Purple Reign

Go ahead and scoff if you want to, but purple ain’t just for ladies underwear anymore. Not too long ago, purple patterns were the guide box secret of river bums who’d seen a little too much sun. Back then, passing these across the boat to a frustrated fisherman was sure to be met with a look ranging from mild skepticism to full-blown contempt. Thing is, purple gets results. Why? Well, here comes a bit of truth for you: As fly fishermen, we’re not real good at philosophizing about why fish do what they do, but that’s never stopped us from trying. Get two anglers together and theories and assurances and outright laws will flow like melted butter over a salmon filet shore lunch. Why purple? Because it’s downright buggy, that’s why.

The parachute adams pattern tied with a UV blend of
purple and grey finds fish  year round.

The days of scoffing at a purple haze are long gone, and purple patterns are everywhere these days- no more so than guide boxes on heavily pressured rivers. For instance, on the South Platte river in Colorado, no guide is without a deep purple san juan worm or two in their boxes. Geoff Mueller, senior editor of The Drake magazine and author of, “What a Trout Sees: A Fly-Fishing Guide to Life Underwater” theorizes that the color purple changes dramatically under the lowlight conditions at bottom of the river, and subsequently a purple san juan worm looks more lifelike than a standard hot pink or red offering, which tend to blend in and dull significantly underwater.

Theorize the why all you want. Purple worms work.

Streamer nuts are jumping into the purple game as well, adding the color to traditional black patterns with great results. Solid black streamer patterns have long been the first choice of many fly fishermen for off color water, overcast days and deep plunge pools. The addition of purple ostrich herl and purple krystal flash can improve a solid black pattern for just these kinds of situations, if we consider the way purple comes to life in the low light of these situations.

This Enrico Puglisi streamer might be tied for tarpon,
but a smaller version will surely entice deep water trout.

Perhaps the place that purple shines the most is when it is used in dry fly patterns. The most famous of these is the aforementioned purple haze, an adams variation that has made its way from guides confidence boxes to the pages of the Orvis catalog and beyond. On Fish Creek, a popular wade fishing destination that features a fast-moving freestone stream that dumps into the scenic, roaring Alberton Gorge section of the Clark Fork river, cutthroats by the dozens can be caught all season long on a size 16 purple haze. But purple’s dry fly applications don’t end there, nor does the color’s bona fides. Terrestrial patterns like beetles and grasshoppers tied in purple never cease to amaze in their fish catching abilities.

Chubby girls need love too. Purple and black are a great topwater offering
in this size 10 chubby chernobyl variation.

For a great many anglers, all this purple talk might be old hat, but it is worth keeping in mind when tying flies this winter or when you hit the water. Colors might go through trends with fly fishermen, but some combinations stick around for a reason and purple has graduated from the crazy last-ditch desperations of trout bums to it’s rightful place as a seasoned producer.


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