"Sometimes, you just need to go downstairs and waggle a rod..."

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Fly Focus: Mini Madame X

I first heard about the Madame X at a fly fishing expo I attended back in the late 1980s. I don't remember much about that expo, but I know it took place somewhere in downtown Minneapolis, my dad got lost trying to find it, and Doug Swisher was one of the big name speakers who was there that day. Mr. Swisher is famous for writing and co-writing several well known fishing and tying books such as Selective Trout and Emergers. He also starred in several fishing and tying tutorial videos that Scientific Angler and 3M put out back in the day. On the day of the expo, I watched him tying flies and selling his namesake materials.
Doug Swisher
I bought some of his stuff, and I watched him tie a Madame X, and maybe some other flies that haven't stuck in my brain over time. He went on and on about what a great fly the Madame X was, and being the impressionable kid that I was, I absorbed everything he talked about, and then went home and promptly forgot it all.

Fast-forward about 20 years to a day on a very popular trout stream that I used to frequent. I had been having a slow day, catching a few small to medium sized fish on smallish dry flies, which was my fly of choice back then. I was making my way upstream as the day went along, and around one of the bends I ran into a guy who reported the catching of two 18"+ fish out of the next pool. I saw him land one of them. Of course I asked him what he caught them on, and he showed me a rather large deer hair and rubber legged dry fly that was very similar to a Madame X. I was flabbergasted! How could such a large and garish fly catch such picky fish?!?! I did not believe the guy, or at least I didn't want to believe the guy...

It took a while, but eventually I did tie up some Madame X's of my own. Mostly in sizes 8 and 10. I didn't know what the fish would think about them, but I did reluctantly start to fish them. First I fished them on sunfish, and they slayed them wherever I went. Big, bruising sunfish wanted to murder the Madame X. It was awesome. It was so awesome, in fact, that I decided to try them on my favorite trout streams.

Size 14 Mini Madame X
They didn't always work, but sometimes they did, and they oftentimes caught the biggest fish of the day. I would cast them upstream and twitch them like a grasshopper; I would cast them straight across and mend line to get them to drift motionless for a while; I would cast them downstream slightly and strip them back in quick, short bursts like a streamer. They really worked! Sometimes....

After a while I tied some up in smaller sizes, like 12s and 14s. On these smaller, Mini Madame X's, I would usually switch out the rubber legs and instead use some Flexi-Floss. I liked the sheen of the Flexi-Floss, and it seemed to have a little more twitch to it. They seemed to work just as well as the bigger ones. Sometimes even better, especially for sunfish. Just the other night I slayed a bunch of nice 'gills on a size 14 Mini Madame X. They battered it into submission, so now it just looks like a few random strands of deer hair and a chewed up piece of tan Flexi-Floss on a hook. I need to tie up some more, so you might as well watch me do it...

Mini Madame X Pattern Recipe

Hook: Standard dry fly hook, size 12-16
Thread: 8/0, whatever color you'd like
Tail: Deer hair
Head and Wing: Deer hair, tied on bullet-head style
Legs: Flexi-Floss, one strand on both sides of body.


  1. Nice fly Scott. It's a favorite of mine and a lot of old timers use it successfully on the Arkansas River here.

    1. Thanks Howard. Not many people I know around here use it much, or if they do they don't talk about it!