Lockdown day11

April 6, 2020

Coronavirus Lockdown day 11

So we have been at this self-isolation fly tying lark now for 11 days, that is significant because TODAY IS HUMP DAY.. that imaginary spot on the calendar where you are now getting closer to the end rather than simply further from the beginning. (I have my doubts that there won’t however be an extension)

Eleven days isn’t really that long, I am sure that many of the hoarders out there aren’t too worried about running out of materials just yet. I am quite sure that a few fly tyers I know could undertake a expedition to Alpha Centauri and still not be running low on hackle by the time they got back, but today I thought I might discuss the use of a common material which can be put to much greater use than it usually is.

Most of us are probably not yet running out of materials.

Magical Marabou: Nature’s dubbing brush.

I doubt that there is a fly angler or a fly tyer who isn’t aware of marabou as a fly tying material. Many would have first fished a woolly bugger sporting a sinuous marabou tail and most fly tyers would have whipped up more than a few of these or similar flies. The stuff seems to be one of those magical materials with fish attracting properties that are hard to match. The only issue with it is that marabou, or more correctly Turkey Marabou has become so linked with the idea of large and wiggly lures and streamers that some of its better uses have been neglected.

Marabou has a lot more uses than simply putting wiggly tails on large lures

Certainly marabou is highly mobile and very well suited to larger lures but it has wonderful micro fibres branching off it, not dissimilar to CDC and used as a body material, in much the same way that one might use a dubbing brush, superbly delicate fly bodies can be manufactured, with built in one step tapers and “abdominal gills” to better imitate the natural bugs.

From a guide fly perspective marabou has the most amazing qualities, it isn’t simply mobile on a macro level, the micro-fibres of this stuff exude life, it is available in an absolute rainbow of colours both plain and fluorescent, at reasonably low cost, from most fly shops. It is almost as though it were made for guides and guide flies. There has been a lot of interest of late in pre-manufactured dubbing brushes and similar but marabou, either blended or in a single colour will serve much the same purpose, particularly in smaller flies and I like to use it as a body material in a variety of standard nymphs, bead heads and Czech nymph styles.

Turkey marabou has both macro and micro movement, has a natural taper, comes in a wide variety of colours and is inexpensive. A hugely versatile material for all manner of flies.

Marabou is the simplest stuff to use, provides wonderful imitation of abdominal gills and adds lots of movement to small flies. In short it has been neglected and it shouldn’t be.

The marabou nymph as shown is only one of many variations that can utilize this feather as an abdomen and I tie them in everything from sombre browns and olives, for imitative flies, to brighter chartreuse and orange colours and hotspots when fishing dirty water.

As mentioned, it is so easily available and so relatively economical as a material that it really is a shame that more fly tyers don’t think to use it in this manner and it will allow you to produce a wide variety of great fly patterns, even dry fly bodies.

Some years back I was fishing the Exe River in Devon in the UK; I was a guest on some private water and a combination of travel requirements, high water and short notice meant that I wasn’t able to fully prepare for the trip. Having been on the same river a few miles downstream on the previous day it had become apparent that, although I didn’t do too badly, I would have done better with some heavier flies. I didn’t have a great deal of time at the vice, and fly tying opportunities had been somewhat wasted whilst I procrastinated drinking real ale in the garden of “The Fisherman’s Cot” and watching the river not yards away.

I had wasted away some of my fly tying time drinking real ale at The Fisherman’s Cot on the banks of the Exe

So it was that I needed to whip up a number of heavier flies in short order and early morning fly tying isn’t my forte, actually early morning anything isn’t particularly my forte. However taking this simple marabou nymph pattern and with the use of some tungsten beads I was able to churn out a couple of dozen flies of reasonable weight, pleasant and realistic profile and a wide variety of colours all before breakfast.

