olive willy or red olive willy

Kent Lufkin

Remember when you could remember everything?
The olive willy is one of the more productive subsurface patterns I've come across and is a regular in my box to this day. William showed me how to tie the olive willy himself when he worked for Al Peterson at Swede's in Woodinville.

Like most patterns, the olive willy owes a debt to earlier patterns that served as either conscious or unconscious inspiration. William freely admitted that his inspiration for the pattern was a cross between a Carey Special combined with a clear red craft store bead. I've found that the red glass bead seems to bring its own special mojo to other patterns as well. I use bigger sized beads as the heads of some leech patterns as well as other types of soft hackles. Often as not, the red-headed versions will outfish those without beads or with metal beads.

Besides being a proven fish-getter, the larger message from the olive will story is that fly tyers shouldn't be afraid to experiment and to freely combine materials. In one trip to a craft store, I picked up some small clear iridescent glass beads that also work well as heads, especially for chironomids. Plus, I found the identical olive willy red beads at a bead shop in Bellevue for a small fraction of the price that fly shops charge for them.


Dr Bob

Active Member
I was introduced to the Olive Willy by William some time ago. I have found the fly works best in lakes and still waters. I have not had as much success with it in streams and rivers. I have used the basic pattern of the Olive Willy to tye an array of different colored flies following this pattern. Another combination that has worked well for me is a light olive tail (marabou or pheasant rump) a black crystal chenille body and black or olive soft hackle just behind the red bead. I have also had good luck with an olive willy and a bright green bead. I use williys as searching patterns on lakes and ponds.

Dr Bob :thumb:
Also Ben Franklins Arts & Crafts in Redmond has a bead shop inside. The selection will make your head swim if you're a tier. Try the pearlescent glass, they'll kick your mids up a notch and help out quite a few other nymph patterns as well.


Active Member
I've known William since the early '90's and have met his daughter and his now deceased wife many times at the house he had between Woodinville and Kirkland when he had invited me to stop by. The first OLIVE WILLYs I saw were tied with a small bunch of either red marabou or red rabbit fur at the head of the fly as a very short wing to be a sort of wing case. Then William began tying them with red rabbit fur only and had it tied in as a very short wing tied in right after he wound the dyed yellow Chinese pheasant rumph (he was using sun yellow dye to dye them), and then he wound a short front body of olive chenile in front of this.

A few years after he began tying them this way, he happened to be in a Ben Franklin store's and decided to check out the craft section. He found the silver lined red glass (or plastic) beads there and bought some because he thought they might enhance his OLIVE WILLY. Yes, it is important that the beads be the silver lined red ones and not the unlined ones because the silver lined ones have a very different look in the water and reflect light a lot better. The beads did enhance the fly, but he originally used a single silver lined red bead in the manner of a bead head fly. It didn't take William very long (like a few months at most) to start putting 2 of the silver lined red beads on a short piece of RIO Slick Shooter mono so they stuck out a little bit from the body of the fly more like dragon fly eyes. This version with the 2 beads mounted as eyes on the Slick Shooter worked even better than the single bead, and most of the time a lot better than the ones tied with the very short red bunny "wing".

After his wife died, he sold the house and moved to Whidbey Island, where I think he still lives. The last time he called me was after he moved when he called to see if I knew where he could buy some bright purple dye as well as fl. yellow dye that was pure bright chrome yellow with no green at all in it. I told him where I had gotten exactly those dyes, he thanked me, and we haven't talked since. That was about 3 or 4 years ago.

