Dennis Collier Fly Illustration - Copyright Dennis Collier 2015Articles

Of Seagulls, Damselflies and Hair of the Hare

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

Seagulls were congregating along the far bank, pacing back and forth with raucous anticipation. It was mid-June and Mother Nature had signaled another annual damselfly hatch at Colorado’s North Delaney Buttes Lake. Legions of the small green insects were now migrating across the liquid plain with only one thing in mind—perpetuation of their species.

For the uninitiated; gulls lined up along the lake shore are also a call-to-action for the angler to join with fish and fowl for their "all-you-can-eat" damselfly banquet. The season’s brood of these slender, graceful insects will slowly crawl ashore to undergo the metamorphoses into adulthood; to mate and die, and thus begin and conclude another chapter in the age-old cycle-of-life. For the angler, this is an opportune time to renew the connection between fish and fishermen—not that the fish are too happy with the arrangement.

Countless damsel nymph fly patterns have also migrated across the liquid plain over the years—some better than others. One of the inherent challenges with designing a damsel nymph imitation lies in the quest to mimic the sculling motion of the natural bug as it swims through the water. This is no easy task and most flies I’ve seen—and most of what have resided in my fly-boxes in the past as well—are rigor-mortis afflicted creatures tied on long-shank hooks, and only marginally animated by the "stripping" action of the angler during the retrieve.

Notable exceptions include patterns which incorporate tail sections of marabou or flies with articulated abdomens; in which the fly is tied in "jointed" fashion so the abdomen is free to move about as it is being fished. The later style is also more complicated to tie than many fly tiers care to undertake, which probably explains why you don’t see a lot of them in shop fly bins or angler fly boxes. Other admirable attempts look good while resting in a fly-box but still fall short of the "animated" mark when they become water-borne.

Enter the Lowly Hare

I first introduced the Bunny Damsel several seasons ago during one of my fly-tying demonstrations here in Colorado. Of the numerous patterns tied at these events, I sometime wonder which flies (if any) the members of the audience will find worthy of tying and adding to their own fly boxes. I’m happy to say, the Bunny Damsel has received a hearty "thumbs up" from many of the clinic participants.

The effectiveness of this fly can be attributed to the unorthodox introduction of rabbit fur into the component menu. The under-fur of rabbits is one of the softest, most pulsating and undulating materials ever invented for the fly tier. I’m so sold on this material, if I could find rabbit fur in three-inch lengths I’d never use marabou for Wooly Bugger tails again. It is the inherent characteristics of the rabbit under-fur that makes it ideal for use in a damselfly nymph pattern—in which the conveyance of motion is a key objective in the fly design.

Pre-cut and dyed "Zonker" strips proliferate like wild rabbits around the material sections of fly shops. To me this is Bunny Damsel in a package. Since dye-lots and natural damsel nymph colors are all over the map, I’ll purchase a range of dyed olive or insect-green fur to tie a variety of imitations. If an exact color match for the bugs in a particular lake makes the difference in numbers of "fish caught", you can dye a white skin to match the natural insect. However, I’ve found that if you shop around a bit you can find something that comes close enough among the many offerings. Remember, the fur darkens when wet, so take this into consideration for color selection when matching-the-hatch.

In my experience, I’ve seen damselfly nymphs range in color from a pale "milky" olive, to bright neon green, and occasionally into the brown/olive color spectrum. Sizes have ranged from three-quarters of inch on the short side, to one-and-a-quarter-inches on the long side. These variations are a direct result of the particular species and sub aquatic characteristics of the specific lake or pond they inhabit. As a consequence, the angler who purchases fly shop bin-flies is getting a fly that fits somewhere within a range of averages for color and size. For the non-tier, buying stock flies is usually a matter of necessity and in many instances the fish could probably care less as long as it comes close enough. However, when the fish slip into the selective mode, a more scientific approach of sample collection and imitation at the tying bench is a preferable alternative.

