The fly of my life.
The Red Butt Story!
I have been looking forward to write this story for a long time, this has been a very long-lasting relationship in my life, much longer-lasting than if the topic had been “the girl of my life”. This relationship has influenced so much of my fishing life and my catches over so many years that I will have to go all the way back to 1975 in order to begin the story.
The first casts I made with a fly rod I made while fishing for trout. At that stage in Norway it was the catalogues from “Hørgård” and “Napp og Nytt” which inspired keen young boys, and I was also lucky enough to live close to what was, at that time, the best fly fishing shop in Norway. The whole thing began with the Zulu family of flies. I read about this fly in these catalogues, and the guys in the shop were immensely positive when talking about this fly. I have often wondered whether this could have been my first love interest, and if this could have been what you call “love at first sight”. This was also the fly that I, with trembling hands, tried to copy at the fly tying vice. The catalogues were never far away, so that I could check my flies against the pictures and tying instructions. I was also lucky because I had a grandmother with unlimited supply of red woollen yarn, the agreement was to swap yarn for trout. I still remember my excitement every Saturday when I spent my weekly allowance on a train ticket into the city so that I could show my flies to the guys at the fishing shop, Nor Sport. I am thankful to Øyvind Meidell Johansen for his many supportive comments. Øyvind was the fly fishing hero for an inexperienced but keen young boy. This was a decisive factor for my development as a fly fisherman.
Black Zulu, Zulu gold, Zulu silver, I feel a strong need to apologise to all the sea trout, trout, and salmon that met their fate when the young boy ruthlessly, but well aware of what he was doing, constantly went fishing. In lakes and river such as Leirsjøen, Vellikvannet, Svartkjønna, Bjørkjønna, Skjeldbreivannet, Kvestingen, Leirelva - and Upper Nidelva hunting for trout. Nidelva below Nedre leirfoss, The rivers Orkla, Gaula, Stjørdalselva and Skauga constantly fishing for the salmon, I caught fish using these flies everywhere. My mother sometimes asked whether it was necessary to bring home all the fish from every trip. Because it was not me who had to clean and gut the fish, but all was forgotten when the trout were frying in the pan, we ate this almost as a snack when we got served fresh trout cooked according to mother’s recipe.
I fished a lot for trout during the first few years, mostly “between the waterfalls”, but also in the forest around the city and also in my own childhood river, Leirelva, a tributary of the River Nidelva. There were many nice pools in this river, the favourite pool was located just upstream of the lower waterfall, and was named Jansendammen. This was the home of the big trout, and the tales told by my grandfather about the salmon fishing downstream of this waterfall in the old days were very exciting. The best story he told was when he, during his lunch break one summer, noticed a massive salmon holding between two boulders in the river. My grandfather caught this salmon, which weighed 18 kilos. In those days the fishing culture was a bit different from what we’re used to today, he caught this salmon using a pitchfork. This salmon became an important addition to the food for the family that summer. This story fascinates me, as it is a childhood memory from fishing, just as I have memories from fishing the Zulu flies. As a grown man I have visited these old tracks and the small pools constantly making sure that trout was on the menu at the Granbo house. The visit to the pool where my grandfather caught the large salmon made a special impression, imagine the experience that must have been, lifting a salmon that heavy with your bare hands, it must have been some struggle.
I fished for salmon on the River Nidelva for the first time at the age of 10, the first fish I caught on he fly rod was a sea trout, and the fly? Zulu Silver of course. I fished for trout and salmon for many years, but since I was around 14 years of age it was salmon fishing that became the most intriguing to me. I was lucky enough to have a fishing buddy named Per Dammen, he was a few years older than me and when he got his driver’s license, rivers such as the Rivers Gaula, Orkla and Stjørdalselva were torpedoed by our favourite fly every summer.
At this stage, as the “salmon fever” ruled our lives, the road ahead to the exciting tube flies was not long. It was not that easy to tie good tube flies for the first few years, lots of materials were not available so tying good flies was difficult. But the advantages of these flies were obvious, so we never gave up. I’ve got no idea as to how many tube flies I have tied over the years, and the same goes for the number of times I went to Nor Sport to shop for fly tying gear. I remember lying in my room as a boy, thinking of how to tie my tubes better, often I got up in the middle of the night to tie flies, the fly tying vice was always set up just beside my bed. Strangely enough, the first tube fly I ever tied was very much inspired by the Zulu. Personal finance considerations meant that a large Zulu silver tube with a long silver body was too expensive to tie many flies of. So once again my dear grandmother became my salvation, as she also had black woollen yarn, and it was much cheaper. This was probably the first step in the right direction towards the Red Butt for me. I am not saying that I invented the Red Butt pattern, I do not know who did, but it does not matter. I believe it was quite natural for fly fishers all over the world to tie their flies using this colour combination, as we all had some sort of relationship to the Zulu flies.
Per and I named this fly something along the lines of the Zulu tube. It didn’t take long before our Zulu tubes got a wing, making it look more like a “real” tube fly, the colour was of course black, and a new and great step in the right direction of Red Butt was taken. Later, the Glødhacken fly arrived, if I remember correctly it came from Sweden, the difference now was that a fluorescent material had replaced the red woollen yarn, making it more noticeable in the water. Now grandmother’s sowing kit failed me, and the need for an increase in my weekly allowance immediately triggered “pay negotiations” before the Saturday bus set course towards my beloved Nor Sport shop.
I miss that “drive” I had at that time, that feeling, and that constant excitement. The only thing that mattered was fly fishing, with fly tying all year around and of course all the fishing trips during summer. It is hard to recreate this excitement, I guess we become a bit calmer as we age, as we possess greater experience. But saying that, I recognise myself when I see my son at the fly tying vice. What a creativity he possesses, it is just incredible how he comes up with new patterns and colour combinations. I regret it every time I tell him to stop when he’s trying out flies I do not think will work, the boy should really be allowed to keep going!
