Easing carefully along the bank of the trout stream, I suddenly spotted a large brown trout hanging under a branch of a willow tree. This would be a special challenge. He was obviously an old, educated trout that had seen many flies during his lifetime.
My hunch was that he was waiting to slurp down some of the big black carpenter ants I’d seen on trees and bushes along the creek. These are insects known as terrestrials because they imitate bugs born on land that happen to fall into the water, offering trout food.
Tying on a Chernobyl Ant with quivering black rubber legs, I drove a forward cast up under the willow. It landed with an audible “splat” and in seconds the richly colored brown was drifting back under my imitation and sucking it in.
Setting the hook firmly, I worked him out of the roots underwater and gradually brought the best fish of the day to the net. At 16 inches, he was a gorgeous specimen, and I watched with gratitude as he drifted back toward his lair after the battle. Once again, a fly with quivering legs had come through.
Bluegill and bass fly-rodders have long known the advantages of using rubber legs on their offerings. Many cork and foam poppers sport these flexible appendages. But trout anglers today are also learning to see the benefits of adding this life-like material to enhance the allure and realism of their fly patterns.
While not as delicate as classic hair and feather flies, there’s something intrinsically appealing about the trembling motion of these thin strands of rubber in water that elicits strikes from all fish – trout included.
The first documented use of rubber for trout flies was in the Girdle Bug, said to be tied by an angler who cut strands of thin rubber from his wife’s undergarment. Soon, more subsurface patterns began to show up with quivering rubber legs.
The Bitch Creek is the most famous, but other nymph and wet fly patterns are now also offered with rubber legs. The Woolly Worm, when tied with rubber legs, is called the Yuk Bug. The Woolly Bugger with rubber legs is the Girdle Bugger. Ingenious tiers have also added rubber legs to the classic Hare’s Ear Nymph. That extra quivering action makes this venerated fly even more productive in many cases.
These flies are excellent choices when insects such as stoneflies or crane flies are ready to hatch. They generally produce best in murky or slightly off-color water conditions. At times, though, they work exceptionally well even in crystal clear trout streams.
Sizes 2-10 can be useful, and the legs should be tied flared out so they pulsate in the current. White is generally the favorite color for these rubber legs, but you can also try green, orange, gray and black.
The stream’s current will move the thin legs and make them quiver enticingly. But also try pumping the fly gently with short slow pulls to make them pulsate or simply twitch the rod tip. As a rule, I like to fish unweighted versions and simply add split shot or use a sinking tip line when trout are holding deep.
Rubber legs can also enhance dry flies. The Madam X, invented by famous trout writer Doug Swisher, is an excellent attractor fly for trout when there’s little or no rising activity and the water seems dead. The Tarantula is another good attractor-type rubber-legged dry pattern.
Members of the Orthoptera order, commonly known as grasshoppers, kick and pump their legs aggressively when they happen to fall into a stream. Take your cue from this and try tying rubber legs into some of your hopper patterns. The Henry’s Fork and Al Troth’s MacHopper both call for these soft floppy legs.
Many other terrestrials can also be improved by the addition of rubber legs. The Chernobyl Ant is one pattern that calls for them, and smaller ants and beetle ties can also benefit from adding rubber appendages.
Deliver these flies with a splat, let them drift naturally for a few seconds, then twitch them just enough to make the legs tremble. That’s when a trout will likely nail them.
And don’t be surprised if it’s a giant. Outsized rainbow and brown trout both seem to love these rubber-legged imitations.