Autumn On The EB

Autumn On The EB

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Hornberg - A Classic Fly

"Furiously changing flies is a sign of panic and trout fishermen in a state of hysteria seldom catch trout" John Gierach

It seems that the Spring is a good time to pull out the "Classic" flies and give them a try. The Hornberg is one of them.
The story goes that back in the 1920's one Frank Hornberg of Wisconsin developed the all purpose fly - a dry fly/streamer hybrid that he named the Hornberg Special. It could be fished dry, it's prime purpose, and then fished wet like a streamer. It was murder on the water and it's fame quickly spread. As time went on it became more of a sunken fly (sort of) which is how it's presented today.

Half dry fly, half wet fly presents problems because it will never float like a true dry fly OR sink like it should when fished wet. So I tie a wet version and a dry version.

Wet Version

Hook - size 8 to 10 nymph hook
body - mylar
underwing - yellow marabou (the original had yellow hackle tips but marabou absorbs water and sinks the fly)
wing - Mallard breast feathers
Cheek - jungle cock
hackle - soft webby grizzly hackle

Dry Version (the dry in the photo is a bit "busy" for me. Guess I was having a bad fly day!

Use a dry fly hook, back to yellow hackle tips for the underwing and still grizzly for the hackle

TIP - many get frustrated when tying in the mallard wing because the fibers will split and splay out. A tier of Atlantic Salmon flies gave me this trick: apply very light pressure on the first few wraps and then tight pressure on the rest. The feathers will behave themselves.

I've decided to tie up a dozen in both styles and give them a workout this Spring and Summer. I'm thinking of the EB in the evening around mid June.......


Anonymous said...

Good to see this old favorite. I almost forgot about it.

Bill H.

Hibernation said...


Man, that's a golden oldie for sure. One of those flies I carry, and dont fish as much as I could. I like your creativity with it. There's something to tying a fly to the recipe, but some how, giving it our own twist, putting our personality into it... it just feels good and feels like the natural evolution of fly development.

Good stuff - enjoy swinging it, or drifting it... or better, fishing it dry, then stripping it under on the swing :)


Richard Vanvoris said...

A classic New Hampshire fly
I have fished it and tied it for years
However I have never caught a trout with this pattern
I'm like Chalie Brown with Lucy and the football with this fly
I will tie it on and think "this time for sure"
Hope springs eternal in a trout fishermen's heart

Brk Trt said...

Both versions are deadly.
I love the dry version.

Millers River Flyfisher said...

Bill H.

I've almost forgotten too!


It's always fun to experiment as long as you don't try to rename the fly. It's still a Hornberg.


Time to catch a trout with it!! Good to hear from you!

Brk Trt,

I'm going to rest that dry version when the big stones arrive!


Chris from Warwick said...

I have a friend who comes knocking every late March looking for a few Hornbergs. He usually pays for them (never required, just our way of doing things I suppose) with deer hair and/or feathers from his fall hunting trips.
He swears by them and I have had a "little" luck with the wet version upstream just past the railroad tunnel on the Deerfield river.
I add a few strands of red maribou and this version seem to attract a lot of lookers, with the occasional swallow.

Parachute Adams said...

When I see that hornberg, Ken, I think stonefly also. I hit the Swift tonight after work for a couple of hours and found action slow. I did catch a spunky brook trout on a caddis dry fly which he hit like a ton of bricks. Though there were plenty of insects flying around, top water action was rare as was action in general. Still nice to be out.

Best Regards, Sam

Anonymous said...

Hello all, great post Ken. I really love this fly as it was the first fly I caught a fish on ever! (chain pickerel) I'm sure most of you know this fly can be used as a good stone imitation. This fly also works as a hex and spent caddis imitation in smaller sizes. Try clipping the hackle on one side and fish it crippled, this can be deadly in the rain. I've even had success skating this fly as it swings at the end of a dead drift. All around a classic and very versatile fly and one that works especially well on infertile streams where trout are less picky eaters. In other news I watched some recently stocked browns in a nissitissit feeder stream slamming midges during a big hatch just a day or two after being stocked, just goes to show how fast they start feeding like real trout. If you want to catch trout, fish flies! Don't sweat the bait boys I've been doing real good on the nissi in the heart of power bait country.
Paul Fay

Millers River Flyfisher said...


