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1. About The Copper John
The Copper John was first tied by angler and tier John Barr in the mid-1990’s. As he describes it himself in MidCurrent, he took the pattern through several design changes over several years starting in 1993. While early pattern trials caught fish, he didn’t consider it really refined until 1996.
After that point it was actually friends of his that suggested experimenting with other wire colors, such as green and red, which he incorporated, especially as the materials improved. Barr emphasizes that the best results come from using a 2x long-shanked, heavy-wire wet fly hook, in terms of both proportions of the fly and weight (recommending the Tiemco 5262).
While most people we’ve encountered have fished them at some point, we’ve run into many people who wished they had brought them (or more of them) when they hadn’t. Like most attractor flies it’s hard to explain why, but the Copper John just works, making it one of the best flies for trout, steelhead, and bass overall.
2. When and How To Fish It
Well first off, since the Copper John is in essence a nymph, even through it’s an attractor fly, you can use your traditional, favorite nymphing techniques to fish it successfully. Use the following techniques:
This is less so a fly to slowly drift through deep pools, as much as to swing it through pocket water, runs and ripples.
Fishing it the current gives the fly it’s optimal motion, flash, and action.
If you are wondering how to catch trout more frequently, be sure carry a variety of sizes and colors, increasing your chances of nailing what they want that day.
The debate is on, but generally anglers report that the CJ is effective in both clear and murky water.
Use larger sizes (with strong hooks) and larger rubber legs for steelhead, salmon, and bass.
When fished by itself, use a strike indicator.
When fished in combination, make sure either the other fly fly is substantially larger, or use a smaller sized with less weight as a dropper (or a super buoyant dry fly such as a foam pattern).
3. Tie It, or Buy It?
The Copper John is an upper-intermediate-level fly to tie, requiring a range of skills and several different materials. If you haven’t used resin or epoxy yet for a fly casing, now’s your chance to learn!
Moreso than easier flies like the Wooly Bugger, your CJ’s will be more successful if you emulate the colors and proportions that John Barr designed. That said, it’s not as exacting as matching the hatch exactly such as like for a mayfly for example. When fly tying the CJ, it’s also good to know that it’ll last a long time, with an almost indestructible body.
Hook: 2X-heavy, 2X-long nymph or streamer hook, sizes 12-18 for trout, sizes 4-10 for steelhead, bass, and salmon
Bead Head: sized to match the hook
Weight: non-lead wire .015 – .020 inch diameter
Thread: black, 8/0 or 70 denier
Tails: Brown goose biots
Abdomen: copper ultra wire (use brassie-size), or variations copper wire
Upper Wingcase: pearl colored Flashabou (saltwater variety)
Lower Wingcase: black Thin Skin strip
Thorax: Peacock herl
Legs: Brown or speckled brown hen hackle
Resin: 5-minute epoxy resin
While the cover photo above shows the traditional copper wire color, many other colors such as red, green, chartreuse, amber, brown and other wire colored bodies commonly serve as a unique attractor. Of course, the resin covered flashabou and overall design are the same no matter which variation you try. Yes, the body is not always actually copper, even though the variations are still termed “Copper” John.
Check out our photo gallery to see some of the common variations: