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A brief history of the Pott's hair flies and the Fizzle came to be in the fishing world

By Robert Williamson, KSL.com Contributor | Posted - Jun. 12, 2020 at 12:15 p.m.


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SALT LAKE CITY — Sometime between 1920 and 1925, Franz B. Pott, of Missoula, Montana, was cutting hair and making wigs. He was also creating trout flies with the ideas and techniques he gleaned from his profession, that would set the stage for anglers today.

Largely known for his pattern the Sandy Mite, which was produced and sold for over 50 years, Pott had another popular fly called the Fizzle. But where did the name come from? And how would you fish such a fly? Here's a brief history into it.

Pott's hair flies were made by weaving various colors of ox hair or badger hair with an orange or yellow thread. This created a unique hair body with the colored thread strip up the belly of the fly. The hair flies were also adorned with a hackle of similar hair woven onto strands of thread.

This skirt-like hair hackle was wound around the front of the fly between the front end of the body and the eye of the hook. Made in this manner, the hair flared out from the body, giving the illusion of legs and wings.

His most famous hair fly was the Sandy Mite. The Sandy Mite hackle and body was woven of sandy-colored ox hair and an orange belly thread. The mite name, which is used on several of Pott's patterns, is believed to be taken from the word hellgrammite, the larva of the Dobson Fly (Corydalis cornuta).

Fly fishers from the east, now migrating and living in the west, were familiar with the Dobson Fly found in waters east of the Continental Divide. The large stoneflies (Pteranarcys californica) found in some western rivers and streams had a similar appearance to the Dobson Fly and its larva and the term hellgrammite was used and is still in use today to describe the large stonefly nymphs.

While all of Pott's fly patterns were dressed with a hair hackle, not all of the bodies were made of woven hair. Another popular Pott's pattern was called the Fizzle.

The Fizzle was tied in two ways. The Peacock Fizzle was made by wrapping tightly twisted yellow silk or yarn around the hook shank while wrapping a few strands of peacock herl around the yellow silk creating a segmented look on the belly of the fly and a peacock back. The standard Fizzle was tied shell-back style with black floss pulled over the top of the twisted and wrapped yellow floss body. Both the standard and Peacock Fizzle carried the signature woven hackle made of badger hair. You can see many of Pott's flies at Montana-riverboats.com.

One might wonder why a fly tier marketing his flies would call one a Fizzle when the dictionary definition of the word is to fail or end feebly, especially after a promising start. Sales indicated that the Fizzle had a following and was an effective pattern for numerous years, so why did it have that name?

Since Pott in western Montana, it is surmised that Pott's pattern the Fizzle is named after a fort famous from the Nez Perce War in 1877.

At that time, the U.S. Army was trying to keep the Nez Perce Indians from fleeing out of north-central Idaho over Lolo Pass into the Bitterroot Valley of western Montana. In this effort, a temporary military barricade of logs and earth was erected in a 200-yard span of Lolo Creek Canyon.

Nez Perce members got around the barricade by climbing up the ridge and around the barricade and the wooden structure became known as "Fort Fizzle." Today, Fort Fizzle is a historic site and picnic area.

Fishing with a Fizzle

Pott was pretty protective of his hair flies. He even patented the process for making them. If you are lucky enough to have some of the originals, they would be considered a real treasure to Pott hair fly fans. Today there are fly tiers who can weave both the body and the hackle. Other tiers can tie the bodies but fumble with the hackle.

Some tiers claim that the woven hackle is too time-consuming and that tying the hair on tightly against the body will cause the hair to flair and create the same desired result. There is still a small group of anglers who tie and use the Fizzle.

There are three ways to fly fish with the Fizzle. The most common way is to use it with standard wet fly techniques. Most wet fly fishers will cast the Fizzle down and across the river or stream. This allows the line to swing and tighten. As the fly swings across the current, hungry trout will follow it and grab at it. When you feel a tug, lift the rod and try to set the hook. This technique is best used in the summer and fall when trout seem to be most active.

The second way to use the Fizzle is to present it as a deep nymph. This can be done with an indicator and small split shot about eighteen inches above the fly. Cast upstream, let the fly sink and watch the indicator for any takes and lift the rod tip to set the hook.

The third technique would be to use a standard dry fly cast. While the Fizzle is not known as a dry fly because it will sink faster than rooster hackled flies, it is still buoyant enough to get a few quick strikes right as it hits the water, or as it floats just in or under the meniscus in emerger or drowned insect fashion.

If you enjoy fishing with historic fly patterns or just want to try something different for fun, give the Fizzle a try. Hopefully, your experience with the fly won't end feebly after a promising start.

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