Archive for March, 2011

Bog Standard Parachutes

March 28, 2011

There are only a few variations of basic fly tying patterns which I use consistently. Certainly I have heaps of size and colour variations but the same old same old things work and keep working and I sort of figure “why fix it if it ‘aint broke”.

The BSP is one of those patterns, driven by the fishing guide’s need for simple and quick to tie flies that are at the same time effective, relatively inexpensive to manufacture and durable. It helps a lot that if a client hangs one in a tree you don’t have to choose between a long swim, bankruptcy or ritual seppuku.

Parachute patterns in general have a number of advantages to the average angler and despite the fact that standard Halfordian or Catskill ties have been around for years and are still viewed my many as the “standard dry fly” I personally fish very few Catskill ties these days. They have the annoying habit of landing upside down just as you manage to make that impossible cast into the bushes over a twenty inch fish and I demand a little more reliability at least when I can.

Firstly parachutes are not as limited by the dimensions as a Catskill tie is, make the tail too short on one of those and it falls over, make the hackle slightly larger and it will twist up your tippet like a dervish. Real Mayflies, Midges and Caddis flies actually vary considerably in their dimensions, not just size but the relative sizes of their wings, tails etc and that is not easily copied with standard ties.

With the parachute style one has almost complete freedom to vary those dimensions without mechanical failure, no matter the variation the fly lands the right way up most of the time and with modern materials as wing posts they are as visible as the proverbial canine’s naughty bits.

Emergence of parachute patterns have however out of convention followed many of the “rules” of the more standard dry flies, dubbing and quill bodies, standardized hackle sizes and the like, much of which can be pertinent but not always. Most of the natural insects on the small streams which I fish are tiny, and with that, skinny and sparse in nature. The majority of commercial patterns are by default over dressed, abdomens are too thick, hackling is too dense and the multitude of materials required frequently gives the patterns something of a portly and unnatural aspect which can be counter productive when fishing for selective trout. The image of the commercial Adams below also shows a whip finish at the head, a more traditional way of doing things and definitely less durable and less realistic than the method shown for the BSP.  Mostly I find that sparse is better and sparse parachute patterns float better and are more visible than sparse Catskill ties, primarily because there is more of the hackle in the surface film in the first place.

Many commercial patterns are overdressed and unrealistic.

Of course there is never one answer, particularly when it comes to flies and fly tying but these patterns are quick, simple, inexpensive and durable, not to mention effective. The style lends itself to tying in smaller sizes much needed on our local streams and with a bit of practice you can churn them out in various colour combinations to cover a lot of hatches both mayflies and midges..

The basic tying is the same for all and you can find out some more detail in my free downloadable eBook “Who Packed your Parachute” at Smashwords on the link

Since the publication of that title however there is one change that has been made to the way that I tie these flies and I now loop the parachute post around the hook. It took a while to get that right but now is more effective and provides a slimmer profile to the flies, something that I am always aiming at due to the skinny aspect of most of our stream’s insects.

The flies are tied with only variation of thread and hackle colours, I almost universally use Coq Du Leon feather fibres for the tails, they are long, shiny and easy to use. The abdominal colours come directly from the thread which gives one a massive amount of variety at low cost. Occasionally I will use bright coloured poly-yarn for the post for added visibility in poor conditions but that can sometimes spook the fish. Hackles are generally one colour but of course one can do the “Adams” thing and have two different colours if you wish, the process is pretty much the same.

Wrap the thread (usually 70 denier on the smaller patterns that I tie) approximately half way back the hook shank and bringing it back towards the eye leaving a gap for the “head” of the fly. On mayfly patterns in particular I prefer a more “Thorax style” with a decent amount of shank in front of the wing. Real mayfly wings do not stick out of their heads and there is a portion of the insect in front of the wing which I find hard to ignore. (Another variation from the normal Catskill style of fly pattern and to me an advantage in realism).

Loop a thin section of poly-yarn under the hook and double it over to form the post, one can position the post exactly where you want it done like this and get a very slim body at the same time. The trick here is to flip the bobbin around the “back” of the post with your left hand (for right handed tiers) and make a wrap around the post. Some “figure eight” wraps around the base of the post and the hook shank will secure it without undue bulk.

Then wind the thread in touching turns up and back down the post, this is achieved by holding the post with the none tying hand briefly on each wrap and pulling the thread tight, then backing off the tension slightly for the next wrap and so on. Done like this it won’t all spin off the post. With two wraps of thread (one up and one down the post) it will be stiffer and further wraps will become easier to achieve.

