Fly Tying

The Copper John




We can’t say it in enough ways – the Copper John is one of the best tried-and-true, fall-back, and old-faithful attractor nymph patterns you can use.

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1. About The Copper John

The Copper John was first tied by angler and tier John Barr in the mid-1990’s.  As he describes it himself in MidCurrent, he took the pattern through several design changes over several years starting in 1993. While early pattern trials caught fish, he didn’t consider it really refined until 1996.

After that point it was actually friends of his that suggested experimenting with other wire colors, such as green and red, which he incorporated, especially as the materials improved.  Barr emphasizes that the best results come from using a 2x long-shanked, heavy-wire wet fly hook, in terms of both proportions of the fly and weight (recommending the Tiemco 5262).

While most people we’ve encountered have fished them at some point, we’ve run into many people who wished they had brought them (or more of them) when they hadn’t.  Like most attractor flies it’s hard to explain why, but the Copper John just works, making it one of the best flies for trout, steelhead, and bass overall.

2. When and How To Fish It

Well first off, since the Copper John is in essence a nymph, even through it’s an attractor fly, when fly fishing for trout you can use your traditional, favorite nymphing approaches.  Use the following techniques for success:

  • Fishing in the current gives the fly it’s optimal motion, flash, and action.
  • So, this is less so a fly to slowly drift through deep pools, moreso to swing it through pocket water, runs and ripples.
  • If you are wondering how to catch trout more frequently, be sure carry a variety of sizes and colors, increasing your chances of nailing what they want that day.
  • The debate is on, but generally anglers report that the CJ is effective in both clear and murky water.
  • Use larger sizes (with strong hooks) and rubber legs for steelhead, salmon, and bass.
  • When fished by itself, use a strike indicator.
  • When fished in combination, make sure either the other fly fly is substantially larger, or use a smaller sized with less weight as a dropper (or a super buoyant dry fly such as a foam pattern).

3. Tie It, or Buy It?

The Copper John is an intermediate-level trout fly to tie, requiring a range of skills and several different materials.  If you haven’t used resin or epoxy yet for a fly casing, now’s your chance to learn!  It is one of the best flies for trout to tie in bulk, because you’ll want to take several colors and sizes with you. Moreso than easier flies like the Wooly Bugger, your CJ’s will be more successful if you emulate the colors and proportions that John Barr designed.  That said, it’s not as exacting as matching the hatch exactly such as like for a mayfly for example.  When fly tying the CJ, it’s also good to know that it’ll last a long time, with an almost indestructible body.

Related Article: 101 Proven Patterns – The Best Flies For Trout

.4. Basic Copper John Fly Recipe Card

  • Hook: 2X-heavy, 2X-long nymph or streamer hook, sizes 12-18 for trout, sizes 4-10 for steelhead, bass, and salmon
  • Bead Head: sized to match the hook
  • Weight: non-lead wire .015 – .020 inch diameter
  • Thread: black, 8/0 or 70 denier
  • Tails: Brown goose biots
  • Abdomen: copper ultra wire (use brassie-size), or variations copper wire
  • Upper Wingcase: pearl colored Flashabou (saltwater variety)
  • Lower Wingcase: black Thin Skin strip
  • Thorax: Peacock herl
  • Legs: Brown or speckled brown hen hackle
  • Resin: 5-minute epoxy resin

5. Variations

While the original pattern uses the traditional copper wire, many other colors such as red, green, chartreuse, amber, brown and other wire colored bodies commonly serve as a unique attractor.

The red Copper John is probably the most used variant, with the green Copper John right thereafter. For steelhead, salmon, big trout, and larger trout, try a large Copper John with even brighter colors and rubber legs.

Of course, the resin covered flashabou and overall design are the same no matter which variation you try.   Yes, the body is not always actually copper, even though the variations are still termed “Copper” John.

Check out our photo gallery to see some of the common variations of this trout fly:

5. How To Tie The Copper John

We love the close-up, high quality video and practical approach by Skyler Hardman in this video about one of the best flies for trout:

Fly Tying: Copper John by Skyler Hardman

6. Buy It

If you prefer to purchase the Copper John as one of the best trout flies there is, here’s an option for you:


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