Monday, February 16, 2015

Variations of a Classic


The Al's Rat...

I found myself stream side gearing up for something I had not done in a very long time, fly fish for trout on my home waters. I happened to be on one of the lesser known limestone streams of my youth  that flows through the middle of one of the largest cities in Pennsylvania. It is and has been home to a thriving population of wild brown trout despite the bad hand they've been dealt over the years. After catching a few wild browns, I saw a beauty of rainbow hiding in some slack water along the roots of a willow. The micro pheasant tail that caught my browns, was steadfastly refused by the big bow. Just like in the old days, I reached for my midge box and picked out a classic Lehigh Valley pattern. An Al's Rat. I sight fished the pattern downstream to the 18" inch fish and picked him up on my first cast. The Al's Rat might be the most simplistic fly pattern I have ever used while simultaneously being the most productive. Over the years, I have fished the original and a few variations of it successfully everywhere I have gone. It is a pattern that should be in every fly box, especially on streams where midges are a predominant food source.




The Al's Rat was developed by the late Al Miller on the banks of the Little Lehigh Creek in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Like most of his patterns, they were ultra simplistic, highly representative of the midges in the creek, and super productive. While prowling the banks of the Little Lehigh as a teenager, I'd catch quite a few fish, but really didn't start to catch the bigger fish and wild brown trout until I started fishing an Al's Rat. In the beginning, I always fished it deep as a dropper behind a heavier attractor pattern like a pheasant tail or san juan worm. Fish would be drawn in by the larger pattern and then snatch up the natural Al's Rat. As I acquired more skill, I began exclusively sight fishing this pattern to actively feeding fish. In highly pressured streams, sight fishing an Al's Rat is downright deadly. I prefer to dead drift the pattern downstream to fish holding in their feeding zones. Since the pattern is so small, you have to be very accurate, know the sink rate of the fly, and watch the fish's movement or mouth. Another way that Al, and many other LL regulars fish the pattern, is in the film. Here, the leader is greased with floatant and sight fished to feeding trout before, during, and after a hatch. In this case, you can watch the tip of the floating leader to detect a strike, wait for it to come tight, or set when a rise occurs in the vicinity of the fly.


Wild brown from a small urban limestone creek...

Tying the Al's Rat is incredibly easy and takes less than a minute. A year's worth can be tied over a few beers before bed. Below are several variations of it that I've had success with over the years. All maintain the same aspects of Al's original.

Original Recipe:
Hook Sizes: #20-#28
Body: Tapered 3/0 Waxed Brown Monocord
Head: Muskrat 


The brown monocord is the essential ingredient in the fly. It has a nice sheen to it and since it is rather thick, it gives the impression of segmentation without being thicker than the naturals. 


Variation #1: Adding a small glass bead. I like to fish this when there is an active midge hatch.


Variation #2: Adding a small tungsten bead. I prefer fishing this pattern when trout are lined up in fast moving riffles and runs. The tungsten bead allows the pattern to break through the turbulence without having to add split shot. 


Variation #3: Adam's Al's Rat. This one is the product of sixteen year old Adam Hope's mind. He  might even have first tied it during Mr. Mauser's study hall in 8th grade, but my memory is a little hazy. This is a regular Al's Rat with Wapsi Clear Micro Larva Lace stretched really thin and segmented over the monocord. This gives the original the translucence it is missing. Absolutely killer pattern. 


Variation #4: This is my favorite version of the pattern. When I started using UV products, this is one of my first creations. A simple layer of UV thinly applied over top of the monocord creates the same effect as Adam's Al's Rat but maintains the slimmer profile of the original. A great pattern on Central, PA streams. 


Wild Big Spring rainbow on the Al's Rat...


Nice brown trout from the Frying Pan...


The Al's Rat once saved the day for me on Penns Creek...

The next time you find yourself on highly pressured water catching the skunk, try going small and fishing an Al's Rat. You might be pleasantly surprised...

2 comments:

jay bird said...

Great post and Yes even us Jersey guys use it , goes without saying I wish all my flies I tied were this easy

Atlas said...

Thank you for sharing. I appreciate you sharing how you use each variation in different scenarios. I am unfamiliar with the pattern and will have to tie some up.