Trout Magic

Al Ritt shares a secret every fly tyer should know: The color orange catches more fish!

Quite a few years ago, I frequented a fly shop near my home called the St. Vrain Angler. Dale Darling owned the shop. Dale is a very talented tyer, and he offered an intermediate-level fly tying class. Sure, many fly shops offer similar classes, but Dale’s was a bit unique. 

There  was no hard-and-fast curriculum, and I took the class for several years because it was never exactly the same. In addition to being a master tyer, Dale is a passionate instructor and a bit of a fly tying philosopher, and the conversation frequently turned to the theory of pattern design.

At one class the subject turned to the magical materials that fish cannot resist. We determined that peacock herl, with its iridescence and soft fibers, is one such ingredient. Peacock has been a staple for fly tiers since almost the beginning of our craft, and you’ll find it on many flies in this magazine.

Egg-Sucking Gnat

Hook: Tiemco TMC5212, sizes 12 to 8.
Thread: Orange 8/0 (70 denier).
Body: Peacock herl.
Hackle: Grizzly.
Wing: Orange deer hair.
Head: Orange deer hair spun and clipped to shape.
Legs: Yellow/red/black Centipede Legs.

Grizzly hackle is another magical material. The theory is that the bar-colored fibers create a chaos of color and the impression of movement. Movement means life, and trout eat live organisms. We chose one other item that always seems to attract trout: materials that are orange.

The Magic of Orange

Orange may not be the most common natural color, but plenty of trout foods are orange or have orange in them. Fish eggs, for example, are pale green, blue, yellow, pink, red, and orange. Egg imitations are easy to tie, and they are effective in both moving and stillwater situations.


Hook: Tiemco TMC2487 or TMC2488, sizes 18 to 14.
Thread: Orange 8/0 (70 denier).
Egg: Orange egg yarn.
Blood spot: Red egg yarn.

Most fly fishers in the western United States are familiar with the salmonfly hatch (Pteronarcys). These large stoneflies may exceed two inches in length, and both the nymphs and adults are dark with orange highlights. The October caddisfly, which also contains orange, is another large mouthful; it is common on many western streams and can be prolific in late fall. And many adult mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies that are not predominantly orange display prominent orange egg sacs.

Almost Moorish October Caddis

Hook: Tiemco TMC3769, sizes 12 to 6.
Thread: Black 6/0 (140 denier).
Abdomen: Orange closed-cell foam.
Rib: Tying thread.
Thorax underbody and head: Orange closed-cell foam.
Underwing: Opal Mirage Tinsel.
Wing: Tan Widow’s Web.
Thorax: Brown dry fly hackle wrapped densely and trimmed on the bottom.

Scuds are also a very important food source for trout. Fish in lakes and slow-moving streams often grow fat living on diets rich in scuds. Scuds are typically olive, brown, or gray, but they turn orange when they die. Dead scuds are nutritious, easy to catch, and their orange color is easy to see. And, like mayflies, living scuds often have orange egg sacs, so imitations of pregnant scuds can be very productive.

Dead Scud

Hook: Tiemco TMC2487 or TMC2488, sizes 18 to 10.
Thread: Orange 8/0 (70 denier).
Antennae: Tan grizzly hen hackle fibers.
Carapace: Orange Scud Back.
Rib: Copper wire.
Legs: Tan grizzly hen hackle fibers.
Body: Orange Scud Dub.

Crayfish, which are also crustaceans, are another very important food for many species of fish, including trout. Crayfish come in a wide range of colors, and orange crayfish are very common. Fish that spend time in salt water often feed heavily on shrimps, and many salmon and steelhead anglers incorporate orange in attractor patterns and shrimp imitations. Saltwater-flats fly fishers also use orange shrimp patterns. Shrimps come in other colors, but they also have distinctive orange egg sacs.

Ritts’s Fighting Crayfish

Hook: Daiichi 1760, sizes 10 to 4.
Thread: Orange 8/0 (70 denier).
Weight: Plain lead dumbbell.
Antennae: Orange UV Krystal Flash.
Eyes: Black round rubber.
Carapace: Orange mottled bustard Thin Skin.
Underbody: Orange yarn.
Body: Burnt orange Crawdub.
Claws: Orange closed-cell foam mounted on black barred orange round rubber legs.
Rib: Hot orange wire.
Legs: Burnt orange badger hackle.

More Reasons to Love Orange

Many small fish have orange in their colorations. Brook trout, cutthroat trout, and arctic char all display orange along their bellies and gill plates. Alevins, the newly hatched stage of fish, still have distinctive orange egg sacs; they are a particularly important source of food for fish in streams that have heavy runs of anadromous fish. When alevins become mobile, they may be found in very heavy concentrations. Most anadromous fish die after spawning, and the resident fish eagerly feed on the carcasses. This is often referred to as the flesh hatch.

Flesh Fly

Hook: Tiemco TMC811S, sizes 6 to 1.
Thread: Orange 8/0 (70 denier).
Tail: Orange Zonker strip.
Body: Orange Zonker strip wrapped over the hook shank.
Flash: Orange UV Krystal Flash.

Depending upon the species of fish, length of the spawning migration, and the period of time after the fish dies, the color of the flesh may be dirty cream, pink, or orange.

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