Driftless shades of grey

Revisiting a forgotten fly
brown trout - grey fox fly
A handsome brown trout comes to hand on a grey fox (photo: C. Reeder).

Remember the Grey Fox? Thirty years ago, when I started tying, Art Flick's new Streamside Guide was all the rage. Deservedly so. I dutifully tied all the flies and was twice rewarded; the tying was fun, and the flies worked.

One of the flies was the Grey Fox, Stenonema Fuscum.

As time went on, Flick's classic guide was superseded by more comprehensive and academic guides, which were much, much longer and more complicated. Of course, the dozen or so flies that Flick suggested were hardly enough to fill a diligent tyer's days at the vice during our long, cold winters.

Meanwhile, the American Entomological Union declared Stenema Fuscum a non-species; a mere variant of Stenonoma Vicarium. The Grey Fox practically disappeared from the pattern books, relegated to almost footnote status: "Legendary dry-fly patterns such as the...Grey Fox...are masterpieces of traditional dressings, being almost flawless in their imitation of the high-floating and wing-flapping Stenonema duns. However, ..." (Knopp & Cormier, Mayflies, p. 180.)

Fast forward to last night. I put a 25 year-old Grey Fox in my fly box on a whim. It was a hot day, still in the low 80s at 6PM. I sought out a small stream in the woods, one of dozens that vein Wisconsin's Driftless. Only one fish rose and I put him down with a crane fly, followed by an ant. Another pool beckoned. I saw no rises. I did see a mayfly in the air that looked just like a Grey Fox. So I thought, “What the hell?"

I tied it on and a trout grabbed it on the first cast.

He gave me quite a tussle, retreating into a lunker-structure someone had built into the bank. At one point I thought he had me wrapped around a sunken tree-limb. At last he came to hand; a beautiful, fat, honest 15-inch Brown. It was the largest trout yet caught on my 7-foot 3-weight bamboo rod, which was an exceedingly thoughtful gift from four good friends on the occasion of my 50th birthday; it is a splendid tool for small streams, as well as a true work of art.

It was getting late, so I headed back to the car. But, I noticed a lovely pool that had yielded nothing earlier. I tried one cast, which went awry. The second cast brought up a 13 inch brown, who inhaled the fly to such an extent that I cut the line rather than attempt surgery and risk killing the fish.

The author with a freshly tied Grey Fox (photo: Cheryl Ostrow).

After I released the brown, I tied on a deer hair Adams. In fairness, it did bring up an 11-inch trout from the same pool. However, on the last pool I tried, which was the same one in which I had put down the rising fish earlier, it proved toothless.

So this morning I put Flick's Guide on the tying bench. Later today, when my other chores are done, I'll get to work on a brand new Grey Fox.


Winston I had know idea you were such a fine Fly tier. I would love hook up with in the coulée region sometime.

I know a small stream in Pennsylvania where I encountered a Gray Fox spinner fall one evening. The owner of the local Fly shop told me that was a sign of a "healthy stream". What a pleasure !