Outdoor Blogger Network and Montana Fly Company teamed up for a fly designer competition in January 2011, and I decided maybe it was time to try and actually make my idea a reality.
I separately contacted two of my fellow OBN bloggers who regularly fish for trout in southern Appalachia and asked them to test my fly design when I saw the contest announcement. They both agreed to assist with my little experiment.
At the end of January, I mailed the flies to my two independent testers. Since both of them also fly fish for bass, I also sent them a couple of my Giant Woolly Buggers as a
They both tested... and both had success... so I thought, "what the heck?... might as well give it a shot, right?"
Well, the package is in the mail... flying First Class... on its way to Rebecca Garlock... no turning back now.
The story of this fly necessitates just a little bit of history about myself... and salamanders. I'll try not to bore you too much. Hopefully, you'll find some of it interesting.
If you've followed The Naturalist's Angle for long, you may have gathered that I'm a big fan of amphibians and reptiles. You might even say I'm a bit of a herpetologist (that's a reptile and amphibian biologist). It never fails when I say "herpetology"... somebody in the room makes a joke about herpes. Well, the two words are both derived from the same Greek root word (herpein- meaning "to creep"), but a herpetologist doesn't study herpes. Sorry to disappoint.
So... I've been chasing snakes, turtles, and frogs ever since I can remember. Salamanders were, for a long time, just the section of the field guide that I skipped over when looking up other amphibians and reptiles. My first serious exposure to salamanders didn't come until I made a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park during spring break of 1999. I was participating in a salamander survey being conducted by one of my biology professors, the late Dr. William H. N. Gutzke, on populations of the Junaluska Salamander (Eurycea junaluska). Up to that point, I had only seen three species of salamanders in the wild. All of that would change very quickly as I got a crash course in salamander biodiversity in the matter of just a few days of field work. For a young naturalist, it was a bit of a life changing experience.
In case you didn't know, the southern Appalachians are the world's center for salamander biodiversity. The actual number of species varies depending on what source you consult, and new species are still being identified (many thanks to DNA analysis), but there are somewhere around 45-50 species in the region (30 in GSMNP alone). One of the more interesting facts about salamanders in southern Appalachia is that the biomass of salamanders may exceed that of all other vertebrates combined. That literally means the energy contained in living salamanders may be greater than that of all frogs, fish, birds, snakes, turtles, and mammals combined. Imagine how many tiny little salamanders it would take to equal the biomass of a deer or bear. It's a crazy concept.
Well, knowing how prevalent salamanders are in southern Appalachia, and how important they are in the ecosystem (food chain), and knowing that many of them are highly aquatic, and knowing that trout live in the same streams as the salamanders... led me to believe a salamander fly might be really productive in the natural streams of the region. Although I lived in Knoxville, Tennessee (on the edge of southern Appalachia) for a little over two years from 2001 to 2004, I never attempted to tie up a salamander fly back then. I fly fished the Smokies for trout a number of times, but pretty much stuck to the tried and true classics... Adams dries and Tellico Nymphs... that I bought from the local fly shops. I wasn't much of a fly tyer back then... but that's when the idea really started bouncing around in my head.
So, that's a lot of background information, but it brings us up to the present. I decided maybe I could tie up a salamander fly that would look a bit like some of the most aquatic of the southern Appalachian salamanders- the species of the genus Eurycea. The aforementioned Junaluska Salamander is just one of several species in the region that lives out a large portion of its life in the very same fast flowing waters that are also inhabited by trout. Other closely related species include the Blue Ridge Two-lined Salamander (E. wilderae) and the Southern Two-lined Salamander (E. cirrigera).
|Male E. cirrigera, Oak Mountain State Park, Alabama|
|Female E. cirrigera with eggs, OMSP, Alabama|
The original "Smoky Mountain Sallie" prototypes designed to imitate the highly aquatic Eurycea salamanders are pretty simple. They have a ginger colored marabou tail, vinyl "d-rib" body, and black lead eyes. These are the actual flies I sent to my field testers...
The two bloggers I asked to help me test my fly design were Mike of the blog Mike's Gone Fishin'... Again and Ty of the blog Finewater Fly Fishing. Both of these fine gentlemen seemed happy to help, and both turned out to be excellent field testers.
The results of Ty's experimentation...
In Ty's own words:
"Went to the Smokies this weekend. The bad news is that I lost both of your salamander flies on rocks in very deep holes. The good news is that I caught a nice wild Little River rainbow on this fly before that. Middle Prong of the Little River to be exact. Actually landed one and lost two others. I think the narrow gape on that hook could have been a factor on the lost fish. You might be on to something with this fly. I know that's impossible to say after one trip, but the facts are I caught a wild trout on this fly in winter in 39 degree water, tough conditions for catching mountain trout."
The results of Mike's experimentation...
In Mike's own words:
"I was fishing Wilson Creek near Morganton, NC. Had luck in the fast water swinging my go-to olive woolly bugger, but not so much in the longer, flatter stretches where pods of rainbows, probably stockers, were cruising around in 3-4 ft of water. It made sense to me that salamanders would be more common in such slower water, so I put a couple of shot about 8 inches above the fly, tied it on with a loop so it would move freely, and crawled it along in short, halting strips. Happily, I picked up four fish in the slick."
The slightly improved version of the fly I submitted to MFC for the designer contest:
The hooks I used on the prototypes weren't exactly intended for fly tying... but on short notice they were the best I could find. I knew the small gap might be problematic (as Ty experienced). They were size 8 Carlisle hooks made by Pugh Tackle Company out of New Albany, Mississippi. I bought them at a local outdoor outfitter near Jackson, Mississippi that doesn't exactly specialize in fly fishing. The hook I used in the improved version was a... well... I don't know exactly. It appeared to be around a size 8. It was a hook I salvaged from an old Woolly Bugger that had seen better days. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the perfect hook for my design at my local Bass Pro. Although they do carry a few Montana Fly Company products, hooks are not one of them. I'm pretty sure a 6XL streamer hook in a size 8 would have worked well... an MFC 7030 would have been ideal.
The "Smoky Mountain Sallie" may not be a winner, but it's certainly unique, and I certainly had fun working with my fellow OBN bloggers on this little experiment. A huge "Thank You" to Ty and Mike for playing along. I know it was a real chore for them to have to go fly fishing, but they were real troopers.
(By the way guys, thanks for making this thing look like it might actually work.)
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