Tips and Tricks To Make Your Flies last
I am, to the core, a commercial tyer. While I do stray from the hours upon hours of repeating the same pattern typically ranging in sizes 2-4-6-8-10 (typical here for Atlantic Salmon dry and wet flies), and tie some one-off patterns, the bulk of my vise time is spent fulfilling requests from customers around the globe. I have been fortunate enough to have been given some guidance from great fly tyers over the years, and I will share with you some tricks and tips to make your flies not only last for multiple fish, but for multiple seasons!
The first thing that I determined throughout the years of tying is that not all materials, vises, and tools are created equal. While I do not believe that you need to blow the budget on the most expensive things you can lay your hands on, there are quality manufacturers and distributors out there, so I bit the bullet and spent some extra money on quality kit. In the end this has certainly paid off.
With your selection of tools and hardware, it’s onto hook and shank selection. I’ve tied on numerous brands over my time at the vise and have settled on Partridge of Redditch and Sprite Fishing as my go-to brands of choice. These brands offer everything from coarse/carp, predator, trout, salmon, barbed/barbless, saltwater, singles, doubles, shanks… trust me, if you want it, they have it. The Hooks are strong and consistent and the size range in each model is more than adequate. For my commercial tying, spending the money on a tried and tested brand adds to the life and value of the flies that I sell to customers.
I’ll separate the next section here in a standard wet fly and standard dry fly (bomber) for my favoutite species of fish; the Atlantic Slamon, and show you some of the steps that will make your flies last!
Material Selection: As with Most things, and previously mentioned – all are not created equal. Most brands share similarities across their product range, however there are some, that, in my experience, offer a more durable/quality proven/tyer friendly product. For most of my materials I have chosen SHOR Fishing. These are available coast-to-coast in Canada in fine retailers, and locally, at Atlantic Rivers Outfitting Company who will ship nationally and internationally. Check ’em out… tell ’em Jamie sent you!
A wet fly typically has nine Parts: Tag, Butt, Tail, Skirt, Rib, Body, Wing, Throat/Collar, and Head. Sure, within this formula there are countless additions of hackle, flash, married wings and the like, but let’s start basic. You can then build from there and take these simple steps to the next level.
The tag is typically tied using mylar or oval french in a variety of colours. For durability and longevity I have found (and my customers have relayed the same) that a tag tied with mylar affords more fish-attracting qualities and does not “open up” like oval French. Furthermore, the mylar deflects light and gives the fish more of a target.
The butt is tied typically using either a stretch material or floss (I’ve used both) in a wide range of colours. I like material that are easy to work with and lay flat (no one wants a lumpy Butt). The Key here to securing the butt of the fly and having it last for multiple fish is to create a “hood” by leaving an inch or so of the material
behind, then forming the butt, and pulling the tag end over the top of the butt creating a hood. This keeps the butt material from fraying and getting pulled down over the tag of the fly, eventually pulling apart, and slowly having the fly fall to pieces.
Standard tails are tied from pheasant crest. It would be more budget friendly to use schlappen, however, the fibres on schlappen are very soft and are easily torn and broken off. If a particular pattern calls for a tail other than the popular yellow/gold. I will purchase pheasant crest in the required colour, or dye one myself. An aggessive strike sometimes results in the fly further inside the mouth of the fish. Sharp teetch can reek havoc on your fly, and soft schlappen can easily fray. The pheasant crest will give you a better chance of the fly lasting.
I like using ostrich herl over peacock eye or herl. I find the ostrich needs less reinforcement and is available in a range of colours to offer an attractive contrast to the fly . All you need is a few wraps and reinforcement with your thread (small diameter).
Local Rules Dictate no weight added to the fly which eliminate wire for the rib here in Nowfoundland. My most used is oval French in gold or silver, however I have used vinyl d-rib in size XS when looking for a coloured option. Some other recipes call for embossed tinsel, mylar etc, but my most used material is oval French. When tying in the French, start at the end of the return, helping create a smooth and consistnt body of the fly (the rib is tied in before the body), and when wrapping over the body, either a steady hand, or, in my case, the rotary function of thevise lays the rib on nicely. A side note here, I lay the rib on opposite of the direction I lay the body material. For example, if I wrap my body material over the top of the hook, I wrap the rib under the ook. Doing so ensures the rib material does not sink down into the body material and limiting the visibiliry of the fish.
