Our Man In Canada
March 5th, 2001

Great Canadian Flies
The Haig-Brown Caterpillars

Arthur James Lingren

By Arthur James Lingren

Haig-Brown Caterpillar

During the writing of The Western Angler, Haig-Brown jotted down his thoughts of things that he wanted to include in his book. In his notes on stream cutthroat patterns, he gave some rules for tying:
    1. Impression rather than imitation.

    2. Seal's fur body or silver body.

    3. Palmer-wise hackle lightly veiling all except sil[ver] body.

    4. Imitation: amusement rather than anything else.

Simple flies such as Brown & black caterpillar is as good as any. Can be tied simply or with complication - Simple just as good. "Secrets" all nonsense.

In a margin note he says that his Black Caterpillar "on No. 6-8 hook, ragged black or metallic green feather wound over [is] an A-1 ant imitation." During his research he learned that places like Harkley & Haywood in Vancouver considered the make-up of many local fly patterns to be trade secrets and wouldn't give him pattern listings. He pondered if he should release the secret ingredient for his Black Caterpillar. However, in his cutthroat notes he put an asterisk beside his Black Caterpillar in two different locations and noted at the bottom on his notebook page "to hell with 'secrets'" and that the asterisk referred to "secret materials."

Although he listed hook sizes in 4 to 8 in The Western Anglers (1939) for his Black and Brown Caterpillars, he says that they are "both good, No's 2/0 - 10" and that the Brown Caterpillar was "also good [for] summer steelhead." I can attest that Thompson River rainbows and whitefish also find the Brown Caterpillar appealing, Vancouver Island rainbows also like the Black Caterpillar.

In 1994, Van Egan and I made a spring trip up into Haig-Brown country and fished the Nimpkish River system. We encountered poor fishing conditions and fish were hard to find. I decided that I would search the water with the only Black Caterpillar I had in my fly box. Five out of the ten rainbows I managed to find, with 16 inches the largest, came to the Black Caterpillar. And of course when you have a single sample of a fly that is working well something usually happens to it and eventually the body hackle was severed by a fish's teeth.

Why the Black Caterpillar was so effective that day, I can't answer; although, under tying fishing conditions, I often put on a black fly and get results. However, I believe like Haig-Brown that "there are no 'sure-killer' flies" and that "there are plenty of adequate flies and that's all a decent fisherman needs."

Haig-Brown, after he noted the dressings for the Black and Brown caterpillars, recommended "other caterpillars [of] different seal's fur [with] matching hackle" and says that "Orange good, Fiery brown good, etc. etc." [These caterpillars were tied in Black, Brown, Orange and Fiery Brown.]


Hook:  Number 6 or 8.

Body:  Black seal's fur.

Rib:  Fine, oval gold tinsel.

Hackle:  Black [long and soft].

Originator:  Roderick Haig-Brown.

Intended Use:  Wet fly for cutthroat and rainbow trout.

Location:  Campbell River, B.C. Canada.
~ Arthur James Lingren

Credits: From Fly Patterns of British Columbia by Arthur James Lingren. We thank Frank Amato Publications, Inc. for use permission!

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