I spend the winter months in Fairbanks, Alaska, tying mouse patterns and refilling fly boxes for the upcoming summer. When it is -40 outside, there is not much else to do. One of the issues that I have found with many of the commercially tied mouse patterns is their lack of durability. In order to solve this issue, I began to utilize heavy-duty materials which resulted in the use of superglue, UV resins, 210 denier thread, rabbit strips, and thick foam. To some, this might be considered overkill but there is nothing more annoying to me than having a fly disintegrate after only a few fish. After tying my mouse flies this way, I have found that I have to replace my trailer hook long before the fly is deemed unfishable due to missing pieces or being so saturated that they no longer float. In my opinion, there’s not much more you can ask for out of a fly. For the die-hard trout fisherman in Alaska, the months of May, June, and July can be considered a mousing season. Generally speaking, mousing is not the most effective way to fish for trout however, throughout the spring and early summer and if the conditions are just right, a simple mouse pattern has the potential to out fish all other typical Alaska trout files. The following trip caused me to rethink how I build my mouse patterns and they went from looking like actual mice to just a little more than some rabbit fur on a hook.
After a forty-three-mile hellish day float full of class 3 rapids, high wind, and rain, we were finally able to pull our waders off and climb into our tents to enjoy a quick four hours of sleep. I was woken up at 6 am by the sound of someone digging through gear bags to find a pot to boil water in for coffee. After breakfast, we tied on mouse patterns, hopped back into the rafts, and paddled across a deep slough where we slid the boats up onto a muddy bank and tied them off. We were careful to leave no traces of food behind for the bears and began hiking. During the entirety of our trip, A few bears were spotted but luckily spooked at the sight of five humans in their fishing holes. A lot of half-eaten salmon, moose bones, and fresh paw prints were found and we had an eerie feeling that we were being watched the entire time through the tall overgrown brush. All of this was worth it as leopard-spotted rainbow trout pounced on mouse patterns so hard that they ripped the ears and tails off of our flies, spit them out then came back to finish the job. I took note of this as I tossed another unfishable fly into my fishing pack and tied on another.
For the majority of the first day, all of us were skating mouse patterns to the overzealous fish. One may have thought they were starving to death by the way they were attacking our flies but most of those trout had probably never seen a mouse made of deer hair, rabbit fur, and foam. On the second day, we all decided to stop fishing the natural-looking mouse patterns that were working so well and try some different flies. I tied on a fly that I called the Disco Mouse, it was yellow, red, pink, orange, blue, and essentially an insult to every mouse pattern that had ever been invented but by the end of the second day, it had landed two trout. Those were by far the most rewarding fish for me as they came on a fly that I did not expect to work.
Trips like these are amazing but it is easy to get carried away and not realize how many fish you have actually caught. It is important to take a step back and not be greedy. It is a fantastic opportunity to try a new technique or new fly. Throughout all of the chaos, it is vital to remember that proper fish handling is still important so that Alaska’s wonderful fisheries like this one and many others can be preserved for future generations. Just because there is a lot of fish there now, does not mean that it is a resource that can be abused.
Five simple tying tips to improve your mouse pattern:
1) Use rabbit strip leather for your tail. Chenille (even if singed with a lighter on the ends) will fall apart after only a few fish leaving you with a short white string that does not resemble a mouse’s tail.
2) Use Foam. Deer hair is awesome too however, I hate nothing more than having to use an entire bottle of my favorite expensive dry fly floatant to keep my mouse swimming above water. Rabbit fur and foam can make a quick and easy two-material mouse.
3) Fish a short heavy leader. You will often be casting your mouse over logs, sticks, and branches. A short heavy leader will not only help you retrieve your fly without having to go stomping through your favorite trout hole but help you turn that big wind-resistant fly over when it comes time to cast.
4) Keep your hook sharp! I always carry a hook file and make sure my hook sharp so that it sticks inside the fish’s mouth when a trout takes a swipe.
5) Simple is best. Keeping your flies to two or three materials will save you a ton of time and effort and is all you need to tie a very productive mouse pattern. Also, you will not be quite so sad when you lose a 5-minute mouse pattern as opposed to a 20-minute mouse pattern.