How to tie the original Ed Ward Intruder

Nils with arctic char caught on Intruder - 102cm and 12.5kg
Nils with arctic char caught on Intruder – 102cm and 12.5kg

I was still lengthening my Skagit casts when the deep pull came out of nowhere, at the very end of the swing, just when I was getting ready for a new cast. The fish seemed calm at first, and pulled steadily line from my reel. But as the first run kept going on, I started to worry and knew something big was on the other end of the line. This was confirmed when a gigantic fish leapt out in the current, some 80 meters downstream from me. I waded out from my position, and started running down the river bank, as fast as I could among the large cobblestones. I managed to get even with the fish, and could play it with better odds on my side. The fight continued for 10 anxious minutes, and in the end I could beach this monster of 40 inches and an estimated weight of 26 pounds. This was a beautiful male arctic char, with perfect red fins bordered by a white line. In the right corner of its mouth, was my orange Intruder. I had just met char heaven, out in the middle of nowhere, in Nunavut, northern Canada. Again thanks to the faithful Intruder.

The Intruder is a large fly that was primarily designed by the West Coast steelhead guide Ed Ward, with the help and feedback of fellow anglers Scott Howell, Jerry French, Dec Hogan and Scott O’Donnell. I was lucky to be guided by Ed over a whole week in Kamchatka, Russia, and I learned a lot from this modest person. He introduced me to the Intruder, and showed me how to tie it. I have never been on a salmon or steelhead fishing trip without an Intrude since.

Ed Ward tying the Intruder - Kamchatka, Russia
Ed Ward tying the Intruder – Kamchatka, Russia

About Ed Ward
Ed Ward is a very famous steelhead and Pacific salmon angler, and a magician with a Spey rod in his hands. He usually spends his summers chasing king salmon in Alaska, and the rest of the time you can find him in his camper somewhere between Washington State and British Columbia. His home river is the Skagit River in Washington.

Ed has been a Spey rod design consultant for Sage and G. Loomis. He does not like to spend time writing about fishing. “Writing in an office would steal me some precious fishing time” he told me. So you may never see any piece written by him in the fishing literature. He appears in pictures taken by fellow fisherman though.

Arctic char fooled by pink Intruder - Nunavut, Canada
Arctic char fooled by pink Intruder – Nunavut, Canada

History of the Intruder
In the early 1990s, Ed made a first design of the fly, aimed for Alaska’s fresh king salmon, during his guiding months at Alaska West Lodge. It worked well with the kings, but Ed noticed that huge rainbow trout would also hammer it like crazy. It didn’t take long for Ed to make the link between a rainbow and a steelhead, his anadromous cousin. The following steelhead season, he experimented a lot around the tying and the fishing of the fly, and had a lot of success with it.
His first patterns were tied in olive, and looked much like a sculpin. However he slowly moved away from this color, to tie his Intruder in orange, pink and red variations. Soon, the silhouette of the fly resembled more and more the squids these anadromous fish engulf during their ocean journey.

Fisherman swinging an Intruder
Fisherman swinging an Intruder

The Intruder is to be fished as a swung fly. As it is fairly large, it is best cast with a Spey rod. Ed and his friends adapted the Spey cast in order to be able to cast these heavy flies, thus developing the so-called Skagit cast in the process. A DVD is about to be released (fall 2009) about this special cast: “Skagit Master”, featuring Ed Ward.
Ed likes the Intruder due to the fact that it is very large and very lively. It is a fly with a large silhouette, but still not too heavy or too large to be cast with a fly rod. He believes that steelhead will move a good way to intercept it. Thus, while fishing with the Intruder, expect explosive takes, as this fly is often taken violently by the fish that has travelled a long way to inhale it.

The fly is tied a la tube fly, but not exactly: it is tied on a long hook shank instead of on a tube. The hook bend is then cut off, and a single hook is mounted to the rear, like tube flies are rigged. The advantage is that the marabou feather can be wrapped around the hook shank in a better way than around a larger tube shank. This is also true for the elk hair collar at the front of the fly.

Material for tying the Intruder
Material for tying the Intruder

The materials used for this fly have been carefully selected. The arctic fox collar is made to support the marabou feather fibers, which would otherwise totally collapse in the current. Remember that this fly is designed to show maximum silhouette and volume in the water! The front collar features an additional layer made of cow elk hair, in order to better support the softer arctic fox. The front collar is taking most of the current’s pressure, and thus needs to be stronger than the rear collar.

The arctic fox and cow elk have not been selected in white color by chance: it lightens up the colors of the marabou and ostrich herl in front, and glows magically in the water. Thus it is the only material which color I never change in this pattern!

The marabou fibers have wonderfully living features in the water, and are well completed with the ostrich herl wing tied above. Ostrich herl and marabou are very complementary, and are a better choice than heron, peacock herl or other stiffer materials for instance. In my view, the ostrich herl properties have been largely underestimated in the past, and I am really happy to see more and more patterns integrating this fantastic feather.

Some variations of the Intruder include a sophisticated body, made with dubbed seal fur, a palmered saddle hackle over it, and a tinsel ribbing to top the whole thing. I believe that the strength of the fly lies in its two voluminous collars, and I don’t spend much time on the body; I simply wrap chenille plus a tinsel rib on top.

