© Wolf Avni MARCH 2, 2005
TIE THE DOG LOOSE.
The phone has been ringing off the hook these past few weeks. It is my own fault. It all started with that stupid fishing column, the last one, the one where I broke a cardinal rule not ever to write anything that might be regarded as even vaguely revealing. Now it is too late, I allowed the merest whiff of practicality to sneak in and the whole thing has boomeranged. Now I must spend my precious fishing time fielding inane questions from anglers who - believing it to be all that stands between themselves and a whole new profile of angling expertise - want to know how to tie that profane fly, how to fish it, the where, the when - and the how. I answer the infernal phone and another voice on the other end says “Hi!. You don’t know me. My name is George (or Jake, or Jim, or Janus) and I was just wondering what you meant when you said that one simple tying sequence can do the lot?”
“Of course,” I reply, “I could tell... but then I’d have to kill you.”
“Explain what you meant by movement pattern,’ George just about begs.
“Listen mate,” I tell him firmly, “if you really are serious and hope to learn something, then you should read serious writers, guys like Schweibert, or La Fontaine.“
He ignores me. “What is that underlying principle which ensures that the basic pattern will always work,” he pleads?
“Read Jean-Guy Godin’s Behavioural Ecology of Teleost Fishes,” I suggest patiently, “or Whitlock, or McCafferty...”
” What do mean by accurate manipulation in the water,” he asks insistently? “How do you tie it?” Is the man deaf?
“Or Sutcliffe, or Riphagen or William Hansford-Steele,” I tell him softly, with an edge to my voice, “they are all excellent fly-fishing instructors.”
“What’s the difference between a crawl and a sprawl,’‘ he enquires unreasonably. He is deaf! It seems there is no other solution and I am forced either to explain myself, or give up this column. It seems I am not to have a moment’s peace until I have put this puppy to bed. And so, regarding the mystical Wolf’s Wonderful Weighted Wooly-worm, we take this discussion up where we left off a couple of weeks ago.
It must be made variously to either crawl, clamber, sprawl, wriggle, swim or burrow across the substrate and in the water-column, depending on the fashion and habits of the specific creatures it is called upon to imitate. Not only in movement pattern, but in scale-of-movement too, the artificial must be fished so that it mimics the natural motions of that which it intends to duplicate.
True to the KISS principle, we reduce all the myriad foods available to the trout into a few simple categories based on clearly definable, distinct methods of locomotion. The entire menu can be reduced then to;
1. Sprawlers & Crawlers
2. Clingers & Climbers
6. Floaters & Divers
Each, according to its type, has evolved to exploit specific niches within the environment. We have filter- feeders, detritus-feeders, decomposers, algae eaters, plant-feeders, carrion-feeders and carnivores. Each colonises a specific niche and can be found with a high degree of predictability where ever the environment creates feeding opportunities for its particular specialisation. Sprawlers, clingers and crawlers will be found in and around structure, among weed beds and grasses, clinging to stems, rocks, or emergent plants growing at waters edge, either feeding on the plant matter or on the plant feeders. Burrowers too are less likely to be found drifting around in the water column, but rather more in dense colonies around silt deposits. So not only do we need to fish a particular fly in a way that is evocative of realistic movement, but we also need to fish it within a zone of predaceous activity. That just means you have to put the fly where the fish are feeding. Simple.
To distinguish an individual design characteristic of a particular fly in a box full of very similar patterns, where such differences may not always be obvious, one may tie in a coded colour key. Where the fly is weighted, I like to tie in a small, unobtrusive marker of green pearlescent flashabou. If the weight is positioned forward of the central point of balance on the hook shank, I tie the marker beneath the hackle at the throat of the hook. Where the ballast is positioned to the rear, the marker is tied into the tail. Where the weight is spread evenly along the shank, I tie the tag along the lateral line. The more weight tied in under the dressing, the longer the tag. In this way, at a glance I can tell if a fly is a deep diver or a shallow, neutral density swimmer, or drifter, and what posture it will assume in the water. Armed with this, the angler can then select a particular fly to imitate a specific instance. For example, let us say that the water is full of Libullid nymphs (skimmer dragon flies), we would choose a #12 or #10, solid bodied , compact version with very little tail, lightly weighted, to fish just off the bottom around weed margins and gentle shore drop-offs. If, on the other hand, the only game in town revolves around Lestid (damsel fly) nymphs, we would select a #14-16 slenderer, weightless version, with a sparse, flowing marabou tail. We would fish it over shallow weed beds, tight against the structure and in pockets between the weed beds.
