The Porcupine-Quill Callibaetis

How to tie a very effective dry fly using a very unusual material.

[by Mark Halperin]

I ARRIVED AT THE LAKE AT MID-MORNING and by noon was feeling more than a little frustrated. There were the rings of rising trout when I put in, but not enough to dissuade me from starting with a sinking line. Still, of my standard patterns—a small green Woolly Bugger, an assortment of dark leeches, and a shiny blood worm—none drew more than a tentative strike. I moved on to more realistic damselfly nymphs, other lake nymphs, and scuds, but I was no closer to catching a fish.

In something approaching desperation, and recalling the few Callibaetis I spotted earlier in the day, I decided to switch to my dry fly rod. There were fewer Callibaetis now, but I figured my latest porcupine-quill extended-body imitation deserved a try. I tied it on near an undercut bank where I saw a fish splash. I cast. The line sailed out, the tippet straightened just above the water, and my fly landed gently. No reaction. After waiting a few seconds, I gave the rod a twitch, then a second twitch. Still no strike.

Preparing to cast again, I tightened the line, pulling the fly under the surface and catching an underwater obstruction. Preparing to free it, I gave a mild tug and the obstruction took off. After an extended battle, I netted a fat, 18-inch-long rainbow trout. I continued fishing my Porcupine-Quill Callibaetis and caught more trout; one fish surprised me by breaking the lake’s calm surface and snatching the fly from the air.

Several hours later, I decided to pack it up. I had lost at least as many fish as I caught—to weeds, to the low breaking strength of my 5X tippet, and to the weak grip of a short-shank, size 16 hook. No matter: when the trout wouldn’t take anything else, they were happy to strike my Porcupine-Quill Callibaetis. I was content.


When the fishing gets tough, the author turns to this unique but easy-to-tie extended-body dry fly.

How I Fish the Hatch

I’d always fished a Callibaetis imitation with a nymph dropper, tying the subsurface pattern to the hook bend of the floating fly. In a lake, the fish get a nice long look at your fly, and they can study even a twitched floating pattern pretty thoroughly. A moving nymph seems a different matter. The trout would often come for a look at the dry fly and opt for the nymph. But there was a drawback to this technique: the splash of the dropper at the end of the cast, especially in shallow water, drove fish away as often as the dry fly attracted them.

I started fishing my latest Callibaetis imitation without a dropper; after all, I was experimenting, anxious to get started, and didn’t think highly of my chances. When the quill extended-body version worked, it didn’t occur to me to add a dropper, and when I did remember, the additional fly seemed
unnecessary. Why fiddle with success?