Archive for March, 2020

Lockdown Day5

March 31, 2020

Corona Lockdown Day 5 a focus on ants:


Before I carry on with producing what I hope will be an educational, informative and entertaining blog I would like to make a couple of requests.

If you know of other fly tyers who you think might enjoy these posts do kindly consider copying them the links.. Currently the blog is receiving a lot of attention here in SA but I know that there are readers sitting much further afield and it would be nice to try to spread the information to a wider audience. Many of the techniques shown vary considerably from what is standard in the US or Europe and I would hope that there are fly tyers out there who may find the information useful or entertaining. I am not chasing numbers, nor do I really care about reaching some record of views, I am just trying to provide something that perhaps people can participate in and enjoy during these very difficult times.

Secondly, if you don’t like the presentation or the information you are most welcome not to read the posts. They have been produced in an effort to provide something worthwhile to entertain whilst we are all locked down, no matter where in the world. I doubt that the presentation is perfect, writing and collating for four hours every morning to produce these posts, there are bound to be errors in places.. Sorry about that.  But the number of negative comments I have received has been quite astounding, complaining about the video content, the “super intimidating wall of text”, complaints about minor grammatical errors etc. Most of those haven’t been posted on the blog but rather surreptitiously sent to my email, or Facebook page. If you have a genuine concern perhaps put that in the comments section for all to see, if there is something to be done to improve the posts I am open to discussion. That is why the comments section is there. But if you don’t like it, you are under no obligation to read further.. With people dying all over the world and the news filled with gloom and doom the idea of these posts is to spread a bit of cheer, distraction, education…. the last thing I wish to create from these posts is more negativity coming into my inbox in any form. Your consideration in this respect would be appreciated.

And with that said,  for those who are interested in some more fly tying discussion and exercise today I am going to take a look at an often much neglected area of fly tying, terrestrial patterns in particular ants.


Only a few weeks back I was fishing on a local stream during what for us would be a pretty significant hatch of Blue Winged Olives.  A veritable regatta of tiny, slate sailed, miniature yachts drifting down the current and being herded into neat rows by the bubble line.

The trout were all over it, and I watched as these lovely little insects were picked off by the fish as they innocently floated the current. I was able to select a suitable imitation from my box and with some careful casting catch more than a few trout. That is what fly fishing is supposed to be like isn’t it?

That is what most of the books describe and if you are fortunate perhaps the streams and rivers you fish produce these sorts of hatches on a regular basis. It isn’t the norm in these parts and I suspect it isn’t the norm for many anglers in many places. Much of the time there are not strong hatches, frequently if the fish are rising you can’t see to what and “matching the hatch” becomes little more than a guessing game, even if you decide to seine the waters with a little net to try to understand what is going on.

So one of my more effective tactics is to fish a terrestrial, often in my case a diminutive ant pattern, trout just seem to like ants. If you are on the water during an ant hatch the sport can be spectacular, in fact without a suitable ant pattern you might as well go home, the fish get truly fixated on these bugs. However they do  offer a very useful “get out of jail free card” even when there are not necessarily a lot of ants apparent on the water.

But why should fish be so partial to ants?

It isn’t entirely clear why it should be that fish like ants, there has been debate about them tasting “nice” as a result of the formic acid they contain. Some adventurous souls have even eaten a few to “find out” and that could very well be a factor. Certainly I have seen trout and yellowfish react to ant patterns in the most positive if not aggressive manner on more than one occasion.

A more interesting view, one long held by myself and voiced in Peter Hayes’ new book “Trout and Flies: Getting Closer” is the idea  that ants have a very distinctive “prey image”, the double or technically more correct triple body segmentation is instantly recognizable to both fish and angler. (The link to Trout and Flies above will take you to a download page if you wish to get a copy of this excellent book)

The success of the “McMurray Ant” surely is a result of emphasizing that prey image. (it doesn’t seem to matter if there are two or three segments, which raises the question can trout count? )

Ants are not aquatic insects and fare poorly once they find themselves in the drink, they are helpless prisoners of the surface tension and have little or no realistic chance of escape. To a predatory fish then they are the quintessential “easy meal”, instantly recognizable as something edible and unable to escape. From an Afrocentric perspective the piscatorial equivalent of a wounded and limping wildebeest stuck in a mudhole in front of a pride of lions.. in effect close to irresistible.

Certainly on stream anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that frequently a fish will take an ant even when busy feeding on other things, as though the “easy meal” option is too much to resist.

All of that means that a fly angler is well advised to have some ant patterns in their box.

The author’s rather overstocked “Ant Box” ready for a trip to Lesotho earlier in the year.

Ant pattern design:

To my way of thinking if the above hypotheses are true the one absolutely critical element of a good ant imitation then would be, to as far as possible, emphasize that prey image and certainly to avoid minimizing it through poor construction.

Is this fly capturing the “prey image” required of a good ant pattern?

To my mind this “ant” imitation is spoiled by hackling which hides the segmented body, what I would consider the most important trigger in an ant pattern

By contrast, this simple sunk pattern has a very clearly defined “prey image”

This simple “wet ant” would seem to offer a far better profile and enhanced “prey image” compared to the previously shown “over hackled” imitation.


So many commercial ant patterns seem to lose that all important segmentation through over dressing or over hackling, something which surely then negatively affects its potential attractiveness to the fish.