And Kent is correct, William always said the OLIVE WILLY was his attempt to make a CAREY SPECIAL more like a dragon fly and enhance its effectiveness, which he thought the addition of the red marabou (followed by the red bunny and finally the red silver lined beads) would do because it might cause fish to strike more readily due to red being the color of blood. At any rate and for whatever reason, the OLIVE WILLY tied either with red marabou, red bunny, a single silver lined red bead, or 2 silver lined red beads mounted on mono (William likes Slick Shooter in chartreause because he feels it enhances the overall color and look of the fly) is a very effective stillwater fly.
The olive willy is one of my favorite flies. It's usually the first fly I tie on when I get to a lake. There is something about that red bead that trout love. I picked up some silver lined ruby red beads that have a nice shimmer effect for a couple bucks at ben franklins. The pheasant rump feathers on the other hand are a little spendy but I have a lifetime supply now.
Some years back I saw that Dennis Dickson was carrying a fly he called a beadhead damsel. It was obviously an Olive Willy beadhead knockoff. William Survey used to be one of my lake fishing buds years ago with Kevin Stubbs and Seth Taylor. We fished quite often together all of us. Willliam had a bad back from falling off a scaffolding as an iron worker so float tubing was something he could do and not be in constant pain. I see folks are asking about the origins of the Olive Willy and so here is a letter I sent to Dickson explaining the origins of the Olive Willy and asking him to do the right thing and give credit where credit was due. I believe it is still called the beadhead damsel on his onsite store. I have ommitted some politeness I originally put in the letter hoping it would help me state my case for William. I saved this letter for a long time and am happy to share it with WFF. One other thing, is that the hackle for the Olive Willys were dyed by William himself and he used speckled pheasant only. Here is the letter and if you are reading this William I miss those days on lakes all the time. Duffer

Mr. Dickson, I have never had the pleasure of fishing with you, but am very aware of you and your reputation. I am a flyfishing bum and love our sport just as you do. About 35 years or so ago a good friend of mine William Survey was hiking with his beloved son William (Willie). As a father of two myself and knowing how proud you are of your own son, this story will hit home. Willie slipped off of a cliff that day and plunged to his death in front of William Sr. To this day William has never lived that day down. A few years after this tragedy, William designed a fly with olive body, speckled pheasant hackle and a red tuft of rabbit fur and named it the Olive Willie in memory of his son. Soon after that he designed a red beaded version and it too carried the name Olive Willie. The Olive Willie has been a must have lake pattern for us in the know for 25 years or so. Seth Taylor , who now works at Creekside had the Olive Willie put into a couple of different magazines years back in tribute to William Survey. William and I used to lake fish often together with Kevin Stubbs and Seth but his back is bad and he no longer fishes much. Sir this fly is not trademarked nor is it patented, and I am sure you have been using your own version of this for 30 or so years. We all have a home pattern somewhat like the Olive Willie. The bead head damsel is a direct knock off of the Olive Willie. Is there any way credit could be given to the old man who invented it and the son it was dedicated to? That's all I ask. Keep on looking out for us steelheaders and tight lines sir.
Semper Fi
Terry Duffield

Well that was my plea that I wrote and hopefully I have contributed to this thread and given all of you the backround of the Olive Willy. And Survey, we love ya. The original Olive Willy looked alot like the current one. William is a tinkerer, watch reapair make your own tools kind of guy. His fly patters usually come full circle over a decade or so. FT is right, the thing has morphed over the years but it seems to be set now. Hope you enjoyed this and Dennis, its called the Beadhead Olive Willy not the Beadhead damsel.;) The Coach
William and I became good friends also while he worked at Swedes. I visited with him and his wife many times in their home and helped William with a few carpentry projects. We tied together (Willys & Mids), woodworked together, shared meals, fished, and prayed together. He was one of the most talented and generous guys I've ever knew. William's life is an almost unbelievable story of strength and grace. Truly, one of a kind.


Active Member

Thanks for posting the rest of the story up for folks to see. I didn't include it in my previous post because it didn't really fit with the history of how William morphed the fly into its final beadhead form.

Regarding William's bad back, he built himself a gorgeous 15' 2-hander on a T&T 1510-3 blank in the mid-90's on which he had put a skeleton reel seat made with a purple heart wood spacer that he turned in his shop. This rod was stunning with purple thread wraps tipped with gold to compliment the purple heart reel seat. Anyway, he Kevin, and I went fishng for winter steelhead on the Skagit after he got it finished, and of course, he had this new rod of his along. Unfortunately, after about 2 hours his back was killing him and we called it a day. Shortly after this, William sold the rod to Mark and pretty much quit steelhead fishing except for the odd trip to the upper reaches with a single-hander of a certain river that will remain nameless.

William is one of the nicest and most generous folks I've had the pleasure to get to know, and anyone who uses his fly or markets one like it ought to give William the credit for it he deserves.


Skunk Happens
One of the local fly clubs just did a one-fly contest on Badger Lake.

The winner... olive willy.

There's an article in today's Spokesman-Review.
thank you for the history of the willie. i have been curious if the founder of the fly because a guy a a fly shop sort of claims to be the inventor. well i found some good info, thanks. by the way i like the bigger red bead on a 10 or 8 size, easier for old guys to tie. mike w