Category Archives: Pat Barnes

Martinez Black Nymph

Tied by Paul J. Beel

Tied by Paul J. Beel

The Martinez Black Nymph was designed by Don Martinez back in the 1940s. It was without a doubt the dominate nymph of the era. Mr. Martinez ran a fly shop in the West Yellowstone area. Pat Barnes worked for Don Martinez after he graduated from college and according to Pat, Don upgraded his skills considerably. Pat had this to say about the Martinez Black Nymph.

“Fishing and fly tying became my hobbies throughout my school days, including college. Like others of that time and place, I primarily tied and fished with standard wet fly patterns: Grey Hackles, Black Gnats, Royal Coachmen, or various streamers.
But after watching a fisherman catch twelve fish in quick succession on a Martinez Nymph, I became a nymph tier. The Martinez Nymph, named after an accomplished fly tier, friend, and West Yellowstone tackle dealer of the late 1930s, is still one of my favorite nymphs.”

The Martinez Black Nymph inspired Pat to design his own effective nymph pattern. You can find out more about that in a previous post here on FrankenFly.

Hook: Mustad 3906B size 12 (between 8-14 will work)
Thread: Veevus black 16/0
Tail: Spirit River Guinea – natural
Rib: copper wire
Thorax: black chenille
Wingcase: Spirit River Swiss Straw – insect green
Body: black dubbing – original was black seal fur
Hackle: Nature’s Spirit Partridge – natural

Comments Off on Martinez Black Nymph

Filed under nymphs, Pat Barnes, Trout flies

P.W. Nymph – Pat Barnes

Tied by Paul J. Beel

Tied by Paul J. Beel

This nymph was created by Pat Barnes back in the 1950s. The P.W. stands for Pat’s Weighted nymph. You don’t see this one much anymore. There is a good story of the nymph’s origin in Pat’s book, Ribbons of Blue, but there is no photo or recipe. I did find the recipe and photo of the pattern in Bruce Staples’ book Trout Country Flies. So I tied one up.

Back then, the Martinez Nymph by Don Martinez was the dominate nymph of the West Yellowstone area. So Pat was on the lookout for an alternative to sell in his shop. Here is the rest of the story given from Ribbons of Blue.

“Buck Voorhees kept bugging me for a weighted nymph. Buck was a retired college professor, one of our steadies. I was looking for something that would satisfy him, something that I could tie fast with the materials at hand. This was one of the several he liked. It became a hot seller when a camera man from St. Louis caught a five-pound brown on the P.W. Nymph on the Firehole.”


Hook: Mustad 3906 – size 12 – could be tied between 6-12
Weight: lead wire on shank
Thread: Veevus 16/0 black
Tail: Spirit River UV2 Mallard Flank strands
Body: Yellow floss ribbed with peacock herl
Thorax: Peacock herl
Wingcase: Spirit River UV2 Mallard Flank feather
Hackle: tips from mallard flank feather

Comments Off on P.W. Nymph – Pat Barnes

Filed under Pat Barnes, Trout flies

Sofa Pillow – Pat Barnes


Sofa Pillow

The Sofa Pillow is a classic dry fly pattern originated by Pat Barnes back in the 1940s. In the words of Pat, here’s how it started.

“When a party of Amarillo bass flyfishermen came up West to fish on the Snake, they couldn’t see the small flies. They came into the shop and asked for a pattern they could see, a BIG salmonfly imitation. So when I tied this up, one of the Texans said, “My God, it’s as big as a sofa pillow!” I said, “You’ve just named it.”

Sofa Pillow recipe:

Hook: Mustad 9672, or equivalent, size 4-10
Thread: Black 6/0
Tail: Dyed red goose quill section
Body: Red floss
Wing: Red or gray squirrel tail
Hackle: brown saddle hackle


Variations of the Sofa Pillow followed. You might have seen or heard about the Improved Sofa Pillow. Pat and Sig had called this a Super Sofa Pillow and it enhanced the floatability of the original. Here is an excerpt from Pat’s book, Ribbons of Blue:

“The popularity of the fly increased each year. It was fished during the grasshopper season, and successfully. Soon it was being tied commercially by all tiers in the West Yellowstone area.

