Fly Of The Week
Lady Heathere
Lady Heather
By Gary LaFointaine, Montana, USA

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Lady Heather

. . .My first attempts at developing a good dry fly for gray days all suggested simplificatiion. This was a difficult concept for me to accept - all of my patterns were supposed to be dazzling deviations from the norm, caricatures that attracted even as they imitated important food forms. But on dark days active trout showed a preference for basic, drab flies; and each new version of the Lady Heather evolved into a simpler pattern.

From the beginning the Lady Heather was meant to be a Trude variation. The differences were the mixed grizzly and gray hackle and a prominent egg sac. That egg sac ended up being the biggest problem with the fly. It was lime green or burnt orange on the first test versions, logical choices considering the coloration of real insect eggs, but trout shied from those bright hues on gray days. We left the egg sac off on some test variations, but in the close comparison of head-to-head fishing a Lady Heather with a gray egg sac (that no one remembered tying) did better than the fly with the all-cream body. That gray ball at the rear of the pattern helped becaused it provided a contract with the cream body and white wing without the brightness of the earlier egg-sac imitations.

The test gave me my gray-day pattern --a downwing, easy to see, riffle-water dry fly. It broke one of the oldest axioms in fly fishing. Gray day, gray fly. It was drab, except the white wing, but it wasn't all gray. The Lady Heather did as well or better in tests against my other favorite patterns for cloudy days, the Gray Trude and Gray Wulff.

The Lady Heather has another interesting quirk. It caught more brown trout than other flies in overcast conditions; the all-gray flies did better on rainbows. Many anglers have noted that browns have an odd affinity for the color white. My experience with the Lady Heather bears that out. Brown trout come further to take a Lady Heather, especially under the darkest, most threatening skies.


    Hooks:  10-18 (standard dry fly, TMC 100).

    Tail:  Dark blue dun hackle fibers.

    Butt:  Gray muskrat fur (dubbed.)

    Body:  Cream fur (wrapped or dubbed; thinner than the butt.)

    Wing:  White calf tail.

    Hackle:  Grizzly and dark blue dun (mixed).

Tying Instructions:

1. Tie down hackle fibers for a tail.

2. Dub a thick butt of gray muskrat fibers.

3. Dub or wrap a thin body of cream fur.

4. Bind down a wing of white calf tail.

5. Tie in a dun hackle and a grizzly hackle; wrap them together.

6. Whip finish.

Fishing the Lady Heather:

Even through the worst years of drought the Bitterroot has fished well. The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks has purchased water from Painted Rocks Reservoir and these releases keep the Bitterroot flowing well in mid-summer.

Ed brown, Glen Tryan, and I floated the stretch above Hamilton and proved what everyone says, "The Root is a moody river."

Two weeks ago Green Drakes and Brown Drakes were all over the water. Browns and rainbows were in the prime lies and schools of whitefish were spread out over the flats. The rise went on all afternoon.

This morning the weather looked perfect, the same solid overcast, not dark but medium gray, that produced great dry fly fishing during the Drake hatches. There were no bugs of any kind on the water today, however, and only a few sporadic rises.

At first a Gray Wulff did as well as anything, pulling up fish as we drifted and cast to banks. Ed was in the back seat, throwing accurately, with enough slack to get good drifts right on the foam line, and was catching a few trout (best a 17-inch brown.) Glen wasn't doing as well, but his problems had nothing to do with the fly. Fishing from a boat was new to him, and he was casting too straight, his line devoid of slack on the water. He started changing patterns every ten minutes, looking for magic that didn't exist.

Whe we stopped to wade a long riffle, Glen fished beautifully, all of his confusion in the boat gone, but he was still switching flies. Even after catching a fish, he would snip off the successful pattern.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"Playing around," he said.

Here was a man after my own heart. The least I could do was give him a few more patterns to play with on a slow fishing day. I handed him a few Lady Heathers with the batch of flies.

The storm was building, the clouds piling up thicker in the river valley. All this gloom apparently perked up the trout for dry flies, both Glen and Ed yelling with each hookup. I was working subsurface, dead drifting a Prince nymph on the bottom, terrorizing the whitefish and occasionally catching a nice trout, but the fishing stayed the same for me.

Ed called me down to take a picture of a fat, 19-inch brown. The trout had a Lady Heather in her mouth and Ed pointed to it, "This has been taking fish for the last half hour."

"Have you been changing flies every time you catch something?"

"Heck, no, I got this from Glen and I'm not giving it back." ~ Gary LaFontaine

Credits: From Gary LaFontaine's Trout Flies - Proven Patterns, Published by Greycliff Publishing, Helena Montana. We sincerely thank them for use permission.

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