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The Attractors

By Bill Luscombe, 🕔Mon, Mar 21st, 2011


Despite all the various fly patterns designed to imitate insects and other creatures trout feed on, there are times when the fish just don't seem interested in anything you offer. This usually occurs on days with a depressed or quickly falling barometer, or on the sweltering dog days of summer. Most of us have experienced days like these and know the frustration they can cause. These are the times when the angler needs to resort to a different tactic by employing the flyfisher's secret weapon . . . the attractor pattern.

Attractor patterns are designed to do exactly what their name implies, attract a fish's attention. Once the fish has been duped into taking notice of the fly the likelihood of a strike increases significantly. Attractors are tied a bit gaudy usually, with more flash than normal patterns. They don't imitate any specific insect, but are designed to look a bit like many possible food items.

A good example is British Columbia's world famous Doc Spratley. This is the fly that helped win the 1993 World Fly-fishing Championships in Kamloops, British Columbia. It is a wet fly with a football-shaped body ribbed in tinsel, a pheasant overwing and tail, and guinea hackle beard. Nothing in nature looks anything like it, but I have caught oodles of trout on green, red or black ones. Have a look at the pattern below and we'll talk about it after you see it.

Doc Spratley:

Fly Tying Instructions:

  1. Wrap on tying thread and secure onto the hook shank a tail of pheasant tail fibres about shank length.
  2. Tie in a length of silver oval tinsel and then the yarn.
  3. Wrap the yarn to the eye of the hook forming a definite football shape as you go.
  4. Wrap the tinsel forward to the eye to form the rib.
  5. Tie in the guinea fowl fibres as a beard just long enough to reach the point of the hook as shown.
  6. Tie in a swept wing of pheasant tail fibres about tail length as shown.
  7. Tie off and whip finish.
  8. (Optional) Tie in a few strands of peacock herl ahead of the wing and wrap three times to form a head.
  9. Tie off, whip finish, and cement.

The Doc Spratley should be fished as you would the most common insect that it might be mistaken for at the time you are fishing it. Black patterns in sizes 10 - 6 can easily be mistaken for a dragonfly nymph or a leech. Tied in green, in smaller sizes such as 14 - 12 it represents a mayfly nymph or caddis pupa. If you clip the overwing off of small patterns it can be used as a quick imitation of a chironomid.

While the original pattern was designed with a black body, the green-bodied variation works extremely well also, often being mistaken for a caddis pupa. Tied in red, the smaller sizes of the Doc Spratley can be used as a good substitute for a bloodworm too.

I know some fly fishers who use very few patterns. Most of the flies they use are various sizes and colours of the Doc Spratley . . . and they catch lots of trout. The Doc Spratley is indeed a giant among flies.

A fly similar to the Doc Spratley that works especially well in the Kamloops trout lakes of British Columbia's interior is Nation's Silvertip. This fly was designed and tied by old Bill Nation back in the 1920's. It is still a fine fly today and you should try some out. You'll be surprised how well they can work at times.

Nation's Silvertip:

Fly Tying Instructions:

  1. Wrap on tying thread and secure onto the hook shank a tail of golden pheasant tippet fibres about 3/4 shank length.
  2. Tie in a length of silver oval tinsel and then the flat tinsel.
  3. Wrap the flat tinsel 1/4 of the way up the shank.
  4. Tie it off and trim the excess.
  5. Tie in the black floss ahead of the flat tinsel.
  6. Wrap the thread forward to the head then wrap the floss forward to the head.
  7. Tie off the floss and trim excess.
  8. Wrap the oval tinsel forward to form a rib over both the flat tinsel and the floss.
  9. Tie off at the head and trim excess.
  10. Tie in the guinea fowl fibres as a beard just long enough to reach the point of the hook as shown.
  11. Tie in a small bunch of golden pheasant tippets about shank length extending along the back of the fly.
  12. Tie in a pair of matched turkey feathers parallel to the hook shank, enclosing the golden pheasant tippet.
  13. Tie off , whip finish, and cement.

Fish the Nation's Silvertip near bottom on a sinking line. It is often mistaken for a dragonfly nymph or a leech.

