Warmwater’s Big Three
When the going gets warm, these flies get hot.
By Scott Sanchez

These three warmwater flies will prove themselves during spring, summer and fall. Best to get tying this winter so you’ll have a full collection when the water warms.

Warmwater fish is an ambiguous term for non-trout freshwater species. These fish’s feeding habits and habitat range widely, making it a challenge for a small group of flies to cover all the potential situations you might encounter when pursuing warmwater species. My core flies to match warmwater species are Conehead the Barbarian, the Sluggo and the Swamp Monster.

I’ve used this set of flies to fool warmwater species in Montana, Idaho, Florida, Tennessee, Texas, California, Hawaii and Brazil, and the species I’ve fooled with these flies range from bass (smallmouth, largemouth, Guadalupe, spotted, white), to skipjack, channel cats, freshwater drum, carp, gar, bowfin, pike, pickerel, walleye, perch, sunfish, suckers, stripers and exotics, such as peacock bass, jacunda, matriexa, triara and oscars.

So, if I were to whittle down a box of flies for such a variety of species, these are the ones I’d certainly carry . . . and I’d feel like I had a pretty good chance of hooking fish, no matter where I fished or what I fished for. These are patterns I’d fish in any season and I’d get busy tying them this late fall and winter so that I was well armed when spring arrives.

Conehead the Barbarian

I came up with Conehead the Barbarian when fishing for stripers and white bass around Austin, Texas. Dumbbell-eyed patterns were effective, but the eyes easily wedged in hungry limestone cracks, and in the riprap found on tailwater streams. To combat this, I opted for a conehead weight and a bendback hook. The next improvement was wrapping the cone with lure tape to form a minnow head and overcoating with epoxy. This gave the fly a more fish-like profile and also made it swim more realistically. I’ve tied this fly as small as size 6 and as big as 6/0, depending on the size of the quarry. This fly is best thrown onto the bank and then slipped into the water. Bucktail is my first choice on smaller patterns; synthetics, like Slinky Fibre, are good on larger flies; hackle works on all sizes and offers the most action. You can use brass or tungsten cones of various sizes to change head size and weight.

Hook: Standard shank saltwater, size 6 through 6/0
Thread: Red Flat Waxed Nylon
Weight: Conehead
Wing: Bucktail, Slinky Fibre or saddle hackle
Head: Mylar lure tape
Eyes: Stick on Mylar eyes
Finish: Clear thick UV resin

Conehead The Barbarian.

Swamp Monster

This fly was also created during my years in Texas. Damselflies are common warmwater fare and marabou patterns work for simulating motion. However, they get torn up quickly and flies tied with the hook-point down hang up in vegetation. I traded out marabou for rabbit fur and rubber and flipped the fly over. Hence, the Swamp Monster was born. The tail, body, head and wing are all made with the same rabbit fur cut off a hide. It can be tied unweighted with plastic eyes, neutral with foam eyes, or weighted with dumbbell eyes or beads of various weights. I match the hook to the size of the fish I’m trying to catch. It isn’t an exact imitation, but close enough, and it is also in the size range of a dragonfly nymph, which is another staple food source for warmwater fish. Olive, brown, rust and tan are good colors. This is a good choice for non-minnow eating species or times when the fish are keyed in on insects. This is my best carp fly.

It proved itself as such one year at the Johnny Boyd Memorial Carp Classic in Idaho. The fishing was horrible—high water, no wind, and carp looking for love. Even the Fish Whisperer, Jeff Currier, wasn’t hooking fish. With an hour to go, I started seeing fish that weren’t just swimming for exercise. I had some shots but no eaters. Finally, I saw a fish with real estate between his eyes swimming towards me. I was caught in the open, pretending to be a tree. When that big carp finally angled away, and I flipped a Swamp Monster sideways and ahead of him I wondered, Did he eat? I wondered. I lifted up and he had. He peeled 100 yards off of my seven-weight reel in a few seconds. After a bit, I had the head of the fly line in the guides, but the 2X fluoro broke. Probably would have won the tournament. Bummer I lost him, but not a bummer that I had him on, and hooking that fish in tough conditions only added to the Swamp Monster’s reputation.

Hook: 2X to 3X long natural bend hook, sizes 12 through 6. For carp use a heavy wire standard shank hook
Thread: Chartreuse 140 Denier
Tail: Olive rabbit fur
Body: Olive rabbit fur dubbing
Rib: Chartreuse 140 Denier
Wing/wingcase: Tuft of olive rabbit fur
Legs: Chartreuse rubber
Eyes: Dumbbells of your choice
Head: Olive rabbit fur dubbing

Swamp Monster


Bill Jones needed a fly to compete with his conventional tackle buddies and their large plastic worms and Sluggos. I decided to build that fly. I started with a rabbit fur bendback with the hook impaled through the hide, plastics style. The design was good, but the rabbit strip needed a little more body to keep the hook in place while casting, since hides stretch when they get wet. I put a little clear silicone caulking on the belly of the rabbit hide. This helped prevent the hide from stretching, and the rubber texture also helped prevent the hook from slipping out. The coated rabbit looked good and the soft feel convinced bass to hold onto the fly a little longer. This is a fly that looks like food and fishes well in cover. Its sink rate can be controlled by using different size beads and coneheads, or by leaving it unweighted. Black, purple, red and chartreuse are my favorite colors.

To tie this fly, you will need to prep a rabbit hide. Tack it down on a box or a piece of wood, fur side down. Lightly apply silicone caulking in a zigzag pattern. Spread the silicone out with a plastic spatula or a piece of cardboard. Cut into 3/8th inch strips.

Hook: Up-eye salmon hook, sizes 6 through 2/0
Thread: Red Flat waxed nylon
Weight: Conehead
Wing/body: Rabbit hide coated with silicone caulking and then cut into 3/8” strips
Legs (optional): Rubber or silicone
Collar (optional): Mylar chenille

The Sluggo.

Scott Sanchez
Scott Sanchez is a longtime resident of Jackson, Wyoming, and has stomped around the Yellowstone region for most of his life. When he’s not chasing elk during fall he’s tempting trout on an array of his unique flies, especially during the spring and summer season.