A SASKATCHEWAN ORIGINAL
By NEVILLE GOSLING
Hook: 3x Long Mustad 9672, Partridge D4a or Tiemco 5263 Size 6-14
Thread: Black pre-waxed monocord
Tail: Brown Hackle fibres (sparse)
Body: Brown Mohair Wool
Wing: Dark brown or black bear hair
Ask any member of the Saskatoon based Kilpatrick flyfishers what fly pattern is the most successful for them and they will invariably reply “the O’Keefe Special.” What is the O’Keefe Special and what is so good about this truly Saskatchewan fly?
The origins of the O’Keefe Special go back to the sixties. In those days, Gordon “Kil” Kilpatrick, after whom the Kilpatrick Flyfishers Club was named, managed a local bank at Biggar. “Kil” loved to flyfish and he and his friend Aubrey Wood used to fish various lakes including the local Cleland Reservoir. Aubrey was from New Zealand and had brought with him to Canada a large assortment of fly-tying materials.
One of Aubrey’s flies, which Kil used with good success, was made almost entirely out of deer hair. The dressing called for one light and one dark colored moosemane hair wound together around the hookshank for a segmented body, a deer hair wing, and a small tuft of hackle. This fly produced well at such Places as Little Amyot, Shannon, and Shamrock lakes, which were hotspots in the late sixties. Unfortunately, Little Amyot was subject to flooding and by 1973/74 northern pike had found their way into the lake; Shamrock winterkilled, and only Shannon remains fishable today.
Although a good fish producer, Aubrey’s deer hair fly was not very durable, since after a fish or two the body tended to unravel. Sometime around 1970, Saskatoon doctor and fly fisherman Al Unger, who also fished with Kilpatrick, set about to redesign the fly with the idea of improving its durability. Al substituted a brown mohair wool for the body and dark brown bear hair for the wing, finishing the fly off with a brown hackle. It was at Baldy Lake that Al showed his redesigned pattern to Saskatoon flytier Brian O’Keefe. Brian later tied up several copies and gave some to fishing friend Wayne Phillips. Wayne experienced excellent results with the new pattern and, having used up his initial supply, asked Brian for some more of those “red” flies. This puzzled Brian since the flies were brown rather than red. Undaunted, Wayne asked if the pattern had a name, to which Brian replied in the negative. “Well it must have a name,” insisted Wayne, and he promptly christened it the O’Keefe Special there and then.
The O’Keefe Special is an attractor fly since it does not imitate any specific insect. In the larger sizes, as a streamer it can be taken for a small baitfish, and in the smaller sizes, as a nymph it suggests a caddis or mayfly pupa.
A popular technique is to troll the fly on a sinking line or to cast from an anchored boat. When the fish are in the upper layers, a floating line and long leader can work well. The fly is cast and given time to sink before retrieving in short strips, or with a slow figure eight hand retrieve. The most useful sizes are #10 and #12. The O’Keefe Special has even fished well as a dry fly on McDougal Creek brookies. Simply apply a floatant to a size # 14 and grease the leader to float.
The O’Keefe Special is a good “all around” fly pattern and even produced well for me when I used it at Bayham Abbey Lake in southeast England. Some anglers have taken the evolution a stage further by adding a silver or gold rib, and substituting the mohair body with one of peacock herl. Personally, I have found that the buggy look of the plain mohair body has served me well, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to experiment.