Another world famous attractor is the Royal Coachman. This fly can be tied wet or dry, but is best known as a dry fly. It is usually most successful during hot weather. I believe that the dry Royal Coachman is mistaken for a red ant when fished at that time.

Royal Coachman:

Fly Tying Instructions:

  1. Wrap on the thread to the butt of the hook and tie in a tail of shank length golden pheasant tippet.
  2. Tie in 2 strands of peacock herl, twist to make a herl rope and wrap the herl forward 1/4 of the shank length.
  3. Tie off and trim excess.
  4. Tie in the red floss and wrap forward to the midpoint of the shank.
  5. Tie off and trim excess.
  6. Tie in another 2 strands of peacock herl, twist to make a herl rope and wrap forward another 1/4 of the hook shank.
  7. Tie off and trim excess.
  8. Tie in one standard length brown neck hackle and then one variant length white neck hackle.
  9. Wrap the white hackle to the eye to form a thick hackle.
  10. Tie off and trim off all the underside hackles close to the shank.
  11. Wrap the brown hackle forward though the white hackle being careful not to crush down the white hackle fibres.
  12. Tie off at the head.
  13. Whip finish and cement.

Fish the Royal Coachman as you would any traditional dry mayfly.

Royal Wulff:

A variation of the Royal Coachman that has gained fame over the past decade or so is Lee Wulff's Royal Wulff. It simply replaces the tail and wings of the standard Royal Coachman dry fly with white calf tail. It works very well on rough water streams because the rough water hides the exact outline of the fly from the fish while still being highly visible to the fly-fisher topside.

Instead of the standard dry Royal Coachman, I have found the Grey Coachman to be a much more effective fly, especially as an imitation of the Callibaetis mayfly dun and I have fished it on lakes during those hatches with great success. In reality the Grey Coachman is simply a colour variation of the Royal Coachman, and therein lies the beauty of attractor patterns; the pattern remains the same and you simply vary the colours of the components.

Grey Coachman:


While attractors by definition imitate no specific insect or creature, you can turn standard fly patterns into attractors by modifying the pattern with gaudy or flashy materials. One pattern that lends itself well to this practice is the Woolly Bugger . The old standard black pattern is an excellent fly, but sometime even it does not produce. Try changing the body dubbing material to sparkle chenille, or add a bit of dubbing enhancer to spruce it up. Change the palmered hackle to yellow or grizzly and add some flashabou or crystal flash to the marabou tail. All these little changes will give the fly some added flash and cause a trout to take a second look. The name of the game during slow periods is to attract a fish's attention. Once it is interested it will often strike. Sometimes I think that the trout hit these ugly attractors simply because they are so gaudy that the fish can't stand looking at them anymore and strike them out of anger. That's ok in my book, the idea was to induce a strike and that's what happened.

When you are out on the water and can't buy a strike, remember your attractors. You will be surprised how well some of these patterns work during slow times, especially during the hot weather. Keep a few in your fly box at all times as a last resort. They'll pay off when times are tough.

Bill Luscombe has been hunting and fishing for most of his 42 years. He has been flyfishing for 20 years. He instructs flyfishing, and has done so for the past 12 years. He also instructs the federal FSET firearms course and the BC CORE hunter training course. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and has been writing freelance since 1987. He has been published in BC Sport Fishing Magazine, Outdoor Edge, BC Outdoors, Western Sportsman, Island Fish Finder, and the BC Hunting Guide.

Bill Luscombe was born an army brat and raised in Ladner (Delta, BC) where he was raised hunting waterfowl and pheasants. He presently resides in North Cowichan on southern Vancouver Island where he has lived and worked full time as a professional forester since 1982.

He presently works in Nanaimo for the BC Forest Service and continue to write the fly-fishing column for BC Sport Fishing Magazine as well as contributing articles freelance to various outdoor magazines in western Canada. Bill Luscombe is also a BC Director of the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association.

"Catching fish is not hard. You simply need to understand what makes them tick. If you think like a fish, you will catch fish. It´s as simple as that."- Bill Luscombe



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