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Lateral view of a Female Hexagenia limbata (Ephemeridae) (Hex) Mayfly Dun from the Namekagon River in Wisconsin
Hex Mayflies
Hexagenia limbata

The famous nocturnal Hex hatch of the Midwest (and a few other lucky locations) stirs to the surface mythically large brown trout that only touch streamers for the rest of the year.

Dorsal view of a Setvena wahkeena (Perlodidae) (Wahkeena Springfly) Stonefly Nymph from Mystery Creek #199 in Washington
As far as I can tell, this species has only previously been reported from one site in Oregon along the Columbia gorge. However, the key characteristics are fairly unmistakable in all except for one minor detail:
— 4 small yellow spots on frons visible in photos
— Narrow occipital spinule row curves forward (but doesn’t quite meet on stem of ecdysial suture, as it's supposed to in this species)
— Short spinules on anterior margin of front legs
— Short rposterior row of blunt spinules on abdominal tergae, rather than elongated spinules dorsally
I caught several of these mature nymphs in the fishless, tiny headwaters of a creek high in the Wenatchee Mountains.
27" brown trout, my largest ever. It was the sub-dominant fish in its pool. After this, I hooked the bigger one, but I couldn't land it.
Troutnut is a project started in 2003 by salmonid ecologist Jason "Troutnut" Neuswanger to help anglers and fly tyers unabashedly embrace the entomological side of the sport. Learn more about Troutnut or support the project for an enhanced experience here.

Buffalo, NY

Posts: 64
DOS on Feb 28, 2009February 28th, 2009, 11:39 am EST
Hey WB,

Good question on what exactly constitutes a cripple. Seems like it could have quite a broad definition depending on who is using it and why. I wonder if there is an "official" entomological explanation. I googled it and didn't get anything worthwhile.

I found this guy in the space between the ice layer covering the water and the water itself, (this space is caused by the water level dropping after the surface has frozen). He was flopping around in the film, attempting to crawl up on he snow. I helped him up a bit for the photo.
Andrew Nisbet
Martinlf's profile picture
Palmyra PA

Posts: 3047
Martinlf on Jun 10, 2009June 10th, 2009, 2:58 pm EDT
Here's a cripple/emerger pattern that worked very well for olives last spring, and for sulphurs for a while:

Parachute emerger for spring olives in PA. In fall smaller sizes may be necessary. This fly also works very well for sulphurs, PMD’s etc in the right sizes and colors, of course:

Hook: Size 18 Gamakatsu C15-BV, Varivas old # 999 (now #2200 if you know someone in Japan), Kamasan scud hook, or any scud hook would probably work. The Gamakatsu barbless hooks hold well, have a great bend, and are becoming my favorites, though I like the Varivas hook a lot too. Check out the Gamakatsu hook on the web.

Thread: olive 8/0, 10/0 or gel spun. The smallest thread that is strong enough is best for finishing the fly.
Abdomen: dark biot. I have started with dark brown with a reddish brown center and had become somewhat superstitious about it, having caught some very difficult fish with this color, but recently tied some with dark olive biots that have worked very well. I do believe the biot needs to be dark and to contrast the thorax when the fly is wet.
Thorax Dubbing: Caucci spectrumized for baetis, or any light to medium olive rabbit fur dubbing should work,
Hackle: whiting medium dun or dark dun, size 20,
Post: White, Black, or Orange Poly Yarn or other visible material. Could use grey Hi viz, but I like to see this fly.
Tail, short antron or zelon fibers to match the biot. I sometimes tie in a bit of olive dyed mallard too.

Tie in thread and wrap down the bend to almost where the biot will start, creating a tapered underbody like a nymph with the thread on the bend of the hook where the biot will be wrapped. See fly for proportions. If just using Zelon or antron, tie in the tail there wrapping across the center of the very sparse fiber bundle (which will end up doubled), then bring the upper fibers to point down with the others and tightly overwrap the tie in and down a few wraps to bind the shuck/tail in forever. (If I use mallard, I tie it in first, as with any fiber tail, then add the zelon). Moisten the biot and tie it in. Coat lower thread wraps lightly with polyurethane glue (Gorilla glue). Wrap the biot up squeezing the glue along, and wipe any excess after you tie off the biot. Ideally there will be no excess if you get the right amount to start. I sometimes use black marker to suggest the wing pads, and a drop of flexament on top to secure the thread wraps and suggest a wingcase. Advance the thread to a midpoint of the remaining shank and tie in the post. I use Gary Borger's stirrup method, slipping the poly yarn or high viz under the shank and pulling both ends up to create a post that can't pull out. A few X wraps under the hook to secure the post, a tiny drop of super glue at the base and some more quick X wraps and posting wraps at the base of the post and up a bit, and the post is ready and won't slip around later. Then I strip some barbs from a dun hackle, tie in it in along the shank just behind the eye, and then wrap the stem up the post to to reinforce and further stiffen the post. Next I dub the thorax, ending up with the thread wrapped 1 half turn clockwise around the post and hanging on the side of the fly towards me between the post and the eye. Next, wrap the hackle clockwise around the post, 4-5 wraps, with each wrap under the former one. When I’m done, I trap the hackle stem with the thread under the wraps, and with the hackle tip pulled straight down by the hackle pliers, tie off (I wrap clockwise and whip finish using a whip finish tool under the hackle on the post with a few wraps (usually 3). A ultra-mini drop of gorilla glue on the thread of the final whip finish loop that is going to be pulled into the knot is pulled in from below, avoiding the hackle, to lock it all in permanently. Trim the hackle tip and the thread, let the gorilla glue dry, and you’re ready to fish.
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
Posts: 1
Chipdro on Aug 19, 2009August 19th, 2009, 6:22 am EDT
Pat, please email me if you would like any info on my patterns......please go to http://community.webshots.com/user/chipdro
to view some fishing albums........regards.........Chip Drozenski


