Big fish eat big flies, right? These innovative patterns aim to catch the largest fish in the river.
[by Ryan Sparks]
Like many who dream about being on the water rather than at work, I sometimes visit the internet to scratch the itch. Videos of exotic expeditions, expert tips for every angling problem, and the latest fly patterns are all at our fingertips. Yet, in an age of content for content’s sake, you quickly realize this stuff is sometimes repetitive. Fly tying especially falls into this trap. The truth is that fly tying often becomes variations on the same thing: a basic principle with a new twist, a material substitution, or a slight variation in technique. There are, after all, only so many ways to attach materials to a hook—or so we think.
Recently, while looking through the usual fly tying blogs, I came across a photograph of an immense rat fly unlike anything I’d ever seen. I took the bait, clicked the link, and found videos showing both how the fly looked and swam. A guy named Steve Yewchuck created this crazy pattern. I kept digging and found more of his monstrous creations: bats with articulated wings, sputtering foam ducklings, squids with undulating fins, lizards that kick and wobble, lifelike cicadas with perfect profiles, and forearm-length muskrats that swim like the real thing. These flies aren’t your standard fly shop fare, and they’re certainly not for the faint of heart. Using his gonzo style of tying, Steve Yewchuck creates patterns that push the boundaries of modern fly design.
Design, Tie, Test, Repeat
Yewchuck has the mind of an engineer and the soul of an artist. Looking at his past, it’s easy to see where they come from. He grew up in Narrowsburg, New York, and as a kid, he fished for smallmouth bass and walleyes. The trout in the Delaware River, however, spurred his love for fly fishing and tying. He went to college for art and photography, but after graduation took a job as a high-end machinist. He now rebuilds airplanes for Reese Aircraft, a career that allows him to pursue fishing, guiding, and filling fly orders for his company, Envision Fly Works.
Yewchuck applies the same intense precision required in airplane restoration to his tying. When I first encountered his work, I noticed a reoccurring checkerboard background in every photo. When I asked him about it, he said he uses the mat to constantly check the sizes and profiles of his flies. This attention to detail leads to repeatability. Each of Yewchuck’s flies is identical to the next, a mark of a true craftsman. This precision ensures every fly casts and swims the same. This assembly-line production method is the outcome of arduous design and testing.
Abdomen: 30-millimeter-long custom jig shank.
Rib: Large Ultra Wire.
Shell: Wapsi Thin Skin or Kiley’s Exo Skin.
Body: EP Tarantula Brush.
Hook: Allen SW004, size 2/0.
Body: Two Flymen Fishing Company Double Barrel Popper Heads, sizes small and extra small, glued together and colored with permanent marker.
Legs: Hareline Magnum Predator Legs.
Antennae: Hairline Buggy Nymph Legs.
Eyes: Melted 40-pound-test monofilament.
Claws: Marabou plumes wrapped with gel-spun thread.
“I love to fish this pattern for big territorial browns. I wanted a crayfish pattern with a ton of movement that would get down quickly. This fly is intended to be worked along the bottom like a fleeing crayfish. I designed a jig shank for the abdomen that helps the fly sink quickly and gives it the correct motion when stripped. When the fly stops, the foam cephalothorax stands up in the water, acting like a crayfish in defense mode. The maribou claws add to this effect with a ton of movement. This pattern has been a deadly for me and a lot of guides.”
“My thought process is focused on function. I sketch flies before I tie them, and plan them out one hundred percent before I sit down at the vise. At the beginning, I mainly focus on how a fly moves; I think movement is a huge trigger point. I like a pattern to be realistic, but it has to be functional, and a big part of that is movement. I usually see how a fly will take shape in my mind, but it doesn’t always work. I once spent two months working on a sculpin pattern and eventually had to put it on hold. I’ll come back to it someday, but I can get most flies to where I want them fairly quickly. It’s hard to come up with new ideas in fly tying, but when you do, it’s really rewarding.”
Part of Yewchuck’s ability to innovate lies in his vast knowledge of materials that extends beyond fly tying catalogs and fly shop shelves.
“In both airplane restoration and fly tying, knowing your materials is critical. There are always new materials coming out in both fields, so it’s important to stay on top of it. I have a vast knowledge of different materials. For example, the resins and glues I use in restoration cross over into my tying. I find materials in my everyday life and think how I can incorporate them into my flies.”
Once Yewchuck has worked through a pattern on paper and in the vise, it’s time for testing.
Articulated Emperor Mouse
Stinger hook: Partridge Nordic Tube Single, size 8.
Tail: 2½-inch-long piece of coreless paracord with braided backing run through the center, and a small foam tail.
Rear hook: Allen SW004, size 2/0.
Underbody: 2-millimeter-thick foam.
Body: Montana Fly Company 35-millimeter offset shank and Montana Fly Company Bunny Brush.
Body shields: Three 2-millimeter-thick pieces of shaped foam.
Head: Montana Fly Company 15-millimeter offset shank and a Montana Fly Company Bunny Brush.
Ears and face: 2-millimeter-thick foam.
“The Articulated Emperor Mouse and its smaller cousin, the Emperor Mouse, are what I consider my signature patterns. Over the last few years, they have proved to be among my best flies. I designed the head to push water and the body to stick to the surface film when struck by a big fish. It floats for a long time and is very durable. This articulated version took a while to dial in, but it’s now one of my top patterns. I have many requests for flies with stinger tails, and I found that coreless paracord is the perfect material for the job. It’s stiff enough to stop the stinger hook from fouling when casting, and it helps push the stinger away from the fish so it doesn’t get foul hooked.”
“I send my flies out to about a dozen anglers around the country who I know well. These guys are great anglers, and I get detailed notes on what they liked, what they didn’t, and stuff to improve. Not only are my flies tested by anglers who know their stuff, but that testing happens on different water types and in different environments. I think it makes my flies relevant throughout the country instead of specific to one body of water.”
A Mind for Mice
Steve Yewchuck’s Ring Leader Rat is what initially got my attention, but I soon discovered it was only one fly in a series of rodent-inspired creations.
“There isn’t a single mouse pattern that does everything. Sometimes you want a mouse that sits high in the water and pulls itself up quickly for skating. Other times you want a mouse that dives and sticks to the surface film so it doesn’t fly off when a fish slashes at it. I’ve got a rodent box that contains probably sixty different patterns I’m playing with. I weed out the bad ones and experiment with different materials and body shapes. In the process, I’ve come up with a handful of patterns that I use consistently.”