The Lightning Bug will add new energy to your fly box
Much to the chagrin of dry-fly fishing purists, one fly has been the culprit in converting thousands of fly anglers into nymph fishermen. To make matters worse, the fly doesn’t even look like a natural insect – aquatic or terrestrial.
It’s made up of mostly synthetic materials: holographic tinsel, shaggy, blended dubbing, metal wire and a silver bead. The only natural element to the thing is the pheasant tail used for its rear end and maybe a bit of rabbit fur mixed in the dubbing for the “thorax” - if one chooses to designate the space behind the bead as equivalent to that part of the anatomy of a true insect.
What is this unholy thing and why has it swayed so many anglers to fish below the water’s surface in search of trout? The Lightning Bug!
No, not some aquatic larvae of the bioluminescent winged insect you see lighting up mid-Western backyards on warm summer evenings; our Lightning Bug can’t magically turn an old mayonnaise jar into a lantern but it sure can work magic on the end of your tippet!
The Lightning Bug is perhaps the most popular fly on Western waters (especially the tailwaters) for the simple reason that it catches fish–and lots of them, in all sizes and all species. This bright, bead-headed bug has been a day saver for many a river guide, on many a day, throughout the entire season.
The origins of the Lightning Bug prior to its present form are a bit fuzzy. Some say the early form–we’ll call it the “larval stage”– began in Oregon on trout waters near the coast. It was tied with pearlescent tinsel, peacock herl, pheasant tail legs and a gold bead. A guide must have brought it to southwestern Montana almost a decade ago where it went through several enstars and pupations to emerge into its present phenotype. The dubbed “thorax” was developed as a need for speed (in tying it) as much as a fish attractant. As the Lightning Bug quickly became a favorite on fabled rivers such as the Missouri, Clark Fork, Blackfoot and Smith just to name a few, the local fly shops couldn’t keep up with the demand. After a few modifications and necessary field trials, it was determined that not only was the dubbed version faster to tie, but it was a lot more effective at catching fish!
One reason for the Lightning Bug’s success is its versatility. You’ll most often see this fly dead drifted under a strike indicator with a little split shot pinched on the tippet about a foot above the fly. (Listen to the purists gasp!) But its flash and shaggy appearance work well as a mayfly or caddis emerger dropped behind a dry fly. It’s also good on the swing in riffles, and even catches fish when trailed behind a streamer like a Woolly Bugger. Another favorite way to fish the Lightning Bug is during the hopper season in late summer and early fall as the lower unit of a “hopper-dropper” combo. A big western hopper pattern crashed near the bank attracts the attention of some big trout. As they dart over to investigate they often see this tiny, sparkly little morsel drifting helplessly just below the surface. They must feel it’s a safe bet because they take that Lightning Bug dropper so often!
Perhaps no other river has seen more success with the Lightning Bug than the tailwaters behind Montana’s Missouri River. If you wade or float this river and ask those anglers with bent rods what they’ve got tied on the end of their leaders, more often than not they will say, “A Lightning Bug, what else!?”
Two summers ago, Orvis President Perk Perkins was floating and fishing the Missouri River when a local angler gave him a #16 Lightning Bug to try out for the day. From one fly came a most memorable day of long, fat, wild rainbows and browns and yes, even Perk catches a few whitefish too. After success like that, it’s no wonder Orvis is now proud to feature this bug in The Orvis News and in this spring’s fishing catalog.
Tied in sizes #12 through #18, the Lightning Bug can be fished in all types of waters and in all types of situations. If the insect hatches have you baffled, and dry flies aren’t happening at the moment, then tie on one of these shiny flies and hang on. You just may become a convert too!
Chris Strainer is Co-Owner and Manager of the CrossCurrents fly shops in Downtown Helena and on the Missouri River in Craig, Montana. He is also a professional guide and the lead instructor for CrossCurrents’ Fly Fishing, Fly Tying and Rod Building Classes. Give them a call at (406) 449-2292, or visit them online at www.crosscurrents.com