CrossCurrents Lightning Bug

Montana’s Premier Fly Fishing and Orvis Stores
Downtown Helena Store:
326 N. Jackson Street
Helena, Montana 59601
(406) 449-2292
Fax - (406) 449-2293
Missouri River Store & The Fish Inn:
311 Bridge Street
Craig, Montana 59648
(406) 235-3433
Established 1994
Fax - (406) 235-3443
Lightning Bug
THREAD: 6/0 to 12/0 - Colors Olive or Light Brown.
HOOK: #14-#20 Scud Style Hook (Daiichi’s #1150, #1120 or MFC #7045)
BEAD: Silver Bead, 2mm - 1/8” (depending on hook size). Brass or Tungsten.
TAIL: Small Clump (4 to 8 strands) of Pheasant Tail (The same as you would a
Pheasant Tail Nymph of the same size.) ~1/2 to 3/4 shank long (it’s hard
to tell on these hooks so make a good guess).
RIB: Red, Ultra Wire, Small to X-Small.
BODY/ABDOMEN (& WING CASE): Silver Holographic Tinsel -size medium.
Overlapping wraps all the way up to the bead. (If you want to make a
“wing case”, don’t cut off the excess tinsel.) Rib over the tinsel with the red
wire, tie-off wire and cut the wire. Then fold back the tinsel and wrap in
the same position you would a wing case on a Hare’s Ear or Pheasant Tail about a “bead width” behind the bead. (The wing case is optional.)
THORAX: A shaggy dubbing mix (we blend squirrel fur dubbing [olive,
natural, red and brown] with hare’s ear dubbing [natural and olive] and
Angel Hair [Peacock & a little bit of Pearl]. We also like SLF). You can also
use just Peacock Herl.
Notes: This is a fly that we tie in the shop and have a couple of local tiers tie for
us. This is by far CrossCurrents most popular nymph. We’ve used these flies
everywhere we’ve fished and they always seem to work. Besides the standard
Silver Lightning Bug, you can also tie this bug in Pink (Silver Bead, Silver or Pink
Holo Tinsel) or Gold (Gold Bead, Gold Holo Tinsel) or in Purple (Silver Bead,
Purple Holo Tinsel) or you can tie it with a soft hackle. All work very well.
(Read more about it online at: )
We also have this pattern and many recipes, tying instructions and tying videos
on our website at
-Good Tyin’,
Chris Strainer
The Lightning Bug will add new energy to your fly box.
Much to the chagrin of dry-fly fishing purists, one fly has been the culprit in converting
thousands of fly anglers into nymph fishermen. To make matters worse, the fly doesn’t even
look like a natural insect – aquatic or terrestrial.
It’s made up of mostly synthetic materials: holographic tinsel, shaggy, blended dubbing, metal
wire and a silver bead. The only natural element to the thing is the pheasant tail used for its
rear end and maybe a bit of rabbit fur mixed in the dubbing for the “thorax” - if one chooses to
designate the space behind the bead as equivalent to that part of the anatomy of a true insect.
What is this unholy thing and why has it swayed so many anglers to fish below the water’s
surface in search of trout? The Lightning Bug!
No, not some aquatic larvae of the bioluminescent winged insect you see lighting up midWestern backyards on warm summer evenings; our Lightning Bug can’t magically turn an old
mayonnaise jar into a lantern but it sure can work magic on the end of your tippet!
The Lightning Bug is perhaps the most popular fly on Western waters (especially the
tailwaters) for the simple reason that it catches fish–and lots of them, in all sizes and all
species. This bright, bead-headed bug has been a day saver for many a river guide, on many
a day, throughout the entire season.
The origins of the Lightning Bug prior to its present form are a bit fuzzy. Some say the early
form–we’ll call it the “larval stage”– began in Oregon on trout waters near the coast. It was tied
with pearlescent tinsel, peacock herl, pheasant tail legs and a gold bead. A guide must have
brought it to southwestern Montana almost a decade ago where it went through several
enstars and pupations to emerge into its present phenotype. The dubbed “thorax” was
developed as a need for speed (in tying it) as much as a fish attractant. As the Lightning Bug
quickly became a favorite on fabled rivers such as the Missouri, Clark Fork, Blackfoot and
Smith just to name a few, the local fly shops couldn’t keep up with the demand. After a few
modifications and necessary field trials, it was determined that not only was the dubbed
version faster to tie, but it was a lot more effective at catching fish!
One reason for the Lightning Bug’s success is its versatility. You’ll most often see this fly dead
drifted under a strike indicator with a little split shot pinched on the tippet about a foot above
the fly. (Listen to the purists gasp!) But its flash and shaggy appearance work well as a mayfly
or caddis emerger dropped behind a dry fly. It’s also good on the swing in riffles, and even
catches fish when trailed behind a streamer like a Woolly Bugger. Another favorite way to fish
the Lightning Bug is during the hopper season in late summer and early fall as the lower unit of
a “hopper-dropper” combo. A big western hopper pattern crashed near the bank attracts the
attention of some big trout. As they dart over to investigate they often see this tiny, sparkly little
morsel drifting helplessly just below the surface. They must feel it’s a safe bet because they
take that Lightning Bug dropper so often!
Perhaps no other river has seen more success with the Lightning Bug than the tailwaters
behind Montana’s Missouri River. If you wade or float this river and ask those anglers with bent
rods what they’ve got tied on the end of their leaders, more often than not they will say, “A
Lightning Bug, what else!?”
Two summers ago, Orvis President Perk Perkins was floating and fishing the Missouri River
when a local angler gave him a #16 Lightning Bug to try out for the day. From one fly came a
most memorable day of long, fat, wild rainbows and browns and yes, even Perk catches a few
whitefish too. After success like that, it’s no wonder Orvis is now proud to feature this bug in
The Orvis News and in this spring’s fishing catalog.
Tied in sizes #12 through #18, the Lightning Bug can be fished in all types of waters and in all
types of situations. If the insect hatches have you baffled, and dry flies aren’t happening at the
moment, then tie on one of these shiny flies and hang on. You just may become a convert too!
Chris Strainer is Owner and Manager of the CrossCurrents fly shops in Downtown Helena and
on the Missouri River in Craig, Montana. He is also a professional guide and the lead instructor
for CrossCurrents’ Fly Fishing, Fly Tying and Rod Building Classes. Give them a call at (406)
449-2292, or visit them online at
View this article online at
View the Lighting Bug online at