A Brief History of The Intruder Fly and the Intruder Chassis
By: Frank Day
In today's modern steelheading world, there's one fly or category of fly that's on the front of every angler and tiers mind; the "Intruder".
What is an intruder? Is it a specific pattern? Is there a recipe for the said intruder? The answer is not quite. Don't be disheartened by that answer it's just the tip of the ice berg. Intruder is not a specific pattern as much as it is a type of fly meant to elicit a specific responce from a fish.
All fish have territories that they protect from the
encroachment of others. Rainbow trout, steelhead, and Chinook salmon can be
extremely territorial. An Intruder fly is meant to trigger aggression when
invading, or intruding into the territory of a sport fish, thus eliciting a strike response.
The most productive “Intruder” fly patterns trigger the fight response without
triggering a flee response by scaring the fish away from its territory. These
types of flies become even more productive if they also mimic something that
the fish has been feeding on, so that the “defend” response is combined with a “kill”
To really explain the intruder we'll take it back to the early 90's and Alaska where it all began.
Everyone’s version of history is usually altered in some way shape or form, but there seem to be quite a few fingers pointed in the direction of Jerry French, Scott Howell, and Ed Ward. In the summer of 1993 Ed Ward tied the first "intruder" as named by Jerry French. It was a massive fly of buggy, leggy hackle. A very large "intrusive" fly hence the name. These originals were tied on extremely long 3,4,5, and 6x long streamer hooks. The large flies elicited very violent takes and caught more and more large rainbows and king salmon. With the higher catch rate of large Alaskan leopard rainbows the light bulbs went off and the trio figured that if they worked well for rainbows then why wouldn't they work for their sea faring brothers, the steelhead? After a summer in BC experimenting with flies, it was fairly obvious to the three anglers that there was something to these large flies. Not only were they hooking lots of steelhead on them, the takes were remarkably vicious. These an intruders were simply large yet relatively sparse flies. Intruder flies fish big, yet they cast small. An intruder is any large fly without a tremendous amount bulk to it. Within those confines your creative mind is free to run with any color scheme or material you please. In today's modern age of tying materials the intruder may be one of the most fun flies to tie because of this. If you can think-up a pattern, you can tie it and experiment with it. The freedom of creativity that comes with designing intruders is unparalleled by any other type of fly (of course some will be more successful than others). In this installment, we'll be going over the first and most basic part of an intruder; the platform or "chassis" it's tied on. Every house starts with a foundation and your flies are really no different.
Above we mentioned that these originals were tied on extra long streamer hooks. But, you'll rarely see a modern intruder tied on these long-shank hooks anymore. The reason for this is that Ed, Scott, and Jerry quickly figured out that these hooks were first and foremost not the fish friendliest things in the world. They often left fish bleeding badly with large puncture wounds. This was simply unacceptable to the three. Secondly the long hook shanks provided the fish with lots of leverage to work the hook free. They were hooking more fish than ever but only landing a small percentage. If you look at the photo below you'll notice how similarly shaped a pry bar (or in this case a claw hammer) and a traditional limerick bend salmon hook are. Both have long fulcrums, that provide a lot of leverage.
Because of this, a solution needed to be found. The leverage needed to be removed. That's where the shank comes in.
Some of this first shanks used were simply just those same streamer hooks cut off at the bend. Often lead eyes would be added, not to increase weight, but to keep the massive flies from floating or act as a keel to orient the fly. The first shank intruders were rigged in a very unique way that is more reminiscent of a tube fly, which we will discuss later on. The first shank intruders were not rigged with a loop of wire as we commonly see today. The leader is passed through the up-eye hook and out a small loop of monofilament tied in the rear of the fly. The mono loop is small enough that a loop knot will not pull through it. From here the leader is slid through a piece of tubing and the hook is tied on using a mono nonslip loop knot. The whole operation is slid into the tubing and snugged up onto the chopped off end of the shank as pictured below.
This is the original intruder rigging and some people still tie them this way today. However, many people prefer the ease of a Waddington shank with a loop of wire which we will discuss next.
During their summers guiding in Alaska Jerry, Ed, and Scott had several European clients who could see the direction that they were going with their flies and introduced them to waddington shanks.
Salmon anglers of the 1940s experienced the same troubles with losing fish to the leverage of their long-shanked hooks. Richard Waddington of Great Britain analyzed the situation and constructed a system where a pair of parallel wires supported a small treble hook reinforced with soft tubing. The soft tubing allowed the treble to move freely back and forth eliminating the leverage. Waddington shanks today are some of the most popular steelhead shanks available for intruder style flies. For intruders, a Waddington shank typically has a loop of wire tied into the rear. The stiff wire ensures the hook rides true and helps prevent fouling of the fly. The loop is long enough to pass a hook of your size and choice through and should be doubled back when tied in to prevent it from pulling out. Senyo's intruder Wire or Cortland Toothy Critter Wire are the 2 most popular wires for this application. If you’re on a budget superglue stiffened Dacron, or Maxima Chameleon in 15 or 20lb are a great substitute for wire.When attaching the hook, an up eye hook is typically best as a straight eye tends to bend the wire in an awkward position weakening it against the eye of the hook. To attach your hook it's a simple loop to loop connection. Think of the wire loop as the front end of your fly line and the hook as your leader and loop them the same way.
Last but not least we have tube flies. Tube flies are perfect for tying intruders, especially unweighted ones. Shank weight will sink your fly. If you want a truly unweighted fly, a plastic tube is a great way to achieve this. They are also designed so that when a fish takes your fly, the hook frees itself from the rear of the tube, allowing it to slide up the leader out of the way where it won't get chewed up. This break-away action completely eliminates leverage against the hook. Tube flies can be tied on any way you would use a shank.
There are two standard rigging methods as shown in the photo below. The simplest is way to rig a tube fly is simply pass your leader through the fly, tie on your hook, and snug the eye into the rear of the tube. Straight eye hooks such as a TMC105 or Daiichi X452 are great choices for this application. The second way is to rig your tube with a loop knot. Pass your leader through the fly and tie a mono non slip loop knot or double surgeons knot long enough to pass your hook through. Loop your hook through in the same manner described as looping a hook onto wire attached to a shank and pull the knot into the rear of the tube.
That about covers it. These are your basic platforms to the start of an intruder. You can't build a car without constructing the chassis first. I hope this has been informative and enjoyable to read. If you have any questions on the shanks, tubes, or rigging methods described, your answers are just a phone call away. Give us a shout at 800-266-3971. Check out next week’s newsletter as we'll be continuing our intruder investigation and discussing the next part of an intruder; propping materials and using dubbing loops; how to make your flies fish big but cast small.