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The Foam Ranger

By Neil Patterson

Neil Patterson considers a fly that isn't backwards in coming forward when it comes to snapping trout out of a nymph-guzzling frenzy

The Foam Ranger
The Foam Ranger

Daddies … a bit of a blast from the heavens is enough to send Daddies frolicking in the meadows head-over-heels into the water come October. Rather than wellie boots, Daddies seem to sprout ballet shoes and are highly acrobatic as they tip-toe their way to the nearest earthly safe haven. Twitchy time, for a Daddy. Twitching time, for the fly fisherman.

Before the season slips away, I have a confession to make. Looking back, I could have been so much better at fly tying. When my father said the same to me about my school work, I used to think, “Dad. You’ve got to admire my restraint.” But I’ve never held back when it came to tossing my Daddy into the kitchen sink filled with water to watch him paddle around helplessly, noting how his legs whip up water and air into a fizzing froth. 

These Daddies I don’t dive in and save. At least, not immediately. For these Daddies are the ones with six long legs, not two. Daddy-Long-Legs. (The name ‘Crane Fly’ is so unromantic, don’t you think? Sounds like something they have on building sites.)

So why all this experimentation? 

It was to see if the Daddy-Long-Legs pattern Richard Walker recommended I use back in 1979 was really everything he said it was. A pattern that surfaced as a result of a magazine article I had written on, of all things, bluebottles. This inspired Walker to write an article in response, about the fishing of large terrestrials on rivers. (I was suitably honoured.)

So when is it better to get a trout to break the surface to take your fly? Answer: when a trout’s nymphing and you can’t see or read the take, usually on account of reflected light. When the water is so slack your trout sucks in your nymph and splits it out again, all in the time it takes your greased leader to travel an inch. When a trout in shallow water might be scared off by a weighted nymph arriving from outer space. When a trout is lying behind a log or weedbed, preventing you from getting your nymph high enough to let it sink to its level. When the rule is ‘dry fly only’ and trout are feeding mid-water in a blinkered nymphing state., or, lastly, when the trout’s just plain greedy, with eyes bigger than his head.

There are so many occasions when a big, juicy fly can be the Daddy of all patterns, literally. Times when size is everything.   Back in my Delia Smith fly lab (my kitchen), I examined how airborne terrestrials behave when waterborne. They all shared one thing. They all float like balsa. But did my pattern? 

It may look creepily like the real thing, but a cast or two into a heavy session and it’s in Titanic Ville. With wings, legs, head and body materials a-plenty, you all but needed a forklift truck to lift it out the water, let alone expect it to be riding high on the top to be scooped up in the maw of a murderously hungry trout. So the optimum design feature of any imitation of a land born fly is floatability, keeping it sitting on the terrestrial, rather than the watery side of the fence.

In Walker’s day, raffia was the nearest you got to imitating a Daddy’s tubular frame. Weighty stuff.  Bound onto a weighty #12 iron. A hefty long-shank at that. (Whoah! Who wants a wimp as a Daddy?)

But that, as they say, was then. But that, still is. Until now, for my experiments and trout returns have proved there’s better.

Introducing, the Foam Ranger: a foam-bodied Daddy that requires you pin a half-brick onto your sheepskin patch to throw at it, should you wish to make it sink.

Now, foam bodied patterns aren’t latest news. I have boxes of foam bodied Beetles small enough to inhale – and Poppers big enough to register on the Richter scale were one to drop one on the ground. But foam, when used in a Daddy imitation, brings a new feature into play. 

I’ve heard of fly tyers imitating thoraxes, eyes and egg sacs. But never the insect’s ‘loaf of bread’, it’s head. And the Daddy’s brain-box, combined with its camel hump of a thorax, makes for a top end that’s truly a feature. And when it comes to designing a floatable feast, a very useful feature it is, too. One screaming out to be imitated. As long as you’re not a fan of the guillotine.

You see, if you’re to guarantee that your #12 iron doesn’t drag your entire imitation down under, the foam is best positioned so it extends well behind the hook-bend. But more importantly, and here’s the rub, it points over the eye, where the head chopping-off usually starts and sinking begins.

One tip: The Foam Ranger’s success doesn’t ride on it, but try and find a horse somewhere. Grab yourself some horse hair for legs. They can tolerate more nibbling than a squirrel on a nut. Otherwise, knotted pheasant tail fibres will suffice. What’s good enough for Richard Walker should be good enough for us. When it comes to legs, that is.

But when it comes to unsinkable Daddies, the Foam Ranger floats with “a waking vengeance”, to quote the Daddy of all Floatants, Mr George Gehrke of ‘Gink’ fame.

Who, I do believe, we’re putting out of business here.


  • I like a hook that dangles. Vice a #12 Fulling Mill Nymph Special (31710). Tie brown Uni-Thread 8/0 a third the way down from the eye.
  • Bind in a strip of brown closed cell foam, clipped to body length and size, allowing for it to extend over the eye.
  • Knot six reddy-brown horse hairs (or pheasant tail fibres) for legs. Tie in as a bunch. Varnish.
  • Tie in two small brown grizzle hackles as wings, sticking out from the side, pointing backwards to the bend.
  • Tie in a brown grizzle hackle at the head.
  • Whip finish. Varnish.

    Critical stage (see image, above right): Foam strip should extend over the eye to imitate head and ensure fly floats level.

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