Al Campbell, Field Editor

May 5th, 2003

Liquid Lace Sowbug
By Al Campbell

If you fish the Bighorn River in Montana, even once, you'll hear about sowbugs. Actually, the sowbug isn't an insect but rather an isopod or crustacean similar to a scud which is a member of the amphipod family. Both are more closely related to lobsters than insects, but when it concerns flyfishing, they are as important as insects in the food chain of many freshwater fisheries.

Sowbugs are common in most freshwater and more tolerant of pollution than scuds, so odds are good that you'll find them in your area, especially in moving water with a rocky bottom. They don't tolerate sunlight well, so they are most active at night (they are members of the same family as pill bugs, those little armored bugs that crawl on your driveway at night and roll up into a ball if disturbed). High water and stream bottom disturbances are the most common ways sowbugs are dislodged from the bottom. In any case, there is enough natural disturbance to keep the fish looking for sowbugs most of the time.

Since sowbugs and scuds resemble each other, their fly patterns are often similar and I suspect the fish don't care if you were trying to imitate a sowbug or a scud. In fact, it's fairly common for fish to feed on both when they have the opportunity. In the Bighorn River, both are common, and both are important to the fish, and thus the fishermen who fish for those fish.

I use several patterns that imitate sowbugs. One of my favorites has been a woven creation that uses a lace (plastic micro tubing) and ostrich herl body. I have usually used Larva Lace for the body, but wished for a type of lace that would stretch to a thinner size to use on smaller hooks. Until recently, I didn't have a source for any lace products that would stretch that thin. Then, my friend Keith Dyer (KD for the chat room guys) mentioned a new kind of micro tubing that will stretch to many times its original length and many times thinner that it started out as. It's called Liquid Lace, and it's just what I was looking for.

Call this week's article a combination product review and fly pattern if you want. For the first time in my tying career, I am able to tie a woven scud or woven sowbug on a size 20 hook. Taking pictures of the tying steps for a fly that small is a lot harder than it is for a size 12 fly, but I managed to get the job done. In fact, I managed to catch a couple of fat rainbows on one of these flies about a week ago. If you want a small sowbug pattern that catches fish just about anywhere you find water, give this one a try.

LSB (Lace Sowbug)

List of materials:

Hook - Any standard length wet fly hook - this one is a Mustad 3399A, size 20.

Tail - Cream to gray soft hackle fibers. I'm using cream grouse here.

Back - Light olive midge Liquid Lace.

Legs - Light olive ostrich herl, woven using a Potts body weave with the Liquid Lace.

Back stripe - Dark olive holographic flash.

Thread - 10/0, Light olive/gray color.

Tying steps:

    1. Start the thread and tie in the tail keeping it short.

    2. Tie the Liquid Lace on the top of the hook.

    3. Tie in two strands of light olive ostrich herl as shown.

    4. Fold a single strand of olive holographic flash in half and tie it down to the top of the hook by the tips.

    5. When you have the flash tied down, fold it to the front and tie it down behind the hook eye.

    6. Here is a view from the top of the hook. (Notice how big the tube of a Tiemco ceramic bobbin looks compared to that size 20 hook?)

    7. Weave the body using the Potts body weave like the one used in the Sandy Mite. (See woven hackle flies in the advanced tying series:

    8. Weave all the way to behind the hook eye, then tie the lace and ostrich off and trim. Leave room for a nice head. You might have to use a needle to pick out any herl strands that get caught by the lace.

    9. Whip finish and cement the head. From the top your finished fly should look like this (before I picked the herl out).

    10. From the side it should look like this (after picking the herl out from under the lace).

Here you see two LSBs and two LBNs (lace baetis nymph, pattern coming soon to an FAOL near you) on a penny with room to spare. If you like using lace or micro tubing as a body material, and if small flies are what the doctor ordered for your stream, Liquid lace is the right product for you. Unfortunately, if you live in the USA, you'll have to check with the Canadian distributor for a dealer near you or take advantage of the currency exchange rate with Canada.

For more information on this great lace (micro tubing) catch KD in the chat room or contact Ed Smith at Unique Fly Fishing Products, phone (250) 376-6641. Or write him at:

Unique Fly Fishing Products
1244- 12 Street
Kamloops, B.C.
V2B 3C7 Canada

~ AC

Previous Al Campell Columns

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