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Adventures in Fly Tying... February 2011

Polly Rosborough's Casual Dress Nymph
Fly and Text by Joe Cornwall
Video Production by Jim Stuard


Our pattern this time out is a true American classic.  The Casual Dress was created by Polly Rosborough and first brought to the attention of the fly fishing community decades ago. It's a simple fly, suggestive in nature and possessing a soft, mobile profile that imparts subtle hints of life into every fiber when it's presented in moving or still waters. 

According to Terry Lawton's excellent Nymph Fishing, A History Of The Art And Practice (ISBN 978-0-8117-0154-9), " E. H. 'Polly' Rosborough was a contemporary of Ted Trueblood, who wrote the Foreword to Tying and Fishing the Fuzzy Nymphs, which was first published in 1965.  Rosborough started fishing for trout in 1922 in northern California, where he fished a small, winding creek, well stocked with 'smart' trout with many weighing up to four pounds.  (He returned to southern Oregon in 1936.) Although he caught some of these big fish at certain times on dry mayflies and terrestrials., many were the days when he caught only the little fish.  He then "sensed that this strange behaviour called for something entirely different in both method and patterns.'  He decided to abandon dry flies altogether and fish with nymphs."

Rosborough fished his nymphs primarily in the upper part of the water column, more as an emerger than as a true, sunk nymph.  This is one of the reasons many of his patterns favor a dark thorax, such as the black ostrich herl used in the Casual Dress.  Right before emergence the thorax and wing buds of many aquatic insects turn very dark. I feel the dark head/thorax on this pattern is a strike trigger during the periods of major emergence, from late May until early July, and accounts for much of this patterns attractiveness.

Although this pattern was designed as a western trout fly for use in creeks, I've found it to be an excellent warm water pond fly.  For whatever reason, this pattern catches an extraordinary quantity of small channel catfish for me.  I can only guess that it resembles a small dragon fly nymph, or perhaps a large midge pupa.  Whatever it is taken for, it is taken with gusto by a wide variety of game fish.  Panfish, smallmouth, largemouth, and white bass have all been fooled by the Casual Dress fished with a dead drift in a creek or a very, very slow hand twist retrieve in still waters.

I've carried this fly primarily in size 10 (and 8 and 12, too) for many years.  In fact, I'd feel naked if I hit the water and found this pattern missing from my nymph box.  It's a strong confidence fly and when the going gets tough, this one gets tied on the tippet and I settle into concentrating on presentation.  Rarely does this tactic disappoint. Tie a few for yourself and be sure to post pictures of your success on the Fly Fish Ohio Facebook Fan Page.


Hook: 2XL or 3XL nymph hook, size 8 to 14
Thread: Black 70 Denier 8/0

Head: Black ostrich herl, one or two depending on hook size

Tail: Natural muskrat body fur, primarily guard hairs

Body: Natural muskrat body fur, primarily underfur

Hackle/Thorax: Natural muskrat body fur, primarily guard hairs, tied in a dubbing loop

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Place your hook in the vise and lay down a thread foundation.  Clip a small pinch of muskrat fure and clean most of the underfur from the pinch.  Tie this in as a short tail, about as long as the hook's gape.

Cut another pinch of muskrat from the hide and clean out the guard hairs.  You want to use the soft underfur for the body.  Polly Rosborough liked to form a dubbing "noodle" from the fur and tie the noodle in as a separate component.  I like using Dave Whitlock's technique of "pinch and spin".  Either way, dub a neat, tight fur body that covers the lower 2/3 of the hook shank.  Form a dubbing loop for the collar.

Wax the dubbing loop and place pinches of muskrat fur, cleaned of most of the underfur, into the loop.  Spin the loop tightly and wrap three or four wraps as a hackle collar.

Tie off the hackle collar and clip the excess loop.  Tie in one or two ostrich herls for a head.

Wrap the ostrich herls, tie off and whip finish.

The finished fly has a buggy look that imitates many aquatic insects.  Although Rosborough himself only fished unweighted flies, he did suggest use of a heavier wire hook to get the pattern down.  Never he less, this fly can be weighted with several turns of lead wire under the body and thorax, or dressed with a wire or flash rib for a bit more sparkle for an effective, if untraditional, variation.




Tight lines and casual waters...


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