I don’t know why the color purple has so much appeal to me for steelhead flies. Probably, because I’ve caught so many steelhead on purple flies. There are two flies of this color that I have used the most; Purple Peril and many variations of it and my own Purple Haze. At the time I named it, I didn’t realize there was another (maybe more) with that name. But I decided to keep it; one, because I was into Jimi Hendrix and the name suited the fly.
Here is the recipe for the Purple Peril (from “The Steelhead Trout” by Trey Combs):
Tip: Silver tinsel.
Tail: Purple hackle fibers.
Body: Purple floss ribbed with silver tinsel (I didn’t have any purple floss, so I used purple Uni Yarn for the body in the fly photos. I like it just as well as floss).
Wing: Brown bucktail.
In Comb”s next book “Steelhead Fly Fishing and Flies” the wing is described as “natural brown deer body fur.” I think this is supposed to be bucktail, but am not sure. In Comb’s next book “Steellhead Fly Fishing” the wing description is “Natural brown bucktail.” No big deal. I have used natural brown bucktail, squirrel tail, polar bear and kip tail; all in brown. This is a Ken McLeod pattern. He and his son George fished and tied flies for Northwest steelhead in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. How much fun would it have been to be exploring the rivers in Oregon, Washington, California and BC during those years? The “good old days”? Yes, to be sure but there are steelhead bums out there right now who are making the same kinds of discoveries as early adventurous fly fishers. New rivers, new flies, new fishing methods. It is always open season for the original-thinking, contemporary anglers who are out there finding new fishing. The “good old days” are always right now, somewhere. But I get sidetracked. More about this is a future writing. This writing is about purple flies. Two in particular.
The next pattern is my Purple Haze developed in the early 90’s:
Hook: Gold AJ #3, 5 or 7
Thread: Orange 6/0
Body: Orange chenille, orange ostrich plume, orange polar bear dub.
Support hackle: Purple saddle hackle (to help keep a healthy profile for the marabou).
Hackle: Purple marabou
Forward hackle: Orange guinea
A later version:
Hook: AJ #1.5 to #7
Thread: Orange 6/0
Body: Orange ostrich herl or orange cactus chenille for more flash
Hackle: Purple Blue-eared pheasant or purple craft fur (put in a dubbing loop and wound like hackle) – both tied in and wound forward spey-style.
Forward hackle: Orange Guinea.
There is no tail on this pattern. The body (chenille, ostrich or cactus chenille) is tied in just above the point of the hook and wrapped to about ¼” from the head (leave enough room for the hackle, front hackle and head). When I twist up the ostrich (about 6 – 8 strands), I use a tip I learned from Alec Jackson. I include a length of silver wire with the strands of ostrich herl and tie it in by the herl tips. So when it is twisted, the wire gives the ostrich better strength and keeps it from unraveling if it gets nicked.
The marabou version then calls for the support hackle to be wound in tightly in front of the body. This helps keep the marabou from collapsing against the body and presents a little fuller profile. The marabou is then tied in by its tip directly in front of the support hackle and wrapped forward leaving enough room for the front hackle and head. Then the guinea is tied in by its tip and wrapped two or three turns, leaving enough room for the head of the fly. The Blue-eared pheasant version calls for the hackle to be tied in about half-way up the body and when the body is completed, it is then wound forward three turns, leaving enough room for the guinea to be tied in and off.
The Purple Peril is a Ken McLeod pattern. This guy must have been so tuned into what steelhead were looking for. His patterns were successful in the 40’s and 50’s and are still effective 60 and 70 years later. What must have been cruising through his mind when he came up with the Purple Peril. There is nothing in the rivers that look like it and not much indication that the color purple would mean much of anything to an amped-up steelhead. Think of the all of the patterns he must of have gone through that didn’t work. He obviously liked to experiment and liked to fish a lot for steelhead. I would love to have an interview with his tying vise. I am sure if he was cut, he would have shed steelhead blood.
I mostly think of the Purple Peril as a smallish fly tied in #5 or 7 AJ or #6 or 8 in other hooks. I have tied it (and fished it) on larger hooks, but if someone says to me “quick, think of a Purple Peril”. I imagine a smaller, lower profile fly. For a larger pattern, I have gone to my Purple Haze. I hear a terrific guitar lick by Jimi every time I tie it on. It gets me in a great mind-frame to start casting.
Both patterns are swinging patterns. I tend to use the Purple Peril in lower clearer water and the Purple Haze in a little heavier flow or slightly off-color water. You know the drill. Knot on the appropriate fly: Cast out, maybe make a mend- maybe not, hold tight to the line and sight-follow the line through the arc of the swing. Let it hang down for a few seconds. Give it a twitch or two then prepare for the next cast, step down a few steps, make the cast and repeat the last move. Do this until a fish is trying to pull the fly from your hands.