One early fall morning in Montana, I marched into a fly shop after a terrific day on the Madison River, bent on replenishing my dwindling supply of Olive Serendipities.
“What are you looking for?” the fly shop person asked.
“Got any Olive Serendipities?”
“You don’t want caddis,” he said. “The caddis stopped about a month ago.”
Of course he was right. The hatches ended some time in September.
A day earlier, however, I caught one of the heaviest fish I’ve ever hooked on a fly rod on a #18 Olive Serendipity, a caddis nymph. Steve and I were fishing near West Yellowstone, and we each caught a fat, 20-inch Hebgen Lake rainbow on our dropper at the far end of the swing.
At least in the West, this nymph pattern is consistently deadly. Here’s a little more background on the nymph:
1. Where it originated
In Fly Patterns of Yellowstone Volume vol 2, Craig Matthews and John Juracek trace the pattern to the late 1980s. A guy by the name of Ross Merigold brought the pattern to the attention of the tiers at the Blue Ribbon Fly Shop, which Matthews owned, in West Yellowstone. Mathews credits Merigold with the founding of the pattern. A California tyer, Merigold was also the creator of the RAM caddis, and the Serendipity is just a riff off the RAM caddis.
Today the Serendipity is a staple of fly fishers everywhere in the Yellowstone ecosystem.
2. How it’s made
The fly was first tied with a brown zelon body with a head of trimmed deer hair on a size #16 hook. Other versions then emerged, including a body with brown thread instead of the zelon, known as the Three Dollar Serendipity, named after the Three Dollar Bridge on the Madison River.
Tying the Serendipity begins by tying in a length of gold wire, wrapping the thread evenly over the wire to the bend of the hook, then forward back to the eye. The process ends by tying on a clump of deer hair on the eye, trimming it, and voila!
Easier said than done, of course. Twisting on the zelon to create the segmentation for the body takes some chops.
See this short video by Craig Mathews on how to tie the Original Serendipity.
Today there is the Olive Serendipity, the Guide’s Serendipity, a white Serendipity, and a Chrystal Serendipity, which uses pearl Krystal flash for the body. And I’m sure there are a thousand other riffs off the original.
3. Why it works
This nymph doesn’t just work. It slays trout. Matthews and Juracek say, “We think that it is the most important nymph pattern to come on to the scene in at least thirty years and maybe more.”
No one really knows why it is so consistently effective.
Matthews and Juracek say that perhaps it was the smaller size (#16) that made it so effective in the late 1980s. Up to that point, fly fishers often tossed bigger nymphs (#12 and #14). Perhaps the nymph represents more trout food than other flies. The Serendipity seems, generally, to work better than the Pheasant Tail in the same size.
4. How to fish it
Steve and I fish the Serendipity as a midge-larva, dead-drifting it along the bottom. Depending on what we’re doing and where we’re fishing, we’ll drop the nymph anywhere from eight inches to a foot or more off a top fly. This fall, we tied on a #14 Stone Fly and then dropped the #18 Olive Serendipity. Steve caught more fish than I did on the nymph, but I got in the last word with the biggest fish of the day.
This spring, I plan to experiment with the Serendipity in the Minnesota and Wisconsin Driftless.