I fish a number of different ant patterns, some very small ones for much of my trout fishing and larger patterns for yellowfish.. but I try to always maximize the segmented “prey image” format of any ant patterns.

Parachute ants can provide both visibility as well as obvious segmentation, this version uses both foam and fur for the segments and a small parachute hackle.. A highly visible dry ant pattern than has been very effective on both trout and yellowfish.

The author with a “Ant Caught” Bokong River, Smallmouth Yellowfish.

Larger “ballbyter” ants often used in these parts for yellowfish

This foam balbyter ant still has a fairly pronounced segmentation and the crystal flash legs don’t clutter the waist in the same way that perhaps wound hackle would do.

The “Compar-Ant”

The super simple Compar-ant can be tied with either poly-yarn or CDC wing.

However perhaps my favourite ant pattern for trout is the Compar-ant, a foolishly simple fly with no hackle and only poly-yarn or CDC wing. The wing is deliberately placed on the rear segment of the ant, which although anatomically incorrect is designed so as not to detract from the obvious segmentation of the body.

To further enhance that segmentation the whip finish is done in the middle at the waist so as to provide maximum space to separate the segments on a small hook.

You can have a lot of fun designing your own ant patterns, whether floating or sinking, foam, fur whatever, but I do think that insuring that the segmentation is clearly pronounced is a key factor in producing a successful fly.

If you are keen to push on and not to wait for the various instructions coming you can download the books on line and benefit from a 50% discount. The links and discount codes are shown below:

Discount code Essential Fly Tying Techniques: DR62J Code will expire 17 April 2020

Discount code Guide Flies : SB94S Code will expire 17 April 2020

Lockdown Day 4

March 30, 2020

A focus on parachute hackles

I can still remember the first time I was introduced to “parachute hackle dry flies”, when a fishing companion on a reservoir in the UK proudly told me that it was the “only dry fly he used”..

At the time I was so brainwashed by the “Halfordian” or “Catskill” style of tying dry flies that I was convinced the above proponent of this style must be a certifiable idiot. After all EVERYONE knows that a dry fly has hackle wrapped perpendicular to the hook in a specific arrangement of measurements. The tails should be so long, the hackle this long, the abdomen this portion of the hook length.. It was a mantra, a mantra blithely followed by nearly everyone. Anything else was “newfangled rubbish” at best and signs of early onset dementia at worst..

“Standard Dry Flies” come with a set of required measurements and ratios without which they don’t function well, in contrast parachute patterns are for the most part unencumbered by such limitations and one can fashion them in virtually any configuration you wish.

To be fair this sort of thinking has been a blight on fly tying for years, the concept that things should be done in a certain way for little reason other than they always have been done like that and thankfully we have now pretty much broken free of such limitations.

Today it is quite normal to tie dry flies without hackle, with deer hair, with poly-yarn, with CDC and of course in parachute style.

As in so many other fields of human endeavor one person’s dogma easily becomes the norm, stifling innovation for years.

Frederic Halford , the man who believed with religious fervor that it was unbecoming to do anything other than cast a dry fly upstream to a rising trout and who pushed that agenda to a point of obstinacy did much for the sport of fly fishing. He did equally in my opinion do a great deal of damage.

I find it most amusing that today it seems likely that the success of Halford’s floating dry flies was more likely a result of their imperfections than any efficiency of design.

In his excellent new book “Trout and Flies: Getting closer” Peter Hayes strongly suggests (and I agree with him) that the much vaunted style of Halford was mostly likely effective simply because the flies didn’t float “high and dry” as Halford imagined, but rather better imitated stillborns, cripples and such. To quote from the book Hayes writes:

 “One unexpected result of this is a new insight into the success, a century ago, of the English Dry Fly Revolution led by F M Halford. It is a bit odd, but the supposed pinnacle of our sport is actually based on a fallacy. Ironically for the dry fly purists, their fully hackled flies have never been purely dry, but have pierced the surface, representing emergers and casualties rather than the hatched fly. Had they succeeded in imitating the fully hatched dun ready to fly away in an instant, they would have deceived many fewer trout into a take. Their flies have instead been widely and preferentially taken, but for the nonconformist reason that they were not fully dry.”

Both of Peter Hayes’ books “Fishing outside the box” and “Trout and Flies: Getting Closer” are an object lesson in not being conformist, not simply going with the flow but rather challenging everything we think we know. I heartily recommend both books to you if you have yet to read them.  You can even download a Kindle version of “Trout and Flies: Getting Closer” on line whilst safely locked down in your own home..

It doesn’t matter that whilst I agree with most of the things therein I don’t agree with all of them, that is the point, over the years fly fishing has seen a growing degree of innovation and free thought, which is exactly as things should be. Which brings us back to parachute hackles.

Some free thinking fly tyer, unencumbered by the dogmatic approach of his predecessors decided to wrap the hackle around a post, one suspects with the original intention of having the pattern alight more gently upon the water.

I don’t actually know if the softer landing issue is paramount, but I do know that parachute style flies have a number of advantages compared to the more “standard” Halford or Catskill style of perpendicular hackle wraps.

