When you play a system at the gaming tables of Las Vegas, you’re sure to lose your money systematically. Yet when it comes to fly fishing, there’s a system that pays off nearly every place, every time.
Barr’s three-fly method removes most of the agonizing gamble that comes with deciding what trout might choose to eat on any given day and where. John Barr, who conjured up the solution from his tying bench in Boulder, Colorado, calls it the “Hopper-Copper-Dropper,” an alliterative way to describe a setup that is as risk-free as angling ever gets.
Barr didn’t invent the three-fly method. Anglers have been tossing–and tangling–multiple-fly rigs for years. But he has refined that approach into a system that has not only proven itself on Colorado’s hard-fished waters but around the United States.
Casting two- or three-fly rigs takes a slight modification in your rig and casting stroke, but it pays dividends in the end. This approach isn’t for everyone–and it’s not for every fishing situation. Be sure to check the regulations for waters you fish and make sure you can use more than one fly. In some areas it may be illegal to fish with more than one hook at a time.
The Triple Threat
A three-fly rig increases your odds by presenting more flies to the fish. While it’s not unusual to take a trout on a different fly on successive drifts, the system really shines when conditions are tough and you have difficulty finding a fly that works.
Some of the best testing grounds for effective patterns are the hard-hit Colorado streams such as the South Platte. On such streams, Barr has noticed fish shy away from indicators and split-shot. The BC Hopper doesn’t spook fish like an indicator would and the Copper John catches fish–which is a more effective than a split-shot that just sinks your fly. Additionally, you get a more natural drift using a Copper John as weight rather than a split-shot.
The BC Hopper
Most often tied in tan to imitate a large hopper or Golden Stone, the BC Hopper can be tied in black to mimic a cricket or cicada. Use orange foam or color the bottom and this versatile fly suggests the salmonflies of the West.
A splash of yellow yarn above the elk-hair wing signals the BC Hopper’s primary purpose as a highly visible strike indicator. The elk hair and foam in the high-floating hopper can support two heavily weighted nymphs without sinking. Stick-on indicators, some yarn indicators, and small foam or cork indicators often sink if they are used with a nymph and split-shot, losing their ability to suspend your flies and help you detect strikes. But the BC Hopper is more than a strike indicator. It also hooks its share of fish.
The foam body (an element refined by Charlie Craven at Rocky Mountain Angler in Boulder, Colorado) and the extensive use of super glue at each step of the process makes this fly bombproof, and many have attested to its ability to take lots fish without showing signs of wear.
Fishing the BC Hopper, Barr and others have found that fish take the pattern before and after hopper season. During one October excursion to a high-elevation stream, Craven discovered that trout would come to the BC Hopper in cold water.
“We still got a few takes on the dry,” Craven said. “During the right time of the year, it gets a lot of attention. It sure beat the heck out of the zeroes you get with yarn indicators.”
Craven also points out another, almost inadvertent advantage of the BC Hopper.
“It’s a lot more fun to watch than a regular indicator. As a result, you’re more ready to respond when a fish takes the Copper or Dropper.”
The core of this system is Barr’s Copper John. Refined by Barr in 1996, this fly emerged in 2001 as the number-one seller in the Umpqua catalog, the successor to the Hare’s Ear and Prince as the first nymph anglers pull out of the box. Laced with lead and copper wire and sporting a flash of color to augment a basic mayfly profile, this pattern dives quickly to the strata where trout feed and hold.
The Copper plunges quickly to the depth you desire, yet drifts much more naturally than a nymph with extra weight pinched on the leader. With a dozen or more wraps of lead, a copper abdomen, and a bead head, the Copper John boasts a sink rate roughly equivalent to the anchor of the Queen Mary. Yet it also maintains an enticing profile that seems to imitate a wide variety of insects.
Choosing Your Copper. In the beginning, the body of Barr’s fly was natural copper, but he later added patterns with red, green, and black wire to his fly box. He’s now been experimenting with chartreuse, blue, and silver with good success.
With so many colors of wire available, it can be hard to choose what color Copper John to fish. When in doubt, the copper-wire Copper John is a good choice. For years that’s all Barr used, and the color is no less effective now that there are more colors to choose from. At times it pays to show fish many colors to see which one works, but you can also match the size and color of the Copper John to insects that have been, are, or will be emerging. Barr believes that insects don’t have to be present for fish to key in on a particular color or size.
For instance, he has found a correlation between caddis activity and the color green. If your area has a good population of free-living caddis such as Rhyacophila, a green Copper John is a good candidate. In the spring, Barr will often reach for a green Copper John first.
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