Unwind a bit, Getting it Right

Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, Montana

Despite having tied flies for some 50 plus years, I still marvel at the artistry some tiers achieve.  The J. Stockard Pro Tyers produce some beautiful flies that in my mind are the envy of us amateur tiers. Looking back to the early 1960s when I started tying, things have changed quite a bit. Today the patterns we tie are significantly different due to the increased use of synthetics, specialized hooks, new tying tools and the expansion of fly fishing into species other than trout and typical warm water targets.

Back when I started you learned from the few available books at the time or if you were lucky like I was, from some old timers who shared their 40+ years of experience tying fancy wets and Catskill style dry flies. You can still get some hands on tying experience at clubs and fly fishing shows as well as learning from the plethora of books out there, but it’s the online video that has taken over the role of fly tying professor. Despite the change in how one learns to tie flies or tie new patterns, the fact remains that fly tying is a locus of some basic tying skills and techniques, a variety of material handling techniques, the proper application of quality materials and the dexterity and ingenuity of the tier. The pro tiers who produce those artistic, well-proportioned and beautiful flies like the fly at the left by Pro Tyer Luke Stacy have taken that locus to its pinnacle.

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Free Substitutions

Guest Blogger: Michael Vorhis, author of ARCHANGEL suspense thriller, OPEN DISTANCE adventure thriller & more to come

Ahhh, free-sub…we start out liking it, because there are thirty eight kids who want in on the kickball game but only one kickball. Free-sub gives us hope that we too can rotate in before the recess bell. Then a few years later we establish ourselves, maybe in another sport, maybe as a strong-side front line volleyball spiker…and free-sub becomes a bore, ensuring that once we rotate out we never get back in. Then we evolve further and become a fan, and the picture gets cloudy…I mean, we can accept footballers running on and off the field with abandon but it just doesn’t sit right that a baseball pitcher doesn’t have to hit…and years later still, we appreciate the free-sub concept again, when we start coaching kiddie sports and the parents are counting how many minutes their little booger-eater was in the game compared to Johnny.

Free-substitution is a mixed bag of blessings and curses. By the time we start applying it to fly tying materials, we appreciate the ability to use fluff off an old sweater when the Aussie Possum runs out–we do appreciate that. But it’s the curse side of materials substitution I want to dwell on today.

Don’t get me wrong — there are few on the planet more prone to use “found” or “similar” materials than I. I greatly enjoy the creative juice aspect, and I celebrate when my “faked” handiwork fools a fish. But over the years I have realized that the downside of free materials substitution is that people long ago were really smart. So when the pattern calls for something specific from nature, there are generally good reason, and switching something else in is often a desperate, rather than genius, move.

A few examples:

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Guest Blogger: Michael Vorhis, author of ARCHANGEL suspense thriller, OPEN DISTANCE adventure thriller & more to come

There are multiple steps to tying flies that are potentially problematic, but one in particular resurfaces for me in numerous fat-bodied flies: The dreaded downramp.

Consider a fly body that increases in diameter from near the tail (Figure 1). Almost regardless of what you use to build up that base (yarn, thread, whatever), it fattens up as it extends forward toward the fly’s head. It may need to get fatter as a result of some underlying lead wire wound around the hook shank, or simply because the insect it imitates is fatter than a needle. Now, I’m not talking about fly bodies that look fat but are mostly air, courtesy of fluffy dubbing; I’m talking more about fly bodies substantially built up with a base.

Figure 1 – Built-up Base of Body

Over that body base is usually then wound materials that establish the “look” of the fly: dubbing noodles or dubbing-loop fluff, yarn, peacock herl, palmered hackle, wire or plastic tubing or D-ribbing…whatever. For simplicity we’ll call all that stuff “the works.”

The problem: Starting to apply “the works” from back to front, over the body’s base, is easy. “The works” easily climbs that up-ramp from thin to fat (from left to right in Figure 2), each turn laying close and nice to the previous turn, just like you want it.

Figure 2 – The Ramps

When winding “the works” up-ramp, there are no gaps, no body base peeking through to look sloppy and promote unravel during use.

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