Some considerations:

  • In the parachute style one isn’t so strictly bound to set proportions, with “standard” dry flies if you manufacture the wings a tad too long or the tails a bit too short they have a terrible tendency to fall over. If one looks at various upwinged flies they do not have the same proportions at all, in some the wings are longer, the tails longer or shorter, the bodies fatter or slimmer. Parachute patterns allow the tyer to mimic these variations without negative effect on presentation.

A look at these different mayfly species demonstrates that they don’t come in standard proportions

  • Parachute flies, because they have the hackles splayed “on the surface film” rather than having points penetrating the film, require less hackle to float them and can even be manufactured with lesser quality feathers. The idea of the super stiff dry fly hackle isn’t as important with parachute styles.
  • A key factor in my affection for parachute patterns is that they don’t twist up the tippet, no matter if you fish large flies on thin tippet. A problem with the “standard” tying style.
  • The low floating profile is likely a better imitation of the cripples, stillborns and failed flies which trout likely focus on. (see Optimal Foraging Theory, Trout and Flies Getting Closer ).

So if those are some of the elements that I consider hugely advantageous to the parachute style are there any disadvantages we should consider?

Historically, and particularly when referring to commercially manufactured patterns, Parachute style flies have a bad reputation for being considerably less durable than their Catskill style cousins. Even today many commercial parachute patterns will last perhaps a fish or two before complete failure.

This is essentially, to my mind, the failing again of following an overly dogmatic approach to fly tying, the innovation of wrapping the hackle in a different orientation has been limited by not changing the manner in which they are tied. Such that although the hackles go around in a different manner, the tie in points and tie off points remained the same as with standard hackles. This results in a serious problem with respect to durability.

In short, if you are going to tie the hackles in a different orientation you equally then need to change the manner in which you tie them in and tie them off.

So starting off, what are the options of a “post” onto which you can wrap the hackle?

Much older flies may show the use of all manner of posts, nylon loops (Goddard and Clarke’s USD paradun for example), hog bristle, or some other contrivance, even complicated “Gallows tools”.. Today probably the most universal post for parachute hackles would be “Poly-yarn”.

Poly-yarn is cheap , doesn’t get waterlogged, comes in an inordinate array of colours and can be easily divided to make thinner or thicker wing posts at will. Poly-yarn is pretty much my first and only choice when tying parachute posts.

There are a few different ways in which one can attach this post to the hook:

The tied down on the shank method:

This was the style I used for a long time; it does however tend to produce thicker bodies which are not suitable if imitating more scrawny naturals. I have for the most part switched over to the loop method shown next. Do note though that this method is the only option when using tapered materials such as natural hair for the post.

The loop method of attaching the post works better for me, it only adds a small amount of bulk and at the thorax area which is generally thicker in most upwinged flies.. Today this is my method of choice.

Once you have the post tied in how best to attach and tie in the hackle?


As previously mentioned there have been numerous parachute hackle methods used, some complicated and others not particularly effective. The method that I now use for almost all parachute patterns is an amalgamation of techniques from various fly tyers and has proven to be tremendously effective in terms of producing durable and imitative flies.


One of the great problems with parachute flies was lack of durability, much of the problem stemming from the fact that hackles were generally tied to the hook in the same manner as with standard dry flies and then wrapped up and back down the post.


This is ineffective for several reasons. Done like this the hackle winds through itself trapping fibres and not giving a neat finish. Because the hackle was generally wound around the post in a clockwise direction (seen from the top), and then tied off against the hook in the same manner as standard flies the hackle was loosened slightly causing problems with it falling off later.


Key points in tying more durable parachute hackles

Firstly make sure that the base of the post is long enough to allow sufficient room to add enough hackle, think of how much space you would use for a standard dry fly, the post needs to offer a similar if slightly reduced amount of room if you are to tie effective hackles. Many tiers just wrap the hackle around and around in the same spot where there is insufficient room for nice neat touching turns, this will not produce a neat or durable fly.

Secondly, tie in the hackle to the post and NOT to the hook, that way the hackle is wound from top to bottom and cannot slip off during fishing.

Thirdly wind in touching turns nice and tightly around the post and whip finish or super glue finish underneath the hackle and around the post. By doing this the torque of the thread tightens the hackle rather than making it looser, an important part of tying durable flies.

Whip finishing under the hackle and around the post is more than possible, but for durability and lack of bulk using a super glue whip finish is hard to beat. I generally don’t glue things to hooks when tying flies but for this finish I am prepared to make an exception, the method is quick, simple and very strong.

As mentioned the ideas came from different sources, the method of tying the hackle to the post came from Skip Morris, and exceptionally talented American fly tyer, the idea of whip finishing under the hackle and around the post was demonstrated first to me in the Oliver Edwards book “Fly Tying Masterclass” and the concept of finishing flies with thread slightly dampened with cyanoacrylate glue (Super Glue) was shown to me by members of the Italian National team at a fly tying session at the World Championships in Spain. Added together all these methods in combination provide the best means possible of manufacturing parachute hackles providing, simplicity, durability and realism. .

Tying durable parachute hackles




Tying the BSP:

The BSP (Bog Standard Parachute) is a fly based on little more than a reproducible and durable upwinged fly pattern. It can be infinitely modified to imitate almost any upwinged fly simply by changing the hook size, body materials or colours, post length, tails etc.. So it isn’t really a pattern, more a design which can be adapted.

