I have to admit I've never been fond of the term "guide flies." Maybe it's just in my head, but this phrase is too often used as an excuse for simple, sloppy patterns tied under the guise that they're all you really need to catch fish.
I've often said that if all the fish in the world died tomorrow, I'd still tie flies because I enjoy it so much. Complicated patterns and techniques intrigue me, and keep me coming back to the vise every day, but for a working guide, patterns that are quick, cheap, easy to tie, buoyant, durable, and visible are as important as good waders and a net. Fly tier Andrew Grillos has managed to have his cake and eat it too, by creating "guide flies" like the El Camino that are also beautiful and innovative.
Grillos has led a fishing life to be envied. He started fly fishing at 10 years old and was a commercial tier at 16. Shortly after, he began guiding and has Alaska, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, Colorado, and Washington on his résumé.
Anyone who has guided as successfully as Grillos in so many varied locations over a relatively short period of time isn't getting the job done merely by knowing the water intimately. He's doing it by understanding both what the fish want and what his clients need to be successful in any water type.
Grillos is both inventive and practical in his fly patterns, creating purpose-driven patterns that not only catch fish, but hold up, float well with little maintenance, and are easy to cast and see on the water.
His low-riding adult golden stone El Camino (think Cheech & Chong for the low-rider reference) combines the essence of what could be considered a guide fly while maintaining a classy and thoughtful demeanor. Tied with just a few cheap, easy-to-get materials, the El Camino presents a perfect, wiggling stonefly profile to the fish, while being buoyant and durable for the guide, and incredibly visible for the client. Combining all of these factors in a fly that doesn't look like it was scraped off the bottom of your shoe is a feat in and of itself, but to have it work as effectively as this fly has is a minor miracle.
Grillos is the kind of guy who simply realized his need for a pattern like this and thought it through in his head long before ever sitting down at the vise to bring it to fruition. When that time finally came, Grillos says, "I just sat down and tied it and there it was." Vision like this, and the ability to not only see the need but effectively fill it, is what sets him apart.
While it's a simple fly overall, there are a few minor tricks involved in the tying of the El Camino. Grillos stresses that the dubbing ball at the bend is important to keep the tail splayed. The other key is to properly notch the foam on the front wingcase section to allow the hair wing to spread out, and more realistically represent the fluttering wings of the real deal.
Resist the urge to tie in a big chunk of hair on this fly. Sparser bunches spread out better, create less bulk, and make the fly easier to cast and less likely to twist the leader. I found that tying in the antennae using a pair of X-wraps led to less bulk and a better split on the front end of the fly as well.
Grillos specifically reminded me to add a drop of head cement to the leg tie-downs as well, a step that becomes apparent once the fly is finished. These legs are bound by just a couple wraps and can move around later if not glued in place.
The El Camino is just one of several innovative patterns Grillos has to his name. His Bob Barker and Sideshow Bob patterns feature actual foam indicators tied into the fly to aid flotation and act as an all-important "where's-it-at" for fly fishers. So many patterns these days feature a hot spot of one sort or another to fill the need for an indicator or fly finder, and I had one of those fantastic why-didn't-I-think-of-that moments when I first saw a Grillos pattern. Bringing the technique a step further, his Bob Gnarly mouse pattern has a body made of a painted ¾" foam teardrop-shaped strike indicator, assuring never-ending flotation, incredible durability, and a fly that can be cast easily even on light rods.
The wide range of Grillos's guiding and fishing has brought him influences that are apparent when looking into his fly boxes. Many of his flies have an obvious steelhead lineage, from dangling stinger hooks to foam skating lips. His heavy use of foam, hair wings, and hackle has a Rocky Mountain vibe with touches from South America, like multiple rubber legs, and double-layer foam bodies. These chunkier components all work beautifully together to create patterns that are perfect for their intended use. The melding of these many materials effectively used across the globe is something that just comes naturally to Andrew Grillos, and to the benefit of us all.
Tying The El Camino
Name: El Camino
Hook: #6-12 Tiemco 200R.
Thread: Black 3/0 monocord.
Legs: Medium orange-barred rubber legs.
Overbody: Cinnamon Fly Foam, 2 mm.
Body: Rusty brown Ice Dub.
Underwing: Pearl Midge Flash.
Overwing: Dyed orange cow elk or deer.
Indicator: 1.5 mm orange Fly Foam.
Photos: Charlie Craven
El Camino Step 1 of 10
Begin by dressing the hook shank with thread and a small ball of Ice Dub above and behind the hook barb. Tie in a doubled length of orange-barred rubber legs over the hook point, and wrap back over it to the base of the ball, forming a split tail.
El Camino Step 2 of 10
Cut a strip of 2 mm foam to about as wide as the hook gap. Trim one end to a long taper and tie the foam in by its pointed tip at the two-thirds point and wrap back over it to the base of the tails. By the time the thread reaches the tail, the tapered foam should be wrapped over, and the foam should be at its hook-gap width.
El Camino Step 3 of 10
Dub a slightly tapered abdomen of Ice Dub from the bend of the hook up to the two-thirds point. Pull the strip of foam tightly over the dubbed abdomen, and anchor it down with a few tight turns of thread at the front.
El Camino Step 4 of 10
Spiral the thread back to the hook bend, then forward again. Clip the extra foam and tie in four to six strands of pearl Midge Flash. The flash should extend to about the end of the body.
El Camino Step 5 of 10
Cut, clean, and stack a small clump of dyed elk or deer hair. Measure it from the front of the body to the bend of the hook and tie it in on top of the hook at the front of the body. Clip the butt ends flush.
El Camino Step 6 of 10
Cut a slightly wider strip of cinnamon foam and notch the end. Tie in the notched end of the foam at the base of the wing with two stacked wraps of thread, then tie in an equal width of orange 1.5 mm foam right on top of it with an additional two wraps of thread.
El Camino Step 7 of 10
Tie in orange-barred rubber legs on each side of the fly using one tight turn of thread for each side. Avoid creating too much bulk here, as there are several materials tied in all at one point.
El Camino Step 8 of 10
Pull the foam and legs up out of the way, and dub a pronounced thorax. Wrap the Ice Dub tightly against the base of the foam to form a continuous body. Make a thread base behind the hook eye, then pull the foam forward over the dubbed thorax and tie it down.
El Camino Step 9 of 10
Tie in a single strand of orange-barred rubber legs on top of the foam in the antennae position. Fold the orange foam forward and tie it down. Lift all the foam and rubber legs up and back, bring the thread behind the hook eye, and whip-finish.
El Camino Step 10 of 10
Trim the thread, trim the foam to a short stub, and then trim the orange foam just slightly shorter. Clip the legs, tail, and antennae to about two-thirds of a shank length. Add a drop of head cement to the thread head, as well as to the leg tie-down areas.