October 29, 2019
(This story appeared in the Oct-Nov-Dec 2016 issue of Fly Fisherman.)
Most often when I sit down to develop a new pattern I have a theme in mind. These themes can often be summed up by a single word: slim, heavy, wide, specific, detailed, buoyant . . . things like that. Flies like the Two Bit Hooker and Screaming Banshee came about with a single theme in mind and were pointedly designed around the individual aspect I was after.
The Haymaker, however, did not. It was sort of an accident that appeared, then developed a bit more over time, and then sneakily became a pattern I now pull out of my box a lot more often than I had ever anticipated.
The first inception of the fly now known as the Haymaker came about in an effort to find something subtle and nondescript that I could trail behind a large streamer. After becoming frustrated on a few floats by noncommittal trout following my bigger patterns out from the bank only to slowly turn and glide back to their lairs, I reasoned that it might be a good idea to hang some sort of smaller pattern on a long dropper off the back of the streamer.
This trailing fly would just magically appear in front of these fish as they sulked away. I wanted something nymphlike, as I had previous success in this sort of instance with patterns like a Hare’s-ear Soft Hackle or Copper John, but I wanted it to look attractive when being retrieved as well. A smaller nymph just racing along behind my giant streamer pattern just never made sense to me, so I decided I needed a pattern that could do double duty as both a larger nymph and smaller streamer; something that could swim or dead-drift, and it would look right doing either. I had my work cut out for me.
As it worked out over time, the Haymaker came to be sort of a Rubber-leg Nymph/Woolly Bugger combo platter that fit the bill perfectly. I clearly recall one of my first floats after dialing the pattern in . . . I threw my streamer with a Haymaker attached on a long 24-inch dropper, and in the tailout of a pool I saw the arcing flash of a nice brown turning to chase it down. The river was moving fast and I threw a mend to keep the current from ripping my flies away from the trout, but just as the fish closed in, he just as abruptly turned off and started to slither away. That’s when the trout saw the Haymaker, now dead-drifting and plainly looking edible and nonthreatening. Without changing speed, the fish simply glided right through the fly, taking it in as he returned to his lair. Then I stabbed him in the face and laughed. I love when a plan comes together.
I usually focus on the large streamer when I’m fishing—that’s the big fly I can often see, and I use it like a boxer uses a jab, throwing it out there right in their faces where they can plainly see it. Like a jab, the streamer is something that gets their attention and makes them move. The Haymaker is the knockout punch they don’t see coming.
I always keep a dozen Haymakers stashed away in my streamer box for days when the fish get a little snippy about actually consuming my bigger flies, and I have resorted to the old bait-and-switch with regularity as the need arises, but that’s not the only time this pattern has proved useful.
As a fly tier, “nondescript” is usually a term I view as a slam, but as a fisherman, the nature of this pattern makes it versatile and valuable in a variety of fishing situations. I use this subtle little pattern in lakes and small streams, and in big drift-boat rivers.
I often fish it by itself and let the fish decide what they want it to be. The smaller size coupled with a relatively bulky profile can allow it to cross over for a stonefly, a dragonfly, a leech, a smaller baitfish and God knows what else. I have fished it straight up as a nymph under an indicator with split-shot, and it also works as a single streamer fished solo.
I give little thought to what the fish think it represents, and instead concern myself with the fun I have catching them. This pattern has caught trout, sunfish, bass, and even small pike for me over the years, and has earned more real estate in my fly box than I ever guessed it would.
While the original version is tied in black, I have experimented a bit with olive, gold, and brown, and all of them have produced fish. The black version is still my favorite, and my secret go-to pattern that makes my friends ask “What are you using?” on those days when fishing is sketchy.
I have always loathed the old question: “If you only had one fly?” but if I had to answer it, the Haymaker just might get the nod. It’s easy and cheap to tie, casts well, sinks quickly, and is versatile through a variety of fishing situations. Above all else, it keeps me from fishing those dang rubber-leg Girdle Bugs that offend my heart and mind. That’s enough for me.
Tying the Haymaker
Hook: #6-12 Tiemco 5262.
Thread: Black 8/0 UNI-Thread.
Bead: Gold tungsten.
Weight: .025” lead wire for #6, .020” wire for #8-12 hooks.
Tail: Black Woolly Bugger marabou.
Legs: Black medium round rubber.
Body: Black/gold Speckled Chenille.
Collar: Black hen saddle hackle.
- Place the bead on the hook and make about 15 turns of lead wire around the center of the shank. Slide the lead into the back of the bead and build a thread dam from the bare shank up to the diameter of the lead wraps, then continue wrapping a thread base all the way back to the hook bend. Return the thread to the back of the bead, cross-hatching the lead wraps along the way.
- Pick out a thick marabou feather and slick the fibers back with wet fingers. Tie in the butt of the feather right behind the bead with a narrow band of tight thread wraps. Wrap back to the bend, keeping the feather on top of the shank. The tail marabou will be too long, so just tear the tail to about a shank length using your thumbnail. Tearing the fibers rather than cutting them leaves ragged ends that are thicker and fuller than the natural tips of the feather.
- Cut a 3-inch length of medium round black rubber leg and center it across the shank above the hook point. Capture the leg with a tight turn or two of thread on top of the shank. Pull the far end of the rubber leg back along the far side of the tail. Wrap back over this leg to the base of the tail, pinning it in place along the high far side of the hook. Pull the near side leg back along the near side of the tail. Secure the near side leg with a couple of tight wraps of thread right at the base of the tail.
- Strip the fluff off the base of an 8-inch length of chenille to expose the center core. Capture the core with a couple of thread wraps right above the hook point. Wrap back over the core of the chenille right up to the base of the tail, then move the thread forward to just behind the lead wraps.
- Cut another 3-inch-long length of leg material and catch the center of its length under a couple of stacked wraps of thread. Pull the front end of the rubber leg toward you and make two stacked wraps diagonally from the front to the back of the leg and from the near to the far side of the hook, forming an X-wrap. Move the thread forward to about three eye lengths back from the bead and tie in another section of leg material using X-wraps.
- Wrap the chenille forward and use the chenille to sweep the legs back and high along the hook shank. Do the same with the other legs, and tie the chenille off behind the bead. Clip the excess chenille, and make a few thread turns behind the bead to create a smooth base for the collar. Trim the forward rubber legs to a shank length long. Trim the back rubber legs longer than the tail.
- Select two wide hen saddle feathers with fibers about a half shank long and strip the fluff from their bases. Stack both feathers inside to outside, just like they came off the hide. Preen the fibers toward the butt ends to expose a short length of the tip. Place the tips just behind the bead with the insides of the feathers toward the shank. Tie the tips down behind the bead with a tight, narrow band of thread.
- Clip off the tips and make a couple of wraps to smooth over the stubs. Pull up on the butts of both feathers with hackle pliers and fold the fibers back. Wrap the hackle two times, sweeping the fibers back and out of the way each time you come around. Clip the excess. Make a few thread turns against the front edge of the hackle collar to position the fibers, then whip-finish.
*Charlie Craven co-owns Charlie’s Fly Box in Arvada, Colorado, and is the author of two books: Charlie’s Fly Box (Stackpole Books, 2011) and Tying Nymphs: Essential Flies and Techniques for the Top Patterns (Stackpole Books/Headwater Books, 2016).