Tying and Designing Better Flies with Juan “Hopper Juan” Ramirez
If you happen to be a Colorado fly fisher or fly tier, you may have heard of the “Hopper Juan” before. Hopper Juan is the nickname given professional guide and fly tier, Juan Ramirez. This nickname is actually the name of Juan’s first signature fly which garnered him a lot of buzz in the fly tying world, launched his Hopper Juan Blog, and brought him to the forefront of Colorado fly design.
The Hopper Juan, along with about a dozen other fly patterns from Juan’s vise, are available through Montana Fly Company; where Juan is a signature tier. These flies have been developed through many years of guiding and fishing on Colorado and New Mexico rivers where trout can be selective and wary. Brainstorms and ideas often come when Juan finds an on-the-water problem not being solved by the current offerings of his fly box. These problems lead to fly solutions at the vise that have brought Juan much deserved credit in the fly tying and fishing industry. These fly solutions have also found their way into the boxes of trout anglers all across the Rocky Mountain west.
I had the good fortune to talk with Juan recently. We chatted about fly design, new materials, and why he loves fishing our local Animas River so much.
Beginnings of fly fishing and fly tying: Growing up in Northern New Mexico, Juan began fly fishing in 1997. He was given a fly tying kit at the age of 15 but his love of tying didn’t fully flourish until he went to Fort Lewis College here in Durango. At that time, he found the local Animas River intimidating yet intriguing. As many of us in here in Durango know, the Animas presents a constant puzzle for the angler looking to get it dialed. This changing puzzle is not often found on other Colorado waterways, and fishing the waters of the Animas, Conejos, Cimarron, and Rio Grande is where Juan honed his skills as a fly angler and tier. Fishing these difficult watersheds helped grow Juan in his fly fishing skills and has had a great effect on his fly tying.
Professional Fly Fishing/Tying Accomplishments: Juan is a current full time fly fishing guide out of Colorado Springs for Anglers Covey, the Broadmoor Hotel, and Royal Gorge Anglers. You may have met Juan at one of his fly tying demos or classes that are held at many Colorado fly shops, trade shows, and expos. Juan has commercially tied for a handful of years, but currently focuses his tying energy more on designing flies for Montana Fly Company. His first signature fly with MFC was the Hopper Juan. Since then, Juan has developed a handful of signature patterns including The Hollywood Hopper, Ice Emerger, Midge Ice Emerger, 180 Degree Trico, Sparkle Wing RS-2, Hot Shot Nymph, Floss Back, iStone, Hi Def Baetis, Sniper Baetis, and the Flux Capacitor.
Process of designing flies: “My process of designing flies stems from a problem on the water that needs a solution. I tend to look at the flies my clients and I are fishing and consider if I can improve them in any way. In the case of the Hopper Juan, I needed a high floating, large attractor pattern that could be fished with a heavy dropper without sinking. The Hopper Juan is a large, buggy dry that can be used to imitate a variety of terrestrials and stoneflies. In contrast to the Hopper Juan is my more realistic Hollywood Hopper. I developed this fly to be used in calmer waters where a more realistic hopper imitation is called for. The Hollywood Hopper has a different profile and footprint from the Hopper Juan and I do not fish it with a dropper.
When tying for MFC, I also look for what will give my flies bin appeal. Not a lot of tiers do this, but they are not tying to sell their flies either. The fact is that pretty flies sell. Along those lines, I also like to give my flies a good name that people will remember.”
Favorite fly and why: “It is too hard to choose a single favorite fly. I would have to pick a few favorites as a fly tier and then as a fly fisher. As a fly tier, some favorites would have to be The Little Yellow Sloan because it is a great tie, the RS-2 for its simplicity, the Stimulator as a classic, and the Morrish Hopper because of how creative it is. Ken Morrish is one of my favorite tiers and anything he does is always very creative.
As far as choosing a favorite fly as a fly fisher, I still don’t think I could choose just one. Off the top of my head, again I would have to choose the RS-2 because it flat out catches fish. Another all-time favorite fly to fish would have to be the Parachute Adams. The Para Adams in different sizes can be used to imitate drakes, tricos, and everything in between.”
What can tiers do to improve their flies? “Get the best tools and materials possible. I would use the analogy of a chef: you can’t buy the cheapest pots, pans, cooking implements, and ingredients and expect to make a gourmet meal. Make sure you get a good vise, bobbin, and scissors and it will improve your tying. The same goes with materials. Bad materials don’t make for pretty flies. Clumpy dubbing will make clumpy flies, cheap hooks will break off, bargain feathers will have broken and beat down fibers. People often question how I get very good looking flies and profiles. It is usually because I choose to use good materials.”
Do you have any pet peeves with other flies you see out there? “I don’t have many pet peeves with other flies so much. However, one of my pet peeves is when people come up to me at a demo or expo and complain about their bad flies. I usually recommend they start tying with better tools and materials, but they just don’t want to spend the money. A lot of these folks are willing to spend a good chunk of change of rods, reels, and other gear; but don’t want to spend a little to upgrade their vise and scissors.”
Do you have any new techniques you are excited about? “I have been using the Marc Petitjean Magic Clip and Micro Clip lately to tie dries, nymphs, and soft hackles. This tool aids in making dubbing loops that produce fantastic results.”
What is your favorite tying thread? “My favorite thread would have to be Nano Silk tying thread from Semper Fli. This thread in 18/0 produces a clean, strong body and is what I use to tie very small deer and elk wing flies.”
What is your favorite bead color? “I tend to shy away from gold beads. My favorite would have to be the MFC tungsten beads in coffee and gold brown colors.”
Organized or messy? “I am messy at my tying desk at home, but I tend to be pretty organized at demos and shows.”
New Patterns? “The Dirty Johnny is my latest creation. It’s an attractor pattern blending a few current favorite patterns into one. It’s in MFC’s hands now as to whether or not it will show up in the bins. I think it should, but that just me. I also have 2 new baetis nymphs that need some testing, but look hot! Stay tuned.”