Tom Lee's bakers dozen

The trout fly of today grew out of the trout fly of yesterday ... John McDonald

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Tom Lee

A few years back I was going through my fishing vest and was very surprised at what I found. Like many anglers, I go through withdrawal in the off-season and I'll do anything possible to stay involved and prepare myself for the upcoming season. I tie flies, clean lines, grease reels, read catalogues; you know what I mean. Aside from the standard items like nippers, fly floatant, extra tippet material and a compass, I had a chocolate bar that dated back longer than I care to remember, binoculars, two canisters of undeveloped film from a previous fishing trip and four fly boxes. At some point this extra weight must have been considered essential or I wouldn't have brought it along. As a group, fly fisherman tend to be fond of adding more gadgets and gear to our repertoire, in the hope that they may, someday, help land more fish.

Nothing accentuates this more than the number of fly boxes and different patterns we carry. A good friend of mine had five different fly boxes in his vest and discovered that he hadn't opened one for two full trout seasons. It was time for a change. I thought to myself, "wouldn't it be nice if I could get rid of this extra weight and pare fly selection down to a list of simple, but effective patterns. Patterns I would use throughout Nova Scotia and also be able to take on the road when I fish in PEI, Maine and New Hampshire."

It was a difficult task at first and required that I almost be mercenary in eliminating a pattern. "How could I be without this pattern or that pattern?" After much thought and experimentation I got the number down to 12 and have been fishing with these 12 patterns, more or less, for the past five years. I have added one and subtracted another a couple of times, but have maintained a total of 12. And to tell you the truth, there have been very few situations that I haven't been able to take trout with what I have in my fly box.

A few of my fiends seemed to like the idea, but haven't had the guts to do it themselves. They encouraged me to do a survey of as many anglers, province-wide, to determine what the top 12 patterns would be based on a large sample. This appeared to be a project that would produce a pretty fine group of flies, but I also learned that many anglers treat their fly selections as some sort of secret recipe or potion and how could they divulge such information to a stranger --particularly another angler? After many phone calls, e-mails, angler association annual meetings and general arm-twisting the survey list was compiled. Given that there were a number of flies so close I decided to make the list 13 flies, not 12 (lucky or not). Although I take most people by their word, I'm sure there are still many untold flies that will remain a mystery and probably rightfully so. This list should serve as a great place to start when creating your own Nova Scotia Baker's Dozen.

Tom Lee

To quote Bob Boudreau - "Tom will walk past a dozen salmon in a pool if he thinks there's a six inch brookie at the end of it."
Streamers, nymphs & wets

1. Mickey Finn ... This streamer fly was the overwhelming fly of choice and received twice as many votes as its nearest competitor. Tied sparse on a #6 6X long hook, it's absolutely deadly. Although used primarily as a trout fly, I have spoken to individuals that use this streamer for Atlantic and land-locked salmon.

2. Muddler Minnow ... Originated in 1932 by Minnesota native, Don Gapen, it was tied to imitate sculpin in many of Minnesota's lakes. It continues to imitate many baitfish, but can also be used to imitate grasshoppers, caddis and stoneflies. This is one of the more versatile flies.

3. Gray Ghost ... This Carrie Stevens invention has a tremendously realistic silhouette and is especially effective when smelt are running. Originally tied with jungle cock on the cheek, the prohibitive cost of this material has resulted in the Gray Ghost being tied without it. As far as I can determine, this hasn't affected its effectiveness one bit.

4. Dark Montreal ... This fly should be no surprise as it is extremely popular in Eastern Canada and North-Eastern US. The fly was named by its maker, Peter Cowan, in Montreal. The "Dark" part of the name appears to have been added some years later. Although it doesn't appear to imitate anything, it represents many things; aquatic insects, emergers, small baitfish or even water-logged terrestrials.

5. Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear Nymph ... Probably the most versatile and widely used nymph. It can be tied in many sizes and colors, weighted or not. The bead head version has become very popular during the past decade. I suspect the G.R. Hare's Ear has been so effective in Nova Scotia as it does a great job imitating the cased caddis which is so prevalent in many Nova Scotia water sheds.

6. Pheasant Tail ... This fly was developed by Frank Sawyer. Tied in the proper size, the Pheasant Tail is an excellent mayfly or damsel fly imitation. Made up primarily of fibers from the ring-necked pheasant tail, if you're a good shot, materials shouldn't be a problem in this province.

7. Prince ... A great emerger and stonefly imitation. There is something about the peacock herl body, when wet, that really attracts fish. Like the G.R. Hare's Ear Nymph, the bead head version is more in demand these days.

8. Wooly Worm ... This is another of those wet flies that doesn't really imitate anything but is extremely 'buggy'. If the hackle palmered through the body is soft enough it seems to pulsate with an overhand, slow retrieve. A black body and red wool tail appears to be the most popular color choice.

9. Wooly Bugger ... Although not officially a streamer, most of the respondents to the survey included the Wooly Bugger in their selection. Always popular as a leach pattern many anglers, including my good friend and mentor, Reg Baird of Clementsvale, NS, have discovered the Wooly Bugger is a very effective Hellgramite representation. The Hellgramite is a very widespread insect in Nova Scotia trout waters. To be fair to Reg, I think it is important to note that Reg has created an adaptation of the Wooly Bugger named Reg's Hellgramite, of course.

Dry Flies

10. Adam's Parachute ... This one surprised me. There is no doubt to the effectiveness of this and many other parachute-style dry flies. What surprised me was how widely used it was. Although there was a very wide variety of dry flies entered, this showed up time and again.

11. Black Mayfly ... For those who haven't had the opportunity to experience the annual spring tradition of mayfly fishing in Eastern Nova Scotia you may not understand why this fly made the list. Those that have though, know that fished at the right time and tied the right size, this fly can be responsible for several dozen hook ups in one day.

12. Elk Hair Caddis ... This imitation barely edged out a Tent Wing or Hornberg type caddis fly. In Nova Scotia it's important to have either olive or orange bodied caddis flies with a darker wing. The traditional Elk Hair Caddis, originated by Al Troth, appears to have a lighter (almost white) wing. I assume the Caddis may carry a bit more utility in the Elk Hair versus a tent wing version probably because the Elk Hair is more buoyant and is less susceptible to become water-logged.

13. Royal Wulff ... As one of the great anglers and tiers of the 21st century, this is probably Lee Wulff's most famous fly and any Nova Scotia angler should not be without it. The Royal Wulff is a tremendous attractor pattern that should be tied very heavily hackled so that it floats like a cork. I have a friend who loves to be a contrarian and fished the Royal Wulff during a thick mayfly hatch with great success. So much for the "match the hatch" theory.

That's the Nova Scotia Baker's Dozen. It's doubtful that these flies are the top of everyone's list. Heck these aren't even my favorites; although a few are. If anything, I hope this piece stimulated debate and gets some of the old favorites out in the open.

Patterns Favourite patterns I Caddis pupa I Orange patterns I Minnow patterns I Golden stonefly I Tent Dweller flies
Zonker muddler I Lee's bakers dozen I Latin cross ref I Old timer patterns I Parachutes I Red/yellow flies

Pat Donoghue, Canada, ©1997