Water Boatman Fly
September 16, 2016
Catching big 'bows doesn't have to be complicated
Stillwater fishing has become more and more popular here in Colorado over the last decade. What was once merely a fun alternative during runoff—while the rivers were too big and muddy to fish—has become the primary focus of a select group of hardcore anglers who are willing to spend most of their time figuring out what makes stillwater fish tick. These fellas quietly roll into my shop in the spring and fall with cellphone pictures of fish that are utterly jaw-dropping. Tim Drummond is just that sort of guy.
Drummond grew up in Longmont, Colorado, and is the son of cane rod builder Frank Drummond. The younger Drummond came by his addiction naturally, fishing up and down the Front Range before finally settling down and guiding for North Park Anglers in Walden, Colorado. He's now in his seventh season there.
North Park Colorado is home to the village of Walden, but more importantly it's the cradle of Delaney Butte Lakes, a series of impoundments harboring fish of sometimes mythical proportions. These lakes are food factories, with crayfish, leeches, scuds, Callibaetis, and damselflies as their main attractions. Leave it to an analyst like Drummond to sift through all the options on the stillwater menu and single out the lowly water boatman as one of the most important foods in the ecosystem.
Water boatmen, at first glance, resemble some sort of water beetle, with prominent legs and blocky bodies. They are often a mystery to even seasoned fly fishers. As it turns out, trout relish these little morsels, and tank up on them every chance they get.
Tim's Water Boatman pattern is a genuinely simple affair that is tied entirely of synthetic materials and uses a gunmetal-colored glass bead to add a bit of flash and weight, and square off the face of this odd little critter. Water boatmen are good swimmers when they want to be, and lazy bottom bouncers when they don't, so Tim ties his fly lightly weighted to drift as much as possible.
Using Thin Skin over a pearl Lateral Scale shellback to create a glow from within, and beautiful black peacock Ice Dub to form the body, Tim finished his fly off with a pair of Flexi Floss legs swept back along the body to imitate the prominent oarlike legs of the natural. This fly has everything it needs, and nothing it doesn't.
While this pattern could be referred to as a "guide fly," I hate that term. Guides are in the business of catching fish and I've never seen one who oversimplifies anything. Experts like Drummond have a reason for everything they tie to a hook, and everything they do while fishing. I love that sort of thing!
Drummond typically uses an intermediate line with a 12-foot 3X leader and a single Water Boatman, but he sometimes fishes the fly under an indicator, particularly when the infamous North Park wind creates a bit of chop on the water. The Boatman bounces and jigs under the indicator, and he finds he can even get a bit of a "drift" in under the right conditions. Drummond caught his largest Delaney Lakes trout without using an indicator, by simply casting the fly out and retrieving with short, steady strips.
My experience shows that a long strip-retrieve can also sometimes be deadly. I cast in the direction of some sort of visible surface activity, and make a single, very long, steady strip to swim the fly in a long arc. I'm always amazed by how often I'm rewarded with a charging trout inhaling the pattern when I fish it this way, but you can be sure I'll also try Drummond's short-strip method the next time I'm in North Park.
Charlie Craven co-owns Charlie's Fly Box in Arvada, Colorado, and is the
featured tier in two Fly Fisherman DVDs: Warmwater Fly Tying and Saltwater Fly Tying. His latest book is Tying Nymphs: Essential Flies and Techniques for the Top Patterns, available from Stackpole Books/Headwater Books (2016).