Copper John

UNI Products Fly Tiers Corner

A Relative Newcomer

September 2023

Many of the more popular trout flies trace their origins back for more than a century, or even longer. Over those years, new variations appear as more and more tiers try their hand at improving them.

The original Copper John. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

Against that back drop, the Copper John is a veritable newcomer. This nymph pattern was first introduced by John Barr, a native of San Jose, California. Barr had cut his angling teeth as a youth fishing for panfish in gravel pits in that area. Later, beginning with tying in his garage, he moved on to patterns for trout.

Then in 1993, he first tied the Copper John.  Much like the aquatic insects it is meant to mimic, the fly went through a metamorphosis during the following three years. Part of that was Barr’s search for the right hook to use. He finally settled on a Tiermco 5262, which is a hook that is twice as long-shanked as a standard dry-fly hook, as well as being twice as heavy.


At first glance, the Copper John looks more “mechanical” than most trout patterns. Rather than fur and feathers, it features more metal bead and wire. In fact, in the first versions of the fly, Barr wrapped copper-colored wire directly onto the hook. Only later did he start adding tapering thread under the wire to give the abdomen a tapered appearance.

Another innovation he followed with was substituting Wapsi Thin Skin for the turkey quill he originally used for wing case portion of the pattern. Barr found the synthetic material to be quite durable and easier to work with.

The final switch was replacing the partridge hen-back feathers used for legs to hen fibers for more durability, as well as changing the tail to goose biots.

Wanting to make the fly sink fast, Barr wrapped lead wire on the hook under the thorax, coupling that with a metal bead and the wire of the body. This produces a slim profile, with weight enough to get the fly down deep in a hurry.

While all the early ties used the natural-colored copper wire, eventually that evolved too. At the suggestion of Michael White of Boulder, Colorado, who owes Blue Ribbon Sales, Barr began experimenting with colored wire. With the introduction of Wapsi’s Ultra Wire in 2001, the tier started producing flies with red or green wire for the body. From there the hues increased to include chartreuse, silver, wine, black and silver, black, blue and even hot pink versions of the pattern.

A Red Copper John. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

Here in the southland, the pattern tied with red wire has proven to be quite popular among angler, as well as the trout

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