I knew a Millers regular who only fished muddler minnows in size 10-12. He caught a lot of trout.


Surface action for REAL insects (mayflies) starts when the Swift water temperature hits 55. It's Hendrickson time then.


I'm going to work up some of those cripples and fish them regardless of the weather!!!


Anonymous said...

I think of the Hornberg as a Muddler alternative. Cast across and up and plop it next to the bank and float it down dry and it works as a hopper. Give it a tug and send it under as it starts to swing round and it becomes a little baitfish. A great two for one deal: more fishing for less casting. Not sure I would use it early season though.

Anonymous said...

I went this past Sunday and by now there are pockets with lots of fish at the Swift but the action was really slow. The most exciting part was that I almost got attacked twice by otters. I love seeing them around when I fish and for the most part they don't seem to care about me, but this weekend they were very aggressive, swimming towards me and growling to kick me out of the places that I regularly fish. I wonder if they are breeding this time of the year.

Falsecast said...

Hi Ken - Love the Hornberg, but haven't fished it for a long time. I used to, almost exclusively, swing Hornberg's (dry, weighted) or a Moby Dick on the Westfield and Housy. Always caught a lot of fish. Don't be afraid to strip it out of holes like a streamer too. Not sure I've ever dead drifted the dry? Something to try.

Been to Quinny 2 times and Squannakook once and have come up dry in pretty high water this week. Slowest start to a season for me in a long time. I am sure it's "angler error", but I'll blame it on the flows and cold temps. :)

Millers River Flyfisher said...

Anonymous - ATTACKED BY OTTERS!!!! Sounds like some babies were nearby!

Falsecast, Just like the Red Sox - it's too early to tell!


DRL said...

I've never seen a wild pond brookie that can resist sub-surface swimming hornberg. I use them all the time in still-water (Baxter, Ausable lakes)

Millers River Flyfisher said...


That sound like a Hornberg in Heaven!!!


Anonymous said...

Never thought I'ld write this, but "I was alone for 5 hours on the Swift" Thursday morning. Spent 1 hour at the "tree pools", 3 hours chasing that pod of rainbows downstream and spent the last hour back at the down tree pool. I also witnessed that cloudy discharge from the hatchery outlet pipe that lasted about 10 minutes or so. Aside from the 2 rainbows at the tree pools, I reeled in about 100' of fishing line along with a weighted bait rig set up and also a spinner-fly rig with a single hook/treble hook. That spinner/fly rig had about 20' of this braided line that has to be at least 30 lb test., maybe it was an anchor line or something. Spinner guys may think fly fishermen have an attitude, but we don't leave behind anywhere near the amount of garbage that they do. btw - I did take that line with me.

I don't recall seeing any comments but the beavers are really going to town downstream - another sign of man's wildlife mismanagement. Anyone have any confidence in the decision to put timber rattlers on some island in the Quabbin?

...and a comment about the new stocking post web site - it does pin point that day they say they stocked. I think there's been some wise speculation about what's been actually stocked in the past, especially on the Swift River. A local river to me was allegedly stocked on a day last week, according to their web site. It can only be stocked in 1 spot in this 1 town, a spot I have fished for over 30 years and know it well. I scouted it 2 days after it was posted and again 2 days later - fished blindly to some past holding spots with no sign of any fish. Stocked? B.S. !


Kozman said...

The mighty Hornberg!....only the most deadly and consistent fly in my fly box. I fish it when I'm failing at matching the hatch. Try it with a bead head...its even better! (I think I heard the purists gasp). Its not just an east coast fly either, its my "go to" fly out here in Montana as well when nothing else works. Wrap some heavy wire around the body to give it the ability to sink fast when the fish are feeding on the bottom. I've probably tied over a 1000 of these things during my lifetime. Master how to use this type of fly, and you won't regret the investment. My 2 cents.

Millers River Flyfisher said...


We fly fishers may decorate the trees with flies and indicators but we don't leave terminal tackle in the water.

I have no problem with the beavers downstream. Brookies love beavers and maybe they will built some dams to stop the kayaks from going upstream.

I have no problem with timber rattlers on a Quabbin island. Maybe we should allow "bait fishing only" on that island.


It's been a while!! Good to hear from you and your endorsement of the Hornberg.