Intermediate Fly Tying

Part Twenty-five

Royal Stimulator

Intermediate Fly Tying:

The Stimulator

By Al Campbell

One of my favorite flies is the stimulator. It's not a favorite fly because it catches more fish. I don't use it more than any other fly. I don't like to tie it more than any other fly. It's even very limited in the places you can use it, but it's still one of my favorites.

I like the stimulator because it's a cool fly to look at. Yup, you heard me right, I'm a sucker for this fly because it looks good. It has a structure that's designed to perform only in extreme water. It's built like a white water warrior ready to take on the fastest water you can cast it into. In my book, it's the heavyweight champion of the fast water world.


Every time I look at a stimulator fly, I'm taken back to several mountain streams I fished in my youth when I lived in Montana. The stonefly hatches on those streams were small, but the trout took advantage of every moment of the hatch. And, if I would've been fortunate enough to have had a box full of these flies, I'm certain I would have caught more fish. When I finally did read about this pattern, I tied up a bunch and visited those same waters and had a great time.

Now that I live in South Dakota, I have less opportunity to fish fast mountain streams, but I do have an opportunity to fish several great stonefly hatches. They are smaller flies than I was familiar with in the high mountain streams of Montana, but they are there for the fun of fishing, and that's when I get a chance to use the stimulator.

Stone Nymph Case Stoneflies don't hatch on the surface of the water like mayflies and caddisflies do. Instead, the nymphs crawl out of the water onto a rock, weed, twig or some other solid object to emerge as an adult. That leaves a telltale hull everywhere a stonefly hatches into an adult. Visible signs of a hatch.

After hatching, stoneflies crawl around the local vegetation for a while. If you look closely, you'll have a chance to observe the size and color of the flies before they return to the water to lay their eggs.

If you're fast, you might even be able to capture a few samples to take home with you in a bottle full of alcohol for future reference at the tying table.

Since stoneflies don't hatch on the water's surface, they are only available to the fish as nymphs, and adults that are laying their eggs. That's where the stimulator is important. It's a great pattern to imitate the egg laying phase of a stonefly's life.

Like caddisflies, stoneflies skim the water's surface in riffles and rapids when they lay their eggs. Their best imitations are flies that skitter over fast water without becoming waterlogged or soggy. And, since stoneflies come in several colors and sizes, it's wise to have a variety of stimulators in your fly box for those special hatches.

In fast water, the stimulator can also be used to imitate hoppers and caddisflies when tied in the right colors and sizes. If you use quality hackle, it floats high in the surface tension, and if the current manages to pull it down, the hollow elk hair will keep it afloat anyway. A versatile fly for a specific type of water. A specific fly for fast water.

Enough about how and where to fish the fly, let's learn how to tie it.

List of materials:

Mustad 80050BR
  • Hook: Curved shank; Tiemco 2302 (preferred), Tiemco 200R, Mustad 80050BR, Eagle Claw L052, Daiichi 1270. Size 6-14.

    Tiemco 2302

  • Thread: 6/0 Gudebrod or equivalent, black, red, yellow, or colored to match the body.

  • Tail: Elk hair.

  • Body - Anglers Choice Llama dubbing, Rainy's No-Dub, punch embroidery yarn, floss and herl, any other dubbing that is designed for dry flies. Color to match the body of the natural (usually yellow, tan, olive, black or orange).

  • Wing: Elk hair, tied to flare slightly.

  • Hackle: Brown, tan or cree saddle or neck hackle, wrapped "palmer style" over the body and ribbed down with fine gold wire. Grizzly hackle wrapped dry fly style near the head.

  • Rib: Fine gold wire.

  • Tying steps:

  • 1. Start the thread and tie in a ribbing wire down the hook bend slightly.

  • 2. Tie in a short tail of elk hair. Use just enough thread pressure to flare the hair slightly.

  • 3. Create a body of dubbing or yarn. Leave enough room at the front of the hook for a wing and a hackle. You can also use an elongated body of herl and floss similar to the body used in a Royal Wulff, but much longer. You have many color choices available to you here.

  • 4. Wrap a hackle back to the hook bend keeping the curvature of the hackle facing forward. Rib the hackle down with the wire. (This is called a Palmered hackle.)

  • 5. Create an elk hair wing using the same steps you used for the elk hair caddis. Traditionally this wing is only long enough to reach the start of the tail, but I frequently make it a bit longer. You might want to tie some of both.

  • 6. Clip the hair butts, tie them down to the hook and cover with thread to form a smooth transition from the wing to the hook eye.

  • 7. Tie in a grizzly hackle and dub the area in front of the wing to just behind the hook eye.

  • 8. Wrap the hackle over the dubbing as you would in any standard dry fly, except keep it slightly sparse. (Many tyers reverse the curvature of the hackle so that the barbules curve toward the hook bend rather than the hook eye. It's your choice here.)

  • 9. Trim the hackle, whip finish and cement. A drop of cement on the front of the wing will help keep the wing together.

    Orginal Stimulator

    Traditional stimulator body colors are yellow (makes a good hopper and golden stone pattern), royal, orange (for the other stoneflies), olive and black. The royal stimulator is an especially attractive pattern.

    Royal Stimulator

    As you can see by the photo's, I use several wing lengths to appeal to the tastes of the fish on any given day. This is another fly that's designed to be fished in a skittering manner. Quality hackle is imperative to create a fly that skitters, rather than dives.

    Enjoy this fly; it's one of the prettiest dry flies you'll have a chance to tie. Since stonefly hatches are what has made several of the western rivers famous (Madison, Henry's Fork, Snake), and since these hatches are rather short lived, enjoy fishing this fly when the limited opportunity is available.

    See ya next week - Remember, I'm always happy to answer your questions, feel free to email me. ~ Al Campbell

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