A 2 Week Perdigon Test through the Eastern Sierras in CA, Montana and Utah.
During the winter of 2021 I talked to long time friend and Guide Mike Hillygus of the Stillwater River and Clark Fork River Outpost lodges in Montana. Mike mentioned he had bought a ton of perdigon flies for the upcoming season. I asked him, “Isn’t that the fly that all the world champion fly fishers use for euro-nymping?”. I said it with disdain because there is no way in hell I’m ever going to euro-nymph the rivers of montana. More on that later.
His answer completely changed the way I approach fly fishing: “Yea, but at the end of last season we started hanging them below indicators and in dry/dropper set ups. And we killed.” That got my attention so I went on a 3-week research and interview process to find out everything I could about the Perdigon; its history and why it is used. After my research, I speculated that if I tied the 3 nymphs I sell of the site (Huck Green Caddis, Huck Midge, Huck-bow Warrior) perdigon style that they would do better in fast, deep water conditions. So I went on a 4 week tying binge. Then I sent out the prototypes of them to expert level fisherman to test them in real conditions. At the same time I went on my own 2 week testing adventure through the eastern Sierras in CA, Montana and Utah. The results were ridiculous. I had a number of 40+ days in that 2 weeks fishing them solely in a dry dropper set up. Realize this is fishing in March in brutally cold conditions and I was still killing. In reality perdigon styled flies provide all the effectiveness of raking the river by Euro Nymphing, but, unlike in euro-nymphing, you still get to cast…and cast beyond the ~20 foot limitations of euro nymphing.
This email from my buddy Ronnie in Colorado summed it up well:
“Howdy Tim! Great day on the Arkansas yesterday! Big aggressive browns love the Perdigon’s! I was using a golden stone at first and decided to switch to the Huck green caddis perdigon to try it out. Plenty of big fish on that one..I was trailing a red midge as an attractor but only caught on the lead fly; the perdigon you tied for me.”
-Ronnie Swafford, CO
Let me be totally honest. I am not a fan of fly fishing competitions. Fly fishing is not like golf where you have a tightly coupled objective to get the ball in the hole with as few shots as possible. I respect that people love fly fishing competitions. And I have met plenty of competition fly fishers both here in the states and internationally. and that is ok. It’s just not me. Not because of the competition, but, because “most fish caught” forces you into tight lined nymphing. I love to cast. I love to cover the water and I love to move. If you take casting away it’s just not fly fishing to me. Fly fishing includes quite a bit of scientific knowledge for success, some athletic skill to cast, set and fight, and lets face it: a little bit of luck. When I heard that until recently the only flies used in fly fishing competitions were skwirmy worms and mop flies by euro nymphing or tenkara I sighed. Lobbing a 22 feet leader on a ten foot fixed “rod” over and over to the same spot is wildly effective. You rake the river. It’s just not me. I liken it to an electric mountain bike. Sure, you can get to the top of the mountain quicker with a motor….by why would you? But, there is something to be said about the Spanish team winning 3 straight world fly fishing championships on what that call a “Perdigon” fly. And then the French came in and won two in a row with their version of the perdigon fly. Strictly translated Perdigon means pebble in Spanish. Loosely translated it means “sinks like a rock.”.
The Science behind the Perdigon
Perdigons are super heavy and sleek in profile so they get down quickly in fast moving current. What they gain in an aerodynamic quick ride to the bottom, they give up in realism. Perdigons don’t look like anything in nature. They are nymphs without the buggy look and feel to them. Any resistance that might keep the fly from getting down quickly is covered in epoxy.
Like the international fly-fishing competitors, I tie them on competition style wide gap barbless jig hooks with a slotted tungsten bead. The benefits, and consequently my (and your) success is directly related to:
- Rides Hook Up
The slot in the tungsten bead is to allow the bead to slip around the bend in the jig hook. Then I stuff the slot end with lead, not only making it heavier, but it forces the bead into a keel position making the perdigon ride hook up and level. Perdigons ride hook up and level and and can bounce along the bottom without snagging it. Riding hook up means you are not scraping and dulling your hook point.
