When you’re nymphing, a lot of success depends not on matching the correct color or size to aquatic insects, but on putting your nymph in the right spot.
Trout like to sit near the bottom of flowing water and often won’t move very far in search of a meal.
It’s a case of energy expenditure versus gain. Big predatory fish will move quite a distance, as they’re chasing down a high calorie meal. Insectivorous trout in flowing water, however? Fighting a current to grab a single, small nymph isn’t a very good trade off and the fish know it.
It’s that behavior that makes the Copper John so successful. There’s no messing around with extraneous details here.
Everything about it is designed to get down deep. Fast.
What does the Copper John Imitate?
The Copper John makes a passable imitation of a lot of different insects. Its best use is as a prospecting pattern – it looks enough like several common nymphs that trout are usually willing to give it a try.
Remember, especially in fast water, your fly doesn’t have to be a perfect imitation.
Trout have only an instant to decide whether or not to grab it before it goes by. As long as you’re throwing a reasonable facsimile of a genuine meal, you’ve got a good chance.
What Makes it So Good?
While lots of nymphs have been adapted to sink faster, with either a bead head or metal wrap on the body, the Copper John comes standard with both, and then some.
It usually comes with a tungsten bead head, lead wire wrapped under the thorax and additional copper wire wrapped to create the abdomen. So, you’ve got three weighted materials on one fly.
Even the slim profile and finish of the fly is designed with sink rate in mind – there’s no bulky hair or hackle sticking out that could catch an upwelling current and lift the fly back up.
History of The Copper John
This single-minded fly comes from the vice of modern tying great John Barr. According to Barr himself, he created the basic pattern in the early 1990’s and spent about three years refining it – mostly, as I understand it, with a focus on hook shapes. The fly that we know as the Copper John today emerged fully formed in 1996.
As an aside, if you’re curious about tying the Copper John (or a myriad of other creations), John Barr has a book entitled Barr Flies. It’s great.
How to Fish a Copper John Fly
I use the Copper John most often when I’m fishing a series of nymphs (two or three in tandem) under a strike indicator.
Use it as your trailing nymph, behind the others. This ensures that you’ve got one on the bottom and, as a bonus, it can pull the others down a little in the water column as well.
It’s just using it for what it’s best at. Getting a nymph on the bottom.
The other method worth talking about comes from John Barr himself. The Hopper/Copper/Dropper system traditionally consists of a BC Hopper (another Barr creation); Suspended about 4 feet below this is a Copper John; Another foot below that is another nymph.
Any big foam terrestrial works in a hopper/copper/dropper set up, however, the addition of the Copper John means that some typical hopper/dropper dries will get pulled under.
The addition of the Copper John in this set up replaces the split shot that’s so commonly used to pull lighter nymphs down to the bottom. And, to me, that makes a lot of sense. It gives you a two-for-one deal on your weight. It allows you to cover more of the water column as well.
Replacing your split shot with a Copper John gives you the weight you need and gives you an extra attractor pattern.
Variations Of The Copper John Fly Pattern
Initially, Barr was a little hesitant to offer the Copper John in anything other than its original copper color. Luckily for us, he relented after requests for red and green and you can now find the fly in a myriad of different colors.
I’ve had good success with green patterns and I have no doubt that, under the right circumstances, even the most exotic of colors could produce.
Not only is the Copper John an essential pattern to have in your box, it’s also a good reminder of why and how fish are caught. Sometimes we get so caught up in matching the hatch and choosing the perfect pattern that we forget that we need to put that pattern in the right place, too.
Even if you don’t take it out too often (though you probably should), it serves as a good visual reminder that any buggy looking fly can catch fish, if you can just put it where the fish are.