Northern Wilds Magazine
Points North

North Country Favorite Flies

The following patterns originated in or were adapted to the north country. By trout fishing norms, some of the flies may seem rather large. During the north country’s short growing season, trout typically seek a mouthful rather than a morsel — and there is truth to the adage that big flies catch big fish.

Pass Lake
This venerable north country pattern is a favorite of many fly-fishers. The contrast between the white wing and black body is especially attractive to brookies, though all trout will fall for this fly. You can fish the Pass Lake down and across on a traditional wet fly swing. A strip retrieve works, too.

Hook: Standard wet fly, #8-#12.
Weight: Several turns of wire.
Tail: Coarse, brown hackle fibers.
Body: Black chenille.
Wing: White calf tail, extending to the tip of the tail.
Hackle: Two or three turns of soft, brown hackle.

Whiskey Fly
Fly-fishing pro Bob Nasby of St. Paul, Minnesota uses this fly to catch rainbows and splake in north country lakes. He fishes the fly unweighted on a full-sinking line and counts down to keep consistent depths. You can also fish the fly just beneath the surface as an emerger during the Hexagenia hatch. Actually, the pattern works as well or better than a Wooly Bugger in most situations. The Whiskey Fly derives its name from the wild turkey marabou used to tie the original. Use standard marabou and chenille to tie the fly in an array of colors.

Hook: Wet fly, #6 or #8.
Tail: Wild turkey marabou, about the same length as the hook, with a few strands of black Krystal Flash.
Body: Wild turkey marabou, wrapped around the hook, or black chenille.
Rib: Copper wire.
Collar: Wild turkey marabou, almost as long as the hook. Tie in a clump of marabou at the base of the tail and twist around the thread to make a dubbing.
Head: One black or copper bead.

This is an old-time pattern that originated along the brook trout streams in the Superior National Forest. You’ll still find it in the fly boxes of today’s north country anglers. You can fish this fly wet or dry — even on the same cast. Float it over likely lies and twitch it back just beneath the surface. The palmered hackles easily dry out with a false cast.

Hook: Standard dry fly, #10-16.
Tail: Matched grizzly and brown hackle tips, about the same length as the hook.
Body: Peacock herl.
Hackle: Grizzly and brown hackles palmered the length of the hook.

Borger Strip Leech, Nipigon Style
Guides on Ontario’s famous Nipigon River modified Gary Borger’s Strip Leech to meet the conditions on this powerfully flowing tailwater fishery. An effective fly on any big northern river where getting down to the fish is part of the challenge, the weighted Strip Leech works in still-water, too. For rivers, fish a high-density sink-tip and a short leader to foil the current. Practice is required to master the technique. I have my best luck quartering down and across, but some anglers fish cross-current by throwing upstream mends.

Hook: #2-6
Tail: Chartreuse marabou, about the length of the hook, with several strands of Krystal Flash.
Weight: Medium lead wire.
Body: Cream yarn.
Rib: Medium copper wire.
Wing: Olive or natural rabbit strip, tied Matuka and about twice as long as the hook.
Collar: Olive or natural wild turkey marabou.

Shawn Perich’s books, including Fly-Fishing the North Country, are available at

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