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Photo by Travis Rathbone

It’s difficult to find a big smallmouth or trout in a rocky river that will pass up a live hellgrammite. It’s also difficult to find live ‘mites in the bait shop–and time consuming to catch your own. For fly anglers, large black stonefly nymphs are the standard hellgrammite imitators, but they’re not the only option. If you make a few modifications to some common trout and smallie patterns, you can turn them into bugs that are almost as lethal as livies.

1. Girdle Bug


Photo by Kyle Thompson

This fly, in all black, does a fine job of imitating a hellgrammite, but it’s even better if you replace the rear legs with a long piece of flat rubber band. After you finish the tie, color the band black with a marker and trim the end to a point. It makes the fly’s profile longer, and the modified tail will flap and wave just like a real hellgrammite abdomen as it drifts through the riffles.

2. Woolly Bugger


Photo by Kyle Thompson

To spice up a plain dark Bugger, opt for a longer marabou tail for extra wiggle. Next, skip the beadhead and tie in black bead-chain eyes. These make the head appear wider like a hellgrammite’s. Wrap the body chenille over the head, whip finish, and coat the entire head in epoxy to give it a glossy glisten. Fish it like a nymph, or strip it close to the bottom.
3. Clouser Minnow**


Photo by Kyle Thompson

Make a tail with a length of black bunny strip. Wind in some black chenille to create a body, stopping behind the dumbbell eyes. Instead of tying in a long length of bucktail, spin in a sparse clump of short black deer belly hair in front of the head. Finish with a puff of black flash material. Slow-hop this across the bottom in deep holes.