It is now tied as large as size 2. The original fly had a red tag, red wool body, red fox squirrel wing and brown saddle hackle. Many variations are now used, in body color, body material, wing material and color of hackle. The changes Sig and I have added to the fly in recent years are the addition of a Palmer brown hackle on the body and elk hair under the squirrel hair.

It is doubtful if any dry fly in recent times has been used as successfully for catching big fish in rough water.”

Comments Off on Sofa Pillow – Pat Barnes

Filed under Pat Barnes

A Special Vise

Red Goofus BugBack when the Pat Barnes Fly Shop in West Yellowstone, Montana was going strong in the mid-40s through the early-70s, his wife, Sigrid tied a lot of flies for the shop while Pat was out guiding. The fly-tying machine she used was very special. A man from California sold them the vise after watching Sig tie in the shop one day. He claimed with the machine his son built, she could tie two flies faster than she could tie one.

The vise was built on a sewing machine base. It was the old treadle kind. You know, the kind you operated with your feet. This was a rotary vise and the treadle was used to rotate the fly while the tyer would guide the materials. The treadle was split so it could be rotated in both directions. This was really something to see back in those days.

In the photo above you can see the jaws of the vise holding a red Goofus Bug. As you can see, the jaws were quite different as well. To the best of my knowledge the vise is now in a museum in West Yellowstone.

Speaking of Goofus Bug. Sometimes you will hear the term Humpy. This is the same thing.  In the book, Ribbons of Blue – The Life and Lore of the “Old Pro” Pat Barnes, one of Pat’s former guides, Paul Roos says in his memories he can still see Sig. “She’s sitting at her tying bench in the tackle shop and she’s tying another Sig Barnes Ginger Goofus—the kind that I have caught 35 trout on without having the fly fall apart. As I walk in, she looks up and says, “Good morning, Paul!”


Filed under Pat Barnes

Pat Barnes – autobiography

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve researched and learned a lot about Pat Barnes, who owned a fly shop in West Yellowstone, Montana, back in the mid-40s through the early-70s. The summary below was written by Pat Barnes himself back before he released his book, Ribbons of Blue. As far as I know and according to his son Charles, I don’t think this was ever published anywhere. It is a good summary of his life which of course includes fly tying.

Pat Barnes tyingI was born in Lewistown Montana in 1909, the son of a locomotive engineer on the Jaw Bone R.R, a branch of the Milwaukee Road.  Dad was born in Indiana, went to Purdue University and came west when they needed men to push through trains when the west was still pretty rugged.  My mother was a native of Montana, one of six children of the G. W. Marshall family who homesteaded on land which is now under Hebgen Lake, Gallatin County, fifteen miles north of West Yellowstone.

Before I was a year old my father move the family to Three Forks, Montana, on the main R.R. line and there I grew up.  My family fished as often as they could and as far back in my memory as I can recall.  In fact there was always a standing argument in the family as to who was the best fisherman, Mom or Dad.  Mom stuck to grasshoppers and worms and called Dad’s fly rod a “dude outfit”.  When I was so young that I thought I would fall through the space between the ties of the N.P. bridge over the Madison River I can remember helping my mother “kick out” a huge Madison River rainbow – possibly in the 10-lb class – which broke her solid cane pole several times before we finally splashed it up on the bank.

My earliest memories of fishing without my parents involved my free day, Saturday.  I split kindling, took the ashes from the fireplace and waited for the gang to get together to hike out to the slaughter house on the Jefferson River.  There was always bait there – maggots.  Our catch would include chubs, perch, carp, suckers, whitefish and an occasional trout.  I can remember the fuss made over the first little chub that I caught, my first trout, and the first time I filled the skillet ahead of my dad on one of our fish fries.

Growing up in Montana, at the headwaters of the Missouri River, was for me like stepping out into my grandfather’s time, pioneering, and entering the rapid western development following pre-World War I days.  Railroads west were new.  Our home went from well to city water, kerosene light to electric, one cow dairy to pasteurized milk, few game laws to more game laws.  Can you imaging catching 20 pounds of trout, a limit of 40, and easy to achieve?

