The John at the Bottom

The John at the Bottom

Hostetler, Jeff
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Anglers have dredged up the mysteries of the depths of western streams for decades with the use of flies graced with the occasional lead split shot. The weight aids the fly in probing deep into watery holes, beyond where our feeble land-based eyes can see, to the world of large trout with lazy, gaping maws.

One fly I have found extremely successful on many western streams is Barr's Copper John. This bead-head nymph has replaced the Prince Nymph as the go-to fly under all conditions, in all types of streams. I have filled rows in my fly box with this fly, tied in colors ranging from black to red, green to copper. I have fished it in water the color of pea soup on the Gallatin River, and during runoff on the Madison and Yellowstone rivers when they stretch into their brushy banks with foamy raging water the color of chocolate milk. I have also used it as a dropper fly in late August and September, when the rivers in Montana run low, cool, and clear, and opportunistic trout are looking upward for the occasional beetle, hopper, or cricket.

The components are simple; most fly tiers have them at their desks already. I prefer a nymph hook 2x long to accommodate the bead. I like to use gold-plated beads, and of course the size will vary with the size of the hook. For a #12 or #14, use a 1/8-inch bead. I like to use red Uni-Thread in one of two gauges, depending on the size I am tying. For #16 to #22, I use 8/0; for #10 to #14, I use 6/0.

Once you slip the bead over the hook, tie in the tail of the fly using goose biot in either tan or black. I prefer the tan, because it mimics the sand-colored tail of many of our golden stonefly nymphs. The abdomen is copper wire. This wire comes in different colors and gauges. You should tie it in at least four colors: black, copper, red, and green. I have found copper and red to be the most effective colors.

Once you have wrapped just over half of the hook shank in wire, tie in a single strand of medium holographic mylar for the wing case. Tie in peacock hurl for the abdomen, and pull the mylar over it and tie it off at the bead. For legs, I like to use wood duck flank, because of its yellow color and bold black speckles; however, dyed mallard flank or partridge works equally well.

The final touch to the fly is a small bead of Devcon five-minute epoxy placed over the mylar. The most efficient way to use the epoxy is to tie several flies, then place them in a small piece of foam. Mix up a small batch of the epoxy (one cubic centimeter). As soon as it becomes tacky, with a toothpick dab a small bubble onto each fly. It hardens fast, so do not worry about it sagging.

The Copper John has weight built into it. In the small sizes it works to mimic a midge on the bottom of the river or lake. In the larger sizes it functions as an attractor pattern, possibly mimicking mayfly or stonefly nymphs. If fished alone, it rarely needs additional weight, and if fished with another nymph, you may spend more time hanging on the bottom than drifting through a run. In shallow water, or in the late summer and early fall, fish the John as a dropper behind a large hopper pattern. Fish it up against the banks, where many trout lie waiting for a large terrestrial to plop into the stream. Oftentimes these trout will choose the subsurface fly (your nymph) over the suspicious-looking hopper pattern.

Happy tying and tight lines.

COPPER JOHN INGREDIENTS

Tail: Tan or Black Goose Biot
Abdomen: Small Copper Wire
Thorax: Peacock Hurl
Wingcase: Medium Holographic Mylar, Five-Minute Epoxy
Legs: Wood Duck Flank, Dyed Lemon Mallard Flank
Bead: 1/8 or 5/64 Gold Bead-Head
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