When I first started fishing SW Montana in 1972, Ennis was the hot spot and Hickey’s Motel (currently Lone Elk Mall) was base camp. The Long Branch Saloon was the local watering hole. Back then, fly fishing for large trout was like this underground cult thing, practiced mostly in secret, by a cadre of somewhat shady characters. Only after a few $1.50 frosties served up by the bartender and maybe a shot of Crown or two… would things begin to loosen up. I learned fairly early on to keep my ears open.
I began hearing about exotic water full of giant trout…fish of broad shoulders and deep girth…fish living a secret life known to only a few select anglers and guides. And the way to catch them was on the girdle bug. I was still struggling to catch trout on a sofa pillow or a Soufal nymph…what the hell was a girdle bug?
One name I kept overhearing was Dick Oswald.
“Oswald says the fish in the Beav are growing huge”…
“Oswald shocked a twelve pounder last week”
“Oswald says the girdle bug works”
Turns out Dick Oswald was the fisheries biologist in charge of the Beaverhead River out of Dillon when the fish population exploded and the size of the trout became legendary. The girdle bug was a secret…a chenille body wooly worm with white rubber legs crafted out of narrow strips of latex cut from a women’s girdle. Shhh.
Apparently, the girdle bug was invented in the 1930s or 40s by a guy named Frank McGinnis out of Anaconda, Mt. for fishing the Big Hole River. He basically fished it as a dead drift stone fly imitation. What made it deadly on the Beaverhead was different…you twitched it. You moved it, stripped it, wiggled it. jiggled it or girdled it. The big trout jumped all over it.
I used to guide a gentleman named Jack Love on the Beaverhead in the early 1980s. He caught many, many large trout chucking a large, #2 unweighted bitch creek with three inch rubber legs…he fished it like a streamer…he threw it into the sticks and twitched it out, making the long, white rubber legs jump, jive, jerk and pulsate like a Southern preacher overcome with the Holy Spirit! It was deadly. Guys like Al Troth and Tim Mosolf did the same with some kind of version of the girdle bug. The trick was the rubber…make it come alive. And I had many 30-40 fish September days guiding on the Jefferson, twitching black girdle bugs with white rubber legs.
So today we still use it. Sort of. Girdle bugs, rubber legs, Pat’s stone (anybody know who Pat is?), bitch creek nymphs (not so much), yuk bugs, cone head rubber leg lizards, crawdad creepers. But no more cut up ladies girdles for legs. We’ve got Super Floss, Flex Floss, Shimmer Legs, Crabby Legs, Flutter Legs, Crazy Legs, silicone, latex…you get the picture. And hardly anybody twitches anymore. Just hang it a few feet below a bobber and hope.
I’m sure Frank McGinnis would chuckle.