Nice work, Bjorn!
Tom Larimer was one of our attendees at Andros FIBFest 2011 a couple of weeks back. Tom’s focused mainly on steelhead as his day job, and today he draws a very interesting parallel between steelhead and bonefish in the realm of fly design. Thanks for the thoughts, Tom!
One of my favorite elements of tying steelhead flies is that you can be as creative as you want. A Plain Jane “Green Butt Skunk” will catch you fish if dressed properly for the conditions. However, put some jungle cock eyes on, use died golden pheasant for the tail and some polar bear for the wing and the juju factor goes way up. In the end, these materials probably don’t do as much for the fish as they do for the angler… they make the fly yours. There’s something about putting a little of your own personality into a fly that gives you confidence in your little trooper. Plus, it’s fun to experiment with new materials and variations of dressing.
Before a recent bonefish trip to Andros South, I send a good amount of time filling my box with recommended flies. I studied Deneki’s Five Favorite Bonefish Flies on the Internet and did my best to emulate the patterns. As a steelhead fly tier, experimentation is the only reason I tie. However, on a trip to the holy land of bonefish I wanted my bugs to be perfect.
After fishing on Andros for a couple of days, I was happy to realize bonefish are very much like steelhead – presentation trumps the silver bullet we think we finally tied. Yes, the fly has to be the right color, shape and silhouette. Furthermore the bead chain or lead eyes must match the depth you’re fishing. However, you can bring the juju factor up and be creative with your flies.
As an experiment, I tied a couple variations of a reverse gotcha style pattern that was dubbed the “Bahamian Condom”. Basically, the entire thing was made of rubber legs, a little crystal flash and lead eyes. The fish crushed it! The whole experiment made me start thinking about all the crazy materials I could use for bonefish flies.
Next time you’re headed down south, don’t be afraid to put a little of yourself in your fly patterns. Experiment and create at the vise. I think you’ll find it incredibly rewarding to catch a big Andros bone on a pattern of your own design.
More on Bonefish Flies
Cantaria Beetle Fly Evolution
Back in the day, some 12 to 14 years ago, when a few of us first started fishing in Chile, we discovered the Cantaria beetle. Our fly tying materials consisted of a little of everything and not much of anything needed to tie a Cantaria beetle imitation. Our first beetle patterns were just black foam with black crystal chenille underbodies, and whatever color of rubber legs we had.
Some of the patterns were crude and not so aero dynamic. We tried to tie them as realistic as possible and were tying in the huge pinchers in the front. This would make the fly spin in the air and wind up the leader, so tying in the pinchers was dropped.
We experimented with gluing different types of mylar materials to the foam to give it the iridescent look of the real beetle. Some of these patterns worked and some didn’t, depending on the density of the mylar. If it was too thick, the teeth of the trout could not penetrate and the fly would slide out of the mouth. The glue tended to make the foam brittle. It was decided that just the soft foam body was best.
We then found “Loco Foam” which came in a variety of colors, but we liked the “Peacock” and “Oil slick” colors. We first used the foam with the color side up but then we realized this was more for the angler and that the fish never would see the color unless the fly was riding upside down. We then flipped the foam or sometimes glued two pieces together with the colored sides out.
Eric Neufeld, former guide and current Simms/Idylwilde/Ross rep, designed a pattern that he had great success with. It was one of the mylar designs but what was different about this fly was the rubber legs. He had used fluorescent orange and then painted them with a black magic marker leaving the tips orange. This fly caught hundreds of fish until the skid lip had been torn off.
Why did this fly work so well? What I learned from this fly was that the red/orange legs were the key. If you look at a Cantaria beetle from below, you really only have a silhouette except for the light that shines through the tips off the legs, giving them a red glow.
We then started experimenting using legs of different transparent colors.
Rick Sisler found a few orange squid jig skirts in his fishing gear and cut the tentacles off to use as legs. They were a bit thicker and stiffer than the usual rubber legs. They worked well but what we liked about them was that not only were they semi transparent but they had a bit of glitter in them for added attraction.
Back then we were throwing these huge patterns with 6 and 7 weights. In a good wind it was tough to get it out there, but they raised a lot of fish!
Today’s beetle is tied in a variety of sizes from realistic to bite size morsels but still based on these same principles.
More on Fly Design
Today we continue our great run of guest posts, with an article on tying ‘confidence flies’ from Dan Huff, the guy behind Angling Obsession. Angling Obsession is a blog focused on fishing the Great Lakes, where trout, salmon, and steelhead provide opportunity for fishing adventure 365 days a year.
Thanks Dan – we’re headed to the bench!
Tying Confidence Flies
Most fly fishermen gravitate toward specific patterns they have had success with in the past. These are confidence flies, the ones we hide from our buddies, and whine about when we lose the last one. The following tips are designed to help you develop more of these coveted fly patterns.
