Col. Roger Duckworth

UNI Products Fly Tiers Corner

A Well-Traveled Tennesse Fly Tier

January 2023

Col. Roger Duckworth of Ooltewah, Tennessee spent his early years and military career on the move. Originally from West Virginia, he grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and his home state. Later he lived in Alabama, Germany, Georgia (the state), Hawaii, Kansas, Maryland, New York, Oklahoma, South Korea and Virginia. Along the way, he took his love of fly fishing with him. Eventually, he also picked up the skills of fly tying, which, along with the fishing, have continued after his retirement from the military.

Colonel Roger Duckworth

“I first fly fished with my grandfather for smallmouth on the Elk River in West Virginia,” the colonel explained. “Not much casting, just lobbing my grandfather’s homemade squirrel-hair streamers against the bank as we floated downstream in a homemade “Gum Wood” jonboat.”

Despite that early angling, Duckworth points to another relative as a major influence on his enthusiasm for fly fishing, “My main mentor was my Uncle Jim Slaughter. He was a brilliant electrician, inventor, lure designer, and fly tier. I spent many evenings watching him tie flies. I have hundreds of his flies, most of them in the mold of the Ray Bergman wet fly style of the time,” he said.

It was a bit later in college days that Duckworth tried his hand at tying. “My best friend and roommate during my freshmen year at West Virginia University, Chuck Brooks, had some experience from his years in Spokane. We bought a kit from Herter’s and started learning the art in our spare time.”

A chance encounter as he prepared for his career in the service, was the next step in the progression. “While enduring my first head shear (hair cut) at West Point, I discovered that my barber was a fisherman and fly tier. Though we did not tie together, we had many great discussions. My first nice kit was from Abercrombie & Fitch in New York City, a gift from a girlfriend at the time.

“Mostly, I was self-taught,” the colonel continued. “I was a voracious reader and learned much from books and magazines (all well before the internet!). Most of my early flies were gaudy things that looked like nothing in nature. However, in the 1990s, I was tired of catching nothing on my Wooly Bugger, while trout were rising all around me! I then got into basic trout stream entomology and learned to tie the life cycle phases of the various stream insects. I have found a small net and a stomach pump invaluable for solving the hourly trout stream puzzle!”

The stream of flies that now flow from Duckworth’s vise attest to his commitment to studying the aquatic environment. “I tie mostly patterns to match the prevailing bugs in the East and my favorite streams in the West, “ he noted. “I love winter fishing, so I have about every version of the Blue Wing Olive (Baetis) that you can imagine. 

‘Sulphers are my next favorite, as we have good hatches on the Hiwassee, the Holston, Watauga and dramatic season-long hatches on the South Holston River. I have also encountered rare Sulpher hatches on the Clinch. My favorite styles for both BWO’s and Sulphers are the Breadline Emerger, the Yellow Post Emerger, and the Puff Daddy.

“I probably tie 30 different midge patterns and find tying and fishing them the ultimate winter challenge! I usually fish the Green River in Utah in late April and BWO’s rule the day. For my annual trip to the Henry’s Fork (in Idaho), I tie the life stages of the Pale Morning Dun, Brown Drake, and Green Drake for the upper river and caddis for the lower river. The Rough Water Caddis is a killer fly anywhere that there are caddis. For smallmouth, the Sneaky Duck, in my opinion, cannot be topped.”

Duckworth’s fly-tying efforts also extend to the brine.

“I try to get to the Bahamas for bonefish twice a year, and tie the standard Charlies, Gothchas, and Peterson’s Spawning Shrimp. I am developing a clam pattern that I hope to use this April on Long Island – 80 percent of bonefish stomach contents are clams.”

Preparing to sit down at the vise entails purchasing and scavenging for materials. “A recent hunting trip in South Dakota yielded plenty of pheasant tails for my Project Healing Waters friends and several nice winter Hungarian partridge capes. Years ago, I found an old recipe for a mayfly that used dubbing from a urine-stained female red fox. I discovered a road-killed female fox in Burke, Virginia, and, you know the rest of the story! My father was also a trapper and gave me a nice supply of muskrat,” he said, then added, “Also, today’s synthetics are fantastic.

“I am an engineer by training and am always making and modifying things,” Duckworth explained. “I did invent several flies and four of them appeared in Fly Tier Magazine at different times. They were the TwoFer and Yellow Post Emerger, both used mainly for the BWO hatch, and the Duck’s Sipper and Sneaky Duck, which are smallmouth killers. I developed an easy method to make extended bodies and have had an article on the method on Global Fly Fisher.

Fly-tying is not a commercial endeavor for Col. Duckworth, but rather one of pleasure. “I think that I have given away hundreds of flies to friends and strangers,” he mused. “ I love to see a new fly fishers struggling with catching fish during a hatch, then rigging them up with proper tippet, fly, and technique to watch their joy at catching their rising trout.”

He is always willing to share his skill and enthusiasm for fly fishing and tying. “I give about a 45-minute Power Point presentation to local Trout Unlimited chapters and our local PHWWF chapter on fly fishing in Tennessee. I cover freestone and tailwaters, rigging, non-Latin entomology for mayflies, caddis, and midges that they will encounter, and detailed instruction on the techniques needed for each insect, including nymphing, emergers, swinging a soft hackle, and fishing a dry fly. I also conduct fly tying classes for the above groups and have tied at several shows. I demonstrate techniques while tying flies that actually catch trout.”

In closing, Col. Roger Duckworth offered a bit of advice for newcomers to fly tying. “Well, there are many types of tiers out there, but I can only give advice to those who focus on trout flies.

“Tie flies that look alive in the water and mimic the natural as much as possible. I would stress size, silhouette, color, and life. If the quarry is fresh stocker trout, bright patterns and attractor flies work well. If the trout have been in the water very long, they become wary and can be very selective, especially during high emergence cycles. So, tie flies that match the mayfly nymph, dun, spinner phases or the caddis larva, pupae, adult phases. To be successful in winter, learn to tie midge flies sizes 20 down to 32. Though the hooks are small, the actual tie is usually simple, he concluded. 

TU, PHWFF or other fly-fishing groups can contact him at

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