A Special Valentine: The Original Sawyer's Killer Bug
by John Evans
(San Antonio, TX)
If you enjoy fly fishing, fly tying, or tenkara at all, you’ve probably heard of the Sawyer’s Killer Bug — an amazingly simple yet surprisingly effective fly. As Frank Sawyer explained it, the pattern was originally intended for grayling, but it’s proved itself on many species across the world. There are many variations of this nymph pattern, most especially the Utah Killer Bug. All of the variations catch fish, but a tenkara angler dreams about that original Killer Bug.
The problem is that Frank Sawyer tied the nymph with Chadwick’s No. 477 yarn, which hasn’t been produced since the 1960’s. Or, at least that’s my understanding. There are modern copies of the yarn, plus unique variations—such as Jamieson’s Shetland Spindrift Oyster—but I’ve always wondered about that original material. As supplies have dwindled, the Chadwick’s No. 477 has become increasingly expensive, even if you can find some. Plus, the fish probably don’t care that much. Hey, I’ve caught lots of bass, stocker trout, cichlids, bluegills, and catfish on the Spindrift yarn; so, I’m not hurting.
But my wife, Robin, knew I had that itch, so she actually found some of that original Chadwick’s and purchased a few feet for me, with a letter of authenticity. No, I won’t tell you how much she paid. Let’s just say it was a special Valentine’s gift. I can hear the snickers already . . . “Great, John. Your wife bought you a piece of string for Valentine’s Day.” It’s one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.
I tied up a Sawyer Killer Bug on a Kamasan B175 size 12 hook, using small red wire, per Frank Sawyer’s instructions. What fun! I haven’t fished it yet, but it won’t be long. Will it do any better than the other yarn I’ve been using? Probably not, but it’s still an interesting trip into fly-fishing history.
The Chadwick’s No. 477 is a thin yarn that’s easy to work with. It also has a unique color. I’d call it tannish, pinkish, grayish, that isn’t duplicated in other yarns. Also, the pattern and color are such that just tying up the Killer Bug gives it a segmented look. The colored wire at the tail adds a hot spot, and the weight and slim profile help the nymph to get down in a hurry. Frank Sawyer was on to something when he developed the Killer Bug. If nothing else, it demonstrates the effectiveness of a simple, yet buggy, fly.
“The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten” – Benjamin Franklin
"Study to be quiet." - Izaak Walton 1653
"Be sure in casting, that your fly fall first into the water, for if the line fall first, it scares or frightens the fish..." Col. Robert Venables 1662
As age slows my pace, I will become more like the heron.
The hooks are sharp.
The coffee's hot.
The fish are slippery when wet.
Beware of the Dogma