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The Olive Willy

By Al Peterson
(Submitted by Swede's Fly Shop)
The Olive Willy
(click image for detail)

Those of you who have been reading my chronicles of fly fishing lore probably have wondered why Swede rarely discusses “killer” fly patterns. I used to think that there was only one absolute fly pattern for subsurface fly fishing that was worth its salt (or herring). And that was a Carey special. A fly that was originally named “monkey-faced Louise” affectionately after the spouse of a doctor. I’ll let your imagination run with that one. For years it was the standard by which all other subsurface fly patterns were measured.

Along comes the Olive Willy. A simple little olive soft hackle fly that incorporates a special little red glass bead for a head. So…what’s so special about this pattern? Nothing, really. Other than it tagged 37 rainbow at Dry Falls lake in 2.5 hours. Or, how about 104 cutthroat between two guys fishing in the pouring down rain at Spada Lake in the Sultan Basin near Gold Bar, WA. It convinced 18 rainbow at Aeneas Lake near Tonasket one afternoon that it was “feathered prime rib” on the hook. And closer to home, Amber, West Medical, Medical, Fish, Davis, Browns and Yocum Lakes have all contributed to the incredible success of this small insignificant fly pattern. And even the Spokane River has put out some beautiful rainbows and browns that add to the number of fish on the list.

One of the more remarkable outings with the “Willy” was, as mentioned before, one August at Dry Falls lake. It was 103o out and the float tube was even hot to the touch. Just out from the cattails launch and to the right about 200’ the lake deepens and the water is cooler. Naturally, the fish were not in the shallows cooking away, but out in the cooler, deeper water. I parked myself just out from a basalt cliff and began casting toward the opposite shore where there was a series of reeds/weeds growing out from the water.

First cast…strip…strip…strip…strip…Wham! Fish on! A beautiful 17” rainbow. Second cast…strip…strip…strip…Wham! Fish on! Another beautiful 15” rainbow. I cast another direction and nothing. Hmm…maybe the Willy needs to sink more. So I cast and waited before stripping the fly back to me and bingo! This time it was a 21” rainbow that ripped the line out through my soggy fingers. And so on and so on. So I started counting the number of fish landed by tying knots on a piece of used tippet material. Usually I count fish by numbers of single malt consumed around the campfire, but then I would only be limited to two fish. This was getting serious. So serious that I was attracting other fly fishermen to my locale. They began to shout “What the heck are you using over there?” “An olive soft hackle” I replied. A few of them became bold enough to paddle over and inspect my “soft hackle” and were amazed at the Olive Willy and how it was catching fish. I ended up giving away about 7 or 8 of them to a number of now excited fishermen. And the count continued. Twenty-second cast…strip…strip… Wham! Fish on!

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