THREAD ; Black #3/0 to #8/0. Small hooks require thinner gauge thread. The bigger flies tie better on thicker gauge thread. A light waxing with bees wax can assist in spinning an even dubbing noodle, especially from fine, short-staple fibres.
TAIL; Either Squirrel or calf, or turkey/ostrich marabou - dyed black. Each of these materials has distinctly different properties. The marabou is soft and flexes extravagantly in water, the squirrel tail, less so, and the calf tail, least of all. Simply changing material gives the tier control over the degree and type of flex that the fly will display in its terminal processes, when swimming at the business end of a tippet. A tag made from a few strands of red wool, or red dyed marabou can be added to the tail.
DUBBING; Dubbing materials vary enormously in texture, in elasticity, flexibility and buoyancy. At one end of the scale, we have ultra soft, fine-staple natural materials, such as rabbit and seal’s fur, at the other, ultra-course, artificial fibres such as Antron, polymer-based fibres and fine tinsels. Between the two, almost any hair, fur or bristle can be utilised in the tying of flies. For the worm, I like to mix a variety of fibres together in a rough blend - both natural and artificial - including small quantities of materials with in-built ‘sparkle’, or glitter.
Dubbings made from natural fibres and furs tend to have a short staple, with natural taper. Antron and other poly-based fibres provide greater staple length, but without any built-in taper - The combination of both can produce blends which are far easier to work with. When tying small flies, one tends to include a greater proportion of the finer, natural materials, such as muskrat or seals fur. As hook size increases, so too does the proportion of courser materials in the dubbing mix.
By blending different shades of a particular colour, say green, one can achieve an all-purpose generic tone that takes on the colour of virtually any aquatic vegetation. Lime, hunter’;s green, emerald, olive and leaf greens, all mixed together, create a tonality which mimics the subtle variances and tonal shadings of the natural insects. In the aquatic environment, practically everything that lives does so under a mantle of colouration which makes it unobtrusive. Cryptic colouration is the rule, camouflage the norm.
BALLAST; Fine Plumber’s lead and/or bead heads.
HACKLE; Ultra-fine cock cape in furnace or grisly. Used sparsely, i.e., lightly hackled, cock cape produces extremely realistic, scaled action in a slow-moving fly. Hen cape is softer than cock cape... and the feather staple tends to be longer and more flexible. One can buy a cheap furnace cape for perhaps R20-40. One might also buy a top quality Metz, or Whitings, at around a couple of grand per each. This is one area where economy counts for nothing. A serious fly tier, especially one in the habit of tying small flies, can never spend too much on good quality cape. The hardest part of tying micro-patterns is to find suitably fine hackle material - and it is only to be had on the very best of tying capes.
RIBBING; Fine silver or gold wire, or oval tinsel.
BASIC TYING INSTRUCTIONS;
1. Lay a bed of thread along a 2x- 4x long-shank hook. Whip finish.
2. Twist 2 -6 turns of Plumbers lead along the shank, forward, aft or mid-shank. Anchor with thread.
3. Lay in a sparse tail with a small red tag at the hook heel. Whip finish.
4. Tie in a length of fine ribbing material at the hook heel, and lay to one side.
5. Dub a sparse ovoid body, starting at the hook heel and finishing behind the eye, spinning an even noodle of dubbing as tight as possible around the thread.
6. Take the ribbing laid to one side and counter-wind 4 -6 revolutions from the hook heel towards the eye. Whip finish.
7. At the eye, tie in a fine sparse furnace hackle feather and counter wind 3-6 revolutions spiralling around the thoracic region of the dubbed body. Tie in and whip finish behind the hook eye.
8. Whip Finish a head from the tying thread and impregnate with dilute clear varnish mixed 1:1 with acetone.
9. When the varnish has dried, pick and tease a halo of dubbing fibres loose, partially releasing them from their binding to the body of the fly. Teasing tools can be constructed variously, of Velcro, of small wire-bristle brushes, or even a needle with its point bent into a fine crochet hook.
Of course, for readers who might have missed part one, Fishing the KISS Principle, none of this will make the least bit of sense, and that’s just dandy. Should you be puzzled beyond endurance by all this, don’t phone me, just go out and buy my damn book.
CAPTIONS to PHOTOS
In the aquatic environment, practically everything that lives does so under a mantle of colouration which makes it unobtrusive. Cryptic colouration is the rule, camouflage the norm.
1. An Aeshnid nymph (85mm)
2. Emerald Lestid damselfly nymph (18mm).