Junk Flies? Does such a thing exist, and if so, what on earth are they? I must admit that I had to do a little research to find out what the fly-fishing world deems ‘junk flies.’
Initially, I was of the opinion that junk flies are the fly patterns that are a little worse for wear, unraveling, or a little sparse. That is what I thought when I first heard about the reference’ junk flies,’ but as it turns out, a whole category of these patterns runs under the sudo name junk fly.
Junk Fly Description
I will quote a saying from the recent article I read in the Fly Fisherman “the best time to go fishing is when you have time” Now, given that most of us live a very fast-paced life with everything you can possibly think of, dragging us away from the water or consuming precious fishing time when we get a chance to hit the water for a fish, we go! Regardless of the weather or time of day.
When we started to fly fish and learn the ways of the water, we were immediately taught to match the hatch to be the most successful. On impromptu fishing trips, we may not be faced with the best conditions or hatches we are hoping for, and to make the most of the precious time on the water, you need to improvise.
Delicate Catskills, PMD, PED, and Royal Wulffs just won’t cut it. The deer hair muddlers and baitfish patterns just won’t work.
Out comes the secret box, The JUNK FLY BOX!
A purist’s worse nightmare and a thing of beauty for us but something which would probably make Frank Sawyer turn in his grave.
This box of Degen (crypto reference) fly patterns will take fish in the most difficult conditions, and many fish at that. Days when you shouldn’t even be on the water, the weather is so bad the junk flies with prevail.
So, what is a junk fly? Flies that really don’t look like anything in the natural environment that are tied with synthetic materials like beads, rubber, mop material and chenille. These flies are often frowned upon by more traditional fly fishing purist.
On the opposite side of the scale, synthetic materials are made to be used for a fly pattern, which is also accepted, I think?
Then on other occasions, a clipping from a mop or a rubber band split and used in the pattern is when the purists seem to deem it a junk fly.
First off, I’m a huge junk fly advocate and will happily tie on a pattern that I know works and could get me a few fish. Eggs, mop flies, Squirmies, San Juan worms, rubber-legged patterns, I love them all. I want to catch the fish on its terms and if that means I must use a mop fly because a classic PTN just isn’t cutting it, then so be it. Let’s fish what the fish will eat and not try to be too patriotic to the cause or anything like that. I mean, you can if want, but I’m in the business of fooling fish.
So, what’s the big deal with fishing junk flies anyhow? Well, that’s what I wanted to know, and as it turns out, there is a seemingly large community of anglers that share mixed feelings on the tying and use of junk flies.
This is mainly from the older, purist-style fly angler, and in some ways, I understand it. I mean, if I grew up fishing a single Royal Wulff dry on the Henry’s Fork and had great success with it when all of a sudden, a youngster came along with a few hybrid-looking nymph things and started catching more fish than I could, then yes, for sure I would be upset!
Mainly because he was catching more fish than I, but I would use the fact that he is using what I would deem ‘not real’ or ‘junk flies’ as the excuse and reason.
People say they aren’t real flies and that you may as well tie on a jerk bait or crankbait at the rate we are going in this direction of fly fishing. So, what is a real fly? Well classically classed as a pattern that has made use of natural fibers, be it feathers or hair, this would be deemed acceptable as a normal fly pattern. While I agree with this, if I were tying a PED Catskill style, so many materials are being synthetically copied these days. It’s crazy!
Think about the SF fibers, Sculpting fibers, and laser dubbings, so many materials have a generic match.
I would like to pose the question to the argument how else would I tie a San Juan worm? And what other pattern would have worked better on the San Juan River post a shuffle?
My point is there is such a fine line between what should be deemed a fly or not and I’m not going to be the person to tell you where that line is, but I know we are getting progressively closer as we progress in the fly field.
7 of the Top Junk Flies
Below is a list of junk flies. Why they work and my thoughts on them. It is important to remember that junk flies don’t work all the time, and their fame isn’t always all that, but they are great fun to fish with when they do work.
1. Squirmy Wormy
Never before have kid’s toys been more in demand by grown men than when the squirmy wormy hit the scene. Man, every toy shop had extra squish balls stocked for the off chance a bunch of fly fishermen would enter and buy the lot. The squirmy wormy is a very effective fly to fish for two reasons. 1) it gets down to the feeding zone quickly, and 2) it has great movement. The fact that it is super easy to tie also makes it worthy of a note. I fish mine in pinks and reds, mostly.
2. Mop Fly
I’m not the most experienced mop fly fisherman, but I can tell you that it is the type of fly that can make or break a session. The chartreuse color is the one that should do the damage, and when fished nice and slow through the column will yield the best results. On occasion, a wet fly-style hackle can be tied in front behind the bead, and then the fly can be fished like a searching pattern, slow retrieves with the occasional pause.
3. Green Weenie
This is what I would call a hybrid of the mop fly. The nice thing about the greenie is that it doesn’t get as water-clogged as the mop does and moves a little better, in my opinion. Check out this cool little video on the SBS. Greenie Weenie SBS
I like to fish this fly in size #12 with a 3-4mm tungsten bead.
4. Egg Pattern
I find it hard to justify an egg pattern as a junk fly. It isn’t really an exaggeration. That’s how they look. I mean, how else are they supposed to look? These are all my concerns with the egg pattern being called or referred to as a junk fly. We have been fishing with them for a lot longer than the other junk flies on the list, and they are real imitations and often life-sized as well.