Our whole family fished – my mother with a 16-ft cane pole, my father with a 3-piece split cane fly rod.  My mother didn’t need a reel.  My father did.  With a cane pole I could run to the Madison river after school, two miles from our home – and walk back with enough fish to last our family of four for two or three weeks.  Sometimes the extras went to the neighbors or the hospital.

During my high school years fishing and fly tying were two of my major interests. A group of boys that were all sons of railroaders rode on passes to Butte each Saturday to take music lessons – drums, trumpet, sax.  I went along and spent the day watching the girls in Beaty’s Bug House tie fly patterns.  Beatty and Jack Boehme were the only two professional fly tiers in Montana at that time, as far as I know.  Both of these men had some special skills that they gave me directly or that I gained through observation.

During my college days, and during the depression, two flies was the equivalent of Saturday’s hamburger special, three pounds for a quarter.  I had one faculty member and one garage owner as customers.  They helped keep the wolf from the door.

When I went to West Yellowstone to teach, my fly tying kit was honed pretty fine.  Enough material for myself, enough to tie a few specials for friends or customers.  It consisted of a wood box with four drawers of varying depth and large enough to hold my hooks, my largest wings, my Thompson vise.  The lid hinged down to form a tray to hold the vise.  It could be gotten out and put away in seconds.

It was in West Yellowstone that I met Don Martinez.  After being a steady customer of his while I worked summers for the Forest Service, he asked me if I would work for him as a guide.  Up to this point in my fishing experience, all my fishing was done with wet flies of various streamer patterns.  My job with the Forest Service was an outdoor job contacting users of the forest.  Often the users were fishermen and we had a common interest.  Ranger Lyle McNight recommended that I carry my tackle with me on campsite patrol trips and fish evenings with my contacts.  By doing this I got to know very well where fish were being caught and on what.  Don of course recognized this.

While working for Don I slowly changed from a wet fly fisherman to skilled using dry flies.  Don was well educated – a Princeton man.  Most of his customers were dry fly fishermen.  All they wanted me to do was take them where they could catch fish.  Through contacts with Don’s customers and as a guide for him I met many of the greats in the fishing world.  Lee Wulff was in West Yellowstone at this time and some of the other early writers.  The Long Beach’s casting champion of the year, Dick Miller, came to town, and from him I learned the Double Hall, increasing my wet fly casting distance to take the State Skish Championship two years in a row.

The third year that the tournament was held I was in the army.  Stationed in England, I sent for my fly line and reel, borrowed and English rod, and when the travel ban was lifted following the invasion, I was able to fish many of the famous trout streams and lakes in the British Isles, Scotland, and North Ireland.

I had the experience of working summers for Don and two years before the war.  In the meantime I changed teaching jobs and moved to Wilsall, Montana, where I met my wife, also in her first year of teaching at Wilsall.

Dan Bailey was just getting established in Livingston at that time.  He needed fly tiers.  After trying out a few different patterns I finally did tie one pattern that he would accept as salable to his customers.  I am sure it was Dan who first brought to Montana standard, quality flies.  He brought to my fly tying professionalism, that is, standardization of patterns.  Sleeping less than eight hours and fishing the rest, I decided that to make a living at the business I had better have my own shop.

The opportunity came when, following the war, Don Martinez moved to Jackson Hole (Wyoming) and I went back to West Yellowstone to establish a summer business of my own.  I went back to school to brush up on teaching techniques, earned my Masters degree, and maintained the summer business.

Following the war, supplies and materials were hard to get.  My non-professional fly kit was for a time our chief source of fly tying material.  By the time it was used up I had established enough sources of material to get by.

Fishing after the war in the West Yellowstone area was super.  Gas rationing had kept people off the streams.  Business grew.  When we sold everything we had to sell, I guided.  Our children came.  My wife became the shop keeper and fly tyer while I guided…..

For 36 happy summers I took customers to my favorite streams while my wife, Sigrid, tied flies for them.  During those years we developed and popularized several new fly patterns.