PS: I was born and raised in Poughkeepsie
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
GONZO on Aug 19, 2009August 19th, 2009, 8:46 am EDT
Thanks for recalling this thread, Chip. I hadn't seen Andrew's great photos of the Capniidae "snowflies." (They are probably Allocapnia rather than Capnia.) Their yellowish color is due to being in a "teneral" condition after emergence and will darken considerably. You can see an example of one of the capniid species that produces short-winged individuals here: http://www.troutnut.com/specimen/453
They do not seem to be at all handicapped by being on the snow and are often seen crawling around on streamside snow/ice after they emerge.

Anyone know the history -- the who, what, when, where and how the idea to tie and fish "cripples" came about?

Although the Quigley Cripple was the first fly pattern that I can recall using the "cripple" name, Swisher and Richards included a chapter on "The Stillborn Duns" in their 1975 book Fly Fishing Strategy. Their earlier Selective Trout (1971) also included "emerger" patterns. However, fly fishers have fished patterns that could suggest cripples or emergers for a very long time before that, whether they were aware of the resemblance (some were) or not.

From a fly-fishing perspective, the question about what constitutes a "cripple" is mostly semantic rather than practical. Although we usually use the term to imply that the insect will not emerge successfully, there is no significant difference between "cripples" and "emergers" from the trout's perspective or the fly-tier's. The name is a marketing "term of art" for some fly patterns and seems to have caused some fly fishers to draw insignificant distinctions between the two. Since none of our "emerger" patterns will ever emerge successfully, perhaps they could all be called "cripples." :)
Lagrangeville, NY

Posts: 119
Patcrisci on Aug 22, 2009August 22nd, 2009, 7:03 am EDT
I agree with you Gonzo. Our emerger patterns function as crippled insects stuggling to get airborne would. If I may split hairs here... I am thinking that within the "emerger/cripple" category of patterns, certain ones may be more attractive to trout because of their likeness to 'true' crippled creatures. I know this is splitting hairs, and as you say, our emergers will never hatch, yet I am stuck on an imitation of not the normal, healthy emerging insect, but the true crippled and helpless bug that screams to trout "easy meal." Chip, I sent an email. Thanks for reaching out.
Pat Crisci
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
GONZO on Aug 22, 2009August 22nd, 2009, 9:41 am EDT

The topic of cripples always reminds me of a comment that a longtime fishing partner shared with me. Another fly fisher said that he was surprised that I didn't tie any "cripple" patterns because they seemed to be the "hot new thing." I told my friend that I tie lots of emerger patterns, but perhaps they look too healthy. In retrospect, I wonder if the trout might be more receptive if I just changed the names. :)

Although I'm usually not one to underestimate the ability of some trout to exercise a high degree of discretion, both "true cripples" and emergers would seem to present a similar image of vulnerability to most trout. Would it normally benefit a trout to distinguish between them? That would probably mean that much less food was consumed in the course of a hatch, and I think it takes a high degree of (probably pressure-driven) suspiciousness for a trout not to consume whatever it can conveniently consume during a hatch. In order to be certain that it wasn't accidentally eating a healthy emerger, wouldn't the fish have to follow the fly until it was certain that it would never emerge successfully?

Sorry...Yes, I'm being a bit facetious. I certainly won't deny that trout that are constantly exposed to lots of similar-looking flies (and/or presentations) often respond better to something that is a bit different. If you have more confidence or find that you have more success by tying flies that look less "healthy," I would certainly encourage you to continue to tie patterns that give you confidence.

Lagrangeville, NY

Posts: 119
Patcrisci on Aug 23, 2009August 23rd, 2009, 6:38 am EDT
Hey Gonzo, if you agree that from a predator's perspective, prey's vulnerability equates to easy meal, than all emergers are easy meals -- with some being easier meals than others. Now I can't say that I've examined any insects to determine their health or whether they are weak or injured :) and therefore easier prey than the perfectly formed spry bugs in the act of emerging. I guess we'll never know what behavior signals to trout that an insect is in distress(we know that crippled minnows exhibit erratic swimming behavior). Of course, this is why spent spinners are so attractive to trout. If I had oodles of free time, were inclined to tinkering, I might pursue the art of making crippled flies to drive trout wild. I don't, but I find the topic interesting and it's something the more serious fly tyers out there might pursue. I am a simple guy. I'll keep fishing my Usuals and Comparaduns :)
Pat Crisci

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