The Tomah Jo, the Favorite Fly of a Maine Indian Guide – By Fred Klein

Tomah Joseph, an Algonquin Indian from the Grand Lake Stream area in Maine was a fly fishing and hunting guide in the 1800’s as well as an elder of the Passamaquoddy Indian Tribe.

He was written about in Charles Stevens book Fly Fishing in Maine Lakes- Camp Life in the Wilderness ‘1881. Stevens wrote that Tomah would accompany him on fishing trips and noted that in casting a fly, I have never seen him excelled and scarcely equalled. In mending rods he is adept. Tomah Jo would always say, “When you come to Maine, bring plenty wood-duck wing fly, yellow body”. Thus the origin of the Tomah Jo Wet Fly, soon to be tied by Sara McBride, the first female commercial fly tyer in America, also illustrated in Charles F. Orvis, Fishing with The Fly ‘1883.

Tomah Joseph was also an accomplished birch bark canoe builder, paddle maker and Algonquin Indian wood art carver.

Tomah Joseph was a canoeing and fishing companion in the Maine wilderness to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his younger years. Teaching him the traditions and culture of the North Woods Indians and having a major impact on how the future government would treat Native Americans. After becoming President of the United States in 1933, he engaged in an act to restore millions of acres of land back to Americas original people.

The Tomah Jo wet fly is a beautiful attractor pattern that I have fished with success for brook trout as well as wild brown trout particularly on hook sizes 10-14 in the spring and summer, with larger sizes up to 8-6 working well in late summer and fall. The barred wood duck wing with yellow, red hackle and tail along with the shiny silver body is enticing for even a reluctant trout to let pass by. I have had success in a dead drift as well as on the swing. In late summer I have used this fly while fishing stream banks and below overhanging trees for trout feeding on insects falling into the current.

franklin in boat
tomah joseph

Tomah Joseph

lake flies page 101
franklin with winston churchill

Left: Franklin D Roosevelt fishing with Winston Churchill during the onset of WWII Below Left: Tomah Joseph in his birchbark canoe Below Right:Tomah Jo Fly Dressing~ from Ray Bergman’sTrout 1938

tomah joseph in canoe
tomah jo fly

I hope that you give this beautiful fly a drift downstream and perhaps you will be surprised at how an old Indian guide pattern

will bring trout to your net today! – Fred Klein

Hook: Partridge of Redditch Sproat Wet size 6-4 for brook trout and salmon, 14-12 for brown trout (up to size 6 in late summer and fall)

Tag: gold tinsel

Tail: two slips of yellow goose shoulder

Butt: peacock herl

Body: silver tinsel

Hackle: yellow and scarlet rooster hackle

Wing: barred wood duck extending past the hook shank

Head: black thread with three coats of brushed lacquer

Partridge sproat wet #4

Step 1

Set your hook in the vise, size six is a good size to start with.


Step 2

Start thread wraps with 6/0 thread at the rear of the head and continue to just above the barb of the hook.


Step 3

Using a pinch grip, tie in yellow goose or turkey fibers about the length of the hook shank. Once the tail is fastened, continue wrapping the rest of the feather to the head and trim off the excess. This helps to build a consistent body.

4 1

Step 4

Continue making thread wraps to build the thickness of the body. It should be an oval shape when completed. Return your thread to the rear of the body.


Step 5

Tie in one to three peacock herl feathers


Step 6

Wrap the peacock herl forward about five or six wraps to make the butt of the fly.

7 1

Step 7

Make thread wraps to fasten the herl then return the thread to the head.


Step 8

Tie in 8/0 black thread at the rear of where you want the head to terminate


Step 9

Tie in medium tinsel with the gold side facing the hook

10 1

Step 10

Begin wrapping the tinsel clockwise to the peacock herl butt, making your last wrap at the peacock butt


Step 11

Return the tinsel making even wraps back to the head. Two layers makes a consistent body.

12 1

Step 12

Tie in yellow and scarlet rooster hackle extending to the barb of the hook


Step 13

Fasten the hackle and trim excess.


Step 14

Clip two matching slips of barred wood duck feathers and strip excess from the stems. For smaller flies tie in thin strips of wood duck


Step 15

Hold the wood duck slips on top of the hook shank with a pinch grip then make two thread wraps to fasten them. Let the bobbin hang, then adjust the feathers until you are satisfied. Continue wrapping toward the eye of the hook to secure.


Step 16

Trim the stems then begin building the head with thread wraps from the eye of the hook rearward. Do not make additional thread wraps on the wings to avoid twisting the original placement.

17 1

Step 17

Brush on two to three coats of lacquer with ten minutes of drying time between coats. Give the head adequate drying time before heading to the stream. You are finished!

I hope that you give this beautiful fly a drift downstream and perhaps you will be surprised at how an old Indian guide pattern

will bring trout to your net today! – Fred Klein

Fred Klein

Partridge of Redditch Ambassador

Fred is a fly-fishing historian, author and speaker. Professional fly tyer and fisher of early traditional flies and tackle.

"My journey in the pursuit of trout with the fly began over 40 years ago with a new fly rod and instructions to cast and drift a fly. What a gift it was. The woods and waters of Pennsylvania, the Appalachian Mountains and beyond have brought a life of admiration for the wildernessm forestsm wildlife and a thirst for what lies beyond the next bend in the stream and over the mountain".

Every day I find myself involved in fly fishing, trapping and hunting.
My endeavor is to pass on the techniques of traditional fly angling and dressings to the generations to come.
For tutorials, articles, video and classic fly galleries visit:

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