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Tying and Fishing DC's Snoball Beetle

Click here for the DC’s Snoball Beetle recipe and tying sequences.
By Dennis P. Collier

The birthplace of the Snoball Beetle lies in the granite amphitheatre of an ancient glacial moraine in Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park. It was here, while guiding anglers on the upper Big Thompson River (known locally as the "Big-T") during the summer tourist season, that I started developing a fly pattern the fish would find attractive, while at the same time facilitate my client being able to see and follow the drift of the fly once it had landed on the water. Visually locating the fly on the water at any distance can be challenging for those who are new to fly fishing, and for those of us who are getting a little "hard of seeing." The bright, neon indicator solved that problem and the Snoball Beetle was the end result.

Justification for the evolving pattern was based on the fact that, at eight-thousand feet of elevation, and given the substrate characteristics of this freestone watershed, aquatic insect hatches are sparse. With the receding winter snow pack, ants and beetles make their spring debut and become a frequent menu selection for these fish. During the summer months, deep meadow grasses will offer up their banquet of grasshoppers as well. The unfortunate insect that falls in the water next to an undercut bank becomes history in short order. This is terrestrial territory!

The Snoball Beetle is actually a third cousin of the ubiquitous Chernobyl Ant (see my Snoball derivative of this pattern in Tony Lolli's book Go-To Flies published by Wilderness Adventures Press, Inc). The original Snoball Beetle incorporated a sculpted body of black, 3mm closed-cell foam. A set of round rubber legs protrude at right-angles to the body, and the deer belly-hair visual indicator (from which the pattern name is derived) is mounted on top of the fly right behind the head. Its beauty lies in the simplicity of design and its fish catching aptitude—this is truly a "guide's fly."

Tie the indicator in a color most visible to you, but for me, fluorescent white, fluorescent chartreuse and fluorescent yellow, offer the highest degree of visibility since I'm red/green colorblind. White can sometimes be difficult to see in heavy foam lines, so I now carry the pattern with a few different colors of indicator to meet varying light and water conditions.

The only other design changes made to the original pattern have been to incorporate a laminated body for variety, and to minimize the amount of sculpting done to the foam to further reduce production time.

Tips for Tying the Snoball Beetle

My laminated bodies consist of a 2mm center-strip of foam in a contrasting color, sandwiched between two layers of 2mm black foam. When creating laminated bodies be sure to use a waterproof contact adhesive, such as Barge Original, All-Purpose Cement. Cover one side of all three sheets of foam with a generous application of cement. I use inexpensive, disposable "flux" brushes for this task. At first the foam will curl up into a "C" shape but after the cement has completely dried the foam will once again relax and flatten out.

Do not rush things and laminate the sheets together until they've completely flattened, otherwise you'll end up with curved fly bodies—which is okay if that's the effect you want to achieve. It usually takes about ten to fifteen minutes for the adhesive to dry. Coat the remaining two surfaces to be laminated and attach when they are ready. A word of caution here: carefully align the sheets of foam before bringing them together for lamination. Once the glued surfaces touch, that's all folks, you will not get them back apart!

The Snoball Beetle is a simple pattern to tie and even beginning fly tiers can master it with a little practice. First, cut the foam into strips from the flat sheet using my proportion formula for the TMC #3769 hook as a guide (see Pattern Archives). Next, cut a wedge-shaped taper on one end of the body. I use both single-edge and double-edged razor blades for this step since they provide very clean cuts on the foam. Both types can normally be found at a local hardware store or drugstore.

When attaching the body, take a fairly loose first wrap of thread around the foam, then two very tight additional wraps. The first wrap of thread will crease the foam and serve as a cushion to discourage the subsequent tight wraps from cutting through the material. I've found that 3/0 Monocord thread works best for tying foam since it's strong enough to exert a lot of pressure without breaking. It is also of large enough diameter to minimize the possibility of slicing thru the foam.

It is recommend you tie the Snoball Beetle on 2X heavy-wire, wet-fly hooks, such as the TMC 3769 or 3761. The keel effect of the heavy wire helps counterbalance the indicator and land the fly in the upright position. The extra weight also encourages the fly to ride low in the surface film just like the natural insect. This fly is super buoyant and long on durability so don't be surprised if you catch several fish on a single fly, clip it off, then repeat the exercise on a subsequent trip. I have done this on many occasions.

