November 18, 2020
Devin Olsen is a self-described “obsessed” fly fisher. His official indoctrination into the sport came on the banks of Slough Creek at age 9 when he caught a cutthroat on an ant pattern, and completely ruined his life. In the days since, Olsen has established a stellar reputation as a competitive fly fisher. He made it onto Fly fishing Team USA in 2006, and humbly credits these competitions with his rapid advance through the sport.
I recently spoke with him in a casual phone conversation and was immediately put at ease by his easygoing demeanor and obvious mastery of the fly-fishing game. Like many of his teammates, Olsen has every right to be one of those cocky young anglers, because he has the skill set to back it up—but you would never know it from talking to him. Actually, all the competitive anglers I have met are excellent stewards of the sport. They are humble, helpful, and immensely competent. Devin Olsen is no different.
Once we’d gotten through the formalities and introductions, as well as a little background on this fly pattern, I asked Olsen about the attraction of competitive fly fishing. From my own limited point of view, competitive fly fishing just isn’t for me—I am far too anxious and egotistical for this sort of thing. But I have always wondered why anyone would want to get into this arena. Olsen’s answer was a shining beam of light for me. He explained all the benefits of competitive fly fishing, and cited the opportunities to travel all around the world, fish varied waters, and learn a huge range of new fishing techniques from other like-minded anglers across the globe. The overwhelming takeaway I got from talking with Olsen was that the competitions were fun, and the camaraderie was the best part. I guess I have been looking at this whole thing all wrong (what a surprise).
Olsen beamed with pride when he told me he has an open invitation to fish across the globe with world-class anglers, and he reciprocates with invitations to them. He considers it an opportunity to show off our fishing here in the U.S.A.
So rather than a secretive bunch of fly fishers trying to outdo the others, the competitive fly-fishing scene seems to be far more open, and the competitors eagerly share their techniques and patterns. It is something a lot of us old guys could take a lesson from.
The Blowtorch is Olsen’s derivative of a pattern shown to him by Czech competitor Michael Adamcik. The Czech version called a Tag Nymph features a short hot spot tail, peacock body, and soft hen hackle collar. Of course, like any self-respecting tier, Olsen had to tweak it a bit and make it his own—a heavy, jigged nymph with dual hot spots and an undulating CDC collar separated by a durable Ice Dub body with a flashy rib.
Adamcik recommended the original pattern for a particular stretch of the Vltava River where chubs are the primary catch, but Olsen immediately recognized the crossover potential for trout on his home streams. He has since fished the pattern everywhere, and rates it among his top three flies for trout anywhere in the world.
While I have studied the commercial versions of Olsen’s patterns, I always find it prudent to ask for tying tips from the originator whenever I have the opportunity. Olsen gracefully offered that most folks overdress this fly, and cautioned to be Spartan with the materials—a suggestion that does not surprise me at all. Competitive fly fishers favor “bare essence” style flies with nothing frivolous. Everything serves a purpose.
When he ties the fly, he uses only three strands of Glo-Brite Floss for the tag, and cuts it off short, so it doesn’t extend past the bend of the hook. He then ties in the Flashabou rib and a piece of 5X tippet to use as a counter rib before dubbing a slim, tapered body right up to the tungsten bead. He finishes the fly with a natural dun CDC feather, but strips one side of the feather before wrapping it to create an ultra-sparse collar. Finally, he adds a hot orange thread collar at the back of the bead to accentuate the hot spot.
Olsen fishes the Blowtorch by itself or on the point of a two-fly Euro nymph rig with the dropper tag fly about 20 inches above. He uses the thinnest tippet he can get away with to increase sink rate and decrease drag. He is adamant that the Blowtorch is a great dropper pattern under a dry, an endorsement I can confirm.
The Blowtorch is an easy pattern to tie, and the color variations are at your whim. This is a no-brainer to add to your fly box and is a proven pattern around the world.
Tying Olsen's Blowtorch
- Hook: #10-16 Umpqua C-400, Hanak 400BL, or Umpqua XT500 BN 60-degree jig hook.
- Bead: 3 mm slotted copper tungsten.
- Weight: .015" lead wire.
- Thread: Hot orange 14/0 Veevus.
- Tail: Glo-Brite Floss, Fire Orange #5.
- Ribbing: Mirage Flashabou.
- Counterrib: 5X tippet material.
- Body: Black peacock Ice Dub.
- Collar: Natural Dun CDC feather.
- Slide the bead up to the eye and make four turns of .015" lead wire behind it. Break off the ends and shove the wraps tight against the bead. Start the thread behind the lead wraps and build a small thread dam from the bare shank up to the diameter of the lead, then continue making a thread base all the way back to the bend. Return the thread to just behind the bead.
- Tie in three strands of Glo-Brite Floss just behind the bead and wrap over them to the bend, taking care to keep them on top of the hook. Return the thread to the starting point.
- Tie in a single strand of Mirage Flashabou on the near side of the hook and wrap over it to the bend. Return the thread to the starting point and tie in a piece of 5X tippet material on the far side of the hook. Wrap over the tippet all the way back to the base of the tail.
- Use the black peacock Ice Dub to build a tapered body from the base of the tail to just short of the back of the bead. Wrap the Flashabou rib forward over the body and tie off, then counter-wrap the tippet material forward over the flash for durability. Tie off the tippet material and trim it along with the Flashabou.
- Select a CDC feather with a thin stem. Strip the inside of the feather—if you tie right-handed, you will strip the left side of the feather. I also like to “thumbnail” the remaining fibers to length ahead of time, so they are broken off to about the same length as the hook shank.
- Tie in the CDC feather by its tip, then fold the tip to the rear and make a couple of thread wraps over it to secure it. Clip the excess.
- Make no more than two turns of CDC just behind the bead and tie it off. Clip the excess and build a smooth thread collar while sweeping the fibers back slightly. Whip-finish the thread but do not clip it.
- Coat the working thread with a smear of clear Solarez Bone Dry. Do this right up close to the hook. Wrap the wet thread over the thread collar, using the thread as the applicator to place the resin precisely on the thread collar without bleeding into the base of the CDC collar. Make three or four turns of thread to apply the resin, then unwrap and clip the thread before curing the resin with your UV lamp. Finally, clip the Glo-Brite Floss even with the outside of the hook bend, leaving a short stubby hot spot tag.
Charlie Craven co-owns Charlie’s Fly Box, recently moved to 7279 W. 52nd Ave. in Arvada, Colorado. He is the author of four books, most recently Tying Streamers: Essential Flies and Techniques for the Top Patterns (Stackpole Books, April 2020).