The Lefty’s Deceiver Fly Pattern

The deceiver’s not a fly that I go to as often as I should which is a little surprising because it’s one of the greatest baitfish imitators ever created.  It could be argued that the deceiver is the best-known saltwater fly ever created.  After all, the US Postal Service honored it with its own stamp in 1991.

Lefty’s deceiver is another one of those patterns that I don’t grab all that often – but nearly every streamer I do pick up shows a design lineage from it.

Sometimes we get so enamored with new, exciting, things that we forget how successful, innovative and important these originator patterns are.

What does the Lefty’s Deceiver Imitate?

The deceiver was originally tied to resemble smelt – a common prey species of striped bass on the east coast of the United States.

After its creator, Lefty Kreh relocated to southern Florida, he repurposed it for warm-water saltwater species.

Since then, it’s been adapted to imitate a tremendous number of baitfish species.

Description and Variations

The initial deceiver was a pretty simple affair.  It was tied with a wing of four to eight saddle hackles at the bend of the hook and a simple bucktail collar at the front of the hook.

This original pattern was all white – and white remains the most popular and successful color of any variation to this day.

The original deceiver body was silver tinsel and a collar of white bucktail was layered at the top, sides and bottom of the front of the hook.

History Of The Lefty’s Deceiver

Lefty’s deceiver was created in the 1950’s for fishing Striped Bass in the Chesapeake Bay.  Lefty Kreh (probably the most famous fly fisherman of all time, and deservedly so) and his fishing partners were facing a common issue with big streamer patterns of the time – namely that the feathers would foul around the hook.

On a lot of old-style streamers, saddle hackles secured near the eye of the hook had a tendency to twist around the bend of the hook during casting and retrieves.

Not surprisingly, these fouled flies rarely deceived these fish, as actual baitfish tend not to wrap themselves up in confused knots and then inexplicably drag through the water.  It’s about as unnatural a behavior as you could present.

As Lefty himself put it:

I’m going to design a fly that won’t foul on the cast!  It will have a fish shape but can be made in many lengths.  You can vary the color combinations; it will also swim well but when lifted for the back cast it will be sleek and have little air resistance.

If something that bold came out of any less angler’s mouth, I’d call them crazy.  He was, after all, only proposing to completely redesign the streamer as it was then known.

No small task.

It’s a testament to Kreh’s ability that he succeeded beyond anyone’s imagination, creating the blueprint for a whole new category of streamers.

How and When to Fish Lefty’s Deceiver

The deceiver’s usage is as versatile as the variations.

That said, it’s a baitfish.  So, don’t throw it out if you’re not searching for big, predatory, fish.

If you are searching for big, predatory, fish, it’s definitely worth giving this fly a shot.

1. Fishing in Still Water

In still water, I cast and strip.  Let your fly sink a little before beginning your retrieve.  Usually, I’m fishing for pike in still water, so I want my flies to skirt the edges or tops of weed beds – close enough to where pike are looking for food, but not tangling in the weeds themselves.

Vary your stripping a lot and experiment a little.

Baitfish are erratic creatures and what, exactly, attracts predators to them can be just as inexplicable, though certain species seem to prefer certain methods.

2. Moving Water

You can either cast and strip across slow pools in pretty much the same manner as you’d fish still water, or you can dead-drift this pattern.

Let your fly drift like in the current like you’d drift a nymph.

The idea here is to imitate a dead baitfish.  It’s not exactly pleasant, but it can and does work.

Additionally, you can generate some strikes as your fly hits the end of the drift and rises on the tightening line.

Final Thoughts

The deceiver is a bit of a strange one for me to write about.  It originated as a saltwater fly as was later adapted by freshwater anglers looking for big predatory fish like pike, bass, and bull trout.

While it’s a great and influential fly, I feel like I’ve only gotten a small taste of what it can really do.  When I do finally get to spend some time on the ocean, you’d better believe I’ll be bringing it along to see what it can really do.

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