My corruption of Herman Botes’ Papa Roach has come up in conversation quite a bit lately. It’s fair to ask why on earth I would tamper with this damn near perfect stillwater trout fly, but in my case the answer is simple: you absolutely don’t have to, but … you can.
While I do believe “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, I’m not well known for leaving well enough alone. So, here’s how I tie my version of the Papa Roach, and some reasons for doing it as I do. The fly has proven deadly on big stillwater trout, and has taken a few yellowfish and bass as well. Jazz Kuschke bravely threw it at some suspicious surface-feeding tigerfish, but as weirdly promising as it is, he’s still working on the presentation factor and the implications of fishing a comparatively small insect imitation to tigerfish, without the use of wire trace. Watch this space for updates.
- Hook: Gamakatsu B10S size 6
- Thread: 3/0 Grip Standard Thread or 6/0 Danville Flymaster +, Beige
- Rabbit zonker, olive, brown, natural or olive barred brown. See notes.
- CdC, 3 large feathers with long fibres – colour to compliment colour scheme, I use two Bistre and one Blue Dun Petitjean CdC feathers per fly.
- Ice Dub or SLF dubbing for the underwing, SLF or similar for the head of the fly
- Deer body hair, colour to match fly
- Very large burnt mono eyes or black plastic bead chain
- Grizzly Flutter legs – colour to match fly
- Dress the hook with a single layer of unwound and flattened thread from against the hook eye to just past the bend and back to above the hook point. Coat this with a thin layer of high-quality superglue (I use Cynobond V1). Following these steps on any fly that allows it, seals the shank and protects it against unseen rust – tying the fly entirely onto this (as opposed to tying on bare shank or uncoated thread) and allowing it to dry properly before boxing it after use will significantly increase it’s usable lifespan; visible parts of the fly will likely be rendered useless before the inside of the fly is weakened by rust.
- Cut a length of zonker strip about 45mm long, including the hair. The finished fly will be 5cm long, which on a Gamakatsu B10S size 6 means that the tail will extend 35mm behind the point where the hook bend starts, which happens to be directly above the hook point. Using a needle, split the hair on the strip at this point, and tie it in with just two snug wraps. Take care not to trap any hair.
- Make sure your thread is unwound so it will wrap flat. This helps avoid unnecessary bulk and saves thread. Pull back the forward section of the zonker and take a few touching turns towards the hook eye – you need to cover about 5mm of space, leaving roughly 10mm of shank open towards the hook eye. Exact numbers are obviously not as important as keeping the final proportions of the fly in mind throughout the process.
- Lay the section of zonker strip ahead of the tie-in back over the hook shank, and while holding it in place with the right hand, stroke all the hairs back with the left. Tie all of this down at the point where you stopped the thread in the previous step. Use only three tight wraps. Ensure that the hair is spread evenly above the hook shank, and that none are trapped on the underside. Apply a tiny drop of superglue to both tie-ins on the underside of the shank, then snip off the excess zonker and cover the visible tag with a layer of thread wraps. Apply a small drop of superglue to these wraps as well.
- Tie in the eyes. I make my own eyes, but it’s a timey, hit-and-miss affair. I do so only because I couldn’t at one time get my hands on plastic bead chain, found the realism achieved with mono eyes amusing, and stuck with it. It is by no means a dig at the original plastic bead chain eyes – they look good and work bloody well! If you use them, you’ll have to build a slender underbody in the area behind the eyes, using some wool. If you use mono eyes tied in like mine, you can skip that as the thick mono stalks tied in along the shank will fill that space.
- Take the thread to the point just ahead of the tail/abdomen, and again unwind it completely. I use a home-made knock-off system, but you’ll need something to the tune of Petitjean’s Magic Tool kit now. Using three large CdC feathers, make a split-thread dubbing brush. Wind it forward, and as you would if you were tying a Petitjean CdC Dun, tease and trap the long fibres upwards as you go. Now unwind the thread again and repeat these steps with a bunch of flashy SLF or ice dubbing – you can choose your own stuff here, but it needs a bit of fine flash, match the general colour scheme and have relatively long fibres. This dubbing concoction forms the underwing; ensure that enough space remains for the remaining steps.
