Fountains of Youth – Classic trout flies that have withstood the test of time … flies that remain “forever young”
by Rusty Dunn
Casting locally designed flies to wild native trout is hard to beat.
A delicate Quill Gordon drifted to brookies in the Catskills. A big Stimulator skittered over rainbows of the Pacific Northwest. A Royal Trude offered to cutthroats of Yellowstone. Indigenous flies cast to indigenous trout are innately satisfying.
Very few fly patterns developed locally ever escape their home waters and become popular nationally. The Humpy, however, is one such fly. It is a wildly successful western attractor whose fame is global. At the peak of its notoriety in the mid-20th century, Humpies accounted for ~30% of annual fly sales by western fly shops. It is still popular today. Author Randall Kaufmann described the Humpy as “arguably, the greatest surface fly ever devised“. Those are heady words for a pattern fished in the 1940s by only a small cadre of Californians. How did a local favorite get so famous? First and foremost, the Humpy is an excellent fly. But equally important, its early admirers included some notable anglers, the kind who influence what we tie to our leaders.
Jack Horner of San Francisco designed the Humpy in the early 1940s for California’s swift rivers, where good floatation is paramount. He named it the “Horner Deer Hair” fly. One of Horner’s fly customers brought the fly to the Yellowstone area, where it struck gold and found fly fishing stardom. The path to fame involved Pat Barnes, the venerable “Old Pro” of West Yellowstone. Barnes owned a prominent West Yellowstone fly shop and was guiding a client in July, 1947 on nearby Cliff Lake. The client had a brand new bamboo fly rod and insisted that Pat give it a try. Barnes made one cast with the borrowed rod and fly. A large trout rose and broke the leader. Pat borrowed a second fly and made a second cast. Bang … another large trout! The fish was landed, and while releasing it, Barnes discovered two identical flies imbedded in its jaw. “What is that fly?“, Barnes inquired, to which the client responded “a Horner Deer Hair“.
Barnes removed both flies, returned the rod to the client, and stuck the fly with the broken tippet in his hat band. The next day, customers in the fly shop asked about the fly and leader hanging from Barnes’ hat. Pat described the previous day on Cliff Lake, and the customers immediately wanted some of those “goofy looking flies”. Sig Barnes, Pat’s wife and one of the west’s most talented fly tyers, replicated the fly on the spot. As they say, “the rest is history”. The Horner Deer Hair was no longer a regional curiosity, but rather a hot new fly promoted by one of Montana’s best known fly shops. Word of the goofy new fly spread, and it became a staple of Yellowstone area fly shops and fly boxes. It even sprouted a new name, the “Goofus Bug”. Dan Bailey’s fly shop in nearby Livingston, MT enthusiastically promoted Goofus Bugs in the 1950s. About the same time, the Horner Deer Hair became known in the Jackson, WY area as a “Humpy”, the name that is most widely used today. But enclaves of old timers in California and Montana still call it a Horner Deer Hair or Goofus Bug.
The Humpy is one of the all-time great attractor dries. It is a chameleon, imitating almost anything you or the trout want to see in it. Caddisflies, stoneflies, mayflies, terrestrials, you name it. Tied in varying sizes and colors, it imitates them all. The fly floats like a cork and is highly visible even in choppy water. It makes an excellent indicator fly for “dry and dropper” combinations. Don’t think of the Humpy as just a trout fly, either. Bass and panfish love it.
Jack Horner’s original fathered a long line of variations and adaptations, but the basic concepts of its design have continued throughout the lineage. Like all great attractor flies, it has an appeal that trout just find irresistible.
Copyright 2018, Rusty Dunn
Horner Deer Hair / Goofus Bug / Humpy
|Hook:||Dry fly, #10 – #18|
|Thread:||6/0 or 8/0, color to match abdomen|
|Abdomen:||Tying thread, floss, poly yarn, or dubbing; yellow, green, red, and “royal” are the most popular|
|Body:||Deer hair pulled over abdomen as a hump|
|Wings:||Deer hair, upright and divided|
|Hackle:||Ginger or honey dun rooster, tied short and bushy behind and in front of the wings.|