The Stimulator is one of my go-to attractor dry flies, particularly when stone flies or salmon flies are out and about.
It’s also just inherently “buggy” looking, which lends it well to use as a prospecting pattern when there isn’t a noticeable hatch on. I’ve definitely caught fish on stimulators when there were no stoneflies or salmonflies to be seen. Whatever they think it is, fish like it.
It’s also a fly that has some cool history and trivia – the kind of things that you can use to impress your fishing buddies after a day on the water.
Description Of The Stimulator Fly Pattern
Most Stimulators are yellow or orange. The body and had hackle are dry-fly saddle. The tail is deer or elk hair tips.
There’s no need to spend a lot of time of the description of this fly.
It’s big, bright, and buggy. That’s all you need to know.
What Does The Stimulator Imitate?
The fly was, apparently, designed to imitate an adult stonefly, but it also makes a serviceable caddis and even a grasshopper, in a pinch.
Whatever it’s intent, this has become one of the go-to prospecting patterns due to its ability to look like a lot of different, tantalizing, insects.
In Essential Trout Flies, Dave Hughes notes…
As a searching dressing, it is hard to beat the Yellow Stimulator. It looks like so many things trout eat that they’re almost always glad to get one.
History Part 1: Punk Rock Fly
The stimulator was long thought to be an invention of prominent West Coast angler and fly shop owner Randall Kaufmann. And, while to his credit, Kaufmann is responsible for the modifications that brought us the modern Stimulator, he didn’t actually create it.
The fly’s true creator is thought to be Paul Slattery, who invented a pattern called the Fluttering Stonefly in the early 1980’s, which he named after the New York punk band “The Stimulators”.
I can’t think of any other instances of punk rock and fly-fishing crossing paths.
History Part 2: The Sofa Pillow or the Mattress Thrasher
A lot of people argue that the original Orange Stimulator was a variation of the Sofa Pillow fly pattern, created by Pat Barnes in the 1940’s.
Others argue that the Stimulator was derived from the Yellow-Bellied Mattress Thrasher, which has similar rubber legs and was created by Steve Williams in the 1970’s.
While these are both great rumors, Slattery has gone on record stating that the inspiration was from live stonefly hatches observed over a couple evenings in central New Jersey.
So, while the Stimulator doesn’t owe anything to those patterns, I do think I need to get my hands on a Yellow-Bellied Mattress Thrasher. I have no idea if it would catch fish, but that’s a great name.
How to Fish The Stimulator – 4 Effective Techniques
The Stimulator’s buoyant nature and ability to imitate a lot of different insects give you a lot of flexibility in how you fish it. There’s really no limit on the things you can do with this fly, but here’
1. Fish it as a stonefly imitation
This is the original design idea and it still works. Simply match the size and colors to stoneflies that you can see, and you’re pretty well set to go.
An added tip…
Bend the hook slightly downward mid-shank to create the “egg-laying” hump that we see in stoneflies as they lay their eggs over water.
2. Fish it as a Caddis imitation
A small stimulator in slack water can make a great caddis imitation.
To really sell it, twitch the fly by pulling it forward a few inches.
You’ll see the typical caddis bow wave form as it moves over the water. Let it sit a while and twitch it again.
3. Stimulator with a dropper
The stimulator is an outstanding fly to use as the floating fly in a hopper-dropper set up.
I’ve even heard the Stimulator called the “King of the Indicator Flies”
This set-up works especially well if you’re attempting to run a nymph in rough or fast water, where other dries are getting soaked or swamped. It’s also highly visible – a huge bonus when you’re looking for slow or subtle takes on the nymph below it.
4. Stimulator with an attached Emerger
Attach your emerger, such as a CDC or Sandys Assassin, in the same fashion you’d assemble a hopper-dropper combo.
If trout are interested in emerging caddis flies, they’ll often investigate a large adult caddis on the water (simulated by your Stimulator) before rejecting it. They tend to then key on the emerger as more natural looking, and you’ll get strikes on that fly.
Think of it like using the Stimulator to sell your emerger to wary trout.
A Great Fly For All Occasions
Whatever the Stimulator is imitating (a stonefly or something else altogether), it floats well through rough water and catches fish well in a wide variety of situations.
It’s probably among the most popular trout flies ever invented and you’d be hard pressed to find a fly shop anywhere in North America that doesn’t stock at least a few variations of the Stimulator.