Retired basketball coach and talented chair thrower Bobby Knight is adamant the best fish catcher ever mass-produced is Orvis’ TeQueely Streamer. He made the claim back in spring of 2012 while speaking to an audience of guides, reps, and industry types attending Simms’ annual Ice Out event. Attendees packed Bozeman’s Wilson Auditorium to hear what the legendary coach had to say about flyfishing, basketball, and life. And in this moment of TeQueely head scratching, the snickering crowd hung on Knight’s every syllable, anticipating a punch line that was never delivered. The TeQueely? Yes, said Knight, “It’s the only fly you’ll ever need.”
Considering Knight led the US basketball team to Olympic gold in 1984 and has more than 900 NCAA Division I wins in his pocket, one can assume he knows something about winning formulas. And the TeQueely, in fact, may just be the sexiest bug ever to brush yellow rubber legs against the crinkled kype of an ornery old brown trout—if it’s the only fly you were to ever fish. That’s because the TeQueely is just one of many representatives that fall into the “confidence flies” category. Those patterns that see reoccurring usage because they have and continue to work in the field. The reliability of confidence flies has been chiseled into the mind’s eye, driving their powers of trout persuasion to the realm of sacred, irrefutable fact.
Here’s another fact: my current fly portfolio does not include a single TeQueely. But the collection has been whittled to a handful of confidence-inspiring patterns; prime clumps of fur, feather, and synthetic materials that during specific situations consistently put happy times into my fish-slimed hands. As fly tiers continue to tweak, primp, fluff, streamline, swim, weigh, measure, dream, delight, and devise, the selection is in constant flux. But the following standbys have come to form the TeQueelys of my in-river experiences. And there’s no doubt—in my mind—that they are the best six flies ever produced by some of the top contemporary fly tiers out there. I’ll crack a chair to the curb in defiance of anyone who says otherwise, including Bobby Knight. Here are those bugs and why.
Hook: Dai Riki 730, #8-12Thread: UTC Ultra 140 denierDubbing: SLF Kaufmann Golden Stone or Dave Whitlock Golden BrownTail: Crystal FlashFoam: 2 mm tan craft foamWing: Synthetic polyLegs: Sili Legs
Chris Conaty, formerly of Idylwilde Flies in Portland, Oregon, is hesitant to take credit for the sometimes-lambasted Chubby Chernobyl. The fly is basically a variation on the original Chernobyl Ant. Several years ago, Conaty received a custom order from a shop on the South Fork of the Snake River. It was for a black foam Chernobyl with a red dubbed body and black rubber legs. This pattern had no tail, the foam was attached to the hook shank in several places, and Conaty remembers it having one wing of either poly or Antron. He also remembers it being one of the ugliest damn flies he’d ever seen.
At the time, the team at Idylwilde was producing several Chernobyl variations, they were selling well, and there was chatter around the office about expanding the lineup. Conaty took a selection of materials, locked himself in the tying room, and started the process of Frankensteining a new bug. He dressed it up by adding flash to the tail. He tied in two wings to enhance its visibility. He added tail flash that made the fly modifiable to suit on-river demands. (For example, the elongated double wings could be cut to alter its profile and ride.) Square silicon legs were chosen instead of the round rubber ones because Conaty felt they caught more current, perhaps “wiggled” better, and he liked the sparse flecks of sparkle they contained. As for the name, that was simple. Upon pondering the first batch, Conaty remarked that they looked just like fat Chernobyls. The Chubby Chernobyl was born.
The Chubby’s original body color was gold, good for imitating local hopper hatches. But it proved to be much more versatile when it was introduced to Deschutes River trout in the form of a floating gob of golden stonefly. Its success on the Deschutes launched it out of the ballpark. Manufacturers have now moved tens of thousands of Chubby Chernobyls in various colors annually. It’s a top seller across the board.
Fish love it. Fly fishers have either fallen under the same spell, or continue to love to hate it. But there’s little question as to its effectiveness . . . other than the why. The debate as to what trout see when a #10 Chubby Chernobyl comes twirling overhead varies from camp to camp. Conaty has discussed the fly’s merit with guides and outfitters at length and they, like him, have witnessed trout move long distances to choke down a Chubby, even when naturals are swimming closer by.
Oregon-based guide Brian Silvey says the Chubby’s charm stems from the way its legs are tied in—crossed in the front and back, giving it movement similar to a natural trying to break the grip of the water’s surface.
Others say it works because it sits incredibly low, especially after the dubbing soaks in water and added weight. This is not unlike a lot of other dubbed flies, but the Chubby possess the added bonus of a wing you can see, even when it’s half submerged. Still others say it’s the actual wing material and colors that dupe trout into seeing a bug, itching to take flight.
“I’ve had multiple people highlight these three things, and rarely have they suggested it could be all of the above,” Conaty says. “It’s been fun to debate but I really have no idea what the answer is. In the end, it’s so hard to tell.”
Photos: Tim Romano.
[This is the first in a series of excerpts from What A Trout Sees: A Fly-Fishing Guide to Life Underwater, Lyons Press, 2013. You can purchase the book online at barnesandnoble.com.]