October 04, 2022
By Charlie Craven
I have always had a romanticized notion about outdoor writers. As a kid, I faithfully read and re-read every word of every fishing magazine I could lay my hands on. The men that wrote for those magazines were larger than life and were seemingly on a constant string of exotic adventures which they then relayed to their readers with delicate and detailed words and pictures. I imagined days and weeks at a time spent fishing with a few short hours intermixed to type the inevitably fantastical stories out in the evening, usually with a glass of brown liquid at the writer’s elbow.
And so, years ago, when Ross Purnell asked me if I wanted to become the Fly Tyer’s Bench Columnist for this magazine, I jumped at the chance. I stocked up on bourbon, typing paper and cardigans with leather elbow patches and waited for my transformation. I’m still waiting.
The truth of the matter is, I am a serial procrastinator and am typically frantically banging away at these articles at the last minute on a fancy new laptop computer at my home office with no booze in sight. Sitting hunched behind the camera under hot lights to tie the flies I feature and hurriedly editing and revising the tutorials and stories, my notions of the glamourous life of being a magazine columnist have a completely different reality than I expected.
I can proudly say that I am at this moment sitting in a lovely little house in Wyoming, typing away on that same fancy laptop, after several days of spectacular fishing and an evening spent among fishing guides casually drinking beer and laughing. I must admit, after nearly ten years of writing this column, this is the first time I have lined things up so well and I’m not afraid to say it makes me smile. I’ve finally made it, but honestly, it’s just too hot out for this damn cardigan so I guess I’ll just cut to the chase.
The Lucky B is the culmination of a fly idea that has been rattling around in my brain for almost thirty years. Back in my guiding days, I would pump one fish’s stomach each day during the summer just to keep track of what was happening or changing and what might be on the menu for the day, and pretty much each day I found a single yellow jacket/paper wasp/mud dauber/winged stinged critter in the belly of nearly every trout.
Never two or three.
One single yellow jacket.
This thought just sort of burbled around in my brain for the past couple of decades and it occurred to me more than once that fish do indeed eat these critters and that I should come up with a pattern to match them. I gave a half assed effort a few different times over the years, but never came up with anything I was really excited about until I started going at it a whole different way.
I had been playing with foam extended bodies tied on a needle, trying to develop an adult cranefly pattern (which has since been perfected and is undoubtedly destined for these pages as well), when it occurred to me that the overlapped foam body had a ton of potential and I set about polishing up the pattern. It took more than a few tries, but I am pretty happy with the result.
I start with a standard, thin sewing needle in the vise and build the abdomen from a strip of foam wrapped over a poly yarn and superglue core. The former existing to allow the body to slide off the needle and the latter to hold it all together once it comes off. Creating the textbook “wasp waist” was a stroke of near genius, if I do say so myself. By adding a stout monofilament articulation point that neatly forms the distinct void between abdomen and thorax, the perfect silhouette of these prolific summertime terrestrials was nailed. From there, a bit of dubbing and a foam strip is combined with some freakishly accurate barred sexi-floss legs and a unique method of forming the mixed color polypropylene macrame yarn wings to finish the fly off. The final artwork on the foam is done using a fine tipped Copic marker, a bit of creativity and a steady hand. The completed pattern floats low with the abdomen and legs dangling and the wings in an easily recognizable wide V shape protruding above the surface. It's buoyant, easy to see and ridiculously realistic and the fish know exactly what it is.
The finished fly is so convincing that upon first gaze it often brings the question of whether it is tied for the fish or the fisherman, and truthfully, I wanted to find that answer just as much as anyone else. I tied up several prototypes along with a black, mud dauber version, later coined the “Jeffrey Dauber,” and stashed them away in my boat bag for an upcoming trip to Idaho with my good friend Danny Lane. When the trip finally rolled around, my wife Lisa, Danny and I set off on a sweltering day for a float down a certain eastern Idaho river with high hopes. It didn’t take long to realize that both the Lucky B and Jeffrey Dauber pulled fussy fish up from the depths and were eaten with 100 percent confidence, much like a beetle or an ant, but perhaps even more so. My vision of finally creating an “extra” terrestrial pattern to throw when things got tough was finally realized and watching fish after fish pull up to the fly and mow it down with zero hesitation was just the confirmation I had been hoping for.
The Lucky B is fun to tie and it’s even more fun to fish, especially when you want to throw something a bit different from the guy in front of you. It’s tied for both the fish and the fisherman alike, you just gotta bee-lieve.
Craven's Lucky B Wasp/Yellowjacket Fly Recipe
HOOK: #16 Tiemco 2487.
THREAD: Yellow 8/0 UNI-Thread.
ABDOMEN BASE: Yellow macramé yarn.
ATTACHMENT: 0X nylon monofilament.
ABDOMEN: Strip of yellow Fly Foam, 1mm X 3mm.
LEGS: Small, amber Sexi-Floss.
SHELLBACK: Strip of yellow Fly Foam, 2mm X 3mm.
THORAX: Black Superfine Dubbing.
WINGS: Mixed yellow, rust, black, and smoke gray polypropylene macramé yarn.
COLLAR: Black Copic Marker.
Step-by-Step Fly Tying Instructions for Craven's Lucky B Yellowjacket/Wasp Fly
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).