Nils Rinaldi with 20 lbs steelhead - Kamchatka, Russia
Nils Rinaldi with 20 lbs steelhead – Kamchatka, Russia

As told before, it is not only a great steelhead and king salmon fly, but it also turned out to be a deadly pattern for large arctic char. I have no experience with Atlantic salmon, but I am pretty sure it can be effective for these fish as well, assuming the fly is adapted accordingly. Remember that the Intruder is originally designed for steelhead, which likes slower water than Atlantic salmon. If a pattern for fishing in faster water is desired, it might be wise to substitute some of the selected material with stiffer options, so that the material doesn’t collapse in the swift current.

Here below is a description of how Ed taught me to tie the Intruder, in October 2001, in a small tent on the edge of the Utholok River, in Kamchatka, Russia. steelhead, a massive 20+ pound fish.

Fly recipe

  • Hook shank: Mustad 94720, size 2
  • Trailing hook: Owner Cutting Point SSW (all purpose bait hook), number 5111-113, size 1/0
  • Tying thread: UNI-thread red # 6/0
  • Loop for tippet: Large orange nylon line
  • Rear collar: White arctic fox, followed by orange marabou, and red marabou
  • Body: Orange chenille
  • Ribbing: Large oval golden tinsel
  • Front collar: Bleached cow elk, followed by white arctic fox, orange marabou and red marabou
  • Top wing: Black ostrich herl
  • Eyes: Large dumb-bell eyes
Step 1: Cut off the hook point of your Mustad hook, but keep the bend for securing the hook in your tying vise. Attach the thread just behind the hook eye, and wrap it down to the hook bend, stopping a millimeter before the bend. Wrap the thread back 5 millimeters, and make then several turns so as to build a hump, which will help holding up the monofilament loop you will tie in right behind the hump. intruder_step01_large
Step 2: Build a dubbing loop and place arctic fox hair (4-5 cm long) in the loop. Twist the loop, and wrap the loop around the hook shank, so that the arctic fox hair builds a collar perpendicular to the shank, and distributed evenly around the shank. This arctic fox hair will support the marabou feather to be tied in front, so that it can pulse lively and not collapse in the current. Intruder - tying step 2
Step 3: Tie an orange marabou feather at its tip, and wrap it around the hook shank. Then tie a red marabou feather at its tip, and wrap it around as well. Intruder - tying step 3
Step 4: Tie in the orange chenille, and the oval golden tinsel. Intruder - tying step 4
Step 5: Wrap the chenille up towards the hook eye, stopping approximately 1.5 cm before the hook eye. Wrap the ribbing up to where the chenille ends. Intruder - tying step 5
Step 6: Grasp a bunch of bleached elk hair (4-5 cm long), and tie it in where the chenille end, with the hair tips pointing towards the hook eye. Pull the tying thread, so that the hair flares around the hook shank, like a collar. This will build the support for the front collar marabou feathers. Intruder - tying step 6
Step 7: Trim the elk hair extending behind the collar. Similarly to the rear collar, build a new dubbing loop, and place in it a bunch of white arctic fox hair. Twist the loop, and turn the loop around the hook shank, in order to form a new collar. Intruder - tying step 7
Step 8: Form an orange marabou collar in front of the arctic fox hair, followed by a red marabou collar. Intruder - tying step 8
Step 9: Tie in 5-6 strands of black ostrich herl, on the under side of the fly. Since the fly will ride upside down (hook eye up), this will represent the back of the fly, like the darker back of a small fry. Intruder - tying step 9
Step 10: Tie the dumb-bell eyes at the top of the fly. Whip-finish and place some drops of head cement on the fly’s head. Cut the hook shank where the bend begins. Be careful to file the edges of the cut hook shank to make it smooth, so that it doesn’t damage the tippet while fishing. Intruder - tying step 10

Rigging the Intruder

Rigging the Intruder
Rigging the Intruder

Pass the tippet through the hook shank’s eye in front of the fly. The line must then be inserted through the hair of the first collar, and then through the second. Then insert it through the nylon loop tied at the rear of the fly. Place a piece of plastic tubing (similar to the tubing used for tube flies) on the tippet, and then tie the trailing hook to the leader, with a Brubaker loop knot (or similar loop knot which lets the hook move freely). Secure the knot inside the plastic tube, and then the tube on the hook shank at the rear of the fly. Be careful to place the hook so that its point is dangling down, keeping in mind that the fly will ride upside down (eyes down, shank eye up).

Two Intruders waiting to fish
Two Intruders waiting to fish

Variations of the Intruder
Many people have adapted this general pattern to suit their own needs. Scott Howell notably, has his own two patterns: his Signature Intruder, usually tied with his favorite colors black and green (a la Green-Butt Skunk), and his Guide Intruder, a simplification of the previous pattern, which is faster to tie but just as effective. Scott lives in Oregon, and guides most of the time on the Rogue River and the North Umpqua River. Don’t miss him if you travel over there, he is a nice fellow, and sharp angler!

The Swedish salmon angler Michael Frödin first encountered the Intruder pattern on a fishing trip on the Kamchatka Peninsula. He started to use it in his home waters, but I have not heard about a variation around the Intruder pattern that he might have come up with.

You will also find a recipe about a variation of the Intruder, in Dec Hogan’s book “A passion for steelhead”, Wild River Press, 2006. By the way this is a brilliant book which I recommend highly.

Web resources