1. Late morning on a wild trout stream flowing through old farmland. The sky sun-bright and cloudless; the air getting warm. The water summer low and tight with vegetation, not exactly promising for the fisherman… And the brown trout? Spooky as hell.
The fish wouldn’t rise to my assortment of tiny dries, nor to my presentation of nymphs. When I decided to try one final pool, I thought of my late friend’s special fly created for the Sulphur hatches of the Genesee and similar rivers. Mark Libertone’s masterful creation, the Lil’ Dorothy, was one of several soft-hackle patterns originating in his vise and proving popular among his many friends in the upstate and international trout fraternity.
I had tried the small yellow fly on several previous occasions but hadn’t yet achieved success. I wasn’t seeing any Sulphur mayflies on the water, but since I often follow my nose when rambling past the confines of society, I attached a self-tied specimen of the Lil’ Dorothy to my leader.
It should come as no surprise, now, to hear that I finally found success there in the last pool of the morning. I guess if I hadn’t caught a well-earned brown trout in that pool, I wouldn’t have much to contemplate or to mention here… The Lil’ Dorothy pulled through.
2. Mid-morning on a favorite trout stream in the Pennsylvania highlands. I began my casting on a feeder stream pouring from a culvert underneath a gravel road. I placed the dry caddis with a long cast to a shimmering pool. A seven-inch brook trout quickly came to hand.
Then, fishing from the shaded, larger stream, I tied a dropper to the floating caddis– yep, a Lil’ Dorothy, the yellowish emerger pattern, the soft-hackle with an orangish abdomen and a Hare’s Ear thorax perfected by my late friend from the Genesee. Tandem flies, a dry fly and a nymph/emerger, make an excellent combination for an angler eager to explore the feeding preferences of trout.
After my initial brook trout taken at the feeder stream, each native that came to hand and got released (at least five or six) favored the submerged soft-hackle (Lil’ Dorothy) over the floating Elk-hair Caddis. My faith in Libertone’s creation was reaffirmed, at least for now.
The bergamot, or bee-balm, flowering at streamside, caught my attention– a poetic distraction, like many that will come to us while hiking or fishing…
Ragged, handsome heads–/ tubular and red/ with mint-square stems/ growing near upland streams.// Bees won’t touch them/ but hummers will–/ this balm for human/ aches and pains.// Bartram, the naturalist,/ found it coloring/ Ontario’s shore,/ this “Indian plume,”/ Oswego Tea, a mountain/ mint with names/ like blossoms/ on our history.// Only now do I find it,/ wondering what degree/ of chance/ brought us here–// What stroke of luck/ or natural motion/ drives our roots/ instinctively down–// What share of bee-balm life/ is human life,/ is always/ ours to tell.
3. Mark Libertone succumbed to a long-fought illness back in 2013, but the memory of his work and spirit here in Genesee country remains solidly alive. Mark was an artist, a family man, living in Wellsville, N.Y. on the Genesee River, and he was popular on the fly-tying forums where he shared his flies and knowledge with many students of the fly-fishing world.
The renowned European tyer, Hans Weilenmann, published photos of Mark’s creations and listed a recipe for Mark’s Lil’ Dorothy, the soft-hackle fly created to imitate Ephemerella dorothea, the sulphury and diminutive mayfly:
Hook: Mustad 3906 or 3399A; Thread: Cream or white. Abdomen: Pale orange embroidery thread, #722. Thorax: Cahill-colored Hare’s Ear dubbing. Hackle: Cream or pale ginger. [see photo below, by H. Weilenmann]
On the origin of the pattern, Mark once wrote: “This fly originated years ago when I found a good hatch of E. dorothea coming off the water in my home river, the Genesee. It was late May… I had nothing that came close to the color combination, and the trout were feeding on them regularly….”
The hatching flies had a distinctive orange cast to their abdomens.
Mark experimented with various colors and material but nothing seemed to match his vision for the fly until, browsing through Wal-Mart’s sewing and crafts department, he was struck by one shade of embroidery floss. He bought a pack of the “very pale creamy orange” embroidery. The soft-hackle pattern he developed used a single strand of orange floss for the abdomen, with a bit of Hare’s Ear dubbing for a thorax tightened by a wisp of pale ginger hackle… So, Lil’ Dorothy was born.
She did the trick for me in the riffles of two trout streams, one fine weekend close to home.