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.

Comments for A Special Valentine: The Original Sawyer's Killer Bug

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Feb 14, 2018
That is indeed a special Valentine's Day gift
by: Chris Stewart

If you want to duplicate the original wire, get an old transformer (Goodwill store, second hand shop, flee market - anyplace you can find old electrical stuff) and strip out some of the transformer wire. If it is old enough, it will be varnished with a reddish brown varnish. That's what Sawyer used, not the modern bright red wire. The Hot Spot will be a lot more subtle.

Feb 14, 2018
Good Point
by: John Evans

I think Chris is right. I went back in Sawyer's book and he describes it as "red fuse wire," which wouldn't be the "fly-tying red" that most of us are familiar with. Back in the day, they used what they had or could scavenge.

Feb 14, 2018
Sweet!
by: Les Albjerg

John,
That was a very thoughtful gift from your wife! Make sure you tie her up at least 3 flies of her own with the special yarn!

Oh! have you ordered your horsehair line kit from Chris yet? You really need to fish the Sawyer's Killer Bug on horsehair line, including a horsehair tippet!

Feb 14, 2018
Killer Bugs and Horsehair
by: Chris Stewart

Killer Bugs were long after horsehair fell out of favor (but that is no reason NOT to try some). For flies that were originally fishing with horsehair, you could look up the flies from the Treatise of Fishing with an Angle or Charles Cotton's flies, or even David Webster's flies. David Webster was a commercial angler who fished a loop rod and horsehair line as late as the 1880s, long after reels, silk line and gut leaders were in common use.

Feb 14, 2018
Horsehair Line
by: John Evans

Les,
Thanks for the note. Yes, no matter what I do, I'm a little behind in the Valentine gift department. I have tied and fished the horsehair line from Chris. I think I wrote a short article for the blog months ago on the subject. While horsehair line is not as durable, I love its whisper softness and springy feel. Plus, it's just plain fun to tie up your own line!

Feb 15, 2018
Good women
by: Terry Farmer

John, as am I, you are truly blessed with a wonderful wife. That gift came from the heart. God Bless you and your family.

Mar 05, 2018
Historical Fun!
by: Les Albjerg

John - I just had to give Chadwick’s No. 477 a try. I was able to source some authentic yarn through my English friend, and I just got it in the mail from England. It is much darker than the Oyster color for the Utah Killer Bug. I think I have a small motor at home. I'm going to see if it has red wire windings to make the Killer bug closer to original. I am not going to sacrifice the great chemically sharpened hooks that we have today!

Thanks to this website, I have begun to appreciate
more of the historical aspects of fishing.

Mar 05, 2018
Subdued Color
by: John Evans

Les,
Happy tying! Yes, the original Chadwick's is definitely a more subdued, less "pinkish" yarn than the Oyster. I'm heading toward a little warm water creek, hopefully later this week, to see how it works.

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