In conclusion, parachute style flies provide a lot of advantages in terms of visibility on the water,  floatation, and the ability to vary proportions, if one can overcome the previous disadvantages of lack of durability with the correct tying methods they end up being the mainstay of your dry fly boxes.. or at least my dry fly boxes..


If you are keen to push on and not to wait for the various instructions coming you can download the books on line and benefit from a 50% discount. The links and discount codes are shown below:

Discount code Essential Fly Tying Techniques: DR62J Code will expire 17 April 2020

Discount code Guide Flies : SB94S Code will expire 17 April 2020

Lockdown Day 3

March 29, 2020

Covid Lockdown Day Three


It is all very well tying flies and fishing flies but what are we trying to imitate when we do so?

Having a basic understanding of entomology and the insects, both aquatic and terrestrial which fish feed on will help with both fly tying and fishing.

Today I thought we would take a step back and look at some basic entomology (the study of insects)..  You don’t need to be an expert and you don’t need to use Latin names but it does benefit both angler and fly tyer to have some knowledge of the bugs out there that fish eat.

Not only does that add a level of interest when seeing insects out on the water, but it will also help a great deal in terms of fly proportions when you are tying.

The basic categories of imitative flies used by trout anglers specifically would encompass most of the following:

Nymphs: Imitating the juvenile subsurface forms of Mayflies, Dragonflies, Damselflies and the like, Insects which undergo something called incomplete metamorphosis, more of that later.


Note that there is considerable variation of different mayfly nymphs; some are designed to hold on in fast water, some swim and some burrow under the sand or silt. But they all have the same basic layout and same parts.

Larvae: Imitating the larval forms of insects which undergo complete metamorphosis, Sedges (Caddis Flies) and midges, the larvae transform into Pupae before hatching and the Pupae then transform into the adult.

Again there is considerable variation amongst different larvae,  Midge larvae although commonly red are also sometimes green , caddis larvae of different species may build houses from sand or stone or only build nets with which they catch food. The basic structures are however all pretty similar.

Pupae: Imitating the pre-emergent forms of Sedges (Caddis Flies) and Midges for example, insects which undergo Complete Metamorphosis.

Midge and Caddis pupae are of most interest to anglers during a hatch, the ascending pupa are targeted deliberately by feeding fish.

Emergers: Imitations of various aquatic insects in the process of emerging and drifting towards or indeed at the surface. These can be imitations of either Nymphs or Pupae.

Stillborns or cripples: It has been long recognized that fish will, at least on occasion, target those insects which fail to hatch properly and become stuck in the shuck or surface film. These flies are designed to imitate such failures and for some reason generally refer to Mayflies so unfortunately afflicted rather than caddis or midge patterns, although one presumes that they can also get “stuck” but that is another story.

Duns or Sub Imagos: Flies imitating the first stage of adulthood of mayflies when newly hatched, they are not as bright or as shiny as the spinners.

Spinners or Imagos: Flies imitating the moulted and fully formed adults of mayfly species either returned to lay eggs or dead on the water after mating. Frequently more shiny with glassine wings. When dead on the surface they frequently lie in a “crucifix” position, wings outstretched.

Note: Mayfly species come in a wide variety of sizes and colours but again the essential body parts and layouts are much the same. (That means as a fly tyer you can use the same basic pattern to tie a wide variety of imitations to cover most mayflies just by changing colours and sizes)

Adults: Caddis flies, midges, and damselflies for example don’t have sub imago and imago stages and emerge as fully formed adults, therefore imitations of those would normally simply be referred to as adults.

Terrestrials: Flies that imitate non aquatic insects which find themselves in the drink as it were. Crickets, Grasshoppers, Cicadas, Ants and Beetles all fall into this category. Most terrestrial patterns are dry flies and designed to float but you can also fish with good effect sunken beetles and ants so there are no hard and fast rules.

A note on Mayflies:

Throughout this book I refer to mayflies in the American sense, that is to say up-winged aquatic insects of the order Ephemeroptera . In the UK in particular the term mayfly is restricted to describing one or two large mayflies that supposedly hatch in May but are more likely encountered in June, primarily Ephemera Danica. The other British Mayflies tend to be referred to in terms of specific names such as Iron Blue, Pale Watery etc. In the US the mayflies also have specific names such as Pale Morning Dun, but are still collectively referred to as “Mayflies”. It can all be a bit confusing but generally the American way of speaking, referring to them all as Mayflies is probably becoming more in vogue, it is just that most of them don’t hatch in May either.


Understanding metamorphosis:


Aquatic insects undergo one of two types of metamorphosis either Complete or Incomplete. As mentioned previously, Midges and Sedges (Caddis Flies) undergo complete metamorphosis. That is they go through the following developmental stages.





Mayflies, Dragonflies and Damselflies undergo Incomplete metamorphosis. That is they go through the following developmental stages.

Egg……nymph……..sub adult……

Mayfly sub adults are called sub imagos, Dragonfly sub-adults are called tenerals

The main difference from an angling perspective is that insects undergoing complete metamorphosis have a pupal stage whilst those who go through incomplete metamorphosis have nymphal stages. It would therefore be wrong to call a fly “John’s Caddis Nymph” or “Sue’s mayfly pupae”. For the record nymphs do go through stages where they simply become bigger nymphs these stages are called “instars”.