- A Better Hook Set
Because the Perdigon rides hook up you get a better set in the fish’s mouth. Typically this means getting the fly set in the top center of the mouth (frequently called “the nose”) or in corner of the mouth. These spots in the mouth hold hooks much better. Normally I range around a 50-50 hook to land ratio. With Perdigons I was getting closer to landing 19 or 20 hook sets. Honestly I fight fish much differently barbless. I really play them, having to exhaust them to get them to hand. That is bad for the fish. With Perdigons I had much more confidence in fighting them to my hand as quickly as possible so I could let them go as quickly as possible. With Perdigons I felt like I had much better control when turning the fish’s head and direction head while fighting.
- Better Feel of the Flies
When bumping along the bottom I felt like I could discern the difference between a strike and bumping the bottom. You know that old rule, “set on everything.”? Well, I didn’t feel like I had to. It gave me a better feel of if/when the flies were hitting the bottom, which in turn gave me feedback on where in the water column I was.
- Slotted Beads
As mentioned, when a slotted tungsten bead is used on a jig hook, the center of gravity changes. This helps to angle the hook in a position where the Perdigon rides hook up.
- Fighting Fish
When you hook a fish with a jig hook and slotted tungsten bead, the fly line, leader and tippet rides almost parallel to where the bend of the hook is. This reduces the leverage that the fish has providing a much more solid hook set in the fish’s face. With Perdigons, you will find the fly pops out a lot less.
The term “jigging” comes from conventional fishing and it wildly effective. With the slotted tungsten bead as “the keel”, the fly imparts a particular movement in the water that is unique to traditional fly fishing. Additionally, the angled eye of the jig hook gives the fly a very undulating movement when stripped back. It that “up-and-down” movement which can give the look of an injured or confused baitfish or bug.
I hit Missoula first where I was met by my buddy Mike Hillygus. We drove 60 miles north to his lodge on the lower clark fork near St. Regis, MT. We fished for 3 days in bitter cold and did pretty darn well. I couldn’t get a fish to rise for the life of me, but man those perdigons did well for both Mike and Me.
I moved south towards my son in Bozeman and fished Silver Bow Creek near Butte. I absolutely killed on the huck midges tied perdigon style. I had a 40+ fish day and caught a 20” brown just 10 minutes into fishing.
The next day my son Mark and his buddy Burnsie rowed me down the lower Madison. It was bitter cold; windy and snowing. A day you’d expect to get skunked. But, we were still catching fish on the Perdigons.
Eastern Sierras of California
I was home for 32 hours before I loaded up Huck Truck II and headed north to the eastern sierras to join up on an annual fishing trip centered out of Bishop, CA with 30 guys at a cheap ass motel. I drove straight to the wild trout section of the lower owens river and had a nice brown to hand on the 2nd cast…on a huck-bow warrior tied perdigon style. Hmmm.. So, I did well and consequently had a decision to make for the next 2 full days of fishing. I had intel from a buddy of mine in the DFG that the Owens River Gorge was fishing well and that it had some big fish in it. So, I talked a couple buddies into joining me for a very physical day. If you have not fished the gorge it is not for the faint of heart. You have to hike into a canyon and there is no river trail. It’s a brutally rugged canyon. Coupled with that I had not fished there in years and I mistook my intended trail (middle gorge) for central gorge. The central gorge “trail” is used by the rock climbers to get down to the sheer granite walls quickly. Meaning straight down. As we hiked/climbed the trail down I couldn’t imagine hiking/climbing it back up at the end of the day. As it was we chose not to. We fished all the way to the middle gorge trail and hiked that out. Then hiked the miles on the road back to our cars. We caught fish but, it wasn’t crazy. I caught plenty of fish on the perdigons to make it fun. I did a water temp check and it was 41 degrees. That is a bit chilly for the fish to be active. It’s a beautiful place and even though we were exhausted burning a gazillion calories it was a beautiful great day in the canyon.
