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Inside the Box: Diana Rudolph

photos by Diana Rudolph
Diana Rudolph is perhaps best known for being the first woman to win the prestigious Don Hawley tarpon tournament in the Florida Keys. But her guides say gender isn't even part of the picture — she's simply one of the best saltwater fly fishers out there. This month she shares her "Tarpon Box" with readers.
Diana Rudolph Flies

Diana Rudolph's "tarpon box" tells much about how she matches patterns and colors to fish location, water clarity and even weather conditions.

THIS IS THE BOX I am currently fishing with, and as you can see from the number of patterns, I like variety. These are all tarpon flies, of course, and most are unique I think — I did tie all but a couple — even though many of them take inspiration from classic patterns. This is my entire selection; I can fish just about anywhere with what’s in this box. The left side of the box contains my patterns for clear water and oceanside fish. The flies on the right are dirty-water and backcountry patterns. They are all chicken feather flies, for the most part; I don’t fish with bunny fur because it slaps the water too hard and when it dries doesn’t swim well until it gets completely wet again. Besides, I just love feathers.

Diana Rudolph Flies

Rudolph's "Sparky" (bottom row) is her go-to fly for tarpon in clear water.

Those flies in the top row on the left are tied with a new color I found this year: golden olive. Half have splayed tail feathers and the other half have “married” tail feathers. The married tails are better when you are “swimming” your flies a bit faster on the oceanside. I call this pattern the “Herman.” You’ll see too that a lot of my flies have small plastic eyes on them.

The next row has four flies that are great pre-worm-hatch flies — they have arctic fox collars (which I use a lot) and black tail feathers with gold streaks in them. The three flies beside them are a light steel blue color and work great in the early morning and low light.

I still use a lot of Toad variations. The next row has two tan Toads with a touch of orange near the head that makes them easier to see. The four chartreuse and yellow flies are Andy Thompson patterns, great for all-around oceanside use. And the next row are just more variations on those.

The bottom row on the left have been my go-to flies for clear water for a couple of years now. I call this pattern “Sparky,” and god do the tarpon love it. The secret to tying these is to use wrapped chenille to kick up the hackle on the head. The chenille makes the fibers stick straight out.

All the clear-water flies are pretty short — about two inches, maybe two-and-a-half. Some of the dirty water flies are a little larger. And they are all tied on the Gamakatsu SL12S hook, my favorite. I use the 2/0 hooks, but I’d probably use 3/0s if they made them, which they don’t. It’s all about confidence, of course.

On the right side the three big black flies are Schlappens, made with super-webby large chicken feathers. These are kind of the ultimate low-light flies, really easy for the fish to see. Next to them are some rust-colored Toads and a couple of experiments. I always experiment, and sometimes it really pays off. The chocolate brown Toads have arctic fox in front of the tail and the tail feathers are a really pretty mottled brown. I love digging through piles of feathers and finding these really unusual colors and patterns.

The next row has a couple of experiments and then the chartreuse and white pattern that I caught the 16-pound tippet record tarpon on (136 pounds). The head is chartreuse deer hair and the tail is white schlappen feathers. The flies beside those are my Mullet patterns — very effective in some parts of the backcountry. They’re basically solid gray or muted color Toads with Slinky Fiber tails. I learned about Slinky Fiber from one of my New England striper guide friends.

Diana Rudolph Flies

Rudolph's Mullet Toads.

The next row down starts with three rust-colored Toads. Tim Klein, who ties a big rust pattern called the “Big Al,” turned me on to the effectiveness of rust-colored flies in the backcountry, and I’ve become a convert. The flies beside them are “Phluff Daddies,” a pattern that was my go-to tarpon fly for a couple of years and the pattern I used when I won the Hawley.

The last row on the right has the only store-bought flies in the box. They’re stock flies from Umpqua: color variations of Ruoff’s Laid-Up Tarpon Fly.

I’ll tie flies that go from solid black to very pale, sparse to very thick and bushy. Little differences in weight and style can give me different sink rates, actions and visibility, and as you can see I like having options. Trying different stuff means I’ll usually find one pattern each season that seems to be a big, big winner.

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