Regardless of what you’re using for the body of you fly there are several steps to ensure a consistent and smooth body, appropriate production, shape, and length. It’s easy to overdo it and too many wraps of material will quickly result in too much bulk. Obviously, the size of the hook you’re tying on will greatly determine material length, so I won’t get into “cut x amount from your spool and firmly secue”. At this point you have a couple options. From a commercial tyer stand point (because time matters) I like to snip the desired amount of material from the spool. Wrapping it around my tying thread and leaving 2mm of space to tie in point (which is immediatley behind the return junction) then have touching wraps reaward to the skirt. Then, slightly overlapping wraps forward to the end point (again at the return
junction). These wraps should be tight as to not allow material slippage reaward, or allowing the rib material to sink into the body thus decreasing the attracting quality. Once the body is finished just a few thread wraps will secure it.
Wing material greatly varies, and the popular choices for Newfoundland fly tyers are calftail, kid goat, moose body and squirrel. It doesn’t matter how perfect you’ve completed the previous steps, if you fail to tie in a strong wing, you’ve set yourself up for disappointment, and good luck having a return customer when the wing of the fly disappears when they’re casting. A small dab of superglue, zap-a-gap, or loktite under the wing will work wonders. I opt for LePage super glue. Snip your wing material and pull any underfur away and discard. Stack the hair neatly, measure the desired length, snip the ends, then rather then tie the wing material all in together; take 2-3 smaller segments with tight thread wraps. This will ensure the wing will last and not fall apart from casting, or from a fish strike.
For the throat material, as mentioned previous, I stray away from schlappen and tend to predominantly use hen saddle dyed in various colours. Choose a feather that offers an appropriate length fibre for the throat. Pull fibres toward the stem lining them up, then tightly pinch a clump and pull from the vane. When tying the material in, rotate your vise 180 degrees, then hold the material securely and catch with thread making sure when you wrap it doesn’t pull the material around the side of the head. Again, just a couple of wraps is all it takes to secure the material. When tying in the wing and throat, a strong, small diameter thread keeps the size of the head appropriate, and tightly grasps the fibers. Once complete, 2 sets of 3 whip finishes and you’re almost complete.
The final step is finishing the head with sealant. Most often I use clear cement. I have two bottles in close reach – one being very thing to allow seepage into the thread to create a very secure wing and sturdy head. The second being a thicker top coat. I’ll apply two coats of the thin, then two coats of the thicker variety.
For my bombers, I again pay special attention to selection of materials first and foremost. I start with quality hooks. You can be certain that if you buy one of my bombers it is tied on a Partridge hook. The CS42 is the perfect platform offering a wide gape to allow good hookset, enough real estate on the shank to allow for proportioned bodies, and a durable hook to last.
Materials for bombers are simple. Calf tail, deer belly (or body) dyed to preference, rooster saddle for hackle, and two sizes of thread. Here’s the step-by-step I take when tying bombers, and the tricks I’ve picked up from fellow tyers over the years to create a long-lasting, attractive bomber.
Selection of quality calftail is paramount. I use premium calftail from SHOR Fishing. Snip a clump, about the equal size to the diameter of a pencil, then hold firmly by the tips between your thumb and finger, then pull apart the short strands. You can set the short hair aside for smaller bugs/bombers/wetflys. The remaining hair is the perfect amount for the tail and horn. Next, place the hair, tip down, into a hair stacker, and tap gently on your knuckle. When you have the tips lined up, measure the length you desire for the tail (I like about ½ the body length), and secure to the hook shank with tight thread wraps. You will want the end of the tail, and end of the horn to meet in the middle of the shank, and continue a smooth base for the deer to spin on, so cut the ends on alternating 45 degree angles. The pictures
below will show this more easily. Repeat for the horn. To get the horn to stand up a little, take some thread wraps around the hair (similar to tying a post on a trout dry), then a couple of wraps underneath, then whip finish the small diameter thread. Cover the tail and horn with tape, as to not inadvertently snip them off whilst trimming spun deer.
Start by tying on some heavy thread to allow for force when spinning the hair. I like to use UTC 140D for spinning. Regardless if you are putting a coloured butt on the fly, or keeping the body all the same colour, the steps will be the same. Select a piece of choice deer belly, again, I tend to like the SHOR brand of material.
