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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
A friend invited me to fish Bill McMillan's old backyard river. Coincidentally, Bill's son (John McMillan) recently interviewed his dad on a podcast that I was able to enjoy. Bill is full of stories and science. What a wonderful resource for biologists, conservationists, and sport anglers alike. Naturally, I was inspired to tie up one of his patterns for winter steelhead.

Currently, we haven't had much precip here in the northwest. The rivers are low and clear. Not the best winter steelhead conditions for success. The angler in Mr. McMillan tinkered to design a fly that would quickly sink to target sulking steelhead in the deep slots and holes during these type of conditions. Being a dryline advocate, Bill wanted a lightly dressed fly that would elicit movement with the slightest current when dressed on a heavy iron. He wanted to have some shrimpy colors (assuming the steelhead diet in the salt) and some contrast. Lastly, he wanted a simple pattern to tie so he could spend more time on the river fishing.

The "Paintbrush" was the result of Bill's energies. The platform he preferred was a Mustad 7970 (stout and heavy to sink quickly) and fished imparting a dead-drift technique.



Bill's preference was for webby hackle that would be lively with the slightest current. The orange-reddish hackle is palmered over gold mylar tinsel.

(My above fly is a variant as I used gold metal tinsel; and having lacked orange-reddish hackle I palmered orange hackle and added 1 wrap of red hackle. Lastly, I used an unknown lg Mustad hook instead of the 7970 - but the fly is tied similar to McMillan's proportions in "Dryline Steelhead")



Bill's pattern back on his old river.

I always find it humbling to fish where steelhead legends cast their lines and patterns.

Cheers and Blessings,
Adrian
 

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Hey Adrian,

Years ago I gave the Paintbrush a go simply because it was a McMillan pattern.

My hooks were not as big as yours, nor my ties as beautiful. For some reason, I always felt it needed a tail but who am I to dispute one of the greats.

That photo is beautiful. I will take a wee sip tonight and toast both the fly and the picture!
 

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Whoa!! That’s perfect for the low clear water conditions we’re having as well. Perfect tying as always👍👍
 

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Great stuff! I love McMillans patterns, and yours has all the beauty and grace that I love about his patterns. I like your words too, you convey well the sense of admiration and appreciation for the man, and the footprints he has left in the fly fishing world.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Hey Adrian,

Years ago I gave the Paintbrush a go simply because it was a McMillan pattern.

My hooks were not as big as yours, nor my ties as beautiful. For some reason, I always felt it needed a tail but who am I to dispute one of the greats.

That photo is beautiful. I will take a wee sip tonight and toast both the fly and the picture!
This is my only attempt at the Paintbrush, Keith. Had the river conditions been better, I probably would have tied up the Winter's Hope. But I sought to see if the Paintbrush would tease my eyes and the steelhead's eyes.

It certainly has a simplistic beauty. I, too, can imagine a tail on it. Yet it seems to have caught many fisherman and also steelhead in the past. I think Bill almost wanted to rename it (as there was another fly pattern dubbed as a "Paintbrush"), but so many steelheaders were already having success with Mcmillan's Paintbrush that he realized the moniker would have to do.

Cheers, my friend.


Adrian,

I’ll second MTD on the photo! Is there a wrap of purple under the blue collar?
Yes there is. I should have posted the original recipe...

Mustad 7970 or an equivalent heavy iron

Body: Gold mylar tinsel (metal is better than mylar)

Orange-reddish hackle palmered up the body.

A couple wraps of purple hackle slightly longer than the body hackle.

A silver doctor blue hackle slightly longer than the purple hackle.

Head: Red thread.

Try to use soft webby hackle instead of stiff cock hackle.

Cheers!
 

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So habituated are we modern steelheaders to seeking bottom-holding steelhead and salmon with sinking tips or heads that it's become difficult to remember that it can be done another way. But great fly fishers of earlier generations were doing it their way. in his iconic "Dry Line Steelhead," McMillan observed "I've always favored fly fishing with a floating line. Somehow, a sinking line takes away from both the pleasure and grace inherent to fly fishing despite the obvious mechanical advantages of taking a fly down to the fish. Through a number of years of trial and error I finally realized that in water flows of 6 feet, or less, one really doesn't need anything more than a floating line if a properly sized and designed fly is combined with sound line control principles. Steelhead commonly choose streamy lies of 4 to 6 feet in depth...All they really are, are deep riffles. It soon became apparent that steelhead could be taken from such water, despite 32 to 44F. water temperatures necessitating a deep presentation, by using a floating line. Success depended on recognizing certain water types and in employing large flies on 3/0 to 6/0 salmon hooks or on No. 1 or 2 hooks of 5 extra stout wire [Mustad 7970]."

Haig-Brown was doing it decades earlier, pre-WW II. "Use a line that has never been near grease or other floatant...do everything possible to keep the fly working slowly - follow it with the rod tip, use any slack water...it is by no means impossible to hook bottom with a 2/0 fly in six feet of really fast water."
 

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Love the post Adrian :smokin::smokin:
Many moons ago, when I first started winter steelheading here in the GL's, I swung many PNW patterns, the paintbrush was one of them.
I liked the way it looked in the water, great sparkle and the hackle blend really glowed. Never produced a fish for me, but it gave me confidence that some day it would.
Thanks for posting this, I will re-visit the pattern for this season :)


Mike
 

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Discussion Starter #12
@Nooksak Mac, thanks for sharing that piece from Bill and about Haig-Brown (Bill also was a huge fan of Haig-Brown). It's good for us to realise that there were cerebral anglers that put thought into their techniques in order to enhance their skill and enjoyment on the water.

@GR8LAKES FLYER, it sure is eye-catching in the water, Mike. I may continue to fish it this winter into Spring just so I could close the deal on the pattern with a steelhead...We'll see what the weather holds for us.
 

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Paintbrush...

Great job here Adrian,
Have some 7970's if you want to have a go on the original platform.
Never had success with the original color combo, but have hooked a few on natural color variants although it has been a few years since I fished one.
Always inspiring.

Tight lines,
Tom
 
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