Fly of the Month: Copper John

Number 2 on ETU members’ list of “must have” flies to fish Colorado streams was the Copper John, a mayfly nymph pattern that gets down in the wa­ter column quickly and can pull out trout under almost all conditions.

For fly tiers, especially beginners, it can be a tough pattern to put together. That’s why we turned this month to another of ETU’s top tiers, Gregg Squire to show us a fairly easy way to produce one of the best flies in a reasonably short period of time.

Gregg says he does these in about 10 or 15 minutes and that it helps if he ties up at least a half dozen or so at a time so that he can take advantage of mixing just one batch of epoxy to form that distinc­tive, hard-shell bead on the wing case.

The result is one beautiful fly. And you can do it in a variety of colors too. Among our members, the red Copper John has emerged as per­haps even more popular than the original copper version shown here. Among other things, the red pattern is thought to resemble a chironomid larva.

A green or chartreuse wire version is also popular. Why? Could be argued that it resembles a caddis. It also can be tied with rubber legs for still another variation. And, if you tie one of the big sizes, it can imitate a stonefly nymph. The sizes can range from a #10 or #12 all way down to a #22. So, the fly turns out to be pretty versatile.

The pattern was developed in the 1990s by John Barr, who lives in Boulder. He has a bunch of other popular flies to his credit, but the Copper John is his most famous. It’s also a fixture in his hopper-copper-dropper combination, in part because it sinks fast.


Hook: Mustad 9671, TMC 5262, Dai-Riki 730 (you want a 1x or 2x long shank with 2x heavy wire). #12-#22. A #14 is used here.
Head: Gold or tungsten bead. For a #14, a 3/32” (2.3mm) bead is used. For more weight, a 1/8” bead may be used.
Thread: Black 6/0 or 8/0
Tail: Two brown goose or turkey biots
Abdomen: Brassie-sized Ultra-Wire in copper or color of choice
Weight: Some recipes call for wrapping the hook shank with lead wire before wrapping the copper wire over it. In this example, lead was not used.
Wing Case: Thin Skin or turkey tail topped with 1 strand of Krystal Flash or two or three strands of Flashabou. Coat with epoxy.
Thorax: Peacock herl
Legs: Mottled partridge or hen saddle fibers

Gregg’s Tying Instructions

As always, start by crimping down the barb before placing the hook in the vise. You also want to slide on the bead first. You will find that most beads have a tapered hole, so you will want the smaller end of the hole to go on facing the eye of the hook. It helps keep the bead snug on the hook and from slipping up on the eye.

With the hook now in the vise, start your thread at the center of the shank and wrap back toward the bend, stopping just about above where the barb used to be. This is where you will now attach the two biots. You will want them to extend out about half the length of the hook.

Most people will find it easier to tie them in one at a time, being sure that the curve of your biot tips is up and the biots angle out from the back of the hook. You tie them down with a couple of snug wraps on the first biot and then with about three good wraps on the second. Now wrap your thread over the biot butts up the hook shank about 1/3 of the way and then back to the bend, keeping your wraps nice and smooth. Clip off the remaining butt ends of the biots.

Now at the bend, right in front of the biots, tie in the copper wire so that it lies on top of the hook shank. After making the tie-in, continue wrapping your thread forward to about two-thirds of the way toward the eye of the hook.

copper john

Wrap the copper wire forward to between half and two-thirds the way up the shank of the hook and tie it off. At that point, tie in a strand of Krystal Flash or two or three strands of Flashabou. Then tie in a strip of Thin Skin, with the dull side facing down as it lies back toward the bend of the hook.

The Thin Skin should be about as wide as the thorax width and should be trimmed to a point where you are going to tie it in. Later, when you fold the Thin Skin over the peacock thorax, the dull side will be on top so that the epoxy will stick to it better.

Once the Thin Skin and Krystal Flash are tied in, you also should go ahead and tie in two or three strands of peacock herl just in front of everything else. You will have a lot going on at once, as you can see by the second photo, but you are well on your way to having this fly wrapped up.

copper john

Take the peacock herl strands and, to­gether, wrap them forward to the bead and tie them down to form the thorax, a little thicker in the middle than on the ends.

Next attach a clump of mottled feather fibers on each side just behind the bead for the legs. The legs should be long enough to reach the point of the hook. These are best attached by starting with the fibers on the far side of the hook and locking them into place with a couple of snug wraps and then attaching the fibers on the near side with about three tight wraps. Trim off the butts around the bead.

Check out photo #3 to see how your fly should look at this point.

copper john

Pull the Thin Skin forward over the thorax and tie it down just behind the bead. Bring the Krystal Flash or Flashabou over the Thin Skin and tie it down in the same place. Trim any loose ends, then tie off the fly with a whip finish.

copper john

You’re done…except for the epoxy. Go ahead and tie several flies to this point. Gregg suggests placing them in a piece of foam block or some similar attachment to hold them steady for the epoxy applica­tion. Look at photo #4, without the epoxy bubble on top.

You can mix your epoxy – the kind that comes from two separate tubes – in one of those little plastic cups that you get if you buy flies sometimes. Gregg suggests a 5-min epoxy, meaning that it stays work­able for about five minutes after being mixed. Mix a small batch and then take something such as a toothpick and apply a small drop to the top of the wing case of each fly.

Let it dry before handling the flies again.

Now, you’re really done. And you have a tough, durable fly that is almost certain to catch fish.

copper john

By John Haile. Tied by Gregg Squire. Photos by Tim Stechert