Turn One and Burn One
When tying a new fly pattern, treat the first one as a prototype build. Study the pattern, do your best to wrap the right amount of material in the right places, cut the material off the hook with a razor blade and start over! Although it seems a little extreme, throwing your hard work away, it usually makes for better flies in the long run. While tying the prototype make note of the amount of materials used and where you begin and end wrapping the material along the hook shank. When you’re finished tying the prototype, give the fly an honest inspection and make note of the imperfections. Use these lessons learned to make your next fly the best it can be.
Next step – take your prototype swimming. For those who live on the river, I’m envious. For the rest of us, this means digging out an ice fishing rod and filling the bathtub. Soak your fly and perform inspection #2. Ask yourself, how can I improve upon this chicken on a hook to make it my next confidence fly?
Be a Sweat Shop
With prototyping and testing complete, it’s time to bring your new confidence fly into full production. Tying flies in a production run is faster, results in less waste, and more consistent flies. I prefer to tie about 6-12 flies in a production run. A production run of large streamers may only be 2-4, up to 24 for small nymphs and other simple patterns.
Since you own the sweat shop, take advantage of your free time after work. This is when I make variations of my confidence flies. Try new color combinations, make material substitutions, and be creative.
For those of you who have a quality fly shop near your home, I’m almost as envious as the guy living on the river. Make the most of your fly shop visits by keeping track of material you’re running low on. Hang a clipboard above your fly tying bench and generate a shopping list as you use up material. You cannot tie confidence flies with dubbing in the wrong shade of caddis green.
Little Black Book
Keep a 3-ring binder of your favorite fly patterns. Make notes of your prototype builds and associated lessons learned. As seasons fade and return the following year, you’ll be happy you took the extra time to log your hard work.
Tight loops and tighter lines,
More on Fly Tying
NOTE: If you’re viewing this in a newsletter or a reader, click here to hear Tom talk about his steelhead and salmon fly on YouTube.
The big problem with designing flies for winter steelhead and king salmon is that these fish often tend to strike at big-profile shapes in the water, but they also can swim relatively deep. When you’re swinging flies (which we really like to do), big bulky patterns tend to not sink very fast, since the bulk of their bodies provides resistance against the current.
With the Reverse Marabou Tube, Tom solves this problem by tying it backwards on the tube so the marabou fibers point forward, giving a bigger profile with a smaller amount of material. The smaller amount of material helps it sink fast, and that sink rate is really important as we mentioned above.
The Larimer Outfitters web site provides detailed instructions for tying the Reverse Marabou Tube – have a look.
More on Flies
Warning: this is a very technical post about fly tying. If you’re not interested in the subtleties of tying one of the most influential modern steelhead and salmon patterns, click here to look at a bunch of pictures of fish.
Jerry French may not have a household name in the world of anadromous angling in the Northwest, but he should. Jerry and his friends Ed Ward and Scott Howell were right at the forefront in the early days of modern Northwest fishing for steelhead – particularly in the realms of Skagit-style casting systems and fly tying.
The Intruder – a large-profile steelhead and salmon fly – was such an important development back in the day that today we talk about ‘Intruder style’ patterns. The Intruder’s combination of a large profile, movement and translucent look with minimal materials, along with its shank-style construction, revolutionized large-profile steelhead flies, plain and simple.
Jerry is an alumnus of Alaska West and today he works at Kaufmann’s in Seattle and guides on the Skagit and the Sauk. We’re really grateful to Jerry for writing up this post on his background, design and tying steps for the Intruder.
Background on The Intruder
It was early 1990’s. I was guiding in Alaska with my friends Ed Ward and Scott Howell. We had all spent the spring together swinging for steelhead and had been tying some very big flies on 3/0 spey hooks. It was very clear that all our big wigglies worked very well.
Unfortunately two very big negatives came to our attention.
- The super long hook shank made it very easy for the fish to throw the hook – we were hooking more fish than ever before but only landing 10 to 15%.
- This was a big one. Almost every fish landed on these 3/o spey hooks was bleeding badly, and that was unacceptable.
That summer in Alaska we all wanted to try these big flies on big Alaskan trout, but we knew these hooks would kill too many fish, and that led to the birth of the shank fly – cut any hook shank off at the bend, tie in a small mono loop 1/8 of an inch from the cut end of the shank, use a 3/8 inch piece of speaker wire insulation, and run the leader thru the eye of the hook and the small mono loop. Then we could tie a very big fly and rig it with any hook we wanted.
When you hooked a fish the fly would come free from the hook, removing all the leverage of the long hook shank and all you had was the hook of your choice in the corner of the jaw. No more bleeders, and the landing rate shot up to 85 to 90%. With no limit to how big a fly we could tie, it got crazy! A name was given – The Intruder.
