Our Man In Canada
July 22nd, 2001

The Sparkle-Assed Usual

By Sheldon Seale

Canada is blessed with an abundance of varying hares (aka. snowshoe rabbits). It is my contention that rabbit, the snowshoe rabbit in particular, is one of the most versatile sources of tying materials there is. Look at the list of applications. As a general purpose dubbing, rabbit underfur is excellent. It readily accepts dyes, making it available in an extensive array of colours. Then there's hare's ear dubbing, also available in a wide range of colours. We shouldn't forget rabbit strips (cross-cut or straight) sliced from the cured skin. They make wonderful Strip Leeches (a Matuka style fly) or the ubiquitous Bunny Fly (which is made solely from cross-cut strips). Indeed, many patterns call for rabbit strips or can successfully incorporate them. For example, the Rabbit Strip Matuka Muddler is an excellent, all-round streamer.

Recently, a number of my fishing buddies have been having a great deal of success with a variation of the Usual (or Philips' Usual, as it was once known). (See the Summer 1999 issue of The Canadian Fly Fisher for detailed instruction on tying the basic usual and it's variations.) The Sparkle-Assed Usual (with apologies to our more sensitive readers, but I didn't name it!) is just one more of those variations and, recently, it has been proving itself where it counts most - on the water. One of the most important components of the Usual is, you guessed it, rabbit - in this case, the hair from the bottom of a snowshoe rabbit foot, which is used for the wing.

The Sparkle-Assed Usual is a simple fly to tie. As you may have noticed from past articles, I like simple flies. They're fast to tie and they can be very successful, mostly because you're not afraid to try a cast into a difficult lie since the fly represents a reasonably small investment in time and materials. They float well, thanks to the crinkled foot hair that repels water and they are much more durable than flies made with cul - de -canard.

Recipe - Sparkle-Assed Usual

    Hook:  standard dry fly hook, sizes 8-16.

    Thread:  to match body or red, 6/0.

    Wing:  Snowshoe rabbit foot hair, natural or dyed, Haystack style.

    Tail:  4-10 strands of Krystal Flash or similar, pearlescent or root beer colour.

    Body:  dubbing of choice or to match a natural insect.

Tying Instructions

Step 1. Start the thread behind the hook eye and cover about half the hook shank. Clip a small tuft of hair from the bottom of a snowshoe rabbit foot and clean out any loose material in the butts. Tie in with the tips pointing forward over the hook eye. The wing should be just forward of the 1/3 point of the hook shank, measured back from the hook eye. The wing length should be less than the length of the hook shank. Secure with several turns of thread and trim the butts to a taper. Wrap the butts down and advance the thread in front of the wing. Take several wraps of thread against the base of the wing to force it upright.

Step 2. Use your fingers to form the wing into a 180 degree arc over the top of the hook shank when viewed from the front. Some people prefer an arc of about 120 degrees, but its a matter of personal preference.

Step 3. Wind the thread to a point behind the wing and tie in 4-10 strands of Krystal Flash or similar material, depending on the size of the hook. Tie down along the hook shank to a point just before the hook bend. Secure with a couple of extra wraps of thread. Trim the tail about as long as the hook shank.

Step 4. Apply dubbing to the thread and form a noodle. Wrap the entire body to just before the hook eye. Form a small neat head of thread, tie off, clip the thread and apply some lacquer to the head. The fly is complete.

Current issue

By the way, I will use snowshoe rabbit foot hair anywhere that calls for a short length of Antron yarn or a tuft of CDC.

Fishing notes

Is this a dry fly or an emerger? Yes. Grease it up, and it's a good dry fly. Let it settle in the water with its tail down and it's a great emerger, with the Krystal Flash acting like a trailing nymphal shuck.

Fish the Sparkle-Assed Usual as you would any other dry fly or emerger. A dead drift is generally effective. In slower water, a very slight hint of movement, suggesting the adult struggling free of the nymphal shuck, can often trigger a take. However, it must be very subtle. I try to impart that hint of movement by gently shaking the rod tip back and forth a couple of times. Too much movement and you may spook the fish. Start with a leader about the length of your rod, and adjust your tippet weight for the size of the fly. In slower water, you may need to lengthen your leader.

The Sparkle-Assed Usual continues the good work begun by Fran Betters and Bill Philips. By varying the wing and body colour, a wide range of mayflies can be imitated. It's easy to tie, and made with readily available materials. Dead drifted during an emergence, it often outperforms more imitative patterns. All in all, itís a good pattern to keep in your fly box throughout the season.

Variations for popular mayflies

Although these patterns are meant to approximate eastern mayflies, they're impressionistic enough to work for western species. Moreover, it should be relatively easy to vary size and colour for any species.

Wing Colour* Body Colour Hook Size Insect
Dun red/brown 12/14 Hendrickson
Dun red/brown 10/12 Isonychia
Dun olive 16 BWO's or similar
Yellow tan 12/14 Cahills or similar
Olive tan 10 Green Drake
Natural tan 8/10 Hexagenia

*If you don't have dyed showshoe rabbit feet, substitute natural.
~ Sheldon Seale

We thank the Canadian Fly Fisher for re-print permission!

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