My fishing now is primarily on the Missouri River.  Retirement has given me time to pursue numerous hobbies:  adding to my fly collection, tying new fly patterns, making fishing nets, helping with our Missouri River Chapter of Trout Unlimited and completing my hopper collection.  I have seen Montana rivers at their best, and I hope that in some small way I have helped to preserve a fishing heritage for your grandchildren and mine.


Filed under Pat Barnes

Pat Barnes fly tying tips

Pat Barnes was a fly fishing legend that owned a fly shop in West Yellowstone, Montana. Being a history buff, I’ve studied quite a bit of the life of Mr. Barnes and have luckily been able to talk to his son, Charles, via e-mail. One of the items Charles sent me was a paper bag that Pat had written fly tying tips on. I’ve posted one image of it here. I’ve read through it and deciphered as much as I can. There were a few words that I couldn’t quite read, but I was able to type out most of it. I thought it would be interesting to post it here. So below you can read some tying tidbits from one of the best.

Tips on Fly Tying

1. Flies are best if they are as durable as possible.

Durability depends on strength of each of the materials used.

Strive always to get on your flies:

1. The stiffest tail material.

2. the most durable body, stiffest hackle, most durable —- material. To insure that all materials stay put use the largest (strongest) winding silk possible for the size of the fly, for the material that you are tying on. Example: To tie the deer hair on the head of a #4-6-8 even 10-12 Muddler use size 17? thead or stronger. For a #18 Adams, the dubbed body as as all else would call for a good quality #.0950 thread or possibly smaller if you are tying the fly on an extremely fine wire hook.

You soon learn the relative strength of material as you work with them.

For example: 1 strand of most peacock herl withstand little pressure. By putting on two or 3 strands winding them together carefully then one —- them with the appropriate color winding silk make a much more durable body (tied faster) for a dry grey hackle than a single strand would by itself with no overwind.

2. The most often asked question of a person watching a fly tier tie the flies is “How fast can you make one?” It is quite obvious from the question that to most people speed is equated with skill, regardless of quality. Because speed is important to the commercial tier, assuming there is no loss of quality. It is important that a tier do those having in his operation that will increase his speed. Take two fly tiers working on a dozen flies with 4 operations, tail, body, wing, hackle. One tier finishes first. Why? Better organization of actions needed. The actions involving the 4 operations are picking up, laying down materials, scissors. —- hands are needed to pick up and clip —- material. If you think thru this operation you might suggest better. 4 to tie it on, some one else might use 6. The difference would be whether the tail material could be cut off touching only the fibers needed rather than picking up the pieces of materials from which the tail material were cut.

Lets go back one step. How many operations are needed to cut off a piece of winding silk. Do you pick up the spool, unspool the needed length, reach for the scissors, cut it off, lay down the scissors then start it on the hook? Lets see thats 6 operations to get the silk on the hook. It can be done in 4 assuming that the spool is tied down, that the thread if fed through a slit when it can be grasped easily (operation 1) cut with scissors (Pick up and cut – 2 and 3), —- thru the hook 4.

why not the same procedure for body – no unnessory operations.

The number of operations needed for —- —- vary tremendously due to type and kind of —- put on but if you follow the principle of tying duration in some way each materials that you use be it tail, body, wing, hackle, winding silk, bottle or dropper you are going to cut down on your fly tying time on each fly.

3. Keep materials in close to save reaching time. Materials can be on three levels, in front of you, two sides, below your vise, on your lap, each knee. I suggest wearing an apron and make use of chest and lower pocket.

4. Tips on use of scissors

1. Do major cutting and clipping of fur and hair first

2. Keep them in your hand if possible all the time or the closest thing at hand

3. Have more than one pair of scissors, one for —- stuff, one for —- —–

4. Keep them sharp. A small triangle —- is one of the necessary tools on my table.

5. Do all cutting and trimming before lacquering head. a good pair of scissors for bucktail, squirrel tail is hardly adoptable for the close trimming of a #16 or 18.

Comments Off on Pat Barnes fly tying tips

Filed under Pat Barnes