; “I had a great day. Caught about 30 fish”. They both reacted with surprise and of course wanted to know what I was using. Both were very surprised when I showed them my crane fly imitation.
For years, I tied flies for the Great Rocky Mountain Fur Company of Saratoga, Wyoming, and they used my crane fly patterns extensively. Tom Wiersema, the owner of the shop, told me that the first time he fished my crane fly larva pattern, it produced the largest brown trout he had ever caught in the North Platte. I also submitted a crane fly larval specimen to Rod Wallinches of Rollins, Wyoming (The Great Divide Flyfishers) for his book: “The Flies of South Wyoming”. After the book was published, Rod sent me a copy of the book. He included a note saying he caught an 8-½ lb brown fly on his very first cast! About a year later, I saw an article in the Rocky Mountain News by an outside writer extolling the fish-catching properties of the “ugly-looking olive cigar.” The word was out.
As I mentioned earlier, crane fly larvae are translucent, and three colors mimic most larvae: light gray olive, tan, or dark olive. The fly is easy to tie, and has a very simple design. It is shaped like a small cigar.
I tie them in sizes 2, 4, 6 and 8 by weight. For South Platte in Cheeseman Canyon near Deckers Colorado, sizes 6 and 8 are preferred in tan and dark olive colors. However, on large rivers such as, for example, the North Platte, Green, Big Horn or Colorado; Sizes 2 and 4 are good. The further north you go, the larger the crane fly larvae become. In Montana, I fish only 2 sizes too heavy in pale gray-olive.
Fly-fishermen have two presentation methods for fishing crane fly larvae: one, you can drift them dead like any other nymph; While fishing for nymphs. Or two, you can fish them on a sinking line using a short 6 foot leader with a hand twist retrieve. I have had tremendous success with both methods. For really wide water the sinking line method allows the fly to reach places that would be very difficult to reach with a nymph fishing style.
The prime time to fish crane fly larvae is from early May to late July. I have caught fish using the pattern in every season except winter.
Where to fish crane fly larvae? I start with any running head just below the rifling. I like to cast the fly in the fast water above and let the run wash. Don’t be surprised if you get an instant take. From there I check every fishable spot throughout the run.
When fishing a crane fly on a sinking line, use a size 2 or 4. Dead drift for the first half of the cast and swim for the second half. The larger pattern will be taken both as crane fly larvae and/or minnows. Sinking line technique is very dangerous and will produce the biggest fish in the river.
As for the “pretty” fly, the crane fly larva is not very impressive to watch the fly, however, the trout don’t know this. They just want to eat it. Use at least 3X tippet or stronger. The most dominant fish in the stream usually take a crack at it first; So stop by and make sure you have your camera with you.
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