The Picket Pin is one of those fly patterns that has stood the test of time. Developed as a trout fly for western waters in the early 1900's (1910-1915) by Jack Boeme, it gets it's moniker from the nickname of the animal whose fur was used in the pattern. Ground squirrels or gophers were given the nickname of "picket pins" by cowboys, because of their habit of standing upright in the fields. The fur from the gopher was used as the tail and wing in the original version of this hair wing fly. As the fly gained popularity and moved eastward, grey squirrel replaced gopher and over time became part of the standard recipe. Being a little light on gopher myself, I went with grey squirrel as well. In the east, the fly became legendary as highly effective brook trout pattern.
The fly is tied as a streamer or a wet fly. When fishing for trout I use both versions, but the streamer variant probably sees more time in the water. When using the fly in warm water, when targeting panfish, I lean towards the wet fly version as it is a far more versatile pattern.
I typically tie it on a 2xl nymph hook in a size 10 or 12. Larger panfish don't hesitate to smash it and the little guys will pretty much leave it alone (other than following it around). I use two versions of this pattern, one tied with grey squirrel and one tied with fox squirrel. I have seen many different versions of the fly over the years and have experimented with a few myself. It is one of those patterns that lends it's self to tinkering. Experiment yourself, change the hackle color, use different fur and replace the peacock herl body with dubbing, tinsel, etc. It is a generic hair wing design that can be modified in so many ways. Although I like the more traditional version pictured here, a version with a white calf tail wing instead of the squirrel tail has shown quite a bit of promise in the past few seasons.
I fish the fly in a number of ways, as a small streamer, a wet fly and a nymph. It is an extremely versatile pattern. I like using it as a searching pattern. I'll cast it out near fishy looking areas and use a simple hand twist retrieve. The fly is usually picked up with a solid tug, although it always helps to watch the line where it enters the water for any unusual movements that are not picked up as a strike.
The fly can also be greased and fished as a dry fly. It is buggy enough that it is a good imitation for a lot of terrestrial insects. It imitates everything from hoppers and crickets to beetles, cicadas, moths and large flies such as horse flies. In fact, it is probably one of most effective dry flies on a nearby pond located on a horse farm. Horse flies are a constant nuisance when fishing this pond and my guess is a fair number of them end up in the water. I once floated a Picket Pin next to a dead horse fly I had killed and thrown into the water and noted how well it imitated that particular fly (though the bug in question was a little mangled). Non the less, it catches more than its share of fish on the top.
You can find the recipe for the fly pictured above here. Give the Picket Pin a try. It is a great fly for trout as well as panfish!