Fly Fishing: Try Rubber-Legged Trout Flies

It had already been a good day on the water. As I worked my way upstream along the Pennsylvania limestone stream I had taken close to a dozen trout, releasing all of them. But now I faced a special challenge.

Ensconced beneath a willow growing out over the crystalline stream was a brown trout as long as my forearm. I guessed that he was waiting to slurp down some of the big, black carpenter ants I’d seen on trees and bushes along the creek.

A Chernobyl Ant benefits from dangling rubber legs that flutter enticingly in the water, tempting outsized trout to strike.
A Chernobyl Ant benefits from dangling rubber legs that flutter enticingly in the water, tempting outsized trout to strike.

Tying on a Chernobyl Ant with quivering black rubber legs, I concentrated hard and drove a cast up under the willow with my lightweight fly rod. It landed with an audible “splat” and in seconds the black-spotted brown was drifting back under my imitation and sucking it in with a slurping take!

Setting up firmly, I worked him away from the underwater roots and gradually brought my best fish of the day to the net. At 18 inches, he was a gorgeous specimen! I watched with delight as he drifted back towards his lair, no worse for wear. Once again, a rubber-legged fly had come through and produced my best fish of the day.

Bass and bluegill fishermen have long known about the advantages rubber legs on flies offer. Many cork and foam poppers sport these gangly, floppy appendages. But trout anglers today are also learning to see the benefits of using this life-like material to enhance the allure and realism of their offerings. While not as delicate as traditional hair and feather flies, there’s something intrinsically appealing about the trembling motion of these thin strands in water that elicits strikes from all fish—trout included.

The earliest 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 thin, quivering rubber legs.

The Bitch Creek Nymph is the most famous, but other stonefly patterns are now also offered with rubber legs. The Woolly Worm when tied with rubber legs is dubbed 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.

All of these are excellent choices when insects such as stoneflies or crane flies are ready to hatch. As a rule, they seem to produce best in murky or slightly off-color water conditions. At times, though, odd as it may seem, I’ve had them work exceptionally well even in crystal clear trout streams.

Sizes 2- to 10 are best, 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. All of these have produced for me in the past.

The stream’s current will move these legs some 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.

An assortment of rubber legged trout flies.
An assortment of rubber legged trout flies.

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.

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.

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.

Drop these flies with a splat, let them drift naturally for a few seconds, then twitch them just enough to make the rubber legs tremble. That’s when a trout will likely nail them. And don’t be surprised if it’s a giant. Outsized rainbows and browns both seem to go crazy over these rubber-legged imitations!


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