I speculated that the water in the lower section of the gorge would be warmer the next day because the weather was due to be warmer and it would see a lot more sun before hitting the power station above pleasant valley reservoir. So, that was my plan. I was going to park at the power plant and fish my way up river. That is something I had not done in over a decade. At the start I had 5 of my buddies with me. I caught a nice brown on my first cast with a huck green caddis perdigon hung under a small huck hopper. Hmmm… Within 30 minutes all my buddies bailed for the wild section of the owens. Without waders it is impossible to fish that section. It’s also super rugged. And none of them wore their waders. I was wearing my simms G3 guide wading pants and loving it. The other reason they bailed: You cannot fish that section from the bank. It is totally overgrown by willows on both sides. Like willows that are so thick you cannot see through them. Since it is a small river (which would be called a creek in Montana) that meant it was a technical river to fish requiring tight loops and long casts directly up stream. It also meant you had to fish in the river; there is no bank with the willows walling up on both sides.
Well, I was killing. Honestly, I had not had a day on any stretch of the owens like that in years. I was landing fish in every section I threw at. Big fish too. I rarely count but, it’s was so nuts I started counting. When I hit 20 by 11am I stopped counting. Here’s where it started getting a bit dicey. Down in that canyon it was hot. I had a liter of water and it was quickly disappearing. I was also battling a bout of diverticulitis. If you don’t know that old guy disease, it’s painful. It’s the only thing that has ever hospitalized me. Well, I feel like the pain involved in bending over and releasing what was now around 40 fish by 1pm was sucking the life out of me. I was tired. It was only 1pm. That is not like me. So, with my water running low I said to myself, “I’ll just actively start looking for a way to get out of this river, walk back to my truck, take a break and end it in the wild trout section with my buddies.” Another mile travelled upriver. it was after 2pm and I was a mess. I did not see a single place where I could get out of the river to hike back. And I was still killing. In fact, the fish were getting bigger. But, I was abnormally weak. I took a fall in the river simply because I didn’t have the strength to step up on a large rock. That is when the reality hit me. I had pushed the safety thing too far. I have some history in endurance sports having run multiple marathons and I could tell I was “bonking” (in scientific terms that is called hypoglycemia). I had my Garmin satellite communication device with me so it’s not like I was going to die of exposure. And I was not in a panic. But, I was a mess and needed to figure out how to end it. Not kidding I saw a foot wide gap in the willows. I knew it would be a struggle with a fly rod, but, I had no other options available to me. Well, I wiggled my way out of 30 feet thick of willows….to find another 30 feet of head high heavy brush. That was a bush whack in itself. When I finally got to the clear, the reality hit me. I totally forgot that not only is there no river trail, the only way back was climbing miles of scree; 5’ by 5’ granite boulders. Well, let’s just say that hike….errr climb back took hours. I staggered back to my truck, drank 40 ounces of Gatorade zero quickly and sat lifeless for 45 minutes composing myself. By the time I got back to my motel it was 530pm and I was still a mess. That’s when the shivers hit me. I could not get warm. This is another symptom of bonking and why you always see runners wearing space blankets after a race. I had to get in the bed to get warm. 2 hours later I finally warmed up. But, I couldn’t eat. I missed out on the ending party with the guys and didn’t get out of bed until 14 hours had passed. Another safety lesson learned. I did fish the Huck Green Caddis Nymph Perdigon under a size 12 huck hopper all day and killed all day. I bet I landed close to 60 trout; all browns. And my hook to land ratio was over 95%.
From Bishop I did the 7 hour drive to Beaver Utah to meet up with Ed and Jim from the SDFF club. I had never fished the Beaver Utah area and was inspired by a club presentation given by Cody Prentice of lost river angler. From where I live in Carlsbad, CA it takes just as long to drive to Beaver, UT than it does to drive to Mammoth (eastern sierras). I have been looking for an alternative to mammoth that is drivable and fishable in the same day for a long time because the eastern sierras (mammoth) gets so much pressure. I had two and a half days to fish in the beaver area.
