Fly Patterns - Pettis Pulsating Pupa

                 Pettis Pulsating Pupa



I first met Jim Pettis at the CalExpo ISE show many years ago, where he was a featured tyer in the Fly Tying Theater (then run by Danny Byford). As I tend to be, Jim was quiet and soft-spoken; we became good friends over time. Jim guides on the Lower Sacramento River at Redding and, as I can personally attest, knows the river as well as anyone can. He has launch rights at a rather unique, privately owned spot some distance above the Posse Grounds where most everyone else puts in when fishing the upper runs. I’ve never seen anyone more skilled at mending line to a floating indicator placed far away from the boat (in some cases more than 60’ out)—without moving the indicator. At the invitation the Golden Gate Casting Club in San Francisco, he’s taught his methods to the club’s members. One of Jim’s talents—and the one that first drew my attention—was his ability to innovate fly designs that survive the test of time despite an ever-skeptical cadre of fly fishers, guides, and others. Principal among his successes is the Caddis series, one of which is the Pulsating Caddis, which Jim first tied in 1993. The fly is featured in Joe Warren’s book “Tying Glass Bead Flies.”


The Pulsating Caddis can, in various sizes and color combinations, represent many different Caddis flies. It is an excellent imitation for Hydropsyche, which abound on the Lower Sacramento River. Here are a few statistics on this bug:

Genus: Hydropsyche

Common names: spotted caddis; net-builder; net-spinning caddis; gray caddis

Size: 10-15mm

Color: tan, brown, yellow-tan with greenish or tan shroud


Here is an excellent summary of the habits and characteristics of Hydropsyche, taken from: (an excellent website for fly fishing information)


“This case-less caddis acts like a spider: larvae build little nets in the crevices of rocks and capture drifting plankton for their meals. Their preferred habitat is riffles and runs. They often drift in the current; so, where there are large populations, trout will feed on them year-round.


A larva pattern dead-drifted near the bottom can be very effective in spring and fall, and even in winter. Many species are pale green and look a lot like the green rock worm or green caddis; they are often found in the same kind of water and can be imitated with the same patterns and tactics. In other waters, spotted caddis larvae are more tan or brown. Pupation occurs in the same water that the larvae lived in.


During a hatch, dead-drift a pupa pattern near the bottom in riffle water or just below riffles. An unweighted pupa pattern can also be drifted near the surface, or you can present a soft hackle fly with a wet-fly swing. Another good strategy is a dry fly with a pupa pattern as a dropper or trailer; the dry fly acts as an indicator and sometimes is taken by the trout. After the hatch, errant and unlucky adults fall onto the water, and a dry fly is the right choice. Bank-water downwind or downstream from overhanging trees is a good place to cast your dry. Females swim or crawl underwater to lay eggs. You can fish a dry at this time, or go subsurface with a Soft Hackle or diving caddis pattern.”


Let’s get busy and tie one of Jim’s gems.


Tying Instructions

1.       Smash the hook barb and place some beads on the shank; the number will vary with the hook style and size. For example, if you are using a size 16 Tiemco 2457 hook, I suggest using three beads. Tip: start with a size 12 use 4 or 5 beads to get the feel of the proper number and then work down in sizes, experimenting as you go.






2.       Once you’ve got the hook in the vise, start the thread near the hook eye and wrap the front 1/8 of the hook with thread (this will later become the area for the thorax) in front of the beads. Wrap rearward to the hook bend, securing the beads each in succession with several wraps. Leave the thread at the middle of the bend.






3.       Place some of the lighter brown dubbing on the thread (here again you should experiment with the amount that you use, starting with smaller amounts, graduating to somewhat heavier amounts).

4.       Place one wrap of dubbing behind the last bead, and move forward; place two wraps between each of the beads until you reach the thorax area. Place a half hitch there in preparation for the next step.





5.       Using a piece of Velcro or a gun barrel brush (which is what I use), rub the dubbing with a circular motion; this has the effect of picking out the dubbing and standing it up.

6.       Using your fingers, brush the dubbing rearward so that it resembles a sheath or shroud (remember Gary LaFontaine’s patterns?).



7.       Cut the very tip of the heart from a well-marked wood duck flank feather (set this aside for some other use). Clip out a 1/8” section of the stem; you now have a “v” shaped piece that you should place, shiny side up, on top of the hook directly in front of the leading bead. Tie it down there to form legs on each side of the hook.




8.       Dub the thorax with the dark brown dubbing. Whip finish.




Tying & Fishing Tips

1.       As mentioned above, experiment with your materials on this pattern, and on all of your patterns. This will enhance your creativity by forcing you to think about each step of the pattern instructions. Eventually, if you incorporate this into your repertoire, you will develop your own design skills.

2.       Notice the picture above: the thorax area is the same diameter as the body, so your tying techniques should take this characteristic into account.

3.       Once you have done the legs, wrap the thorax dubbing over the leg tie-in area and slightly over the legs; this will force the legs into their proper swept-back position.

4.       Because these critters engage in behavioral drift (which accounts for their success on the Lower Sac), you should plan accordingly with your rig—whether you prefer floating indicators, short-lining, or a swinging approach.

Crank a few of Jim’s jewels...




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