Warning: this is a very technical post about fly tying. If you’re not interested in the subtleties of tying one of the most influential modern steelhead and salmon patterns, click here to look at a bunch of pictures of fish.
Jerry French may not have a household name in the world of anadromous angling in the Northwest, but he should. Jerry and his friends Ed Ward and Scott Howell were right at the forefront in the early days of modern Northwest fishing for steelhead – particularly in the realms of Skagit-style casting systems and fly tying.
The Intruder – a large-profile steelhead and salmon fly – was such an important development back in the day that today we talk about ‘Intruder style’ patterns. The Intruder’s combination of a large profile, movement and translucent look with minimal materials, along with its shank-style construction, revolutionized large-profile steelhead flies, plain and simple.
Jerry is an alumnus of Alaska West and today he works at Kaufmann’s in Seattle and guides on the Skagit and the Sauk. We’re really grateful to Jerry for writing up this post on his background, design and tying steps for the Intruder.
Background on The Intruder
It was early 1990’s. I was guiding in Alaska with my friends Ed Ward and Scott Howell. We had all spent the spring together swinging for steelhead and had been tying some very big flies on 3/0 spey hooks. It was very clear that all our big wigglies worked very well.
Unfortunately two very big negatives came to our attention.
- The super long hook shank made it very easy for the fish to throw the hook – we were hooking more fish than ever before but only landing 10 to 15%.
- This was a big one. Almost every fish landed on these 3/o spey hooks was bleeding badly, and that was unacceptable.
That summer in Alaska we all wanted to try these big flies on big Alaskan trout, but we knew these hooks would kill too many fish, and that led to the birth of the shank fly – cut any hook shank off at the bend, tie in a small mono loop 1/8 of an inch from the cut end of the shank, use a 3/8 inch piece of speaker wire insulation, and run the leader thru the eye of the hook and the small mono loop. Then we could tie a very big fly and rig it with any hook we wanted.
When you hooked a fish the fly would come free from the hook, removing all the leverage of the long hook shank and all you had was the hook of your choice in the corner of the jaw. No more bleeders, and the landing rate shot up to 85 to 90%. With no limit to how big a fly we could tie, it got crazy! A name was given – The Intruder.
After that summer, the three of us piled into my Ford Exploder and headed for the Skeena tributaries in BC. We fished everything that was in shape and the whole time we all were swinging some new fly design, tied the night before. The proof was how the fish would take the fly – the take was super aggressive…and this we like very much!
This is when the Intruder as a fly design and theory took off. We all tied lots of flies in our own styles and could find common design features that would make a very big profile with tons of movement, and still be sparse. This was the trigger – the movement and silhouette!
Tying The Twin Tail Intruder
For me the Intruder is a constantly changing creature. I do however have some tying methods that are key to every critter I take for a swing. Here’s an explanation of how to tie the fly at the top of this post.
Single strand floss is the best thread for this method. A 1″ long plastic tube 3/32 outer diameter thick wall is my standard. Having the tube rigged in the vice , I leave 3/16″ bare to fix the junction tube.
I start my thread at the back, and every Intruder starts with a dubbing loop. In that loop, I make what I call the “composite hackle”. I will blend some dubbing, African goat, and some flash dubbing for shine. Make sure it’s all pulled out so it’s ‘mostly’ all the same length. Then pick a hackle of any kind (in this fly it’s turkey flank), and cut 3/4 of an inch of fiber from the stem.
Lay it centered on a 1 1/4″ sparse strip of dubbing, place a second sparse dubbing over the hackle fiber (like a dubbing hackle dubbing sandwich), and install the composite hackle in a waxed loop. The hackle ends should be 1/8″ past the thread. Space it out evenly and give it a good spin with a dubbing whirl. Spun and picked out to free all the dubbing and hackle fibers, the composite hackle should be wrapped on using wet fingers to make a tight wrap. Tie it off, pick it out again, and tie in a twin tail of choice.
If I make a dubbed body, I always wrap it, spaced out over some kind of flat tinsel body. This will make the dubbed body glow very nicely!
The forward ostrich hackle is also a composite hackle. Make a dubbing loop, and make the same composite hackle as the back station. On the forward hackle I’ll add a 1/2″composite hackle of dubbing, ostrich, dubbing to the bottom of the loop assembly. It is best to spin the loop just to capture all the goods, then stop it, make sure no hackle tips are twisted in the loop, then give it a final spin. Again use wet fingers to wrap the hackle tight. Tie it off, pick and brush it out. I will add a sparse, long wing of ostrich in front of the eyes.
I use the composite hackle method on all my steelhead, king salmon and trout critters. I feel it creates a seamless look and a very full yet sparse living creature. There is no limit to what can be put in the dubbing loop and it cuts the tying steps by 50%, if not more. I have tied some stuff using a twin tail and one huge loop to make the rest of the fly, in one step. The key to the composite hackle is to keep it sparse – the combination of the spun dubbing and hackle ends will make a perfect shoulder to hold up any long swimmy hackle.
Open your mind and give it a spin. Whittle up some new critters and take them for a swim!