Behind the Fly

Behind The Fly - RIO's Animal

Patrick Kilby January 25, 2021

Traditional steelhead flies are tied on longer shank hooks, often 2x to 4x long. But once you start getting beyond a 4x long shank, any hooked fish has more leverage and is more likely to be lost. Intruder style flies are meant to be big and are usually on long metal shanks but extend a stinger hook out the back. This solves the leverage issue but the long metal shanks, and trailing wire add weight and expense to a production fly. Intruder style flies are often 9 dollars or more. So, we set out to keep the performance aspects but bring the price down. We did this by tying RIO’s Animal on a plastic tube instead.

The first time any steelhead angler encounters a tube fly it immediately sparks questions like, why there is not a hook or, “How do I use this?”. Ideally a knowledgeable shop staffer, or fellow angler is on hand to answer said questions. But if not, here is how to rig RIO’s Animal.

RIO’s Animal comes with junction tubing at the rear of the fly and a hook inserted into that. To start, remove the hook from the tubing. Thread your tippet starting at the front of the fly through the tube. After the tippet emerges from the rear of the fly, tie on your stinger hook. Once tied on, pull your tippet so the hook eye seats into the junction tubing. For this pattern, I recommend positioning the hook point up. This will help prevent the hook from catching on rocks.

Tube flies are usually on the lighter side when it comes to steelhead flies. But this fly enjoys being different. RIO’s Animal weighs in at 1.49 grams (about 3/64th of an ounce or 23 grains). Its weight come from the menacing, painted lead eyes secured at the front end of the tube. You will appreciate these heavy eyes when fishing the swollen rivers of winter and spring.

Another thing you will appreciate about this fly is the unique way the materials move in the water. The materials are soft and have tantalizing movements in the current, but they do so because of they way there were tied in. Backwards. Let me explain.

For a right-handed fly tier, we would usually tie a fly from left to right starting at the rear of the fly. All the materials would normally be swept back for a nice, streamlined appearance. But soft materials, when tied in this way, can turn into a wispy-thin noodle when wet. Some flies perform well like this, but intruder style flies are meant be a big looking fly even when wet. For RIO’s Animal, I still tied it left to right, but I started at the front of the fly. This was also much easier to do on a tube. When the fly is done being tied, I force all the materials back against themselves using a toothbrush and my fingers. Since the materials want to push forward, they tend to retain a fuller look when wet and being swung.

Pictured here, RIO Brand Manager Simon Gawesworth recently managed to find a perfect winter run wild steelhead on the Pink & Orange RIO's Animal.

Fish this as you would any steelhead wet fly, “on the swing” as we like to say. I like to use a sink tip to help me get down, then I like to keep a slight bow in my line so I know the fly is presenting slightly broadside to the fish, but I try to fish it as slow as I possibly can.

As for colors, I reach for the Black and Blue version most often. But Purple and Pink is a close second.

As a fly designer there are many satisfying milestones to introducing a pattern to the consumer market. But perhaps the most satisfying is hearing back from successful anglers who have used your fly.

One such angler is David Kalinowski who works for Fly Water Travel. He started using this fly for steelhead in Alaska in late 2019 and readily recommends it to those who fish with him. David sent me this note and photo.

"I've always appreciated tube flies due to the ability to replace hooks. The Animal has a great profile and its materials do not soak up water allowing for easy casting and a decent sink rate for what is a relatively large fly.” And as for color? “Black and blue, no doubt about it. Anytime, anywhere."