Our Man In Canada
April 26th, 2004

Clark's Deer Hair Nymph
By Sheldon Seale

In 1929, Gregory Clark Sr., then in his mid-thirties, was trying rather unsuccessfully to fish a "deer hair" streamer on the Mad River in South Central Ontario. According to his fishing diaries, the fly was completely unsuccessful until he took some scissors to it and cut it down into a scruffy looking mess. At that point, it proved very successful indeed. So much so, that master fly tyers of the time, such as Sutton and Alcock, were soon tying and selling them vigorously - some claim by the thousands.

Some 10 to 12 years later, an American by the name of Paul Young popularized an identical-looking pattern named the Strawman. In the 1941 edition of George Herter's Professional Fly Tying and Tackle Making Manual and Manufacturer's Guide, Herter describes the pattern as having "originated in Canada". It is my contention that this was simply a renaming of Clark's Deer Hair Nymph.

Greg Clark Sr. passed on to The Great Fishing Club in the Sky in 1977, so we can't ask him to verify this. Thankfully, his son, Greg Clark Jr., is still with us and it is from him that we get the details of this pattern. The method of tying is also of interest to those of us who like to get things historically accurate. According to Greg Jr., the tie involves "simply putting chunks of deer hair in a spinning loop, giving it a spin, wrapping the mess around a hook shank, and then clipping to shape". This makes it one of the earliest references to using deer hair in a spinning loop that I can find.

There are a number of theories explaining why Clark's Deer Hair Nymph has been and continues to be a very effective fly. Some believe that it successfully imitates the cases of certain species of caddis flies that are often associated with slack water. Yet this pattern was originated on a river (and the Mad River doesn't get its name for being calm and placid!). According to Greg Jr., the fly can be fished in lakes and ponds by "creeping it slowly along the bottom with a sinking line". He also claims that the Deer Hair Nymph is one of those flies "for all seasons", for still or fast water, and especially in "the heat of summer or for that matter, any time the fishing is slow".

Recently, tyers have been experimenting with caddis patterns tied to imitate caddis cases with the head of the larva sticking out at the front They look remarkably like Clark's Deer Hair Nymph with the front end of a caddis larva at the head. The Peeking Caddis is one of these. However, in my experience, when these caddis larvae are crawling slowly along the bottom, all you really see moving is the case. In any case, the fish eat the larvae - case and all. Consequently, the additional components ascribed for the Peeking Caddis are not, in my opinion, absolutely necessary. The Deer Hair Caddis, which is a much simpler tie, performs just as well.

The original pattern is simplicity itself - deer hair spun on a hook using a spinning loop, with a floss ribbing (more for reinforcement, I suspect), and then clipped to shape.


    Hook: 3X or 4X long, sizes 6-10.

    Thread: Black 6/0.

    Rib: Floss - yellow (the original, I believe), brown, orange or red.

    Body: Deer hair spun on in a spinning loop and clipped to shape.

    Head: Black thread.

The Strawman is essentially the same, except for the inclusion of a tail of barred grey mallard flank.

Tying Steps

    1. Put down a layer of thread, attach the ribbing, and prepare a dubbing loop at the hook bend.

    2. Clip deer body hair from a patch, comb out the fuzz at the base and distribute it into the dubbing. Spin the hair with the help of a dubbing spinner until it forms a brush. Wrap the brush forward in touching turns until you reach a point just back from the hook eye (this may require that you build a second dubbing loop and repeat this step).

    3. Wrap the rib (or you may wait until after clipping the body to shape), wiggling the floss from side to side so it doesn't trap down too much hair. Secure the rib and tie off. Clip the body to shape.

Current Issue Canadian Fly Fisher
There it is - simplicity itself! It's an easy tie, constructed from inexpensive materials that are abundantly available. Pure Canadian elegance, eh? ~ Sheldon Seale

Credits: This article is from the Canadian Fly Fisher magazine. We appreciate use permission!

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