The heavy wire is also more bend resistant when you snag the fly on overhanging streamside brush and grasses and give a hearty tug to pull it loose. This will happen frequently if you're fishing the bug where it needs to be—tight to the bank. When this occurs, don't immediately pluck the fly off the water. The beetle landing on the surface with a good "splat" and dead-drifting for a foot or two will many times trigger an explosive strike.

The "fifty-cent-secret" to tying this fly is in stripping the round rubber legs off the sheet in sets of two or three attached strands. Leg diameter and quantity is based on the size of the fly and your personal preference in esthetics. Tie them directly to the sides of the foam in the attached configuration with two very tight wraps of thread. It's this subtle detail that results in the uniformly splayed legs. For the time being do not separate the strands. This step is accomplished after the fly is finished.

After completing the fly, turn it over and carefully apply a drop or two of superglue to the thread wraps and set it aside (belly up) to air dry. This will prevent the foam from rolling on the hook shank during use. Avoid getting glue near the hook eye for obvious reasons. I would discourage the use of a drying accelerator since it has the undesirable effect of turning the glue white.

Gone Fishing!

I quite often use this fly as an unobtrusive strike-indicator when fishing small nymphs and emerger patterns riding low in the surface film. A few years ago, I was fishing a private ranch pond near Kremmling, Colorado, when a couple of fish inhaled my "bobber." Okay, I thought, if they want to play this game I'll just put a hook in it by swapping the cork indicator for a Snoball Beetle. On the next cast my rod was bending to the strain of a large Donaldson steelhead, beetle in jaw, headed for parts unknown.

As late morning sun warmed the water, Callibaetis mayflies began to waltz across the liquid mirror. A size14 Parachute Adams quickly replaced the dropper and the comedy act began. Big bows would sprint across the pond when the two flies hit the surface, turn toward one, then the other, trying to decide which to eat first. They reminded me of kids in a candy shop and the beetle won most of the decisions.

Here in the Mountain States, wind is an almost constant factor while fishing. Consequently, I prefer 7'-5" Umpqua "Power Taper" leaders tapered to 3X. To this, I'll attach a foot or two of 4X fluorocarbon tippet material. Weight-forward leaders help turn the fly over and facilitate an accurate presentation while punching the offering into a stiff breeze. It's a rare occasion that I have to drop down from 4X. When the fish decide they want this fly, not much stops them from closing the deal.

On the high-plains lakes of Colorado and Wyoming, I often use the daily winds as a resource rather than an aggravating hindrance. Flotsam, in the form of hatch remnants, and terrestrials that were blown into the water during the course of the day, will stack-up in the shallows on the lake's leeward side. Walking the shoreline in the quiet, low-light-level of early dawn, you'll see tails and dorsal fins knifing the surface as the piscatorial inhabitants cruise around in the bug soup. Some of the best fishing of the day can be had by the angler willing to shed his or her sleeping bag an hour or two earlier than usual, and gently casting a Snoball Beetle on an intercept path with these spotted submarines.

A number of fellow fly fishermen have reported fishing this creation with great success on many of our most demanding and hard-fished western waters. I have personally fished the Snoball Beetle on Colorado's Frying Pan River during a heavy BWO hatch, and caught numerous fish along the banks, after my best "Olive" patterns had been snubbed by the "Pan's" college-educated trout. One opinion offered on the effectiveness of the Snoball Beetle, is the fact that the fish haven't seen a parade of others just like it that day. Only the fish know for certain, but to date the Snoball Beetle has exercised a lot of trout—from the Canadian Rockies to the San Juan River in New Mexico—and countless other angling venues in between. That much I do know!

For warm-water applications, try tying the pattern with longer legs and a strand or two of Krystal Flash to impart an enticing action when "popping" the fly on the retrieve. Retaining the original pattern profile, different colors of foam and leg combination can be used to accommodate the palates of your local panfish friends.

One frigid winter day, I stopped to chat with another angler as we fished the tail-water section of the Big Thompson River below Olympus Dam. During the course of conversation, this young chap told me of a "hot-fly" he'd had great success with while fishing the park during the warmer summer months. He opened his fly box and handed me a Snoball Beetle. I graciously accepted his generous offer and smiled to myself as we went our separate ways. Throwing Snoball's in the heat of summer…who would guess!

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