Al Campbell, Field Editor

February 23rd, 2004

Too Simple Ray Charles

Al Campbell

First of all, I didn't invent this pattern. I saw it tied on the Bighorn River over a decade ago. I was actually a bit amazed that it was so easy to tie and even more amazed at how well it caught fish.

As far as the name goes, one legend has it that the name refers to the idea that even a blind fish could spot this fly. Another legend has it that even a blind fisherman could catch a fish with this pattern. I don't care which is the truth. If it catches fish, and is easy to tie, I like it. It does, and it is, so I'm fond of this pattern.

This fly is supposed to represent a scud or sow bug. It does a great job of it. I have seen maybe two dozen versions of the Ray Charles, and all of them work fine. Most have some type of ribbing to hold the back in place and make the fly more durable, but the fish don't care if it is a simple version or not. Neither do I.

Body colors vary a lot, but gray, orange and pink are the most common colors. For the Bighorn, sizes range from about size 14 to 18. Size 18 to 22 are productive in the Black Hills streams, so don't limit yourself. Using a nymph net in your local waters should help you identify the most common sizes for your area.

Too Simple Ray Charles

List of materials:

  • Hook: - Any standard nymph or wet fly hook size 12 to 22, even cheap ones will do. I'm using a size 16 Mustad 3399A hook.

  • Body: - Ostrich herl, 2 to 4 strands depending on hook size, I'm using 3 strands for a size 16 hook. I'm using gray, but pink, orange and other colors work well.

  • Legs: - Same as body, actually part of the body.

  • Thread: - 6/0 - Any color works, but bright red, pink or orange seem to work better.

  • Back: - Pearl tinsel, fairly wide.

  • Rib: - None, except for the guys who can't tie a fly this simple. For those guys rib it with wire if you must. Of course, then it wouldn't be a too simple fly.

Tying steps:

    1. Start the thread and tie the tinsel to the hook.

    2. Add the ostrich herl.

    3. Start wrapping the herl. This is a lot easier with a rotary vise, but any vise will do.

    4. Wrap to behind the hook eye and tie off there, leaving plenty of room for a head.

    5. After tying off, trim the excess herl. No need to be perfectly neat here, the top of the fly is covered.

    6. Pull the tinsel over the back of the fly and tie off near the hook eye.

    7. Trim the tinsel and make a fairly decent head of thread. When tying for speed, I don't get too anal about how neat the head looks as long as it's tight.

    8. Whip-finish and cement the head. You're finished.

    9. From the top your fly should look something like this.

Since midges are very common, and their larvae are often bright red, I think the bright red head is often a trigger mechanism to the fish that cause them to take this fly. I have tried other thread colors but bright red has been more productive than the rest. Your experiences, however, might vary from mine. One thing is certain, this pattern catches fish. It's also too simple to ignore.

For all you guys who think a fly has to be more complex than this, go ahead and rib it with gold or copper wire if you wish. You might even want to make the head prettier than I do. It won't bother me a bit if you do. I'll be fishing. ~ AC

Previous Al Campell Columns

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