Being able to recognize basic insect forms will not only help you with your fishing but equally with tying the right flies for the conditions and recognizing which ones to use when on the water. You may find flies on the water, in the air, bankside vegetation or better still in the trout’s stomach, the latter being a pretty sure indication of predation on which you can hang your piscatorial hat.

It isn’t possible to show all the variations but the main groups can at least be recognized from the following chart.





Sometimes it is simple to recognize what trout are eating if you can see the flies on the surface, subsurface insects however account for more feeding on the part of the fish. You may see the insects or trap them in a net if you go looking for them . More likely you will be able to identify them from the stomach contents of trout already caught. These are the primary forms that you are likely to encounter.


Having some knowledge of basic entomology can be fun and interesting, it will help you identify different food forms when on the water and equally assist in proportions when you are tying flies.


You don’t need to get into the minute details ,small black caddis or size 16 Olive Dun will probably be more than enough to allow you to fool some trout with your imitations.


Flytying challenge for the day:


The Deadly Damsel.. a damselfly nymph imitation primarily for use in Stillwater lakes and dams.

You may be fortunate enough to be on the water during a damsel fly migration, but even if you are not these bugs take a year to mature, so the chances are there are always some around.

If you have nothing better to base your fly selection on than that it is a good start. Trout in stillwaters will generally be pretty opportunistic and a damselfly nymph is a pretty safe bet if you have no other indication as to what the fish might be eating. As previously there are both graphic and video instructions for tying this pattern below:


Key points:

Damselfly nymphs are very mobile, they wiggle when they swim, they are also much thinner than most commercial patterns would have us believe.

Key triggers are pronounced eyes, “hammer-head” shape head,  long thin abdomen, small wing cases and fairly prominent legs which are held outwards when the nymph is swimming.

Most damselfly nymphs are olive green but they do come in other colours. When tying aim for a really thin body. The marabou tail doesn’t need to be overly thick to provide some “wiggle” when in the water.


I hope you are all getting some benefit from these posts, do leave a comment, recommendation, suggestion or query. It keeps me motivated.

If you are keen to push on and not to wait for the various instructions coming you can download the books on line and benefit from a 50% discount. The links and discount codes are shown below:

Discount code Essential Fly Tying Techniques: DR62J Code will expire 17 April 2020

Discount code Guide Flies : SB94S Code will expire 17 April 2020



Lockdown Day Two

March 28, 2020

Lockdown flytying Day Two a focus on hackles

A fairly simple overview of different kind of hackles and some flies to attempt/practice on.

Having jumped in with a mass of information on day one in an attempt to include everyone from beginners to more accomplished fly tyers I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you all.

Anyway today I am going to focus a bit on hackles, they are and have been an integral part of fly tying since its inception. Generally speaking “hackle” simply refers to a barbed feather, could be from a rooster or a hen or a game bird and additional notations provide some further information.

Hackles on flies broadly fall into one of the following categories.


  • Throat hackles.
  • Soft or wet fly hackles.
  • Standard Dry fly hackles.
  • Palmered hackles.
  • Parachute hackles.

Throat hackles we covered on day one, with tying the Diawl Bach

Soft hackles or wet fly hackles are generally hen or game bird feathers, softer and more pliant than dry fly hackles they are designed to imitate legs, life and movement in a fly which is subsurface. Many traditional flies use the feather names as part of the fly name, such as “Partridge and Orange” or “Snipe and Purple”

Standard Dry Fly Hackles:

Standard dry flies or “Catskill style” dry flies rely on the hackle to support them on the water’s surface, as such the hackle the quality, quantity of fibres and method of tying it is critical to the functionality of the hackle.

Use the very best hackles that you can afford for your dry flies, hackles that are sold loose in a packet are virtually useless for tying good dry flies. What you really need are quality cock hackles either in the form of a Cape (the whole skin from a rooster neck together with the feathers attached), Saddle hackles which are from the side of the birds which can be bred to produce various sizes. In general saddle patches have feathers that are fairly standard in size so you will find feathers to tie between let’s say #16 and #14 size flies. Capes provide a range of sizes but also a lot of feathers which are too large for tying dry flies of any normal dimension.

Carefully bred (genetic) feathers are the standard for dry flies and some manufactures provide selected saddle hackles in packets specifically for tying one size of fly, if you tie a lot of very small flies for example this can be a good option.

Saddle hackles are generally a great deal longer and you can tie as many as ten flies from one feather, cape hackles tend to be much shorter and for heavily dressed fast water flies you may need to use more than one feather per fly.


Dull side or shiny side to the front? Hackles from a cape have a distinct curve to them, with the concave side being slightly dull compared to the convex side. For best results in tying dry flies it is preferable to have the dull side to the front of the fly such that the natural curve of the feather fibres leans forwards giving better balance to the fly. To keep the hackle in the correct orientation whilst winding it around the hook shank you should bind the stalk in as shown in the following diagram. Wind the hackle with use of hackle pliers so as not to twist it as it goes around the hook. With quality hackles and careful technique neat balanced dry flies are easily achieved. If you are tying two hackles (such as in the Adams Dry Fly), tie in both hackles, wind the first in slightly open turns and then wind the second hackle through the first filling in the gaps. If you are tying two hackles separately such as with a bi-visible pattern wind the first hackle before tying in the second in front of the first.


