Fly fishing from an old gray rowboat with a cowboy guide on a high-country Western Colorado trout pond, I decided that the moody, unresponsive trout needed to see something with an Eastern motif. A Hornberg was called for.

“What is THAT lil’ thang?” Sam asked me. Under the shadow of his sweat-soaked Stetson, he stared at me through squinting, doubtful eyes.

V. Paul Reynolds, Outdoors Columnist

“That, sir, is a Hornberg, a killer fly on Maine trout ponds,” I said.

Did it work? You know it did. The Colorado Cutthroats banged it repeatedly until the fly was just a remnant of its former self. Sam changed his tune. He, too, became a believer in the Hornberg, a fly he had never seen or heard of in his time on the waters in the Rockies.

Ah, yes, the Hornberg. In his new book, fishing writer Bob Mallard devotes a chapter to the Hornberg, which was, according to Mallard, invented in 1920 by Frank Hornberg, a Wisconsin game warden. Mallard goes so far as to opine that the Hornberg “might be the most fished fly in Maine.”

That would not surprise me. The Hornberg has long been my go-to fly. It has a versatility that is unmatched, for my money. You can fish it wet, fish it dry, and anything in between. In my fly box, you will find Hornbergs of every description, varying sizes and colors. When the Green Drake hatch is on, the standard size 6 is always deadly.

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According to Mallard, the Hornberg was actually designed as a dry fly, but is considered a wet fly by most Mainers.

A Hornberg man for many years, I discovered just a few years ago a somewhat unconventional Hornberg that is particularly effective on both salmon and trout, especially early in the season when the caddis hatch is on.

When Barry Higgins was operating his sporting goods store on the main road in Medway, Three Rivers Canoe, he sold a diminutive version of the Hornberg that I had never seen in fly shops. Same recipe — silver tinsel body, yellow underbody, mallard wings and gray hackle — but small hooks, #14 and #16.

Since Barry closed his shop, I have not been able to find these tiny Hornbergs in other stores. Fly dealer Alvin Terriault ties some great Hornbergs, but he does not offer the small ones, in his catalog at least.

Fly Shack, the online fly retailer, does carry the Hornberg in #14 and #16. If you plan to fish this fall, or next spring, make sure you fill your fly box with an assortment of these smaller Hornbergs. The smaller versions always seem to work better for me, especially on trout.

So the next time the fish defy you in your agonizing effort to “match the hatch,” put a double clinch on a Hornberg, and, before you send the line, say a “thank you” to Mr. Hornberg, a legacy tyer, for sure.

V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal, an author, a Maine guide and host of a weekly radio program, “Maine Outdoors,” heard at 7 p.m. Sundays on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. Contact him at [email protected]


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