- Cut the traditional pencil-thickness bunch of olive deer body hair and give them a few taps in a hair stacker to even out the hair tips. Using two thread wraps, flare the hair in place above the hook shank just ahead of the underwing. Ensure that the hair tips reach just short of the full length of the hook. Before tightening and doing one more wrap, squeeze the wing between the thumb and forefinger to spread the hair in a tent-like fashion around the abdomen and underwing. Again, don’t allow the hair to reach under the hook shank. Now you can pull tight and do one more wrap before cutting the excess deer hair. You don’t have to cut it too short- it will be used to add a touch of bulk in the next step.
- Take a few wraps through and over the cut deer hair ends in the space between the wing and eyes. You don’t strictly need to cover it all, just use it to create a bit of an underbody for the dubbing you will use to form the head. Tie in the rubber legs on either side of the shank just ahead of the wing, halfway along their lengths to create an x-shape when viewed from above. The legs should be positioned at a “dihedral angle” – that is, they should point slightly upwards like the wings of a plane. This is easily achieved by tying them slightly towards the dorsal side of the underbody created in the previous step, and helps to ensure that the fly sinks correctly, acting like a parachute. Downward pointing legs in contrast, can mess up the fly’s action, possibly causing it to ride on its side or even upside down.
- Finally, spin a thin noodle of SLF or your choice of dubbing onto the thread, and dub between and around the legs and eyes to form the head. The dubbing noodle needs to be relatively dense but thin. Use as little as you can (although it will take quite a bit to get the job done) to create as solid-looking a head as possible. Don’t make it too fat. Whip finish behind the hook eye, drop of superglue on the thread wraps and call it a day.
Some differences between my pattern and the original Papa Roach:
I add a bit of CdC to the underwing and use a split thread dubbing brush to apply it, unlike Herman’s original which called for an ice dub underwing, dubbed on loosely and brushed out. The CdC is added for reasons that would be obvious to most CdC aficionados. Both CdC and rabbit strip have some serious water-repellent properties. It’s easy to see that in combination, they can render a fly difficult to sink. You do want the water-resistant properties of the materials in play, but not so much the water-repellence, so give the fly a shake underwater to soak it a bit before fishing. Now the very water-resistant structure of the densely bunched CdC will help slow the descent of the fly, and with the bulk of it above the hook shank, contributes to the even keel of the fly with the heavier, less water-resistant hook literally hanging from it.
Herman uses dyed mallard feathers with awesome effect to create the “tent” required to tame the rabbit strip abdomen. Again, I think this is brilliant, and used a deer hair substitute initially because I had no mallard on hand. However, the deer hair substitute looked cool, and besides tenting the abdomen beautifully, the hollow hairs further contribute to slowing the sink rate and keeping the fly upright. Besides that, the deer hair wing is decidedly less troublesome to get right than the original mallard wing.
Choice of rabbit strip:
Herman emphasizes that he chooses the rabbit strip and measures the abdomen of the fly by the length of the skin on the strip, not the hair. He then pinches off whatever guard hairs he feels makes the fly too long when it’s complete. I have a bit of a thing about zonker tails wrapping, so prefer to keep the skin section on any zonker-type fly I tie as short as possible. With careful selection you can find some good stuff – I prefer a strip with medium length hair and plenty of guard hairs. You don’t want some ridiculous angora strip, nor do you want sparse or very short hair. I find the natural taper of the right zonker strip very appealing – not to mention extremely reminiscent of the shape of an Aeshnid dragonfly nymph – and aim to not have to pinch off any length at the back of the fly. The pics show what I consider “perfect” strips for the fly. You get great profile and movement, and zero tail wrapping.
As mentioned, I do the eyes with burnt mono more for shits and giggles than as an actual improvement to the Papa Roach. Sure, the realism is mint, but do the fish care? I don’t think so. If you can get the right size plastic bead chain, use it. The most important thing with the eyes on a Roach is that they must be big, and they must not add weight to the fly. If you have that sorted, you’re good to go.