Hot Spots

Last night while I tying some flies with hot spots, I recalled a presentation we did in March of 2011 in our Monthly News Magazine.  For those who missed it I’ve reprinted it below.

Hot Spots
History ~ Theory ~ Application ….. Loren Williams

Most often folks think to the Czech nymphs of late when hot spots are discussed. In fact, the entire buzz about Czech Nymphing (CN) has most likely driven this interest in hot spots. While Czech nymphs often display hot spots, they are not the first patterns to do so. Czech nymphs have only been around since the late 1980’s-only popular as of late, but if you look back in fly tying history you will see many cherished patterns that exhibit hot spots. The Red Tag, Montana Nymph, and Egg Sucking Leech all display types of hot spots. Furthermore, at least in my opinion, some flashback patterns popularized in the middle 1980’s too exhibit hot spots. Thinking more broadly, but holding to the definition, the Prince Nymph (white wings), Zug Bug (mallard wing case), and many wet fly patterns possess hot spots. Certainly, these features are valuable contributions to the lasting success of the patterns mentioned, and others like them. Short wool yarn tails, floss tags, and jungle cock nails have been with us since fly tying’s infancy. Many of them can be defined as hot spots.

For whatever reason, the hot spot effects on many of our older patterns were not defined as such. We acclimated to the recipes, yet we did not question the theory behind the dressings. Personally, I believe the creators added the features with purposeful intent within the realm of available materials. Maybe the intent was indeed to imitate an egg sack or reproductive organ as have been the discussion on some patterns. Still, the designers owned the eyes that saw those features as important triggers. I also think that on many of the more subjective patterns, the dressers simply added features that they felt would lure fish with no imitative intent at all. Where we may stumble with the imitative ideology is by giving credit to the fish assuming they “choose” or “seek” naturals with egg sacks or ripe organs. I feel, and you may disagree, those naturals simply possess hot spots that make them more attractive to fish. How will we know? Ah, the greatness in fly fishing are the mysteries!

All that said, hot spots are not new.


Now that we have touched a bit on the background of hot spots, let’s ponder why they may or may not work. Up front, let me warn you that I will be coming, convinced, from the position that they work. I will also say that since fish don’t yet speak and there are no scientific studies that I am aware of, my words on this topic are mine alone and stem from my committed experience. Feel free to disagree!

I do think that the purposeful use of well placed hot spots is exhibiting a rightful resurgence. No doubt this is sourced with competitive European grayling and stillwater anglers and we are now realizing the fruits of their labor here in the United States. I am quite convinced that we, as American fly anglers, have adopted a far more imitative tradition than have our more experienced counterparts across the pond. I think to a degree that we have created a cult of sorts which preaches that success depends on accurately imitating the food item a fish is currently ingesting; even to the point that some believe a trout will only eat a certain nymph species at a given time. That statement may be a bit pointed, but I do not think it is too far from inaccurate. When you ponder the entire idea, while certainly noble, it is quiet illogical. For example, how many of us have evolved from days of very successfully taking trout with kernels of corn, or gaudy spinners? How many corn kernels or gold spinners reside naturally in the streams and lakes we visited? See my point? Trout can be fooled within reason and there is often little need for species-specific patterns. Fish will get conditioned, not selective. If you can effectively fish patterns that fall into the hues and profile of what they are conditioned to see you will find success.

In my opinion, hot spots work by providing an extra stimulus to a fly pattern which sets it apart from the multitude of natural food items (or artificial flies) a fish sees regularly, thereby making it more noticeable, attractive, curious, or any combination of the three.

I do believe it is that simple. They get your fly noticed! Couple the growing trend of catch and release fishing with an improving skill base of anglers who catch and release more trout that ever before, and it is no surprise that the same-ole, same-ole may lose it’s potency. Fish are not smart, but they do get conditioned. Very often, in order to peak their curiosity, or trigger a reaction, you need to show them something different. Enter the wise use of hot spots. These days we have an endless supply of new age materials that lend themselves readily for use as hot spots. Adding these features to your flies, or creating new flies incorporating these features, can be an extremely effective method of catching intensely pressured fish, fish from extremely food-rich environments, or fish located in vast or swift locations. It can be absolutely deadly to show pressured fish a pattern within the realm of proper size and shade which incorporates an attention-getting hot spot.

However, there appears to be some boundaries as I hinted at in my definition. Over the past 3 years of committed experience, I have found some things to be true of hot spots in order to maximize their effectiveness.