Easy Does It

The Bunny Damsel is a relatively easy fly to tie, the ingredients are inexpensive and easily obtainable, and it wiggles in the water—all of which serve to validate the pattern. For the eyes, the tier can make them using melted monofilament or purchase the plastic pre-formed variety. I prefer to burn my own since the use of magic-markers allows me to color the eyes in a complimentary color. The melted-mono variety also has a nice translucent glow while the opaque plastic type looks dull and lifeless.

The first order of fly-tying business, then, is to remove the course guard-hair from the under-fur prior to attaching it to the hook. The guard-hair only inhibits the fluid motion of the material, so get rid of it. To do this, pinch the base of a small clipping of hair from your pre-cut "Zonker" strip, then pinch the guard-hair tips and pull the two apart. You now hold in one hand the abdominal component for your fly.

For the thorax, I like to use olive-dyed squirrel dubbing since the coarse hair adds just a bit of texture. If you prefer, use some of the dyed under-fur from the same source you used for the abdomen to create a monochromatic fly body. For the legs, barred hen back offers material enough to tie dozens of flies since every hackle on the cape can be utilized. This is a byproduct of the clipped "V" approach to creating a leg-set, since no hackle is either too short or too long, because you’ll adjust the length when the legs are tied-in. Again, "easy does it" is the mantra for this fly.

Putting the Bunny Damsel to Work

Drawing our float tubes close to shore scattering the indignant gulls, we quickly swapped sinking fly lines for "floaters" and tied on a brace of Bunny Damsel patterns. Soon, our rods were arched to the throbbing beat of fish attempting to dislodge the bugs that had just bit them back. Big fish, and a lot of them, had moved into knee-deep water to intercept the luncheon of damselflies.

When fishing the damsel nymph migration, keep in mind that they are swimming high in the water column and are headed for shore to do their thing. Consequently, your most effective presentation will be one that keeps the fly near the surface and moving in the direction the fish are programmed to associate with the real insect. If you’re floating close to the bank, you will likely soon find your craft crawling with migrating insects which mistook you for their final destination. This can be a front row seat for viewing the amazing transformation from the nymphal stage to adulthood. Enjoy the show! With your back to the bank, and using a fan-shaped casting pattern, cover as much surface area in front of you as you can; then move down the shoreline a little ways and repeat the process.

Migrating damsel nymphs swim for a short distance then rest, repeating this action countless times on the long journey to land. A short three-inch "strip – pause – strip" retrieve will cause the bunny fur abdomen to flair and compress, undulate and pulsate, thus giving the illusion of the natural movement. While it isn’t exactly the sculling motion of the real insect, it comes close enough to have won the endorsement of a lot of trout over the years.

Fortunately for the angler, not all of the damsel nymphs scheduled to hatch each season will migrate on the same day and at the same time. Depending on water temperature and surface weather conditions, they move to shore on the installment plan. This is part of Mother Nature’s way of preventing a catastrophic occurrence from wiping out all her precious bugs in one fell swoop. It also means the angler can usually enjoy several days’ worth of damsel nymph fishing before the hatch concludes for another year.

While the annual damselfly migration offers the greatest concentration of these lithe little insects for fish and angler to focus on, damsel nymphs are viable fly patterns for use throughout the season. This is due to future generations of damsel nymphs always being present in the subsurface domain as they grow and await their own day-in-the-sun. During non-hatch times, I’ll often tie a Bunny Damsel on a short dropper a couple of feet above my streamer or leech pattern. I believe this gives the "predatory-food-chain" appearance of fish food chasing fish food. If nothing else, it gives the fish another dining option which increases your odds for a hook-up as well.

I use rabbit under-fur in a variety of colors for a number of fly patterns, including: crane fly larvae (rock worms), San Juan Worms, Mini-Bunny Buggers, small leeches and stonefly nymphs; anywhere the natural action of the fly can be enhanced by the addition of movement in the material. The Bunny Damsel is one more fly in a line of unorthodox experiments with hair from the Hare. Tie one on; I think you and the fish will like it.

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