The Humpy Fly Pattern

I think I need to start out by stating the that Humpy is probably my favorite fly, ever.  Not only is it a highly effective pattern, in a world of perfect imitations, it’s ambiguous and weird.  Maybe that’s a reflection on me, more than anything.  Either way, I like this fly a lot.

Randall Kaufmann, in “Tying Dry Flies” calls the Humpy:

Arguably the greatest surface fly ever devised

I’d be hard pressed to disagree.  It’s just such an effective, versatile fly.

Kaufmann notes too, that

It represents nothing and everything

and I think that’s the best description of it that I’ve ever read. It really sums up the beauty of the Humpy as a pattern.

It can be a mayfly, a caddis, a dragonfly or even a small-ish terrestrial insect.  It doesn’t really look quite like any of them – but it also doesn’t not look like any of them.

And that, really, is what sets the humpy apart. The Humpy combines a couple of notable features into a single fly.

It’s among the most jack-of-all-trades flies that I’ve ever come across.

What’s The Best Color Choice For A Humpy?

Typically, Humpies are seen in red or yellow. Though I’ve seen green and black ones and heard of all sorts of other odd colors.  I can’t verify whether these odd colors work, but I can definitely vouch for the effectiveness of the red and yellow varieties.

I’ve heard the black variety is a great beetle imitator.

This bright coloration can be a detriment if you’re looking for a perfect hatch-matching imitation.  On the other hand, it serves to make the Humpy an effective attractor pattern – generating strikes from fish that are curious or aggressive.

Red humpies never let me down!

What Are Humpies Made Of?

Humpy fly patterns are tied with deer or elk hair (and, in some modern variations, with a foam hump).

A lot of traditional English fly patterns are feather based.  While these are highly effective, they tend to become waterlogged in turbulent waters – there’s a world of difference between a tranquil English stream and a rough Rocky Mountain river, after all.  Hair, on the other hand, traps air and remains buoyant in water that would soak and drown a feather fly.  This deer-hair construction makes the Humpy highly visible, too, even in rough water or poor lighting.

What Hook Size To Use With A Humpy?

The Humpy can be tied on a wide variety of hook sizes.  I’ve got some in my box ranging from size 10 through 16, though I think I tend to use the larger sizes more often.

Brief History Of The Humpy Fly Pattern

The Humpy has a history that fits its ambiguous nature.  Where so many flies have clear inventors or pioneers, the Humpy has rumor and speculation.

What is certain is that the Humpy originated in the 1940’s somewhere in the continental United States.  Most fly historians appear to credit Jack Horner with the creation of the Humpy for use on the Truckee River in Northern California.

Conversely, others note that the Tom Thumb pattern, which also features the trademark “hump”, but lacks the split wing and hackle of the Humpy had been carried down from Canada to Yellowstone region of Wyoming, and that by the 1940’s, Wyoming fisherman were asking for the “Goofus Bug”  from Montana guide Pat Barnes.

Whether it arrived from California from a Jack Horner creation or whether it was a modified Tom Thumb, by the 1960’s Wyoming fisherman had moved on from calling it the Goofus Bug and settled on Humpy and the development of the fly we now know was more or less settled.

When and How to Fish Humpies

As noted, the humpy is an everything-and-nothing fly.

It’s best suited to fast, turbulent rivers, where trout must react quickly and instinctively to anything that might be food, rather than calmer, slower water where the fish may have an opportunity to really look a meal over.

Similarly, it’s not a great hatch-matching pattern.  It can work in a pinch, but it’s not usually the best option.  It’s best suited for days where a clear hatch isn’t happening, and trout aren’t focused on a single food source.

The Humpy, therefore, is in its element when you’re prospecting on fast moving rivers.  The Humpy is the perfect fly choice for those days when there is no perfect fly choice.

The Humpy also makes an excellent tandem fly in a hopper-dropper combination  (where a dry fly is utilized as both a lure and as an indicator for a nymph or other wet fly).

The Humpy’s high buoyancy and visibility make it a perfect dry for this set-up.

Humpy Variations Available

In addition to the wide variety of color variations, like most other patterns the Humpy has been adapted to a wide variety of situations.

A couple of hybrid flies have been developed:  The Royal Humpy was developed in the 1970’s in an attempt to add the high-visibility characteristics of the Royal Wulff to the Humpy and the Adams Humpy, developed as a rough-water mayfly imitator.

The other notable variation is the Double Humpy – essentially two humpies tied in tandem on the same long-shank hook.  While I’ve never fished this strange looking variation, I have it from good authority that it’s a solid damselfly imitator.

1 thought on “The Humpy Fly Pattern”

  1. I’ve been using a yellow double humpy in new Zealand on large brown trout, we have a lot of German wasps in our backcountry and I watched trout eating them.
    Figured it looked close to a wasp and the trout go out of their way to eat or if the wasps are flying.


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