After that summer, the three of us piled into my Ford Exploder and headed for the Skeena tributaries in BC. We fished everything that was in shape and the whole time we all were swinging some new fly design, tied the night before. The proof was how the fish would take the fly – the take was super aggressive…and this we like very much!
This is when the Intruder as a fly design and theory took off. We all tied lots of flies in our own styles and could find common design features that would make a very big profile with tons of movement, and still be sparse. This was the trigger – the movement and silhouette!
Tying The Twin Tail Intruder
For me the Intruder is a constantly changing creature. I do however have some tying methods that are key to every critter I take for a swing. Here’s an explanation of how to tie the fly at the top of this post.
Single strand floss is the best thread for this method. A 1″ long plastic tube 3/32 outer diameter thick wall is my standard. Having the tube rigged in the vice , I leave 3/16″ bare to fix the junction tube.
I start my thread at the back, and every Intruder starts with a dubbing loop. In that loop, I make what I call the “composite hackle”. I will blend some dubbing, African goat, and some flash dubbing for shine. Make sure it’s all pulled out so it’s ‘mostly’ all the same length. Then pick a hackle of any kind (in this fly it’s turkey flank), and cut 3/4 of an inch of fiber from the stem.
Lay it centered on a 1 1/4″ sparse strip of dubbing, place a second sparse dubbing over the hackle fiber (like a dubbing hackle dubbing sandwich), and install the composite hackle in a waxed loop. The hackle ends should be 1/8″ past the thread. Space it out evenly and give it a good spin with a dubbing whirl. Spun and picked out to free all the dubbing and hackle fibers, the composite hackle should be wrapped on using wet fingers to make a tight wrap. Tie it off, pick it out again, and tie in a twin tail of choice.
If I make a dubbed body, I always wrap it, spaced out over some kind of flat tinsel body. This will make the dubbed body glow very nicely!
The forward ostrich hackle is also a composite hackle. Make a dubbing loop, and make the same composite hackle as the back station. On the forward hackle I’ll add a 1/2″composite hackle of dubbing, ostrich, dubbing to the bottom of the loop assembly. It is best to spin the loop just to capture all the goods, then stop it, make sure no hackle tips are twisted in the loop, then give it a final spin. Again use wet fingers to wrap the hackle tight. Tie it off, pick and brush it out. I will add a sparse, long wing of ostrich in front of the eyes.
I use the composite hackle method on all my steelhead, king salmon and trout critters. I feel it creates a seamless look and a very full yet sparse living creature. There is no limit to what can be put in the dubbing loop and it cuts the tying steps by 50%, if not more. I have tied some stuff using a twin tail and one huge loop to make the rest of the fly, in one step. The key to the composite hackle is to keep it sparse – the combination of the spun dubbing and hackle ends will make a perfect shoulder to hold up any long swimmy hackle.
Open your mind and give it a spin. Whittle up some new critters and take them for a swim!
More on Skagit-Style Fishing
Today Matt Hynes walks us through tying instructions for a ‘cuda fly that comes from a slightly different angle – it’s tied on a tube.
Barracuda Tube Recipe
Stainless saltwater hook, size 2/0 to 4/0
Insect green synthetic fibers – here I use flash ‘n slinky
3” HMH large tube
Devcon 5 minute epoxy
3-D epoxy eyes to match body size
Step 1: Body and Thread Base
Attach the tube to your vise and apply a thread base. Leave 1” in the front as a handle to spin the fly while the epoxy is drying. Also leave 3/8″ in the back so the junction tubing can be attached. Tie in a sparse clump of the body material, lashing it down along ¾ of the tube for a thicker profile.
Step 2: Gills and Eyes
Invert the tube and attach the red gills. Spin the tube and attach an eye at the back. Even though they have an adhesive backing, I use a small drop of superglue to ensure the eye does not slide around while the epoxy is being applied. It is worth the extra step, trust me.
Step 3: Epoxy
Mix the epoxy. If you don’t have a rotary vise, take the tube out via the front “handle”. Start applying the epoxy in a thin layer at the front, working back toward the eyes. Keep the fly rotating; the epoxy will drip. Try to fill in the gaps between the eyes on the top and bottom of the hook. I like to encase the eyes, letting the epoxy soak into the body and gills a little. This also helps prevent fouling. Remember to leave the tab in the back for the junction tubing.
Step 4: Attach the Hook
Slide your wire leader through the tube and attach the hook. Use a figure-8 knot for coated wire, a haywire twist for straight wire, or a clinch knot for Tyger wire. Slide the hook up into junction tubing.
Step 5: The Fun Part
Come on down to Andros South and step into the boat with Torrie, Josie, Charlie, Sparkles, Ellie, Freddie, or Norman. Prepare yourself for a good time and apply the fly to giant barracuda as needed.