Sizing hackles.

It is less important perhaps when it comes to parachute patterns but standard dry flies need for the hackle fibres to be of the correct length and the way to insure that is the case is to measure them beforehand. There are some simple gadgets that will assist you or you can use the hook as a measure. Without removing the hackle from the skin bend it around the hook shank whilst in the vice and check that the hackle fibres reach approximately 1 5 to 2 times the hook gape. That way you can select the correct sized hackle without waste.


Before tying in any hackle you should strip off the fluffy “flue” fibres from the base of the stalk. On quality dry fly hackles there will still be a “sweet spot” where the individual fibres become shiny and stiff and not webby. Fibres lower than this point should be stripped off the stalk. Tie in the stalk as shown in the accompanying diagram; insure that the feather is set up with the dull side forward and that it is securely fixed to the hook shank. Having hackles pull out whilst tying is extremely annoying. For a neater finish it can be advisable to add a small amount of dubbing to the shank before winding the hackle, but perhaps that should be regarded as a more advanced technique. When winding a single hackle, wrap it forward in touching turns, trying not to trap any of the fibres from the previous wrap as you go. Bear in mind that particularly with dry flies both your skill and the quality of the hackle will make a difference to the end result. You simply cannot tie good neat dry flies with poor quality hackle, it isn’t possible.

Wet fly hackles and soft hackles. For wet flies, which are designed to sink below the surface film one generally uses some form of game hackle, hen hackle or similar. Lacking the stiffness of cock hackle the fibres will provide movement which is suggestive of life under water. Many game hackles such as partridge have thick stalks and as a result the general means of tying them in is by the tip, the exact reverse of dry fly hackles. In addition you shouldn’t make more than two or three turns stroking the fibres backwards as you go.

Cheater Soft hackles. Very frequently the only source of game hackles, unless you are a bird shooter is in packets supplied by fly tying material companies. Many of those hackles will be oversized and virtually useless for making wet flies in trout sizes. Annoying as this may be there is a solution whereby you can manufacture serviceable soft hackle flies with feathers of the wrong size. It will allow you to make the most of your packet of feathers and at the same time generate a good many flies that can be highly effective both in rivers and stillwaters. Any standard wet fly design can be tied using this method instead of the standard one if necessary.

Tying “palmered” Hackles: Palmering of hackles is one of the oldest techniques in fly tying and many traditional patterns as well as more modern ones use the technique. Both wet and dry flies can use palmered hackles and patterns that utilize the methods range from traditional Invictas, Wickham’s Fancies, and Elk Hair Caddis patterns to Wooly buggers and Shrimp flies. The principal is however the same, the hackle is wound along the hook shank in open turns and then trapped in place with a ribbing, usually wire.

Fly Tying exercises for the day.

Novices: Tie a “Cheater soft hackle following the instructions below.

Think more about the proportions than the actual fly.


For the more advanced: Tie a palmered hackle fly such as the “Elk Hair Caddis”

I really do urge you to leave a comment or question, I am sitting in isolation just like you, to know that this is of use and that people are getting something from it is a great stimulation to carry on.


Don’t forget there is now also a Facebook Page where you can post images of your latest creations just for a bit of fun.  Lockdown Fly Tying on Facebook


If you are keen to push on and not to wait for the various instructions coming you can download the books on line and benefit from a 50% discount. The links and discount codes are shown below:

Discount code Essential Fly Tying Techniques: DR62J Code will expire 17 April 2020

Discount code Guide Flies : SB94S Code will expire 17 April 2020



Lockdown Day ONE

March 27, 2020

So day one of my self-imposed challenge and to be honest I am not quite sure how best to do this as have never tried to publish anything like this previously. So please bear with me if it isn’t quite as organized as I might otherwise like. I figure that better to try to keep you all busy with new information than to worry too much about the presentation. But I will do my best

I would also like to dedicate this 21 day challenge to all those people who took such good care of me when I was sick with viral pneumonia last June, my friends in the fly fishing community and especially the ICU staff who right now are battling to save others and putting their lives at risk in the process. Please do keep them in your prayers and look after them by staying at home, tying flies and not risking spreading this disease any further.

I am not a great fly tyer, I am too much of a pragmatist for that. When you know that a client is going to fling your lovingly fashioned creation into the bankside herbage within a minute of its release from the fly box it is hard to spend too much time on them.

However, quick and effective flies are not necessarily badly tied, and even with the most simple patterns some rules help in both their efficacy and (for a guide like me all too important) their durability.

So for the beginners today we are going to look at a few basic techniques when starting off. Too many instruction manuals assume a level of competence which isn’t there and lead to frustration. If you know all this stuff be glad about it, if you don’t then this will hopefully help you. I am going to rush you through a few basics so that by the end you can at least attempt a simple nymph pattern.

(For the more experienced, read on, there will be a fly to perhaps, if not challenge you, at least entertain you).

So on day one of this “challenge” I am going to look at the most basic of basics, how do you get the thread down that little tube on the bobbin holder? How do you get thread to stay on the hook when you start off? What are touching turns? All flies are tied with not many more than perhaps  a dozen or so basic techniques, ingrain those and you are ready to tackle pretty much anything.