I think what it is, is when anything for the bass world moves over or slightly influences the fly-fishing world, some people get upset and call it out. What if that fly, say the egg pattern in this case, is working and catching fish? Should we really be worried? The fact that it hasn’t been tied with a feather is irrelevant in this matter. I think unless you want to waste valuable CDC feathers or coastal deer hair to spin an egg use the synthetic stuff.
The egg pattern is nothing new to the fly-fishing world and is a very effective pattern. There are many ways to fish the egg, which range from slow on-the-bottom retrieves to mid-column dead drifts like you would a buzzer.
I’m not sure if this can even be called a fly. Seriously, just slipping a bead on your tippet, easily the fastest fly to tie – EVER! In the steelhead bars folks don’t talk about this one, but in the morning guides and anglers are using them.
As simple as pinning a egg colored bead a bit more than 2 inches above the hook. The key is to get the fly to drift in the right lanes just like the natural eggs tumbling down river.
6. Lipped or Blades on Fly Patterns
So, I wasn’t sure I would add this section of flies as I’m not entirely sold on them yet. As a matter of fact, I haven’t made my mind up about whether or not I like them either.
I think the lipped bait fish or the deer hair bass plugs that have those spinners in front of them are the closest to what I would consider a lure more than a fly or what we are talking about ‘junk flies’
For me, the lipped baitfish, which is the copy or crossover from the classic Rapala model, is the closest pattern to a borderline lure and one that I can’t see myself using. Not because it doesn’t work but because everytime I see one, I immediately think of a crankbait Rapala.
My feelings aside, they are an effective pattern to fish, and the lipped baitfish do swim deeper than a normal pattern. It boils down to what you s an angler, feel comfortable with and what you classify as a fly or not.
7. Halloween Fly
When you read Halloween fly, I’m sure you can create a pretty good mental picture of what it looks like, and let me tell you, you aren’t far off at all. A Wooley Bugger style pattern with or without a chenille body is basically what you are getting.
The color pattern is usually a deep orange or pumpkin-colored tail with a shade lighter or darker body, depending on your preferences. What makes the fly so effective is the rubber legs. Two to three sets of rubber legs are tied into the body, and there you have it, the Halloween Fly. The colors and legs make it a great trigger pattern and one that is deadly in the winter season.
Fished weighted or unweighted size #2-#10. A beaded version would also work and can be fished as a point fly on a nymphing rig.
8. My Secret Junk Fly
In a squirmy-wormy kind of guy. There we go. I went and said it! I find them a very effective pattern to have in the box. Although originally designed with trout in mind, as most flies were and are, the squirmy can catch just about anything. It just has that ability, and when fished with the right technique, it is deadly. There is a reason the pattern has been a band in world championship competitions and any subdivision comps as well. It has been deemed unethical to fish and not sportsman-like.
For my comp box, we all need that squirmy wormy equivalent, if that is even possible. For me, it is the micro jig bugger. In black with a 4mm gold bead. Legal and deadly!
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So why do junk flies work so well?
So, why do junk flies work so well? Do they outperform traditional patterns? In short, I would say NO! I believe that the classic fly pattern is still very safe and has its place on the stream, Stillwater, or wherever it may be. The way we fish a classic PTN and its effectiveness will keep us intrigued for decades to come. I think the hype and emphasis on how effective the junk fly is, is because it’s something the fish haven’t seen before.
I will happily say that should we reverse the roles and fish a mop fly the whole season and, in the winter months, drift a classic size #14 PTN of GRHE down our local run, we would get the same reaction to the fly, and catch loads of fish. Then the PTN is the secret weapon.
In my mind, it goes about something that hasn’t been seen before and something that the fish sees as a meal worth committing to. It’s no secret that later season fish are very hooky shy and almost know not to eat the small size #18 caddis pattern. But drift a greenie weenie past them, and they are like WOW!
On a few occasions I have fished a specific run and taken a few fish from it. Now I’m usually a fast fisher and tend to move on quicker than I should sometimes, and this is where the junk fly comes to play for me. Instead of moving on to the next run, I will change flies for a few more drifts, and I always tend to fool a few more fish and possibly the last fish in that run.
On average, the last few fish are always the bigger ones of the run. It’s like they were too smart for the conventional flies and just were more aware of the potential danger, and as soon as I put a bigger, brighter junk fly on, they were happy to commit. Bigger fish seem to move for them; it seems it may be worth a look, and then they eat.
Last Cast for the Junk Fly
So, there you have it, to junk fly or not to junk fly? It boils down to what you want and likes, and you should always fish for what you are confident in. As we have mentioned in one of our other articles, we tend to have favorite flies that we think work better when in fact, we just concentrate more when they are on the end of the line, and our hook-up rate is thus higher.
If you don’t like the junk patterns, give them a miss. If you are on the fence, go give them a try. You won’t be disappointed. They will get you those few extra fish and possibly even the biggest fish of the session.
Tight lines, junkies!
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Fly fishing has been my passion and pursuit for the past 20 years. I am a South African based fly fisherman who loves nothing more than spending a day on the water. Fly fishing is more than catching fish, being in the outdoors with good friends and family is what it is all about.
Sources and Credits
- Thanks to Umpqua for use of the Jigged Wooly Bugger – Umpqua – World’s Best Flies