Thursday, January 5, 2012

Bethke's Pink Squirrel Part 1 of 3

All I can say about these is amazing! They are a great year round fly and they get the job done. I fished this fly and only this fly for three days straight. Needless to say I ended up with the most fish out of the entire group on the trip. This is a must have in your fly box. I am going to do a 3 part thing with this.First will be the article below that was written by John Bethke himself. Part 2 will be a quick how to tying video on the fly. Part 3 will be a video of me fishing with the fly this past season in Wisconsin. Sit back and Enjoy!

Pink Squirrel – My all-around favorite fly
By John Bethke

 While contemplating the writing of an article on my signature fly, the pink squirrel, I found myself with writer’s block. So I went to my tying bench in the bat cave, aka the basement, and tied some up.

This November I made a trip to Cabelas to buy 200 3906 #12 Mustad hooks and a couple hundred 1/8” brass beads. I have a large pile of tiny puffs of coral pink chenille pills on my tying table. It’s the scrap generated from stripping the fluff from the cotton core of chenille in order to tie it into the fly. The final step before I double whip finish and cement the head behind the bead. That pile represents a couple thousand pink squirrels tied in the past year — probably 2/3 of them given to friends, acquaintances, students, and donated with other flies to fundraisers for trout organizations or other groups. That leaves about 700 of them that I must have used myself. My present inventory consists of four containers with two dozen each of size 12s, plus a couple dozen in various fly boxes or vests.

I’ve always wished I had a peanut butter jar full of them, but fishing is my first priority, and I often find myself tying a half dozen pink squirrels before I head out the door to fish. The water based head cement I use is sometimes not even cured before the fly is in a fish’s mouth. I can be on a quality trout stream from my house in 20 minutes or less in any direction you care to point.

Some people have a lot of money. I have a lot of trout streams. I’ve not sold 100 pink squirrels in the five or six years I’ve been tying them. It’s not hard to figure where my priorities are.

So, why all the pink squirrels? I, like most people who fly fish, was overwhelmed with the variety of creatures fish eat, and even more so by the variety of flies made to imitate them. For season upon season I plied the waters of many places with countless varieties and techniques to try catching trout and panfish. I can’t say I haven’t enjoyed this experience, but I always in the back of my mind wished for a fly and technique that would always be effective. I suppose always is a little strong, so I’ll settle for 90+ percent of the time. Eureka! Eureka! I have found it.

In spite of the volumes of books and articles that deal with selectivity, I have concluded from personal experience that selectivity is a relatively rare phenomenon. Don’t get me wrong. I carry eight fly boxes in my vest, not including salmon, steelhead, and bass flies which I have for occasions when they are assembled for specialized trips. When I encounter a hatch or a steady riser, I have the knowl-edge and experience to know what to do. But day in and day out, I know trout and panfish will consistently take a well-presented pink squirrel. With this fly I’ve caught suckers, carp, bass, trout, steelhead, perch, crappie, sunfish, bluegill, and sheephead.

A few years ago, my friend, Hal Maier, invited me to fish his home water, Black Earth Creek. We drove from Black Earth to Cross Plains looking for an open stretch to fish, but found none until we were about 1/4 mile downstream of the town of Cross Plains. This stretch runs from town through a small neighborhood of homes and up to what amounts to the junk yard of the local farm implement dealer at the edge of town. After putting on our gear and assembling our rods, Hal asked what I was going to fish with.

“A pink squirrel, size 14,” I said.

“You’ll have to go smaller than that on this stream.”

“We’ll see,” I said.

There was no need to change my plan. We fished for over two hours and caught more than a dozen trout between us. In deference to delicacy, I added two feet of 5X to my usual 7-1/2-foot 4X leader. There were few risers, but those that did rise took a pink squirrel cast slightly up stream and drifted through their lies. Sacrilege, I know, but I’m apparently not too bright and think I’m having a good time when I do that.

I have some friends who are not inclined to even tie a pink squirrel on their leaders, not to mention use a strike indicator. These people prefer to fish in a more dignified or sophisticated manner. On rare occasions, I feel that way myself, and I can play those games fairly well. But mostly, I fish to enjoy the travel along my streams. Simply making proper presentations in often challenging environs gives me satisfaction beyond what the application of my time and labor might produce in, say, more commercially profitable pursuits. I suppose that might make me a trout bum candi-date, but I work a 40-hour week, and life is short, so I fish a lot.

If you want to make your own pink squirrels, I give the recipe at the conclusion of this article. Just having the fly will not make you catch fish. You still need to read the water, move with stealth, and make good presentations. People occasionally tell me they aren’t catching fish with the pink squirrels I gave them. I’ll bet they are failing in at least one of the three things mentioned above. Scared fish don’t bite, period, and you won’t catch fish where they ain’t.

I can tie about 20 pink squirrels in an hour, but I have more experience tying this fly than anyone. Any good tier can do 10 per hour. If you’re having trouble, call me and I’ll try to help. I’m usually at home after dark or if the weather is nasty.

Since I live within about one hour of northeast Iowa, my trout season never closes. Yesterday after my visit to Cabelas, I went to Iowa and fished in a 25 mile per hour wind. I caught seven trout, browns and rainbows. There were some fish rising to something I didn’t see, probably midges. Let’s see — 10’ leader, 6X leader, #20 fly, 20 mph wind. Guess I’ll throw a squirrel.

Hooks — My favorite is a #14 scud hook, but they are expensive, so I use Mustad 3906 #12. Tail — Use 1/8” V of crystal flash. I have used several colors, but rainbow #13 is good, as are yellow or light purple. Rib — I use medium red copper salvaged from electronic fluorescent light ballasts. It’s not a critical element. Medium gold, copper, or silver is fine. Dubbing — Fox squirrel body hair off the back and sides. Shave them close to get the under fur which is gray to mix with the multi-hued guard hair. With this hair I blend amber antron chopped 1/4-1/2” in length. Lately I’ve been adding some chopped Ice dubbing to the blend, but go easy on this. You want to keep any flash subtle. Collar — Use 1-1/2 wrap of medium coral pink chenille. Sometimes I tie smaller and larger pink squirrels from #18 to #6. For these I use a smaller or larger bead and chenille. The smaller ones usually require a light dry fly hook. Thread — I use navy blue 000 Cortichelli belding thread. I bought a 1/4 pound spool of it 10 years ago at a garage sale for 50 cents. I like the way it handles so I use it. Pretty much any thread will do. Dubbing wax — I make my own. There are all kinds of dubbing waxes on the market. Most of them don’t work well for tying with hard hair dubbing. I mix toilet ring seal wax with bees wax and put it into Chapstick containers. It does the job.


  1. Caught my first fish EVER on a Pink Squirrel. Love em. Looking forward to the tying and fishing videos!

  2. Believe it or not, I have not used this fly, but seeing the results will get one tie on my line--thanks for sharing

  3. I've used them in Wisconsin, Utah, and Montana and have caught fish in all three places. They really do work, Not really 100% sure why, but they do.

  4. Bill, it is a must try fly. Send me your address in an email and I will send you a few. Blake, I have a friend in Idaho that I sent a few and he has had success with them as well. I once got into a conversation with Mat co-owner of the Driftless Angler in Viroqua,WI on why they like them so much. Mat was taught by Bethke himself on how to make the dubbing mixture and tie the fly. There is a bug and I can't remember the name for the life of me, that is pretty abundant in the Driftless area that has the brownish red body with a pinkish hue to it on the head. Hence the pink chenile wrapped up twards the bead. I will see if I can get in touch with Mat to get the exact name of the bug. Thanks for the comments everyone! Tight Lines and Happy Fishing!