Threading the bobbin holder:

The bobbin holder serves to allow you to place thread on the hook with greater accuracy than by simply using your fingers, if you have rough hands like mine it also stops you fraying the thread. The bobbin holder, also allows you to control thread tension something we are going to discuss far more in future posts. But you have to get the tread up that little tube and some smart guys have worked out they can sell you a little loop of wire to help you do this. But you don’t need it. Using “bobbin threaders” potentially damages your bobbin holder, a nick in the edge and your thread will break.

So here’s the easy way to do it, simply suck the thread up the tube as per the video here:

Positioning the hook in the vice:

There has been debate about how best to hold the hook in the vice but basically so long as it is level it doesn’t matter much. The idea of hiding the hook point to avoid cutting the thread has been discussed but in reality that makes it very difficult to work at the bend of the hook when tying flies. Best to learn to avoid cutting the thread through practice and leave the hook point out of the vice jaws. Bear in mind that different vices tighten up in different ways and most also have an adjustment to accommodate larger and smaller hooks.

Starting the thread on the hook:

Again that seems obvious to the more accomplished but a bit of a mystery for everyone else and it is almost never explained in fly tying instructions. So here are both graphic instructions and a video clip of how to get going. There are no knots, the thread is attached simply by using thread tension and some overlapping wraps.. EVERY fly tied starts this way! (Please note the “watch video” tag is from a screen shot from the books and doesn’t work here, but the video in embedded below)

Tying “touching turns”

A building is only as good as its foundations and that goes for flies in exactly the same way, bad foundations and a fly that falls apart or looks scruffy. Tying a bed of touching turns of thread on a hook is the basis for almost all fishing flies.

The thread base provides a stable foundation onto which other materials can be tied down, without this materials slide about and don’t get held on tight.  The goal is a thread base with no overlaps, no bumps and no gaps, thread wraps which just touch onto their neighbours.. Do note that almost always we leave about hook eye length of bare shank near the eye. This is to remind you not to fill up this space, you will need it to whip finish later.

The “Pinch and Loop” method of tying in materials.

When one starts off with fly tying it can seem very tricky to tied down materials onto the hook,  one “chases” the materials around as they slip and slide. One of the most useful methods is to use a pinch and loop. Essentially you make a loop of thread between your thumb and index finger, keeping tension on the thread but at the same time trapping materials in the loop such that when you tied them down they don’t move from where you intended.

Tying in “tails”.

Now that you have seen the pinch and loop the first part of a fly to be attached is generally the tail, it can be made up of any number of materials but at this point it isn’t important what kind of tail you are tying in, the pinch and loop allows you to tie in the tail fibres with accuracy and precision. When tying in tail fibres there are two essential elements to consider, the angle of the tail fibres and the length.

For complete novices it may seem odd to tie in the tails first but most flies are tied “in reverse” in that one starts with tying in the tails and ends up with finishing off the head.. If you are right handed that means working along the shank from left to right, if you are left handed then the opposite applies.

Generally speaking the tail fibres should be in line with the hook shank otherwise they will affect the way that the fly swims or floats on the surface. That means that if you tie the tails onto the hook with the thread already around the bend of the hook the fibres will point downwards and not function correctly. (There are some patterns where this is desirable but in general it is a fault). The margin for error here can be as little as one turn of thread so be precise when adding tails to your flies, if they are tipping downwards unwrap a turn or two of thread and try again.

A neat foundation:

Poorly tied and often commercial flies have a telltale bump at the back of the abdomen which shows the tyer was trying to perhaps speed up and save materials. Tying in materials “short” tends to upset the smooth taper required of most flies. By tying in tails, wire ribbing and such all the way along the shank you get a far smoother and better base for the rest of the fly.


Ribbing is a fly tying term for winding open turns (not touching, so there is a designated gap between the wraps). The ribbing has essentially two purposes, one to imitate the segmentation of the insects being copied and equally to reinforce materials on the hook which may easily be torn by the fish’s teeth. For that reason it is important that most of the time the ribbing is wound in the opposite direction to the rest of the materials.

Tying in a “throat hackle”

There are two additional skills that you will need to tie the first actual fly pattern in this instructional series. A throat hackle. A throat hackle is really just some feather fibres tied on the underside of the hook to imitate legs and add some movement to the fly.

The easiest way to tie in the throat hackle is to turn the fly upside down in the vice, here’s a video clip of the method.

The whip finish

Most flies are tied with no knots during the fly tying process, so that if you let go the entire thing will unravel off the hook. That means that once you have finished the fly you will need to tie off the end of the thread in some manner. You can use a few half hitches but I don’t like that method, it is untidy and not very durable, you can whip finish with a tool or with your fingers or you can use what I call a “super glue whip finish”.. (more on that one later).

Remember: because the thread isn’t fixed you need to keep tension on it all the time, tight enough to stop things from unraveling and not so tight that the thread breaks. (Most threads are stretchy to a point so there is a variety of tension that you can apply, if you are a beginner don’t try using the non-stretch threads like “nanosilk” it will make thread tension very tough to master.)


Many fly tyers use a few half hitches, the following video shows how to do that, but you would be better off to learn the whip finish.


