The Yallerhammer, a
truly American Fly
by Bruce E. Harang
exact origin and birth date of the Yallerhammer pattern has apparently
been lost in the mists of pre-recorded North American history.
Unfortunately, American Indians did not have written languages and
passed their histories and customs down as oral histories. It is
generally accepted that it was the Cherokees who first brought down a
Yellow-shafted Flicker with a blowgun, wrapped its bright quill around a
hook, and caught a trout. Maybe they first tied the fly as they tied the
deer hair fly, reverse Palmer style. However, the Cherokee as an invader
of the Southeastern United States may have simply adapted what those
they drove out already were doing. Nevertheless, whatever the
particulars it is clear that the Yallerhammer fly pattern pre-dated
European settlement of the Americas. One early written description of
the style of tying the Yallerhammer is outlined in a letter from J. H.
Stewart, Jackson, MS, 1887 to Mary Orvis Marbury (yes that Orvis). This
letter was later published in Ms. Marbury's book "Favorite Flies and
"The two specimen flies which
I enclose you will see are reversed hackles, made by cutting narrow
strips of deerskin with the hair left on, wrapped around the hook a few
times, and well tied at each end. The North Carolina Indians (Cherokee)
tie them to perfection, using some sort of cement or waterproof varnish
over the thread, and for the bodies the various colors and length of
hair from different skins, but usually rather stiff hair, preferring it
from the deer's legs. They often cut the hair off and use it without the
skin, but made in this way the flies are not as durable. They use
feathers occasionally in the same way"
The original yallerhammer is
tied from the leading edge of the primary flight feather of the Yellow
Shafted Flicker (Yallerhammer), an endangered species of woodpecker. It
is illegal to possess this feather, so the primary flight feather of a
dove or quail wing, dyed golden yellow is used as a substitute when
tying this pattern. To use this feather for tying the fly you must first
soak the wing feather in warm water, to soften the quill. Then the
softened quill is split length-wise and any pulp within the center of
the quill is cleaned out by scraping. Tie the prepared quill in at the
rear end of the hook shank so that the top few barbs extend beyond the
hook, forming a tail. Then wrap the split quill forward to the eye of
the hook, in touching turns, and tie off. The resulting "bottle Brush"
is a Yallerhammer. The fly became popular in the 1930's and 1940's tied
on a trailer hook (ring eye, long shank) and trailed behind a gold
willow-leaf spinner blade - which probably accounted for most of its
fish-catching success. In the 1960's, it was the inspiration for two new
Yallerhammer patterns. These are the Yallerhammer nymph and the
Yallerhammer dry fly. However, these patterns are another story for
another time. The original Yallerhammer pattern is generally believed
not to imitate anything in nature; it's an attractor pattern. However,
the streams where it was born do have an abundance of large yellow
stonefly nymphs having a general length of about 1 to 2 inches and a
generally yellow body color, so it is possible that the original
Yallerhammer pattern was an imitation of the large yellow stonefly
- Hook: Mustad 9674 (size 6 -
- Thread: Black 6/0
- Tail: First few fibers from
split dove primary flight feather
- Body: Split dove primary
flight feather wrapped palmer style
- Wing: None
- Hackle: None
- Head: Black thread
1. Attach the tying thread one hook eye
length behind the eye and wrap a smooth thread base rearward to the end
of the straight portion of the hook shank.
2. Tie in the split dove primary flight
feather with the exposed interior side of the feather shaft facing up
and the feather fibers down against the hook shank.
3. As you start to wrap the split
flight feather the tail of the fly is automatically created from the
feather fibers at the base end of the split feather shaft caught between
the hook shank and the feather shaft.
4. Wrap the split dove primary flight
feather forward, in touching turns, to the point where the thread is
attached to the front of the hook shank.
5. Tie off the split dove primary
flight feather and cut off the excess.
6. Wrap a small neat head, whip finish,
and varnish if desired.
7. Trim the feather fibers to suitable
length, slightly shorter than the hook gape distance.
This is an extremely easy fly to
tie. Fishing it is equally simple. Cast down and across stream and strip
the fly back in short (2 to 3 inch) movements. This is an especially
good fly for streams having high and discolored water as the fly pushes
lots of water and therefore makes quite a commotion allowing the fish to
find the fly easily.
Text & photos by Bruce
E. Harang ©
Fly in article is tied by Bruce
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