This is a Pass Lake. It is a fly you've likely never heard of unless you're from Wisconsin, a die hard brook trout fisherman, or simply have of a love for obscure wet flies. It is one of those flies kept secret not because of it's incredible effectiveness, but because of fly fishing's new love of the technical and specific. It is an all purpose fly. It can be fished as a dry fly, dead drifted as a nymph, swung as a wet fly, or stripped as a streamer. If it had a corkscrew, it would be be carried by the Swiss Army.
The origin of the fly is unclear. Wisconsinites love to lay claim to the fly's origination, but their claims are just as unsubstantiated as the claims made from Labrador, Washington, and anywhere else. A popular theory is a minister from Clintonville, WI first popularized the fly in the early 1930's and its' kissing cousin, the Rio Grande Trude was being shown as a variant in 1940. (The Rio Grande King Trude and a few variants have had good showings in the Jackson Hole One Fly Fishing Tournament in the 1970's and 1980's, showing its effectiveness extends outside of the Midwest). Being from Wisconsin, I would love to jump on the origination bandwagon, however, I personally believe it is a Canadian fly that migrated south from big brook trout country to the Upper Midwest and was so effective on Northern Wisconsin's streams, that we naturally had to make claim to its' origin.
The recipe of the fly is just as varied as its' uses. It is traditionally and classically tied with a white calf's tail wing, black chenille body, brown hackle fiber tail and brown hackle collar. However, the only truly constant part of a Pass Lake is the white calf's tail wing. I have seen it tied with a peacock hurl body, as a more classic wet fly with a black floss body and gold ribbing, long palmered hackle collar and almost any material as the tail. It's versatile tie is one of the many attractions the fly has. It can be tied a variety of ways all which can be very effective depending on its' regional use.
I admit I found the Pass Lake's versatility in my laziness. Fishing Wisconsin's brush cluttered streams is a challenge. Its often impossible to perfectly dead drift a dry fly or nymph through a series of runs or pools consistently from a downstream approach. The brush choked, stream side banks often limit access to fishing a run from the bottom, and its usually necessary to start fishing it from the middle or even from the top. This makes the Pass Lake the perfect fly as it can be dead drifted and swung with equal success. I prefer to simply fish a pattern that I can present no matter what the stream geography and fauna dictates. I will regularly tandem fish a Pass Lake with a nymph dropper as well so I can have that extra degree of versatility when I do get the perfect upstream approach.
I had never seen a Pass Lake fished as a dry fly until I met my friend Morgan's father . His name is Michael but he looks more like an Ambrose or a Sigmund. He can fish a seven foot rod because his arms are six feet long. He conducts otherwise complicated mends across braided currents by sticking his arm out half way. He is the old guard of fly fisherman. He fished with fiberglass "poles" and gut leaders and was born and raised at the door step of Northern Wisconsin. He has fished the Pass Lake for decades successfully. It is his "go to" fly. I thought I found a kinship with him when we both talked about the Pass Lake being one of our favorite flies. Then he told me he fished it dry and looked at me like I was from Mars when I told him I fished it as a wet fly. I've since seen him fish the dry fly version. He fishes it in the film and has to grease it often. But in the top of a run, in the turbulent water, it rides well enough and is visible enough for him to pick off trout seeking super oxygenated water and a quick meal in the bubbles.
The version show above is not the classic version of the fly. It has been modified to be a more versatile version. The classic Pass Lake is really designed as a wet fly first, but can be fished dry with copious amounts of floatant. The modified version includes more widely dispersed hackle wraps to help float the fly more naturally. It still can be sunk and fished wet, dead drifted, and swung, but the added hackle not only allows it to float better, but adds a representation of legs coming from the thorax. To me, it just looks more "buggy". It's one of the most effective and versatile flies ever tied and virtually no one carries it.