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Celebrating Michigan Flies and Tiers

by Ray Schmidt
05/05/09 2009 Schmidt Outfitters

Michigan is rich in fly fishing history. After all, we were the first state to stock the now-famous German Brown Trout in the Pere Marquette River way back in the 1800’s. Many famous fly anglers, rod makers, and fly tiers come from Michigan. Carl Richards, Doug Swisher, Paul Young, Clarence Roberts, Earl Madsen and Len Halliday are a few names on this list of fame. Flies like the Roberts Yellow Drake, the Adams, the Michigan Skunk, and the Borcher’s Special are a sample of great flies developed by the aforementioned tiers.

Most of these flies were “suggestive” in design so as not to crowd the fly box with extra things that were not deemed necessary. For example most of these flies were tied in a few sizes to mimic a host of let’s say “yellow insects” or “brown insects”.

Most famous and most duplicated is the Adams fly. This pattern was developed by Len Halliday and was named after Judge Charlie Adams in 1922. This fly has probably been floated over more fish worldwide than any other. Tied in a traditional style with grizzly hackle wing tips or a parachute with a white deer hair post, this fly is fished in sizes 10 through 20. Originally this fly had a mix of brown and grizzly hackle barbules for the tail, but later most tiers and manufacturers used moose mane or moose body hair as tails because they are stiffer and made the fly float better. Either pattern is correct.
The Roberts Drake, and notably the Roberts Yellow Drake, is next in line. This pattern was developed by Clarence Roberts of Grayling Michigan around 1950. Clarence was a famous game warden, as they were referred to in those days. You never knew when he would pop out of the brush for “a chat.” Clarence was my uncle, my Mom’s younger brother. He and his tying buddies that met in his basement tying room taught me a lot in the short time I knew him. That room smelled like moth balls (probably still does.) The Roberts Drake is tied in sizes 6 through 18, and covers everything that’s yellow or mustard color included hexes, sulphurs, cahills, yellow sallies, and more. This could easily be Michigan’s most popular dry fly.
The Borchers Special was developed by Ernie Borcher of Grayling, Michigan. This fly was originally tied to mimic hendricksons, black quills, mahoganies, and isonychias. Some anglers carry this pattern in sizes 10 through 18, though most are 12, 14, and 16. Moose mane tails, turkey quill body, grizzly hackle wing tips, and a blend of brown and grizzly hackle make up this simple fly.

The Michigan Skunk is probably the most fish-catching fly in our shop. We stock it in both dry and wet varieties and several colors. This fly was developed by Earl Madsen, also of Grayling, and was originally tied only in black and white, hence the “skunk” name. The Skunk may have been the first rubber-legged fly pattern. Many more were to follow. As a dry fly, it looks like a hopper, stone fly, or other small, top-water critters . The wet pattern is fished as a streamer or dead-drifted like a nymph. I personally like to drift it with an occasional twitch. We even fish the wet version behind a big streamer with deadly results.