The following is an excerpt from Barr Flies written by John Barr, fly tying photos by Charlie Craven (Stackpole Books, August 2007, 184 pages, 570 color photos, 22 illustrations) which is available at Fly Shops and booksellers everywhere.
Hook: Size 4–12 Tiemco 5263
Thread: Olive 70-denier Ultra Thread
Cone: Gold tungsten, size 4–6 (large), size 8–10 (medium)
Rib: Chartreuse Ultra Wire (Brassie)
Body: Peacock Sparkle Braid
Wing/Tail: Olive pine squirrel
Collar: Olive pine squirrel
Years ago, a fisheries biologist told me that once brown trout reach 16 or 17 inches long, their primary forage is baitfish. Baitfish are any fish that they can swallow, whether it is a sculpin or a juvenile brown trout. That’s not to say baitfish is all they eat; they will eat nymphs and occasionally adult aquatic insects on the surface-most notably large insects such as green drakes and salmonflies-but their primary focus is baitfish. Once other species of trout become large, they will also focus on baitfish. Large fish need more nutrition than small fish and want to get the most food for energy expended.
Sometimes fish of all species will try to eat a fish larger than they can swallow, and choke to death on a fish that gets stuck in their throat. I have seen a dead pike with a big bass tail sticking out of its mouth; I have seen a dead 4-pound bass with a 2-pound bass half sticking out of its mouth. I caught a nice brown with a 6-inch chub lodged in its throat. Why he ate my nymph is a mystery. At any rate, I am sure his life was spared when I extracted the chub and released him. The bottom line is: big fish like a substantial meal. The reason some fly fishermen like to spend a lot of time streamer fishing is that, on the average, they are going to catch larger fish than nymph or dry-fly fishermen.
I created the Slumpbuster to look like a baitfish. Some streamer patterns have lots of glitz, flash, rubber legs, and materials that don’t look natural, but do produce reaction strikes. A reaction strike is when a fly comes ripping past a fish and they can’t help but take a snap at it for whatever reason, but surely not because it looks like anything they have been eating. When wet, the Slumpbuster has the perfect baitfish profile. It has subtle flash and looks alive in the water.
In 2000, Joe Schmuecker from Wapsi sent me some Zonker-cut pine squirrel skins dyed in a variety of colors as well as natural. I always get excited when I see a new material that is different from anything out there. Zonker strips have been around forever, but they have always come from rabbit, which has limitations due to its long hair. I started to envision patterns using the short-haired, nicely mottled pine squirrel strips. I tied a variety of prototypes, and finally ended up with one I really liked.
Lots of cool-looking patterns don’t necessarily fish well, so I had to test mine onstream to see if the trout liked it. After one season, I knew it was a winner. It just flat-out caught fish. When wet, it has the perfect baitfish profile. It has subtle flash and looks alive in the water. Tricked-up streamers can often get follows or flashes, but fish don’t eat them. When a pattern has lots of flash, rubber legs, and gaudy colors, trout, especially pressured fish, may show interest but can sense that something is not quite right. Trout routinely try to actually eat the Slumpbuster.
One feature of the fly that adds to its durability and makes it a snap to tie is its uni-body construction. The tail, wing, and collar are all made from the same pine squirrel Zonker strip. The fly’s durability comes from the fact that it is constructed with one primary material, that it is ribbed with Ultra Wire, and that I place a cyanoacrylate glue in the cone and jam it back into the collar. (Zap Gel is the best because it is viscous and will not run out of the cone and get on your desk and the collar of the fly.)
I fish the pattern year-round, but the best times are spring through fall. I fish at any time of the day whether it is sunny or cloudy, but the best time to fish for browns is early or late in the day.
I like to fish two Slumpbusters at the same time. I use 0X fluorocarbon tippet for both flies, with the second fly tied off the bend of the first fly on about 18 inches of tippet. The setup that I have the most confidence in is a size 4 natural color trailed by an olive, black, or rust in size 6. Sometimes I fish a size 6 trailed by a size 8 or 10 if the trout want a smaller pattern. Let the trout tell you what size they want.
Big trout eat baitfish. This North Platte brown was so gluttonous it continued to feed even though it had not yet swallowed a 6-inch chub. JOHN BARR
The Slumpbuster is tied with only a few materials and it is subtle. Tricked-up streamers can often get follows or flashes, but fish don’t eat them. When a pattern has lots of flash, rubber legs, and gaudy colors, trout—especially pressured ones—show interest but can sense that something is not quite right. Trout routinely try to actually to eat the Slumpbuster. CHARLIE CRAVEN
The Slumpbuster is an uncomplicated pattern to tie. One fly lasts for many fish primarily because the tail, wing, and collar are all made from the same pine squirrel Zonker strip. JOHN BARR