Legendary Fly Tier Bob Quigley was clearly one of the most influential tiers of an entire generation. His trout and steelhead patterns, and his tying style, have been copied and revered for years. Honing his skills on such technical waters as Hat and Hot creeks, as well as the Fall River, Quigley developed a host of invaluable patterns that were a step above and beyond the traditional flies of his day.
Quigley passed away in June, 2012, after a prolonged battle with prostate cancer, leaving a void in the fly-fishing world that may never again be filled. His list of accomplishments is lengthy and varied, but perhaps he will be most remembered for his contributions to fly design and for taking a genuinely fresh approach to how trout feed on aquatic insects in transitional stages.
Quigley changed the shape of technical dry-fly fishing. That’s an impressive sentence and an even more impressive feat. He coined the now-common term “cripple,” and managed with that single word to alter the way many fly tiers look at patterns designed for technical fishing and flat water.
Instead of the traditional goal of creating a perfect match for the attractive full-blown adult insects pictured in books and magazines—whether mayflies, caddis, or midges—Quigley took a closer look at the exact stage, state, and impression of the real insects, and captured their transitional forms . . . and that monumental epiphany changed the way many of us approach fly design to this day.
With such patterns as the Quigley Cripple, Hackle Stacker, Flag Dun, and Film Critic, Quigley brought to the world a plethora of designs that we had never seen before. Broken, battered, and trapped insects gained notoriety and forever changed the nomenclature heard on many American trout streams.
Matching the specific state of the insects being fed upon, rather than merely the species or stage, brought forth a new era in both fly design and technical dry-fly fishing.
These days, “cripple” patterns can be loosely defined to include the now commonplace stillborns, emergers, drowned spinners, and stuck-in-the-shuck patterns—all of which imitate transition periods where insects are neither nymphs nor adults (and in the case of spinners, specifically not floating prone on the water per conventional wisdom).
These trapped, bedraggled, and vulnerable insects are analogous to the old, weakened, injured, or young animals in a herd of African antelope—with our friends the trout playing the role of lions. Generations of evolution have taught these predators that vulnerable prey are more easily captured and consumed, and are more efficient in terms of calories expended versus calories consumed.
We’ve probably all encountered snooty trout holed up in an obvious feeding lane that snub not only every perfect drift we put over them, they even pass up real insects we can see floating freely on the surface. To frustrate us, they prefer to feed only on unseen morsels we can’t detect.
Many times these fish are selectively targeting crippled insects that lie flatter, partially sunken, have one wing up and one down, are still attached to their trailing shuck (thereby inhibiting their hatching progress), or are otherwise detained and delayed in that moment that they cross paths with the searching eye of a hungry trout.
Unable to complete the emergence process, these insects struggle feebly at the surface, writhing to right themselves and are trapped in the surface film with no chance of escape. Like those African lions, trout know an easy meal when they see it. Quigley recognized this tendency, and built several fly patterns around these hapless specimens. His legacy will live on in an array of flies that fool the most persnickety trout—and for that we all owe him a gracious nod.
One of Quigley’s most popular patterns is the Film Critic, a great name for a brilliant pattern. Using Quigley’s own ground-breaking Hackle Stacker hackling technique for flotation and the impression of legs, an ingeniously constructed yet simple trailing shuck, an accurately low hanging nymphal body coupled to an adult thorax and upright advanced wing, the Film Critic creates the impression of a mayfly nymph hanging in the surface film, distracted by its own stuttered emergence.
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Half nymph, half adult, the Film Critic mimics a mayfly at its most compromised stage, dangling a nymphal abdomen below the surface while leaving an adult wing profile above to both better fool the target as well as provide good fly pattern visibility for fly fishers.
In keeping with form following function, the abdomens of all Film Critics are ribbed with copper wire, not only to reinforce, but, in Quigley’s eyes, to add a bit of weight and allow the pattern to hang at the proper angle at the surface.
Using a curved hook to better position these important aspects of the fly at the proper place in the trout’s view also affords a more than adequate hook gap, even when tied in smaller sizes.
As an added bonus, and contrary to many flatwater patterns, the Film Critic is extraordinarily buoyant, equally at home in the rough waters and pockets of Colorado’s Rio Grande as it is on Quigley’s slick home waters of the Fall River.
I am honored to present the tying instructions here for Bob Quigley’s Film Critic. There are not many patterns that impress me the way both the design and effectiveness of this fly does. These steps are for the Green Drake version, but Quigley tied this fly to match many of the most common mayflies by simply altering sizes and colors as needed.
Charlie Craven co-owns Charlie’s Fly Box in Arvada, Colorado, and is the author of Charlie’s Fly Box (Stackpole Books, 2011). He is also the featured tier in the iPhone app FlyBench, available in the iTunes store.