Catch in the stalk of a hackle (I prefer to use saddles which allow the tying of multiple flies without constantly selecting a new feather).  The stalk should be stripped to the sweet spot on single hackles. Use only one thread wrap to trap the hackle in place.

Then wrap in touching turns up and back down the wing post trapping the hackle as you go. It is preferable to have a short amount of bare hackle stalk at the top of the post so that the first half wrap to wrap of the hackle is stalk only, this makes for a neater finish in the end.

With the hackle tied in place make touching turns of thread along the abdomen, catching in the remainder of the hackle stalk along the hook shank. Done like this you save the trouble of cutting it off and at the same time add a nice taper to the abdomen whilst stabilizing the post. Tie in a bunch of Coq Du Leon fibres for the tails, you can of course use split tails or whatever but this is the fastest and simplest approach.

Wind the thread back in touching turns along the shank, trapping down the butts of the tail fibres and trim them when you get to the post. A thicker body can be achieved by adding a second layer of thread should you want that.

Take the thread past the post and build a neat “head” of thread on the shank returning the thread to the base of the post and then IMPORTANTLY, make one wrap of thread around the base of the post so that the thread is now wrapping around the post and not the hook shank. This will be important in a moment when you trap the wound hackle to the post.

Tip the hook shank slightly downwards in the vice as this makes winding the hackle easier than simply winding completely horizontal.

Wrap the hackle in touching turns down the post, this is a far stronger and neater way of tying in the hackle than the commonly used method of winding it up and back down again. Done like this the hackle will not slip off the post after a fish or two.

Leaving the hackle pliers hanging on your side of the hook catch in the hackle to the post with a single wrap of thread and trim the excess.

Touch a few millimeters of thread with super glue on a brush to wet it and make two wraps carefully around the base of the post catching in the hackle at the same time. (A super glue whip finish). Pull the thread tight supporting the hook for a moment for the glue to take and trim the excess thread.

Finally trim any fibres which have been caught in the thread and are pointing downwards, and there you have it, a Bog Standard Parachute fly. Once into your stride you should be able to tie around a dozen an hour, maybe more. Changing thread and hackle colours you can imitate almost any midge or mayfly in suitable sizes.

Certainly this probably isn’t going to win any “most complicated fly” competitions, but they are highly durable and effective and will offer you options to cover any number of different hatches.

Variations: Obviously colour variations are easy to achieve and with the wide variety of thread colours available you can let your artistic skills run riot. In addition, coloured posts for greater visibility, longer posts also aid sighting the fly on rough water. You can of course dub the bodies, use ribbing or even quill and hackle stalk for the abdomens if you would like to. A twist of dubbing around the thorax and head will give neater finish on quill bodies but mostly I use these simple thread creations and they work just fine as they are.

Tan Parachute Mayfly


Olive Parachute Mayfly

Olive BSP



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Fly Fishing and the Marketing Dept.

March 23, 2011

Fly Fishing and the marketing department.

I remember years back when my friend Gordon Mc Kay had a fly fishing shop here in Cape Town and a customer came in asking “What fly he should use on a particular local stream”.

We both told him “ it doesn’t really matter, just make sure that it isn’t bigger than a size 16 and you will be fine”.  With that the guy’s face clouded over, you could see him thinking “this pair of dullards obviously don’t know much about fly fishing” and he politely said “Ok thanks I am going down the road to XYZ’s to find out what they suggest”.. and there it was a sale lost and another angler set well on the road to frustration and financial ruin in search of the magic bullet.

Truth be told it didn’t matter so long as the fly wasn’t bigger than a size 16 but he wanted a complicated answer. He wanted something along the lines of “you have to have a dark Choroterpes parachute mayfly spinner with a Zylon trailing shuck and olive tinsel rib in size 18”. He wanted expertise, or at least what he thought of as expertise and in his mind that meant complexity.  Had we made such a recommendation then I am sure that he would have purchased a dozen, walked out the shop thinking that we were tremendously helpful experts and fished with confidence, probably would have caught some fish too, if only because he was fishing with a fly “that wasn’t larger than a size 16”.

One can only imagine what may have lain ahead, buoyed with his success and new found status he would no doubt have then proceeded to send images of all his fish to his mates, told them that the had received excellent advice from the experts at the local fly shop and Gordon’s business would have taken off into the stratosphere. Within a year or two Gordon could have been seeking additional finance and listing on the local stock market, been featured on Oprah Winfrey as the “best fly selector in the angling world”, had his own TV show, “Gordon on flies”, published a book and retired at thirty five to small cottage on a select trout stream to fish and count his money. .. Well probably not but you get the point. Making simple things complicated sells better than the perhaps more honest alternative.

