“The Rainbow Warrior was my first commercially available fly pattern. Its origins are a little sketchy. I’d love to tell you a fancy design story, but the truth is I bought some Wapsi rainbow sow scud dubbing because it looked fishy to me. I tied 4 flashy nymphs (Rainbow Warriors) using the Wapsi rainbow dubbing, along with pearl tinsel, red thread, pearl glass beads, and pheasant tail, and stuck them in one of my nymph boxes. There they sat, untested, dry, fishless… months passed… until one day on my local tailwater with fussy Trout, I encountered fish that I could see were actively feeding, but were not taking my go-to patterns with as much regularity as I was used to. I tried all my standard patterns and caught a fish here and there, but was not catching as many as normal, nor as many as I felt I should based on the activity level of the fish. So, I then dug into my “try me” flies. These flies are often the result of a late-night tying binge that ends with some sort of strange, out of the box conglomeration that my tired brain thinks might fool a dumb fish. It doesn’t happen often, but this time I was right! Anyway, I tied on one of those flashy little flies and proceeded to catch fish, after fish, after fish. So much so, that I went to work the next day and told my then employers, Mickey and Byron of Fish Tech Outfitters in Salt Lake City, that I had cracked the code! Being veterans of the fly fishing retail world, I’m sure they thought to themselves, “oh, great, another fisherman is telling us how his fly is the best”, since this sort of story often plays out in fly shops. To their credit, rather than dismissing the pattern, they sensed my excitement and kindly asked me to tie a couple dozen for the store, and we’d see how they worked for our customers. I tied two dozen that evening, brought them to work the following day, and I sold them to any willing takers. The few that bought, came back quickly wanting more. This process repeated itself for several months, during which time I tied 133 dozen rainbow warriors for the shop. I got a little tired of tying Rainbow Warriors for others, and with the help of Mickey and Byron, asked our Umpqua sales rep how to have a custom pattern tied. He gave us a quick rundown of the process, and carefully reminded us that there was a 10 dozen minimum order per size to do a custom tie, thinking this might dissuade us. We scoffed a bit, and told him we had already sold hundreds of dozens in the last few months so 10 dozen wouldn’t be a problem. The rep was surprised, asked to see the fly, and then suggested that if we are selling that many, perhaps he should consider adding it to the Umpqua catalog. I hadn’t ever considered this as a possibility, but was very excited at the opportunity! Long story short, it has been available for Umpqua dealers ever since. We’ve added some variations over the years. First was to add colors. In addition to the original pearl color, I added red and black versions, all with glass beads. Next, we did the pearl color with a silver tungsten bead. Then, an extra heavy version featuring a lead wire underbody to add weight to the tungsten version. This is a popular dropper fly on large western rivers often fished below a foam dry fly. The most recent additions are a jigged (popular for Euro nymphing) version of the pearl color, and tungsten versions of the red, and black colored warriors, as well as a purple bodied tungsten warrior, and a pink beaded version that is tied with pink thread.
I’m often asked if the Rainbow Warrior works for picky fish, if it’s effective in clear water situations, in spring creeks and tailwaters, if it works for wild fish, etc… It does, it is, definitely, and of course! Despite its non-imitative looks, Salmonids seem to like it. My advice is don’t worry about “why” fish eat it. Just be happy they do.”