On the river they proved deadly, we caught brown trout, salmon parr, rainbow trout and grayling, all on these hastily assembled flies. That alone is enough to prove them to be worthwhile “guide flies” quick, simple, inexpensive and effective, there isn’t much more one can ask of a fly pattern and these ones in various colour combinations always have a place in my fly box.

Marabou is hugely versatile, easy to use, and to my mind underrated and underutilised as a material.

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

Thanks for reading, stay safe out there.

Lockdown Day 10

April 5, 2020

Corona Lockdown day 10

Now it just so happens that I am fortunate enough to fish waters where dry flies prevail, where a combination of poor hatches and low clear water mean that fish can frequently be drummed up to a dry fly even when not a fish rises or any obvious insects are emerging.

Like many anglers I really do prefer to fish dry fly, it isn’t snobbery, it is just that I love that visual aspect of the sport, to watch a fish tilt fins and ride the invisible current upwards to intercept a floating pattern is mesmerizing. That moment where a fish engulfed a carefully presented pattern was magical the very first time it happened to me 50 odd years ago and the thrill of it hasn’t diminished in all that time. Actually the thrill is the same even if it is a client’s fly being taken and I am little more than a bystander to proceedings.

For dry fly anglers, images such as this really amount to “Trout Porn”.

The numbers of video clips showing slow-mo footage of trout inhaling dry flies suggest that many other anglers feel much the same. There aren’t too many of us drooling over video shots of a Euro-nymph line twitching as a deeply submerged fish takes a sunken fly in fast water. There is nothing wrong with that, but it just doesn’t seem quite so much fun.

That isn’t to suggest that I don’t fish nymphs or indeed that I don’t enjoy fishing them, what it means is that there the lack of visual stimulation, you don’t see the fish, you don’t see its reaction to the pattern, you don’t get to watch this creature momentarily leave its aquatic world and break through the surface into your world, to me that is magical.

If your heart doesn’t sing watching all these rising fish you are not a fly fisherman.

Many years back as a young lad I would fish for carp and other course fish species, frequently with rigs that placed the bait on the bottom but there are contrived means of doing this with a float to indicate a take and I always opted for those set ups. Sitting watching a float bobbing gently is a lot more absorbing than waiting for an electronic buzzer to beep indicating some interest from the fish.

Even in my youth I would far rather watch a float all day


Than sit hoping some electronic buzzer would indicate a take.

I suppose that we are to a large degree visual creatures, a large part of our brains are geared to interpreting visual data, so it should be no surprise that it is important to us in many ways. A fishing float sitting prettily on the surface, perhaps twitching now and then as a fish investigates the bait, is I suppose to a degree just like watching a lovey dry fly drift, being able to watch something, seems almost necessary to get maximum enjoyment.

In my youth one might have been forced to listen to a rugby test match on the radio, I can assure you that seeing the same game in glorious technicolor on a large screen is infinitely more enjoyable.

So one of the key aspects of fishing dry flies is being able to see them, indeed I recall Pascal Cognard (Three times FIPS Mouche World Flyfishing  Champion), mentioning during an instructional visit some years back, that it was imperative that one could see the fly clearly.

It isn’t just about detecting the take but equally being able to read the drift of the fly, recognize the onset of drag and to know when you have covered your target fish. Being able to see the fly is crucial most of us would agree.

To me one of the problems of trying to make patterns more visible to the angler is that they can easily become less imitative.

But that has led me to a bit of a dilemma, because some patterns, particularly terrestrial ones such as beetles and ants are so simple and diminutive that the more the fly tyer tries to improve their visibility to the angler the more you detract from their similarity to the real thing. It is easy to produce a great ant or beetle pattern, indeed there are hundreds of varieties, but most of them sit low in the film and are tough to see in anything but relatively calm water.

Having fiddled with numerous patterns and tried to incorporate hot spots, posts, coloured dots etc in an effort to make them more visible I finally had something of an epiphany, “Why bother?”

Would it not make sense to simply ignore the idea of trying to see the fly better and employ some sort of device that would allow one to fish it effectively?

