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Adventures in Fly Tying... February 2008

Joe's Smelt - A Classic New England Streamer
Fly and Text by Joe Cornwall
Video Production by Jim Stuard


Joe's Smelt is a fly commonly used for landlocked salmon in New England lakes.  If the fly is tied with a pearl Mylar body instead of silver it becomes Jerry's Smelt.  Regardless of the details of the body, this fly is most often tied in a tandem version for trolling.  It is certainly not a fly I've seen in regular use in the Midwest. In fact, it was an article in Fly Tyer magazine that prompted me to include it in this video podcast series. There are a lot of reasons to carry this fly in your streamer wallet, not the least of which is the ubiquitous nature of the smelt as a baitfish.

According to Smelt Fly Patterns (Amato Books, ISBN 978-1571880710) "The American smelt (Osmerus mordax) inhabits the western Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic west to the White Sea, and their drainages.  It occurs as an anadromous form or is landlocked as in the Great Lakes and many other smaller lakes in southeast Canada and the northeastern United States.  The landlocked variety is common in many of the deep, cold water bodies of water in the Northeast.  Wherever it is found, it is an important forage fish for game species."  This tells us there is a lot of water where this fly is an accurate match of what the big fish are eating.  But even in areas that don't have a population of smelt, flows like the Ohio River and its many tributaries, this is still a pattern that can serve us well. It's an easy tie that is a great imitation of a slim-bodied shiner.  When adapted to our specific needs by inclusion of a sparse underwing of pink bucktail, we have a great imitation of a small striped shiner.  And striper shiners are among the most common of the shiner species in our creeks.  They are a common meal for smallmouth, largemouth and spotted bass, saugeye and white bass. 


Hook: Mustad 94720 size 6 or similar 6xl streamer hook
Thread: 140 Denier 6/0 black

Tail: Red hackle fibers

Body: Silver Mylar tube, Body Braid or silver flat tinsel ribbed with silver oval tinsel

Under Wing: Pink bucktail, very sparse.  For use later in the year use white bucktail, also very sparse.

Wing: Mallard flank feather in this tie.  The original used teal or canvasback duck, which has darker markings.

Throat:  Red hackle fibers

Eyes: Optional painted eyes on thread head.

Windows Media Video  QuickTime Video 



Start with the hook in the vise and wrap a layer of thread as a base from the eye of the hook to just above the point of the hook.  Strip and prepare some red hackle fibers from a schlappen or hen hackle and tie in as a tail.  The tail should extend past the bend of the hook no more than the length of the hook's gape.
Tie on the body braid.  This is a great way to get a good, shiny body.  The original uses Mylar tubing tied in in the back with red thread and changing to black thread for the front tie-in.  You can also use a flat siver tinsel with an oval silver tinsel braid.  You might want to experiment with a short, pearl cactus chenille, too!
Wrap a thin, even body that will provide a great imitation of the silver flash from the sides of a smelt or shiner.  This is a great pattern to imitate any of a number of thin, silver baitfishes.
Add a beard of red hackle fibers the same size and bulk as the fibers used for the tail.
Although it is not used on the original version of this fly, I like a sparse underwing of bucktail to provide just a tad thicker body.  In the springtime striped shiners develop a lovely pink blush along the flanks.  Using pink bucktail provides a very accurate imitation of this coloration in the water.  Later in the year, after July, you can revert to white bucktail or even leave it out entirely.
The pink bucktail tied in.  It should lie close to the shank of the hook and be very sparse.  For a size 6 fly I'll use 20 or so bucktail hairs.  Count them to get an idea of how sparse you really want this underwing. Too much material will ruin the action of the fly.
The key to this fly is in the selection of the wing feathers.  Not only does the feather need to be long enough to cover the hook, it needs to be symmetrical.  If you use a feather like the one shown on the left you'll have a streamer that spins and doesn't look right.  You need to find a feather where there is good symmetry with both sides providing a mirror image and the feather stem as the dividing line.
Tie the flank feather on the hook perpendicular to the hook bend.  This fly is tied in the flat wing style. As such it will have a great swimming motion with slight side-to-side action when drifted on a tight line.  The feather will also fold over the body providing a semblance of three dimensionality!

Form an neat thread head and finish with a series of half hitches or a whip.  Add a couple coats of head cement for a tough, durable finish.  This is a great pattern that's unique and easy to tie.

Don't be afraid to experiment with different colors in this pattern.  Use a wood duck flank feather and gold tinsel for an excellent imitation of a a golden shiner or immature carp fry.  Use pheasant "church window" feathers for an imitation of a log-perch darter.  Or maybe you can use mallard dyed olive with an orange beard and gold tinsel to imitate a small yellow perch - a key baitfish for smallmouth bass on Lake Erie.  This is a great pattern to play around with!

Till next time, tight lines and productive flows…

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