May 01, 2023
Josh Smitherman is a 28-year-old husband, father of a toddler with another on the way and a lifelong fisherman. He started tying flies in high school and quickly became very, very good at it. He spent a few years guiding for Living Waters Fly Shop before recently becoming a home builder. He and his wife Jesika have traveled all over the Mountain West and many saltwater fishing destinations in their pursuit of angling nirvana and in the course of these travels Josh has come up with a bunch of great fly patterns. Hailing from the Texas Hill Country, Josh’s first love was bass fishing in clear water and many of his patterns reflect this preference. But like many great flies, many of them easily cross over for cold and saltwater species as well. He debuted his Sugar Shaker streamer pattern in 2017 through Umpqua Feather Merchants and he has been off to the races ever since.
Josh did a fantastic job of relaying the finer points of tying the fly over the phone but having the opportunity to watch him tie it in person in Denver at the Flyfishing Show was a real game changer (not to mention getting the chance to peek through his fly boxes and see some of his other incredible stuff). Josh is just the sort of young man the fly-tying world needs. Someone who is not only a gifted tyer, but has a wide-ranging skill set and a passion for flies and design. I can confidently say that we are going to be hearing a lot more about Josh’s patterns. He’s simply one of the most innovative tyers I have ever met and has a beautiful mind for flies unlike anything else you’ve seen.
His Smitherman’s Draggin’ Nymph is just the kind of pattern that catches my eye right away. A perfect imitation of these ubiquitous stillwater carnivores built with a compelling yet simple approach. I have carried Josh’s fly in my fly shop for well over a year now and have to admit I never quite understood how he went about making the body. As it turns out, it’s a simple procedure born from a happy accident playing with a bit of fire and some synthetic dubbing. Tied on a stout jig hook and using black bead chain eyes for weight instead of the usual slotted bead, the pattern rides hook point up on the bottom without fear of snagging and those big eyes square off the head shape nicely, furthering the accurate silhouette. A few burly sets of Perfect Rubber legs, a bit of soft hackle, a pinch or two of dubbing and you have a bug that brings a smile to your face.
Smitherman had attended an entomology class several years ago and collected many large dragonfly nymphs. Seeing both the size and quantity of these bugs present in the Texas Hill Country rivers prompted him to start thinking about creating a pattern to imitate them. While common and a favorite food of all still and slow-water fish, from bass and carp, Rio Grande Cichlids and on up to even the lowly trout, there aren’t a lot of patterns meant to imitate them. Josh knew he had the right answer after absentmindedly singeing a clump of Senyo’s Laser Dubbing and fusing the end together. This fused body created an ideal bulbous extended abdomen needed for a fly like this without creating too much bulk or requiring the use of a long shanked hook. He relays that once the abdomen piece of the puzzle revealed itself, the rest of the fly came together almost instantly.
Josh like to fish the Draggin’ Nymph on a floating line with a 9-foot fluorocarbon leader terminating in 2X or 3X. His retrieval varies with the target species. With feeding carp, he likes to drop the fly 6 to 12 inches from them and give the fly very small twitches once it’s close to the bottom. But if they’re cruising he tries to anticipate their path and have the fly already sitting on the bottom when they get to it. He’ll then make two or three short but fast strips followed by a long pause and this usually closes the deal. When blind fishing, Josh likes to keep the strips fairly short after the fly reaches the bottom, but will throw in a few longer, slower strips as well. He finds most of the takes occur on the pause or the first strip after it.
Step-by-Step Tutorial for Smitherman's Draggin' Nymph
Step 1. Start by mounting the hook in the vise and dressing the hook shank from the eye to the bend. Be sure to dress the upright section of the shank behind the hook eye as well. Tie in a pair of bead chain eyes on the flat part of the shank behind the upright, using x-wraps. Return the thread to the bend of the hook.
Step 2. Pull a good-sized clump of Senyo’s Laser Dubbing from the package and begin to align the fibers by pulling the clump apart and re-stacking the fibers so they are all going the same direction.
Step 3. Fold the aligned clump of dubbing in half by pinching its center and pulling the loose ends together.
Step 4. Stroke the bundle of dubbing into a single clump. I find it useful to run a dubbing needle through the fibers to further align them at this point.
Step 5. Pinch the clump of dubbing near the loose ends and clip them off square. Use a cigarette lighter to singe the end of the dubbing, melting the fibers together. Pinch and roll the hot ends together in your fingertips to form a pointed tip.
Step 6. Measure the formed dubbing against the shank so they match in length and tie the abdomen in at the bend of the hook. Wrap forward over the dubbing clump to just short of the back of the eyes and clip the excess. Anchor the dubbing clump down firmly with several tight wraps of thread.
Step 7. Use a brown Sharpie marker to draw four or five bands around the abdomen, then tie in a piece of Perfect Rubber just in front of the abdomen. Fold one half to the far side of the hook and anchor it in place then fold the other back on the near side and repeat the process forming two legs that sweep back along the abdomen.
Step 8. Select a hen saddle feather that has barbs about equal to the hook gap. Trim bristles onto the base of the feather and tie it in just in front of the abdomen tie down with the inside of the feather facing the abdomen.
Step 9. Fold the feather fibers toward the bend and make two turns of hackle, one right in front of the other then tie off and clip the tip of the feather.
Step 10. Begin to dub the thorax with a thin, tight noodle of dubbing. Dub from the eyes, back to the base of the hackle then forward again, ending with bare thread hanging in the middle of a robust thorax.
Step 11. Fold a piece of Perfect rubber into a loop and tie it down on top of the dubbing with a few tight turns of thread. Pull the ends of the rubber to slide them down along each side of the thorax.
Step 12. Apply another tight noodle of dubbing to the thread and use it to cover the thread band anchoring the legs. Use the remaining dubbing to finish out the thorax and figure eight between the eyes as well as up onto the hook eye upright. Whip finish just behind the hook eye.
Step 13. Trim the rear legs to about the same length as the abdomen, then the other two pairs to about half of that length.
Charlie Craven co-owns Charlie’s Fly Box in Arvada, Colorado. He is the author of four books, most recently Tying Streamers: Essential Flies and Techniques for the Top Patterns (Stackpole Books, 2020).