Railbird 2001

Railbird 2001

Matt Klara | Sunday, 17 December 2017

A while back I was asked to contribute a couple of my steelhead fly patterns to be included in a new book called, aptly, Modern Steelhead Flies. Written and researched by Rob Russell and Jay Nicholas, and published by Stackpole Books, it’s available currently at awesome flyshops and by the usual internet means. You can even get it on Kindle! Being included in the book among so many truly great tiers is a humbling experience for me, and something I’m proud of. It’s even been getting some really good reviews despite my inclusion. This fly is one of my patterns included in the book. The Railbird 2001.

I feel that tradition, and respecting and honoring the past is an important element in modern steelhead fly tying. My own personal style as a tier mixes elements of old and new in a way that I hope is both respectful and innovative. I enjoy creating new patterns, and also adapting older pattern recipes to suit my fishing needs. Through talking to other steelheaders I know that the practice of modifying traditional patterns or color schemes is common.  A review of the many variations of the classic Green Butt Skunk, shows how individual tiers will adjust a concept and make it their own, not unlike how a jazz musician might jam on a classic tune.  I feel a sense of greater connection to the sport when fishing a pattern that links me to the past in some way.

A favorite adaptation of mine is based on a fly called the Railbird.  I “discovered” this fly on one of my readings of Trey Comb’s masterwork, Steelhead Fly Fishing, one of the great links between steelheading past and present. Trey provided a recipe, but no photo, and attributed the pattern to the late John Benn (1838-1907). My suspicion is that the original Railbird was tied with a dense, bulky palmer and a long wing on a short shank, down eye trout hook – the common dressing style in northern California and southern California at that time. My version takes a sparser, low water approach, and uses an up eye salmon-style hook along with some of my favorite materials to create a translucent, buggy look in the classic color scheme.

Thank you, Mr. Benn.  I wonder what you would think of steelheading if you were around today.

Happy Holidays, everyone.

Take Care and Fish On,



Railbird 2001 Recipe

Hook – Alec Jackson Steelhead Iron, #5-9

Thread – UTC 70, black

Tag – Amber wire, 3-4 turns

Tail – Grizzly dyed claret saddle hackle fibers

Body dubbing – Claret angora

Hackle - Grizzly dyed claret saddle hackle, palmered along body

Rib – Amber wire counter-wrapped through the hackle for durability

Collar – Yellow dyed guinea fowl feather

Wing – Natural Lady Amherst Pheasant tail, 6-8 fibers.