Snip off a pinch of hair, 2/3 the diameter of a pencil to start, trim the ends, and lay on top of the shank. Take one loose wrap over top of the hair and shank, then a second, slightly tighter wrap, then while holding the tips of the deer hair in your (in my case left hand) hand and snip off the excess. With firm and steady pressure now wrap the thread again, and the hair will spin around the hook. Taking another turn or two of thread through the hair, then, holding the tail in your left hand, firmly, but not too aggressively, pack the hair in using either your fingers (mind the hook point – you’ll quickly know if you’ve gone too far) or with a packing tool. Take a couple of wraps in front of the hair, then prepare your next pinch of hair. Following clumps should slightly increase, but not more than the ½ the size larger than a pencil diameter. Too much hair will not spin well, too little will not provide enough flotation. Continue adding clumps of deer to the shank in this manner, and ensure it is packet tightly, then once the full shank is spun, tie off the heavier thread and prepare to trim the deer.
Body shape is tyer preference. Having said that, there are some points to consider. Firstly, if the hook gaps is obstructed by a large body left on the fly, you will miss some hooksets. Overly skinny bombers will sit very low in the water and are not only “fish” improperly, but are less durable, as the hackle stem is not protected by the deer hair and a fishes’ teeth will eventually snap the stem. There is a happy medium. Shape, again is tyer preference. Some tyers have a cone shape to the body, some like a cylindrical shape, and some like a cigar shaped body. To begin trimming the deer, I first turn my curved scissors perpendicular to the hook, and trim directly behind the front horn. Next, I turn my scissors in line with the shank, and trim rearwards creatine a path all the way to the tail. Ensure you do not take too much hair off, because once its gone, that’s it, you’re committed.
Work your way all around the fly by using the rotating function of your vise, and one you have one pass done, you have completed the “rough” shape of the body. One more pass tends to be enough to complete the body. Take a look over the body and if you have any hairs that are out of place, a quick snip will remove them.
For hackle selection, again, brand is tyer choice. Keep in mind not all hackles are created equal, and each manufacturer have different genetic lines that offer different hackles. I tend to like Whiting Euro Saddle. The Euro line is available at Atlantic Rivers Outfitting Company, and when compared to other brands, you will see why I choose this one. First off, the hackle count is near double that of competitor lines. Second, hackle length is also much longer, affording me more flies per hackle. Third, is hackle consistency. If you take a hackle from the patch, and pull the fibres back, you will see a consistent shape, and not have “waves” up and down the tip of the fibres. When tying your hackle in, start winding on your small thread in front of the horn (14/0 is what I use), then select your hackle. Peal off some fibres at the base of the stem, leaving ½” stem to tie in.
When tying your hackle in, to ensure the fibres all angle slightly rearward, make sure the “v” shame or “shiny” side of the hackle is angles toward the rear of the fly. Catch the stem with a couple of tight wraps, then bend the stem and wrap over, locking it in with thread wraps. Snip off the excess stem. Palmer the hackle rearward creating 6-8 wraps of hackle, equally spaced. When you have the hackle palmered, take your bobbin and “chase” the hackle. This locks the hackle in place, and even if the stem snaps from a fish, the hackle will not unwind. Once you have the thread all the way to the rear of the fly, snip off the remaining hackle, then wiggle the bobbin through the fibres as you wind forwards to the head of the fly. This will again secure the hackle, and the wiggle motion limits the trapped hackle fibres. The small thread also limits the likelihood of leaving a track mark though the body of the fly.
Use your thread to shape the head however you wish, and 2 sets of 3 whip finishes and you’re done. For some extra pizzazz, you can use globrite floss, but this step isn’t necessary. As with wets, a couple of coats of the thin cement, followed (when dry) by a coat or two of the thicker cement, and you now have a bulletproof bomber to skate or dead-drift over the fish.
Partridge of Redditch Ambassador
Whether chasing sea-run brown and brook trout, or Atlantic Salmon in one of the many rivers in Newfoundland and Labrador; Jamie Pike has a fly in his kit that’ll be sure to tighten the line.
Jamie has been tying flies since 2007 while stationed in a small Newfoundland community as a Paramedic – 14 years later, his competence is proven to be among the elite fly tyers in Newfoundland. Specializing in Salmon flies (Classic singles, Shrimps, Bombers and Bugs) and a variety of Sea Trout and inland Trout patterns.
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