The Copper John
Designed by John Barr
Hook: Mustad S82-3906B #10-#18
Thread: Black, 6/0 or 8/0
Tail: Brown or Dark Brown goose biots
Abdomen: Copper wire
Wing case: One strand of pearlescent Mylar or Silver Holographic SuperFlash or Flashabou over black or brown 1/8ĒScudback. Coat finished wingcase with Tuffleye Acrylic
Thorax: Peacock Herl
Legs: Brown partridge flank or Mottled Hen Fibres
Bead: Gold, Brass or Tungsten
Tying Note: Try other wire colors as well such as chartreuse, gold, silver, and red. Contrasting color combinations are also recommended.
Successful, seasoned nymph fishermen understand the value of tumbling flies along the bottom. If the fly is not ticking rocks or hanging up from time to time the fly is not being fished deep enough. Nymphs must enter the troutís lair. Swift currents dictate weighted patterns, often additional shot or non toxic putty must be used. With these demands in mind Colorado fly fisherman and tyer John Barr created his wire bodied Copper John to plunge and drift amongst the bottom rubble and debris. His brilliant merger of the Brassie, Prince Nymph, and Pheasant Tail Nymph has become arguably the most popular river and stream nymph today. In certain situations Copper Johnís do pretty well in lakes too.
Frank Sawyer, the originator of the Pheasant Tail nymph was one of the first to incorporate wire, using fine copper wire for the tying thread. Wire bodied flies offer a number of benefits for the nymph tyer including weight, segmentation and flash. Merged with metal or tungsten beads and an under wrap of lead, wire bodied patterns such as the Copper John slice through stream currents allowing fly fishers to surgically probe the depths. There may also be another level of attraction from an electrical perspective as wire wound around a hook shank creates a simple battery. Trout may also be attracted to patterns such as the Copper John from the current they produce. Wire is easy to work with and is forgiving, even to the heavy handed. When shopping for wire target non tarnishing brands as they remain bright, lesser brands tarnish quickly and patterns soon appear dull and lifeless. The three basic wire colors of gold, silver and copper have been joined by an array of interesting colors. Creative tyers can now fashion wire bodied nymphs to match a variety of aquatic insects in both color and profile. Micro Twist is a blend of different color wires and allows for the creation of unique simple patterns. In addition to variegated Copper Johnís Micro Twist is an ideal choice for chironomid pupa and larva patterns too.
The biggest challenges constructing wire bodied nymphs are keeping the wraps tight against each other and forming smooth bodies. Much of keeping the wire wraps tight comes down to the individual fly tyerís desire to construct neat flies. But as with all fly tying there are a few tricks to help. Tying thread helps keep the body wraps in check. Lift the wire up and drop the bobbin and thread immediately behind the wire at the base of the tail. Begin winding the wire forward in close touching turns placing the wire behind the hanging thread. Each wrap creeps the tying thread forward keeping the wire wraps tight against each other. When winding the body angle the wire back slightly to avoid any gaps. Should any gaps appear strategic gentle thumb nail pressure back toward the tail closes ranks in short order.
As with winding the wire attention to detail ensures even lump free bodies. With the tail in place secure the body wire on top of the shank along the entire length of the fly, from the back of the bead to the base of the tail. If incorporating additional weight tie in the wire directly behind the lead wire to the base of the tail. The goal is to ensure materials are evenly dispersed along the shank and not concentrated in just one area such as the base of the tail. Prior to winding the wire forward build up a smooth tapered underbody using the tying thread. Fill in any depressions or gaps between materials. Correct underbody foundation results in a perfect Copper John every time.