Success has more to do with getting the basics right than finding some magic silver bullet.

There seems to be a huge market in making things complicated, modern media is inundated with “experts” who are quite willing to tell you (usually at exorbitant cost) how you should dress, how you should cut your hair, how you should decorate your lounge. What flies, lures or the like you should use for success. How to pick up girls, win a tender,  pass a job interview, bring up your kids or any number of other inane and ridiculous suggestions, most of which you could happily well achieve on your own with a bit of planning and a modicum of research. Not only that but many of these experts only true expertise is in making something quite simple overly complicated to justify their own existence.. Frankly I find it annoying and I find it particularly annoying when it comes to fly fishing because that is something very dear to my heart. Fly fishing is essentially simple, it may not always seem like it but for the most part it is.

Put a fly that looks like food, near to a feeding fish in a manner that it behaves like food and your piscine quarry is more than likely going to make a mistake and chomp it. It helps a bit if the fish doesn’t know that you are there of course but isn’t exactly rocket science either.

Mind you it doesn’t escape me that the experts are generally doing financially better than I am so perhaps I am the fool? I would however like to suggest that at least I am an honest and pragmatic fool none the less. So here is the low down, most of the time fly fishing isn’t that complicated and getting oneself bogged down in the minutia of “Mayfly wing venation”, “Hatch Charts” and the difference between the male and female spinners  probably isn’t going to help you a whole lot and particularly not if you don’t get the basics right.

I was recently on the stream with two delightful clients on a particularly tricky day which illustrated the point once more. For starters it was the day after a long weekend so the fish had been hammered, the water was low, there was a bit of a cold front blowing in and a tricky wind to deal with swirling about the place.

You may think that being a fishing guide is a pretty stress free way to make a living but it isn’t always, one wants success for your clients, even the ones who perhaps don’t deserve it and particularly the ones who do and that isn’t always easy to achieve.

This time however I knew that I was in for an enjoyable day as soon as the one client asked “Can I wear the blue shirt or would it be better with the olive?”  Here was a guy who understood the value of a pragmatic approach, never mind the fly or the leader or the hatches of the day, lets get the basics right like making sure we don’t scare the willies out of the fish before we even get started..

As said it was a tough day, there were some flying termites about after the overnight thunder showers and that brought a few fish to the top, although not a lot. We experimented a little with fly patterns but in all honesty it didn’t make too much difference and we only experienced one solid refusal during the day.

What did matter was (as always) the presentation, these guys could cast which of course is not only a pretty neat starting point but also made my job a heap easier. What was noticeable was that the majority of the fish came on the very first cast to a likely spot. One good solid, accurate, drag free drift over a suitable lie and “whallop” fish on. It happened time and again, sure there were exceptions but it was noticeable that the most effective method was to get the first drift right.

So with reference to all that precedes this and at risk of making myself out to be the worst and most simplistic pleb in the angling world, do yourself a favour and work on the basics.

  • Make sure that you can cast well enough to put the fly where you want it.
  • Have your gear and in particular your leader rigged in such a manner that it assists in getting good presentations and drag free drifts. (That usually means longer and finer than you might normally use)
  • Have a selection of flies in different sizes that you can try but don’t get hung up on them, don’t be afraid to change but don’t get caught up in some frenetic lucky dip.
  • Remember that the fish are wild creatures and are not entirely keen on making a mistake or being caught, so wear muted clothing, take off your watch and flashy paraphernalia, wade carefully perhaps make fewer casts and spend a little more time watching the water.
  • And if all else fails, well as we say in competitive angling, “sometimes the only thing left is perseverance”.  Consistently good quality casts and drifts in likely looking spots is still the mainstay of effective angling.

We all like pretty flies, but they won't counter poor presentation.

A simple pragmatic strategy to getting more good casts and good drifts over fish or at least likely looking spots, to cover the water carefully and be stealthy and accurate with your approach will do you a heap more good than chucking heaps of money at new rods, reels, lines, flies and gizmos that you can dangle off your vest. All of which probably explains why I am a fishing guide and not in marketing, but it will catch you more fish, reduce the pressure on your wallet and increase the strain on your line, which I think is actually a pretty good deal.

If none of that works, I suppose you can always consult “an expert”.. happy fishing..

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