First, the need to be concise with well defined boundaries. Boundaries can take two forms, either mechanical boundaries (left in photo) or prismatic boundaries (right in photo), and very often can include both. Those that include both I feel are the strongest hot posts. An example of a mechanical hot spot may be a bead or pearl mylar wing case. Both are well defined with “hard” edges. A prismatic hot spot may take the form of a shaggy red dubbed collar on a hare’s ear nymph. The color contrast is the hot spot, but the edges can be blurry. Combine the two; perhaps a fluorescent pink bead, a thread collar, or head of fluorescent red thread and you can imagine how the prismatic (color) and mechanical (hard edges) boundaries can been blended to create some very strong hot spots. There are times and places for all, it is the pleasure of angling to decipher these for yourself!

Next, the hot spot needs to be in stark contrast to the rest of the fly. My rough test is to squint at the finished fly; if the spot stands apart while the rest of the fly blends together then you have the makings of an effective hot spot. Light on dark, hot on drab, flash-they can all be hot spots.

Can an entire fly be a hot spot? I do think so. Flies such as greenie weenies, glo bugs, and pink czech nymphs work so well probably because of the hot spot effect rather than being imitative. Very simply, they get taken by reaction or curiosity.


So, how do we go about incorporating hot spots into our patterns, should we desire to do so? In a nutshell, there are countless options. Material options include threads, dubbings, beads, or flash. Locations can be tags, collars, heads, hearts, or wing cases. Keep in mind that for the most part I use hot spotting on subsurface flies where these additions are far more visible. But do not neglect adding the features to parts of dry flies that may penetrate the surface film and come clearly into view of a fish. Fly tying encourages creativity so go wild! When I set about adding hot spots to existing patterns, or designing new patterns that incorporate hot spots, I try to do so without complicating the dressing of the fly any more than necessary. This means, for me, that hot spots get added where logical transitions occur so that my tying remains smooth and simple. Currently, most of my hot spotting is done with thread and at the tag or collar of the fly. It is amazing how a few wraps of bright thread behind a bead, or as a head, can greatly improve the performance of a fly. I think Fran Betters knows this all to well!

Over the years I have discovered hot spots to be most advantageous in fast water conditions, which is the foundation of my theory as to why they work. Fast riffles, or heavy runs and pocket water, where the trout’s world is rushing by at 4 feet per second demands a degree of opportunistic reaction from a fish if it is to eat. That which is not food gets taken and rejected, food gets ingested. Simple. Heck, even non food item frequently get ingested! I feel very confident that adding a bit of color or splash of flash to my nymphs will get them noticed by Mr. Fish who in turn is more likely to take them. I am confident in my techniques so that when he does take my fly I will recognize that take and react accordingly. After all, this is the crux of angling is it not? Lure the fish into taking your bait, recognizing the take, and reacting to it.
But, I do not limit my use of hot spots to just fast water. Any situation I fish has the opportunity to be made better with the incorporation of a hot spot. I do find that as the water slows, very strong hot spots can, at times, put fish off. I also approach the species of fish as well as if they are stocked or wild as factors in my choice of flies. Brown trout tend to be very sensitive to the type and amount of flash for example. Tannin water is also a condition to factor as coppers and oranges tend to become very attractive features. I suspect it has something to do with the colloidal materials or chemicals that give the water it’s stain.

Big water conditions like stillwaters or large food rich tail waters scream for the use of hot spots in order to gain the attention of the fish. Often a hot spot fly will attract attention, perhaps the fish turns off only to take one of the other flies in your cast. This is very effective technique and a wise use of both hot spot flies and droppers. One can also argue that a single gaudy fly can operate as a hot spot on your cast of droppers just as a hot spot feature does to a fly: by attracting a fishes’ attention. The UK stillwater anglers do this with great regularity when fishing in lakes but using a fly to lure fish to their cast by sight or vibration. I have begun applying this approach to stream fishing with early rewarding experiences.

Only by experimenting will you begin to get a baseline of confidence in using hot spots. Keep them small and make them profound but play around with locations, colors, and materials. Add them to the patterns you already trust and have side-by-side comparisons. Let the fish tell you. I think you, like me, will find that these old school ideas are getting new attention for just reasons. Our new materials and growing popularity of catch and release fishing are probably at the root of why new age hot spots are the real deal.