In the spring of 2012, the Troutbitten guys were scouring the local craft stores for a child’s toy made of rubber. Joanne Fabrics and Michael’s Crafts carried a leggy pink thing that could fit in the palm of your hand, but the toy was hard to find. And for reasons unknown, they appeared in craft stores almost exclusively. Some of the Troutbitten guys felt a little strange entering this mostly-female domain. But I was an old hat, as I’d been buying furs, feathers and foams for at least a decade by then — just trying to save a few bucks while purchasing fly tying materials in bulk.
Now, the inventory for these toys surely wasn’t geared toward fly tyers (nothing in a craft store is, I suppose). But I’ll bet that, one time, an obsessed fly fisher went to get glass beads or wire ribbing at Michael’s. And when he walked past those rubber toys, he had an epiphany that birthed the next super fly.
Now THAT would look good on a hook . . .
Once fly fishing takes over a good part of your life, these moments are a frequent occurrence. You start to see things around you for how they might be repurposed as fishing gear. And to those with an open mind and a creative itch, strange things start to seem like they belong on a fishing hook.
Each creature had about a hundred tentacles — wiggly, jiggly things of just the right diameter to fairly represent an aquatic worm. The toys usually had a happy face, some ears and tail. But of course none of that mattered. Give me the legs! What mattered most was color, and in all my searching I never found more than four of the pink ones. (Yes, of course we tried every other available color, but nothing fooled fish like pink.)
Those child’s toys were the seeds for the Squirmy Wormy craze. And I’d read on a small internet forum that guys were tying wiggly tentacles on a hook for an improved San Juan Worm. Pink was the hot color, they said. And I was all in. At the time, one of my best junk flies was an IPW. The Infamous Pink Worm was an underground pattern from Pennsylvania angler, Fred Bridges. And that hot pink vernille worm with an orange ball for the heart had led me into some amazing days on the water. So, believing that I could do even better by substituting something wiggly for the stiffer vernille was an easy sell. I was then and still am always looking for the next super fly.
What’s a super fly? It’s the kind of fly pattern that changes everything for a while. I’m a dyed in the wool believer that presentation is ninety percent of the game out there. Good drifts catch good fish and good numbers of them too. But occasionally (rarely) something comes along that makes trout go a little crazy. Why? Who the hell knows. But it trips some trigger in trout that makes them move further and eat more than they do for just about anything else. Sometimes it’s a seasonal thing. (The right egg can be a super fly in the winter.) But real super flies are consistent and excellent producers any time of the year.
The Mop is the last super fly that most of us have seen. Like the Squirmy, it quickly gained popularity because trout just eat it. (And because the internet sheds secrets like an Australian Shepherd sheds fur.) Trout that have never seen a Mop can seem pretty stupid for it.
In my life there’ve been only four of these super flies. And no, I’m not telling you about the other two. My buddy, Trevor, might be on to one that he calls Trick or Treat. But don’t ask him about it, because he’s smart enough not to share it with you. Trouble is, the super powers of super flies fade once a trout has seen them a few times. The fly might still produce consistently above average, but the real super powers are gone once mass popularity takes over.
So the Troutbitten guys bought every pink legged creature they could find. Because who knew how long they might be available? Those were good instincts, and in fact, we haven’t seen them around for many years. Of course, you can buy Squirmy Wormy material in every fly shop across the country these days. But that’s exactly the problem. And in truth, I’d gladly pay triple for the old-school creature toy. I liked the material better. It was tougher. And the fly’s radical success formed a confidence in me that never quite carried over to the standard stuff from Hareline, Wapsi or otherwise. It’s just not the same. Close. But, nope — not the same.
Our first couple years of fishing the original Squirmy was flat out amazing. (It was a super fly.) It caught wild trout, stocked trout, picky trout, high or low water trout, brook, brown, rainbow trout and smallmouth bass. It was our go to fly. We didn’t wait for muddy water or rain to tie it on. And we didn’t wait for other flies to fail. We went right to the super fly. Why not? None of us had any hang ups about fishing junk flies. In fact, I’ve always thought of myself as a junk fly junkie. I fish what trout eat. And if they want a pink worm, I’ll take that dance.
And dance, they did. The Squirm boosted our catch rate and sometimes doubled it. I’ve always enjoyed fishing flies like that. With a hot fly, you stop second guessing things. It narrows fishing down to just you and the trout. The terms of the fly are already decided, and it’s up to you to present it well. Oh, make no mistake, there aren’t many freebies with a super fly — not around here, anyway. Wild trout especially demand a great drift. But they might move a little further or seem a little hungrier for a good drift on the best fly. However, if you’re fishing club water, heavily stocked streams or some other setup, it’s a different story. Start throwing Squirmies or other junk flies in water where trout are stocked and fed as pets, and things can get a little silly. But for us, the wild trout of our wild rivers provide endless fair sport — a good super fly just removes the eternal question of fly choice.
All of it lasted a couple of glorious years — three at most. And by then, everyone and his brother carried a Squirmy box. That was pretty much the end of the Squirmy as the go-to super fly. The sheen had worn off. That certain magic was gone. I guess trout got used to the wiggle. They’d seen the jiggle and stopped falling head over heels for it.
The Squirm remains in my box, as it does for all of that original Troutbitten crew and just about every nymph angler across the country. But most have moved on, in search of the next super fly. We’ve tied the Squirm in a dozen different ways, adding beads and colored threads. But my favorite is still the Fred Bridges IPW look with that pink rubber wand tied over the top. It gets more looks for me, fished with split shot, than the beaded version that everyone else fishes.
There’s something to be said for showing a trout what they’ve never seen before. But it also needs to look familiar enough to trigger the feed. A Squirmy does that still, if not at the alarming rate that it used to around here.
In dark bars and seedy internet gatherings, I keep my ear to the ground for rumors of the next super fly. Because those who find one can’t keep a secret for long. And I want to be in on the next fly from the ground up again. I want long months of virgin trout that lust for something original yet familiar, the right mix of bold but non-threatening, curiously edible and irresistible. I want to fish another super fly.
Fish hard, friends.
** Donate ** If you enjoy this article, please consider a donation. Your support is what keeps this Troutbitten project funded. Scroll below to find the Donate Button. And thank you.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N