Outdoors in Maine: The versatility of the Hornberg fly is unmatched

Fly fishing from an old gray rowboat with a cowboy guide on a trout pond in western Colorado, I decided the moody, callous trout needed to see something with an oriental motif . A Hornberg was needed.

“What’s that little thing?” Sam asked me. In the shade of his sweat-soaked Stetson, he stared at me with narrowed doubtful eyes.

V. Paul Reynolds, outdoor columnist

“That, sir, is a Hornberg, a Maine trout pond killer fly,” I said.

Did it work? You know it. The Colorado Cutthroats hit it repeatedly until the fly was just a remnant of itself. Sam changed his tone. He, too, became a fan of the Hornberg, a fly he had never seen or heard of in his time on Rocky Mountain waters.

Ah, yes, the Hornberg. In his new book, fishing writer Bob Mallard devotes a chapter to the Hornberg, which Mallard says was invented in 1920 by Wisconsin game warden Frank Hornberg. Mallard goes so far as to say that the Hornberg “might be the most fished fly in Maine.”

That would not surprise me. The Hornberg has long been my favorite flight. It has unparalleled versatility, for my money. You can fish it wet, fish it dry, and everything in between. In my fly box you will find Hornbergs of all kinds, sizes and colors. When the Green Drake hatch is on, standard size 6 is always deadly.

According to Mallard, the Hornberg was actually designed as a dry fly, but is considered a wet fly by most Mainers.

A Hornberg man for many years, I discovered an unconventional Hornberg just a few years ago that is particularly effective on salmon and trout, especially early in the season when the caddis hatch is in motion.

When Barry Higgins operated his sporting goods store on Medway’s main road, Three Rivers Canoe, he sold a scaled down version of the Hornberg that I had never seen in fly shops. Same recipe – silver daisy body, yellow underside, mallard wings and gray hackle – but small hooks, #14 and #16.

Since Barry closed his shop, I haven’t been able to find these tiny Hornbergs in any other stores. Fly dealer Alvin Terriault ties up some big Hornbergs, but he doesn’t offer the little ones, at least in his catalog.

Fly Shack, the online fly retailer, offers the Hornberg in #14 and #16. If you plan to fish this fall or next spring, be sure to fill your fly box with an assortment of these little Hornbergs. The smaller versions always seem to work better for me, especially on trout.

So the next time the fish challenges you in your nerve-wracking effort to “match the hatch”, put a clinch double on a Hornberg and, before sending the line, say a “thank you” to Mr. Hornberg , a legacy editor, for sure.

V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal, author, guide to Maine, and host of a weekly radio show, “Maine Outdoors,” heard at 7 p.m. Sundays on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. Contact him at [email protected]

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