Whether using a tool or your fingers the basic structure of a whip finish is the same, effectively whipping a series of thread wraps around the standing portion of the thread so as to finish it off neatly and securely. :diagramatic form the layout of the thread looks like this:


A hand whip finish in video format: (my preferred method I generally don’t use a whip finish tool)

A whip finish using a whip finish tool , there are different tools which do much the same thing but look a little different. The basic structure of the whip finish wraps in either instance is the same.

If you can manage to do the basic skills above then you are ready to tie a simple and deadly fly the Diawl Bach.

Below are graphics and video on how to do that..

FOR THE MORE ACCOMPLISHED A MORE TRICKY CHALLENGE TO TIE A RAT FACED MCDOUGAL.. there are graphic and video instructions at the bottom of the page for you.


Hopefully by this point you will have tied your first or one of your first flies, this simple pattern is a standout on many waters and imitates a wide variety of food forms from pin fly to midge larvae or olive nymphs.

As a challenge for the more accomplished here are instructions on tying the “Rat Faced McDougal” a high floating spun deer hair body fly, great in fast water and high floating. Much of the tying of this pattern centres on your ability to manipulate and spin deer hair. We are going to look at spinning deer hair in more detail in a day or two. So if you battle don’t worry, the tricks of the trade will be on one of the following posts.

Well that’s it for today, hopefully given you all some ideas to play with whilst you are trapped at home. If you found this useful or have comments/ questions please do feel free to leave a comment. I would also urge you to please share this blog and the fly tying series with anyone around the world who you think may enjoy the exercises here. There are thousands of us locked in our houses on all continents, there have to be more fly tyers or aspiring fly tyers out there who may enjoy this little bit of education and entertainment which I am going to keep building on over the coming weeks.


Show your fly images on Facebook “Lockdown Fly Tying page”


If you are keen to push on and not to wait for the various instructions coming you can download the books on line and benefit from a 50% discount. The links and discount codes are shown below:

Discount code Essential Fly Tying Techniques: DR62J Code will expire 17 April 2020

Discount code Guide Flies : SB94S Code will expire 17 April 2020

Kindest regards

Tim Rolston

Stay safe.


March 26, 2020

Lockdown: and free fly tying instruction.

Well here we are in the midst of the biggest health and economic crisis in memory and there is very little that we can really do about it except shut the doors and get on with life as best we can.

Many readers of this blog will know that I was hospitalised and on a ventilator last year as a result of N1H1 swine flu pneumonia, followed by a variety of nasty bugs which were picked up as a direct result of the hospitalisation and ventilation. It very nearly killed me and one imagines was much the same as the more serious consequences for some people contracting Coronavirus (Covid 19)

So with that in mind don’t imagine for one moment that I don’t take this stuff seriously because I very much do.

This is me last June after two weeks in ICU and four weeks in hospital as a result of NIH1 swine flue pneumonia,
I lost 20 kilos and darn near my life, I want everyone to know that I take this shit seriously..


That said, in South Africa we are about to head into a period of lock down and I know that many of you will be facing similar situations wherever you live. So what to do?

There isn’t much one can do, there isn’t much I can do, but one thing that I thought could help me to keep sane and perhaps you too, is to try to make some lemonade from all these lemons.

So for the foreseeable future I am going to try to run some fly tying instruction on line via my blog opening up various instructions and video links from my two books “Essential Fly Tying Techniques” and “Guide Flies”

Most of the content is going to come directly from those books, but previously the videos were not directly available to the public. So I have decided to open them up at no cost to anyone and perhaps help to ward off the “shack nasties” and John Gierach would refer to them.  The idea is that  you can practice some fly tying techniques and perhaps tie some flies whilst you are stuck at home.

From Thursday I am going to start publishing short exercises and video clips which cover a variety of fly tying techniques both for the novice and the more accomplished.

The aim will be to cover a few basic things for beginners and tying an actual fly for the more experienced, don’t forget to pass on the link to your mates, would be quite nice to have a community of novice and experienced fly tyers around the world learning and sharing during these difficult times.

So I will try to put in a few basic fly tying techniques in graphic and video format each day for the novices

And instruction and video on a fly a day too for the more experienced.


There are going to be thousands of people sitting at home and potentially bored and for that matter worried, hopefully this may provide some of you with a worthwhile project to take your minds off stuff and even end up with a really great fly box or two for the coming season once we are all allowed out to cast a line again.

Please do feel free to share the information with anyone you think may enjoy or benefit from it. There are no costs involved, I am making all of this information and the videos available for free. There will be links to the books but this isn’t a sales operation, and you don’t need to purchase anything to participate.

It would be nice to hear back from you via comments, help us all feel a little more connected whist we are in isolation..

Bear in mind that there should be no need to follow the various tutorials in any particular order, although if you are a novice I do suggest that you try to do with the initial instructions, it will help later on.

In 21 days time it would be great if you shared your “new flies and fly boxes” with me so that we can put them out there on social media for everyone to see.


Most of the content coming over the next three weeks will come from these two e books. You are under no obligation to purchase anything. If you can’t wait to carry on and wish to purchase an eBook copy on line you can do so via the links above.

Further should you wish to do so, you can use these codes (or pass them on to your mates) to get the books at a 50% discount

Discount code Essential Fly Tying Techniques: DR62J Code will expire 17 April 2020

Discount code Guide Flies : SB94S Code will expire 17 April 2020


If you need any further assistance you are most welcome to comment or mail me at