Copper John was originally tied, and designed, by John Barr in 1993. As often is the case with new flies, it took John a few years to perfect the design and in 1996, the finished fly was ready.
In the original pattern, John used a normal copper wire for the body and Hungarian Partridge for the legs and tail. Through the years the original pattern has evolved quite a bit, not least because of new materials that entered the market.
Why the Copper John is such an effective fly, and what exactly it imitates has often been the topic of discussion between fly fishermen and fly tiers. Some say that it imitates the stonefly which is a great source of food for freshwater fish in the US. The form definitely invites the comparisons, but in terms of color, the two are quite different. Of course, that can easily be mended with a change in the color combination.
Stoneflies are really uncommon in Iceland and can not be viewed as an integral part of the food source for freshwater fish here. Nevertheless, the Copper John is a really popular fly here.
A lot of Icelandic fly fishermen believe that the Copper John is a great imitation of the Lepidurus arcticus, which is mostly found in the highland lakes in Iceland. So it’s definitely a good idea to have a few in your box if you’re heading to the highlands.
What the Copper John brought to the table when it first became famous was definitely the weight. The body is made from copper wire, there are a few wraps of lead under the thorax and a bead. This makes the fly heavy, and a great choice when choosing a point fly in a dropper setup. With the rising popularity of tungsten beads, the same weight can be achieved for almost any fly pattern imaginable. This has probably made the Copper John a little less popular, but great flies aren’t easily replaced.
Recently the Copper John has enjoyed a bit of a resurgent as a really effective pattern for sea trout. The most popular variation is a bit far from the original, with rubber legs and a hot orange collar.
Tying the Copper John is easy, but there are a few things to keep in mind. For example before wrapping the wire, try and make sure that the underbody is as even as possible as the wire will exaggerate any unevenness. The biot tail has been known to make life difficult for some tiers, if that’s something that rings true for you, don’t hesitate to substitute it with pheasant tail or partridge.