Scott Howell says: "GO BIG OR GO HOME"
It is impossible to start a piece on the Intruder without going into a bit of the history of the fly. My Signature Series Intruder was not a simple case of sitting down at the vice one evening and creating this revolutionary pattern. It all started way back in the early 90's with a circle of guides at a lodge in Alaska.
The first 'Intruder-style' fly was the brainchild of Ed Ward, and was originally designed for king salmon. This shank-style fly was a solution for creating huge plug-like silhouettes that could simply not be achieved on conventional fly hooks. While fishing these flies for kings, it was impossible not to notice how well Alaska's huge rainbows took these large life-like patterns. And, it didn't take long for the light bulb to go on, "If these big rainbows can't resist them, just think of how well they might work for their anadromous cousins (steelhead).?
It was not for another couple months after a grueling summer of guiding that we first got to swim these new patterns in water inhabited by steelhead. That September, Ed Ward, Jerry French and myself crammed into a truck and headed for BC with my drift boat in tow. Despite being faced with very low water conditions that trip, we were set on throwing our new big creations. So, we went against any conventional knowledge of the time, and fished our monstrous concoctions. Needless to say, the Intruder worked well! The standout pattern of the trip had to be an olive Intruder-style fly that Ed had created. At the time, we all thought it looked a lot like a sculpin. In actuality, I think it was Jerry's animated description of the fly, way back in one of the guide shacks that summer that fits it best. With fly in hand, pretending to swim it through the air he said the fish must think it looks like some kind of intruder.
Anyway, it all took off from there. The next winter, I remember the first day I fished with Ed on the Skagit and he asked me if I was still fishing big flies. I proudly showed him my newest creation to only have it dwarfed by what I can best describe as a small bird tied to his rod. From that point on, the Intruder seemed to only get bigger and bigger. Every fly I tied just seemed to be that much bigger than the last one until one day I couldn't cast them any more. I remember a session on the Dundess Run of the Kispiox River, when I conceded that "OK, the fish will eat flies bigger than I can cast." I found some kind of peace with that. It was then that I could go back to the basis of what made the Intruder so effective; a pattern that provides a large silhouette with limited materials so it would sink and swim effectively as well as cast EASILY.
The Intruder has been an ongoing evolution since day one. The introduction of different materials into the fly's concept has defined its distinct evolutionary stages. Some of the first Intruders were simply tied with marabou and were basically large knock-offs of Cook's Alaskabou Series flies. I then remember Ed finding an old feather duster at the lodge with these long wispy hackles. We now know these feathers simply as schlappen but at the time it made our imaginations run. The first big major change to the Intruder was the introduction of turkey feathers into its design. By stripping the fibers on the bird's flank and tail feathers, we were able to create these exceptionally long hackles. By incorporating these long hackles into the fly, we were able to achieve a huge leggy silhouette that could not be achieved with other conventional materials of the time. There was even a time when I thought our Intruders would always be tied with turkey feathers. I was so sure of it, I volunteered many a day at a local bird-butchering yard so I could collect feathers. I had all the turkey feathers a tyer could dream of and was sending feathers to all my friends and stashing away boxes and boxes of them. About the time I thought I had gathered enough feathers to last all of us a lifetime, Ed started tying with Ostrich. As you can imagine, that opened a whole new can of worms. Finding good ostrich feathers for hackling is a whole other story.
Definitely one of the most interesting things about the whole Intruder saga has been the different take each of us has had on the concept. There is something different and special about each of our styles. I can still to this day look at one of Ed's Intruders and know that it is his. I am sure he would tell you the same of mine. He would tell you that it is easy to spot one of mine - it is black with a green butt. Hey, if ain't broke, don't fix it! All jokes aside, as a guide who works nearly everyday, a lot of my innovative time is over. I need to have a selection of flies on the river with me that are proven and that I have confidence in. My clients aren't paying me good money to go out and experiment. So, I have basically narrowed my Intruders down to two different styles in an assortment of colors. One of those stand-by styles is my Signature Series Intruder. It is an ostrich hackle/saddle shellback pattern that maintains a large silhouette with a bulky hair color behind the front hackles. I know I am biased, but to me, it is the fishiest fly I have ever seen swim. After all these years, I still find myself holding it in the water saying, "Man, I'd eat that."
Over time, the Signature Intruder has become my mainstay for nearly every fishing situation. Even under normal summer water conditions, I find I can fish this large silhouette in neutral colors and catch fish that are bored of watching the same old Green Butt Skunk swim overhead. Whether I am trying to pull a fish in cold water or just knowing I am throwing something different when fishing an Intruder, I just simply always fish it with confidence.
When fishing the fly, I have my clients cast slightly upstream and jack a big mend in their line. This takes all of the initial tension off the fly and allows it to sink closer to fish level. Just as the line is about to come tight, I have them kick another small mend in, straightening out the little slack line remaining. I then just have them follow the line around with their rod tip. It is important to get this second mend in before the line comes tight and the fly starts to swing. Otherwise, the mend just pulls on the tightened line and lifts the fly closer to the surface. I am a big believer in not over-mending the line. Once the fly is fishing, let it fish!