This Smoky Mountain original is attributed to Fred Hall of Bryson City, North Carolina. Jesse Jamerson may have brought the fly back from Wyoming but the exact origin is a bit hazy. This easy-to-tie pattern is a decent mayfly dun imitation or a generic attractor pattern.
Often thought to be one of the best Brook Trout flies ever invented, the Thunderhead is great to skitter along a tumbling brook trout stream, or use with a dropper in some larger tailwaters or freestone streams.
This pattern can be seen in the local literature as far back as the 1940s but likely gained popularity when Fred and Allene Hall began tying it for local sporting goods stores in the 1950s.
From a Rocky River TU article by Tom Adams and Alen Baker, this fly was a well known favorite of some of the legends of mountain fly fishing like Cap Wiese and Mark Cathy. And Jim Casada says these mountain folk were using what they called a “Hair-wing Royal Coachman” well before the name Royal Wulff came along.
Regarding the name of Thunderhead, Adams and Baker think it’s from the calf hair wing. And Casada said it resembled a cloud formation rolling up. The article mentions an interesting aside in that there is a Thunderhead Mountain on the Tennessee side of the Great Smokies. It’s quite possible that a local fisherman had a great day on the river with the fly, started calling it a Thunderhead and somehow the name stuck. How it really got its name is probably lost to history but it can be fun to imagine.
Recipe Hook: #10-18 dry fly Thread: Black Tail: Deer hair Body: Gray dubbing (medium) Wing: White calf tail Hackle: Brown cock