I first encountered a fly called the Spring’s Wiggler on a trout fishing trip to Michigan. This simple, buggy looking fly caught my eye among the hundreds of other fly patterns spread out in bins along the wall of the Michigan fly shop I visited. As I often do, when I discover a new fly I like, I grabbed a few of them to try and put one aside as a tying reference. At the end of a trip, all of the flies put aside as tying references eventually make it into a dedicated drawer in my fly tying desk.
I don’t remember fishing this particular pattern on that Michigan trip. The fly was originally designed for steelhead and was probably too large for the trout I was chasing. My research on the pattern revealed that the fly was likely developed by Ron Spring, a sports shop owner in Muskegon. The Spring’s Wiggler is a classic pattern used on the steelhead waters of western Michigan. The original pattern was a larger fly tied on a size 4 or six hook. My reference pattern was built on a size six and had a body made of chenille. The fly was designed to imitate a large mayfly nymph (hexagenia limbata) common on many Michigan rivers.
The original fly sat in my “reference fly” drawer for some years before I stumbled on to it again. When I discovered the pattern for the second time I had a different role for it in mind. I was digging through that drawer of assorted flies looking for a dragonfly nymph I had found a while back. I came across the Spring’s Wiggler and instantly recalled that trip to Michigan. As I held the fly in my hand, I saw another use for it. Being in a warm water state of mind at that moment, the fly looked like it would serve as a reasonable imitation of a dragonfly or even a damselfly nymph. That began my experimentation with the pattern as a warm water fly.
I have modified the original over the years and now fish two versions of it. Both flies are significantly smaller than the original. I now tie them on hooks sized 12-8. The first version is tied on a standard wet fly hook and the second is tied on a longer TMC 2302 or 200R. The longer version is a little different because it I have added a set of bead chain eyes. In both versions, I have replaced the chenille body with a body made of herl (peacock or ostrich) or dubbing to make the fly look right in these smaller proportions. Natural and dyed grey and fox squirrel tail make up the shell back. Most of the time I time the squirrel hair flush at the eye, but occasionally I will leave a small clump of it extending over the eye. I believe the original patterns I found had the hair extending over the eye. For the hackle, a standard saddle hackle or emu feather is used. I have been using emu more and more in my warm water patterns these days. It is an underutilized fly tying material that provides excellent movement in the water. Since I have strayed significantly from the original fly I have dubbed this bead chain version the Panfish Wiggler
As the water cools and we move into autumn into the winter months, I switch to smaller flies. A size 12 Spring’s Wiggler tied as a wet fly is an excellent fly to use during this transition period. The fish are still feeding, but they are slowing down. They are not in their deep water winter haunts yet, but they are holding deeper than they have all summer. The size 12 Spring’s Wiggler is not a tiny fly by any stretch of the imagination, but it is substantially smaller than the size six and eight flies I have been using all summer. The fly is allowed to sink to the bottom and then is slowly retrieved. Many takes are on the drop as the fly nears the bottom. Strikes on the retrieve are much softer now, if you are not watching your line/leader, you will miss many of them.
Hook: TMC 2302 size 8
Thread: UTC 140 Brown
Eyes: Small black bead chain (optional)
Tail/Shellback: Squirrel tail in color of choice (fox squirrel pictured)
Body: Ostrich herl, peacock herl or dubbing (tan ostrich pictured)
Hackle: Saddle hackle or emu feather in color of choice (orange/grizzly saddle hackle pictured)