The legs on the Copper John splay beside the thorax on an attractive angle. Individual fiber clumps can be tied along each side of the thorax but I prefer using the Defeo method. Charles Defeo was noted for his tying prowess on traditional and hair wing Atlantic salmon patterns. He is credited with developing more tricks and techniques than any other Atlantic salmon tyer. His method of using full even feathers to form beards and throats remains popular and has been adapted for tying balanced legs on nymphs. Select a feather such as a partridge breast feather or hen hackle with an equal balance of fibres and feather length on each side of the stem. Strip away the soft flue at the base of the feather. Nip out the tip section of the feather creating a V. Strip away the remaining fibres leaving enough for a balanced set of legs on each side. Err on the side of sparse. Aquatic nymphs and larva only have three pairs of legs.
With the feather prepared tie it in place on top of the thorax with the open end of the V pointing back toward the tail using 2-3 wraps directly behind the bead. The stem of the feather should aim down the middle of the fly. Pull the feather forward to adjust the legs for length, about half the body is fine. Add a few more securing wraps of thread. Position the fibre clumps on each side of the thorax and bind in place. Trim the excess feather. All thread wraps should be placed directly behind the bead. If there is not enough thread built up behind the bead the legs will stick out perpendicular to the shank as they get caught in the gap between the thorax and the hole at the back of the bead. The legs must have a solid foundation to ensure accurate placement.
The Copper John is a vital pattern for any river or stream fly box, in the same league as the Pheasant Tail and Hareís Ear Nymph. The lessons learned tying Copper Johnís transfer to other patterns as well including aquatic worms, damsel nymphs and chironomids. When exploring faster flows or deeper reaches a Copper John is often the missing piece to the presentation puzzle.
1) Slide a gold bead on to a de-barbed hook. Place the hook into the jaws of the vise. Wind 13 wraps of lead wire or lead wire substitute onto the shank behind the bead. Push the lead forward into the bead. Attach the tying thread behind the lead wire. Build up a thread dam behind the lead, locking it in place.
2) Tie in two goose biots for the tail along each side of the hook so their natural curvature splays the biots away from each other. Use the butt material of the goose biots to build up the underbody behind the lead wire. Tie in a length of copper wire along the top of the hook shank from the rear of the lead to the base of the tail. Use the tying thread to build up a tapered foundation for the body filling in any gaps or depressions.
3) Raise the copper wire to wind it forward. Place a wrap of tying thread behind the copper wire. Leave the bobbin hanging at the rear of the hook. Wind the copper wire forward in close touching turns placing each wrap behind the hanging thread inching the bobbin forward to the bead. Use the thumb nail to close up any gaps in the copper wire.
4) Tie off the copper wire just behind the bead. Using a twisting and pulling motion break away the excess wire. Tie in a length of pearlescent Mylar or silver holographic SuperFlash or Flashabou behind the bead. Secure the Mylar or SuperFlash back to approximately the mid portion of the hook. Tie the Scud Back wingcase behind the bead and bind in place in the same fashion as the Mylar or SuperFlash. Tie in 2 strands of peacock herl at the base of the wingcase. Wind the peacock herl forward forming the thorax. Trim the excess herl.
5) Select a partridge or hen saddle feather with fibres that are equal on both sides of the stem. Strip away the soft flue from the base of the feather. Nip out the tip section of the feather creating a V. Strip away the fibres from each side of the stem to ensure a balanced set of legs. Err on the side of sparse as aquatic insects only have 6 legs.
6) Tie in the prepared feather on top of the thorax immediately behind the bead. Pull the feather forward by the stem to adjust the legs for length, about half the body length is fine. Secure the fibres in place along the sides of the thorax directly behind the bead. The finished legs should angle back, if they are too perpendicular build up the area behind the bead with tying thread prior to tying in the legs.
7) Pull the wingcase materials over the completed thorax and legs and tie in place. The Mylar or SuperFlash strip should be centered down the middle of the Scud Back wingcase. After initial tie in wiggle the Mylar or SuperFlash strip to center. Trim the excess wingcase materials and whip finish behind the bead. Apply a coating of Tuffleye acrylic or epoxy to the wingcase and tie off area behind the bead.