THE OLD MAN called the fly the “skull crusher” because the brook trout would come after it so hard and fast that they’d bash their heads on boulders. He tied them with one arm, in the cool of the little store in the shadow of Grandfather Mountain, not far from the creek where he’d first heard of the fly when he was a kid, some 75 years earlier.
I thought I knew about the Yallerhammer, arguably the most traditional of the old Southern Appalachian fly patterns, but this was news to me. The region has birthed a number of homegrown fly patterns—among them the Thunderhead,
Jim Charley, Sheep Fly, and Tellico Nymph, the region’s true breakout to fame and widespread use. But the Yallerhammer is the fly that seems to hold the fancy of local anglers. Its history is as shrouded in mystery and lore as these old North Carolina mountains are in their famed blue mist. Some say the pattern was devised by the Cherokee. Others figure Scotch-Irish pioneers dreamed up the bug. It was originally tied from the split wing feather of a yellow-shafted flicker—what the old-timers called a “yellow hammer,” a large woodpecker once common across these mountains— but these days, of course, it’s illegal to shoot a songbird such as a flicker. Most of the flies are tied with dyed mourning dove feathers. You hardly ever see anyone fish it. The Yallerhammer is an attractor pattern, sort of a Bob Evans– buffet kind of offering, which tends to offend the purest of fly anglers. And the Yallerhammer was traditionally fished as a wet fly, although those have fallen out of favor these days.
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October - November 2019