I got to Beaver mid day where Ed and Jim were waiting for me. Ed led us down to a stretch of the Beaver below the dam. When I first looked at the “river” I had to admit I was not encouraged. It was skinny and froggy. But, as soon as I started hiking everything changed. Their seemed to be fish in every place that trout should hold. I was killing again. This time I was fishing the midge perdigon I tied. I actually had a double in this session that was pretty epic. I had a huge brown hit my huck hopper hard and didn’t realize at first I had a small rainbow on my midge perdigon at the same time. We only fished a couple three hours, before the day light ended but, I was shocked at how prolific that river was. Hmmm.
The next day we had a full day. First Ed led us to a stretch of the Sevier River he had fished many times prior. He caught bunch of trout right below where we parked as I was still gearing up. I knew this was going to be special. And it was. I killed. I was fishing the Huck-bow Warrior Perdigon this time (below a huck hopper). I got very few to rise, but I bet I landed 40 in that section of river. We fished about 3-4 hours to a bridge where it became private. We reconned to eat a little. I was shocked to hear Ed say we were going to a different place because I did so well I was ready to do that stretch all over again. Of interest was the high water line. We seemed to catch the Sevier in March perfectly before the Spring Runnoff. The river was easily crossable in multiple spots. But, that high water line was at least 20 feet higher than the level we were fishing. It must really get blown out raging in spring. I’m curious as to just when you can fish that river effectively. My guess is mid march to mid may. Then august to November. Which would be a really similar pattern to the Kern or the Kings.
So we moved to a tributary creek that Ed new of. It was tiny. But, it had holdable water. And sure enough we all started catching fish immediately. The first fish I caught I looked at and said, “It’s a cutty!”. Then I realized it was not just any cutty. It was a Bonneville Cutthroat. Soon a local pulled his pickup off the road and was watching us. I waved and eventually went up and talked to him. He was an old timer that was very pleased we were catching fish. He did confirm that the fish we were catching were 98% pure strained Bonneville Cutthroats. And then he told me that the local DFG guy stocked tiger trout into that creek. I didn’t believe him. “Why in the world would someone spoil and creek with pure strained, indigenous, wild fish?” Well, I caught 15 or 20 bonnevilles in the short time we had on the creek before the day ended. This time I used the huck-bow warrior perdigons.
My last day was another full day of fishing. Ed led us to another stretch of the Sevier that Cody from Lost River Angler pointed to on a map for us. I was excited about it. Here is an edited (siri generated spelling errors fixed) version of the email update to Cody that I dictated the next morning driving home. It sums it up quite nicely:
“Well like I told my 25-year-old in Bozeman last night I didn’t think the fishing could get better but it did I had to land over 50 fish yesterday maybe close to 60 and some real large quality ones too. I even caught a 14” tiger trout.
We fished upriver on the Sevier where are you showed us on the map. We only finished like 11 AM to 1:30 PM and I swear I was getting a take on every cast I only casted at water where you couldn’t see the bottom basically 2 1/2 feet or deeper and there seem to be a fish in every one of those pockets. I pulled 10 fish out of one of those pools. In a handful of those pools I had multiple fish that I landed. some quality fish too. I caught a brown over 20 inches. I’m not a counter but this new perdigon style of nymphs that I’m tying on the traditional flies that I’ve always tied and sold off timhuckaby.com are just killing and because of the competition style wide gap hook. Even barbless my land to hook ratio is almost 100%. In that session I also caught three on top on a size 12 huck hopper. I was fishing dry dropper. My dropper was about 3 feet from the dry. I know I landed close to 40 in that session on the Sevier.
Then we moved over to the creek tributary from the day before. we parked in the same place that we did the day before but me and Jim walked down and put in where we finished the prior day and fished up river in water we had not seen yet.
I shortened up the dropper I’m pretty much fished the exact same way. and the fish were in the exact same places even though it’s much smaller water. I was hooking more fish on top in that session; landing them on my dry fly, a huck hopper tan size 12. My Perdigons were killing on the same Huck green Caddis Perdigon that imitates a green rock worm. Size 16 oh yeah i finished 3X entire time.”
Well there it is. 3 states, 11 fishing days, 13 stretches of river / creeks, and over 350 trout caught and released thanks to the Perdigon style of fly tying. And with this article let me announce that you can buy those Perdigon flies off this site here.