As an adult I have often wondered how the Zulu flies could be so effective, I have even caught pike on these flies, fished in conjunction with a float. Zulu silver was probably the favourite, with this fly at the end of my line I was pretty sure of catching fish. The colours red/silver/black cannot be found on any natural insect, at no stage during an insect’s life will we find this combination of colours. Remember that I started to fish for trout in 1975, at that time the art of fly tying was far from the exact imitations tied today, but still the Zulu flies caught fish, all the time. My biggest brown trout was almost 4 kilos, my largest number of fish over an evening was 30 trout, many of them exceeding 1 kilo, all of them caught on a Zulu fly. One could really start to wonder why this fly is so effective when comparing it to the great flies tied by many trout fishermen today. How did we catch so much fish on the Zulu? In terms of trout fishing, I believe it must be some sort of attractor effect, i.e. the Zulu stuck out in the crowd of natural insects, and that is why the trout preferred this fly. Remember that this fly is also tied as a dry fly, the dry fly named Black Zulu is regarded as a classic these nowadays.
It is also a bit difficult to get why salmon like this fly so much. But I think that the attractor abilities of this pattern play a part here as well. We know, or rather we think we know, that salmon take a fly due to some sort of aggressive behaviour relating to its territorial motives, this is why salmon flies rarely are a result of imitations. This could be an explanation as to why the Zulu flies work so well and why they still keep on catching lots of fish every season.
The development of the pattern.
In the years that followed, the selection of tying materials improved. Among other things we got squirrel fur, this was better in many ways than the old and stiffer hair variants mostly in use at that time. This also made it easier to tie small flies with a “swimming” action. The selection of synthetic materials also increased. This got the imagination flowing and many new patterns got a place in the fly box, and old patterns were “refurbished”. Then, when the soft wing materials such as fox and temple dog entered the scene, at the same time as the actual tube body was improved, creativity was put in overdrive. In this transition period the Black Zulu became the favourite, it was this fly that was most similar to the Red Butt from the start. In reality we had fished for a long time with the Red Butt, but the Zulu name sort of stayed on. The difference between the Red Butt and Zulu is that the Zulu is only tied with a hackle, whereas the Red Butt originally had a body hackle with a long, black wing. To be very detailed I could mention that the Zulu flies had a tag of red woollen yarn, while the Red Butt only had a butt section made from red floss, hence the name Red Butt.
My Red Butt variant developed a lot during this time, I had several theories for this fly that I had to try out. I fish a lot with single-handed rods, so I wanted a tube fly that was big, but easy to cast. The solution was short plastic tube bodies, with long wings. It was important with a balance system too, so the fly had the right action in the water. Thus, the solution was to tie the tube bodies using two tube dimensions, where the thinnest (the one in front) was used to tie in the front hackle and the wing. I learned from Håkan Norling to tie the wing in the opposite way, and then to fold it back over. This technique coupled with the difference in tube dimension made sure the wing did not get tangled in the hook when fishing, so I could tie flies with wings as long as I wanted to. Using lead thread as a weight balance, tied in under the wing, the fly just “swims” beautifully in the water. It is almost as it yells at the salmon on its way towards the bank. Today I tie all my tube flies this way. I now have a full set of Red Butt variants, ranging from large tube flies to small nymphs tied with the same materials.
Red Butt XO
Granbo`s Red Butt
I enhance the colour impression in the Red Butt by using black synthetic dubbing material for the front part of the body, in combination with flash tinsel material for the butt. This makes the colour appear more vivid even in the wet, wool and floss lose a bit of colour when wet. After a while I also removed the ribbing, and then the Granbo’s Red Butt was created and ready to go. During the past 15 years I have caught many great salmon in the River Gaula on the Red Butt. This fly is now complete and all “childhood diseases” have been removed. I always have a great feeling when fishing this fly, I want it to be at the end of my line as often as possible. The optimum fishing time for his fly is towards the later parts of the season as the evening darkness arrives, when I fish this fly at dusk I get that great feeling from my childhood days again. But the fly works in lots of conditions, try it during the summer flood too, just as the river turns and slowly starts sinking, still containing some colour. This is also prime Red Butt time.
The Red Butt nymph
Back to the past
Much of the joy of fly fishing lies in the memory, I write a fishing diary, which I began with in 1988, something I am very glad I did. My fishing trips are not over until I write down the experiences and details of the trip, I enjoy looking in my diary a cold winter evening, reading about what happened on that fishing trip years ago. If I had not kept this diary I would most likely have forgotten a lot of this. These days I also hold a diary for Steffen, with catch statistics and everything, he’s very proud of that! Memories can be used for a lot of things, such as learning more about salmon fishing. But memories can also bring joy by being revisited. I have a set tradition that I do one evening each season, I dig out my old fibreglass rod, tie on a double hook size 8 Zulu silver and just enjoy myself for a few hours during a beautiful summer night along the River Gaula. Something that is revisited are exciting fishing trips with members of the Zulu family if flies at the end of the line. Sometimes, given the right water level and light conditions, not many flies can beat a Zulu silver size 8. My fishing buddy Per has kept the Red Butt the way we initially tied it. Per is a fisherman that catches salmon very often, and one of the reasons for that is often a Red Butt XO tube fly, in other words a fly with extra long storage time.
Fly fishing is a total experience, with many factors making sure life as a fly fisher never becomes boring. When the winter is at its coldest and summer seems far away, it is a privilege to be able to sit by the fly tying vice and dream of long, nice summer evenings on the river, with the fly of your life tied to the end of the line.