Short Casts

Short Casts

Guide Flies

  • By: Will Rice
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guide flies

byWill Rice

When you first take a look at a Stone Bomb, it looks like a lot of other big, nasty, rubber-legged stonefly imitations. Much like its designer, it is not until you dig a little deeper that the fly’s nuances become apparent. What you will find with Frank Smethurst’s Bomb Squad lineup is that attention to detail matters.

The Bomb Squad patterns, found in fly shops across the country, are unique flies that imitate stoneflies, drakes, craneflies, caddis and midges. They are manufactured by the Montana Fly Company in sizes 4 to 22, to cover a gamut of fishing conditions and situations. Like the flies themselves, the history and iteration of their production is unique.

“When I first saw a need for these flies I was guiding, and we needed flies that would get down quickly for our clients,” said Smethurst. “A couple of my fellow guides and I were tying these special orange Halfbacks that were among the first flies that I used with enough weight to get them down into that fast and deep water. Additional split-shot was a dangerous float-fishing accessory in those Class II to IV rapids, and with these custom Halfbacks we didn’t need shot. These bigger nymphs were also covered in hackle and they flipped over upside down. Though it was unintentional on our part, I noticed that they crushed fish, and stayed out of snag trouble during long drifts.”

Smethurst is just about as well known as you can get in the tiny microcosm of the fly-fishing world. He’s probably most recognized opining the similarities of Elizabeth Hurley and a roosterfish in the cult-classic video “Running Down The Man,” from Felt Soul Media. When he’s not selling fly-fishing gear from manufacturers, such as Scott Fly Rod Co., Nautilus Reels, Brodin Landing Nets and Boulder Boat Works, he’s fishing. And when he’s not doing those things, he’s tying flies. Or thinking about how to improve upon a fly design.

When you talk to Smethurst about how he catches fish—big fish, small fish, freshwater fish, fish from the salt—there is always something unique, a subtle nuance. There is always more method than there is madness and there always seems to be a healthy dose of innovation. Spend some time talking to Smethurst about the bugs he designs and you’ll find that he pays very close attention to the details—and those details pay off.

“The main element that was missing in all of my medium and larger nymphs when I began designing these flies was natural movement,” said Smethurst. “Larger flies offer the fish a better target to examine, and their degree of imitative accuracy was suffering even in the fast waters of the Gunnison River where I was guiding.

“Another problem was that they would invariably find bottom, and often hang up and snag at the apex of their drift. I also wanted to, wherever possible, eliminate split-shot and make a fly that did not unravel, and used epoxy and glue as part of its weight and construction. It is also important to note that this is one of the first [series of] flies that I am aware of that is deliberately non-toxic, and uses no lead in its construction. Lead is getting banned from fisheries all over the world, and I wanted to get away from it completely in advance. So these are heavy because of tungsten, tin, wire and glue and are currently legal on all of the world’s trout waters.”

When comparing the Bomb Squad to similar imitations there are a few things you’ll notice right off the bat: They are heavy; they are realistic; they ride hook up. All those elements were part of Smethurst’s design, right from the beginning.

“In the early ’90s I was spending a lot of time fishing in the off-season in the Florida Keys, and tying more and more inverted crab and shrimp flies for my fishing there,” said Smethurst. “Over time, I began to tie my freshwater streamers inverted also so that they could be thrown into cover or fished in either deep or very shallow water without fear of snagging. This format with trout streamers was effective right away, but the proper legging and weighting was still in the future for the nymphs. But I had it set in my mind that whenever I got this right, it was going to be a dramatic advantage. I have been working off and on on this idea for two decades.”

Because of their weight, these patterns are most productive in faster-moving water. Although these flies could be fished with a tight-line, in Czech-nymphing style, or as part of a Euro-nymphing rig, Smethurst typically fishes them under a strike indicator, with the fly about a foot closer to the indicator than he would if fishing with split-shot. With the weight of “the Bomb,” he eliminates the split-shot, and only presents what the fish might eat. He very specifically ties these flies on with a non-slip mono loop knot to help increase the sink rate of the pattern.

“I use these flies to try and get fish to eat the largest fly that they will eat,” said Smethurst. “When they do that, they end up in the net far more often. On trickier tailwaters the Midge Bombs and particularly the Crane Bombs are good at tempting fish that would otherwise not touch anything bigger than a number 18.”

So what’s next for the Bomb Squad?

“I have a bunch more bombs and also some very specific flies that trail the bombs, and I am dying to unleash them,” said Smethurst. “Some of them are pretty elaborate flies to tie correctly, and it takes dedication and practice.” ■