Phil's Fly Box : Bill's Big Red







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Phil's Fly Box:
Bill's Big Red

with Philip Rowley
Website | Email


Step 1 : Cover the hook shank with tying thread and secure the dubbing material to form the tail. The tail should extend to about half the hook shank in length. Attach the mylar rib.

When one goes about developing a fly pattern there are often a number of characteristics worth imitating. It might be a specific size or color. Perhaps the materials mimic the movement of the natural. Better yet maybe you are aiming at a specific stage in an insect's life. You might spend time reading up on other patterns or habits of the insect or organism. Maybe you have spent lots of time using your powers of observation. Whatever the reason the development of a pattern is usually a product of painstaking research and experimentation.

Step 2 : Use a dubbing loop and dub a robust body.

When I approached angling friend Bill Lee regarding his Big Red I was expecting similar research as to other fly pattern designs. Bill began the history of the Big Red by telling me that roughly 10 to 12 years ago his wife had purchased some wool. Bill found its qualities interesting and began to think about its use in some future fly pattern. A couple of days later Bill had a dream about a fly. That's right a dream! As a result of that dream the Big Red was born. So much for detailed research and painstaking experimentation, I have been going about creating fly patterns all wrong. Bill has the ultimate system. Following his dream Bill tied up the original prototype of the Big Red. He took his new pattern out to a local slough one morning and promptly caught 5 Coho!

Step 3 : Wind the rib forward with 5 to 6 open turns depending upon the size of the fly. Take a Velcro comb and brush all sides of the fly to create a bushy effect.

Since its inception Bill has made a number of variations both in wing material and body design on his Big Red. I remember being shown how to wind the wool on but to roughen it in mohair like fashion. In this mohair condition Bill formed the body like a conventional mohair leech. Now Bill uses a coffee grinder to blend the wool into dubbing. The resulting dubbing mix creates a shaggy body especially after being brushed with a Velcro comb. The original body material was a Baycrest yarn known as Courtney. It came in a wide range of colors. Courtney is a fuzzy yarn composed of 70% acrylic and 30% nylon. Unfortunately this yarn is no longer available although some of the Bay stores may have a limited supply but I wouldn't count on it. I would look for a similar brand with the same qualities in a scarlet red coloration. Bill has also tied this pattern in orange and pink with good results. The wing was originally white Polar Bear hair. Bill now uses Arctic Fox. Bill expressed some concerns over the white color of the material but the movement it provides has been very successful.

Step 4 : Attach 4 to 6 strands of crystal hair. Keep it sparse it is easy to get carried away and over dress the pattern.

Put it this way the Coho and Cutthroat Bill has duped with this pattern don't mind the fox wing at all. As for hook size Bill ties the Big Red in sizes 4 through 8 on Mustad 9672 or Tiemco 5263. If Bill had to choose one size it would be a #6.

This pattern fishes well in the slow even flows characteristic of the rivers and sloughs throughout the Fraser Valley. Popular tackle includes an 8 weight system, (Chum Salmon like this pattern also) coupled with a Mono-Core or Stillwater fly line and a 9-12 foot leader. The Stillwater line is a newer design that behaves better in the cooler weather of the season. Originally designed for tropical use, Mono-Core suffers from memory problems in cold weather. An energetic Chum salmon is a great way to stretch the line and eliminate this memory problem. Common presentation usually includes a reach cast, possibly a mend and then a steady 6-12 inch strip retrieve much like you were shaking a thermometer. Bill is also a fan of fishing this pattern on a long leader and a dry line.

Step 5 : Select a clump of Arctic Fox fur for the wing. Keep things sparse so you don't defeat the motion of the fox fur. The tips of the fox fur should reach the tip of the tail.

For this method Bill weights his Big Red with a dozen wraps of .010" or .015" lead wire substitute. The Big Red is also a great pattern for Cutthroat. Bill has even used this pattern successfully on some of our coastal lakes. I am even thinking of putting a few of these in my lake fly box for those slow days. Many Kamloops area fly fishers have a red pattern of some description in their fly box to shake up inactive fish. So next time you have a strange dream regarding a fly pattern, act on it. Who knows it could be a real winner.

Bill's Big Red

  • Hook: Tiemco 5263 or Mustad 9672 #4-#8
  • Thread: Black 6/0 or Red 6/0 if weighted
  • Tail: Scarlet Red Dubbing Material
  • Rib: 5 to 6 wraps of #16 or #18 Silver Mylar
  • Body: Scarlet Red Dubbing Material ` (Orange and Hot Pink Variations Also Work Well)
  • Underwing: 2 to 4 Strands of Crystal Hair Overwing: Arctic Fox Fur
Step 6 : Whip finish and apply head cement. Have a good night's sleep, sweet dreams and go fishing.
The final product.


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Phil's Fly Box : Bill's Big Red