It is pretty much common practice to fish a nymph with an indicator or perhaps a nymph with a dry fly as both a second pattern and acting as an indicator at the same time, so why not simply fish a dry fly with an indicator or two dry flies, one providing more visibility the other more realism?

That is the essence of the Invisi-ant and Invisi-beetle patterns, not that there are not a great many imitations that are as good if not better, the point is to simply give up on the idea of the pattern being visible but rather focus on the imitative aspects of design.

By giving up on the ability to easily see the pattern one is freed up to try to make it a better and more imitative copy.

With an idea of roughly where the pattern is, one still generally gets to see the take, and one is still able to read the drift and mend as necessary to delay the onset of drag. It is a method I have used a great deal over the past five or so years, fishing diminutive midges, soft hackles and indeed terrestrials. Sometimes where clients battle with two flies I will simply add a tiny indicator, perhaps the size of a match head, more than enough to follow the drift. But freeing oneself of the need to be able to see the fly all the time opens up possibilities of imitation and fishing which otherwise would be unattainable.

So with that, here are two very simple imitative patterns which are specifically designed around the idea of them not being visible. Once one gets one’s head around that idea a whole series of possible fly design is opened up. For the most part I still fish dry flies which are visible, but I don’t really like bright coloured wing posts, I think they result in too many refusals, and where I fish, overly large flies tend not to work well. So small invisible flies (invisible to us but quite obviously not the fish) are a very useful addition to the fly boxes..

The “Invisi-Ant” was my first deliberate departure from tying visible flies.

Again I am sure there are as good or better beetle patterns, the point is to free one’s thinking of needing to see the fly and allow a more imitative approach .

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

Thanks for reading, stay safe out there.






Lockdown Day 9

April 4, 2020

Corona Virus Lockdown day 9

The Parachute Spider (Variant).

Spider patterns have been around for a long time and they suffer from a nomenclature problem. To some anglers spider patterns are just that, imitations of actual spiders and there is little doubt that the fish will feed on such things. Then the term “spider” has also been applied to soft hackle wet flies as in “North Country Spider” and equally to over hackled dry flies which can also be termed “Variants”. The “Variant” term simply implies that the fly is tied with oversized hackle compared to the Catskill norm of 1½ the hook gape. In this instance it is the variant style which is implied, the use of an oversized hackle, although tied in parachute format.

North Country patterns such as this lovely example are also referred to as “spiders”

This is Peter Briggs’ Wolf Spider and a fly actually designed to imitate a real spider

A variant style dry fly with oversized hackles is often referred to as a “spider pattern” it is this style that I discussing today, although in a parachute format

As with so many guide type flies this one has a long and convoluted lineage, it has been modified, developed and fiddled with by myriad anglers over the years. I suppose that the true original of this pattern was a beaten up and chewed Royal Coachman, which continued to catch fish despite it bedraggled state and gave rise to a famous South African fly the RAB. The RAB was the brainchild of Tony Biggs, who having had tremendous success with his scruffy Coachman deliberately tied a fly with similar colouration and a great deal more movement. The RAB acronym actually stands for “Red Arsed Bastard”, although it has equally been referred to as the “Rough and Buoyant” due to the cautious sensibilities of some anglers at the time.

Tony Biggs’ RAB pattern has been modified over and over again, these are close to the original and tied by Tony’s long standing fishing friend Tom Sutcliffe.

This variation, and there are dozens of them, came about because I never particularly liked the standard RAB. It certainly can be effective at times, but I always felt that the over hackling relative to the hook size resulted in a lot more takes than it did in hook ups. The fly always seemed to create an expectation of success without actually delivering the goods. There are those who disagree, so it is very much a question of personal opinion.

By turning the fly into a parachute style the mobility of the longer “halo hackle” is retained whilst the hook up issues are ameliorated. Equally the standard tie is almost impossible to fish on fine tippet due to the spinning effect of the oversized hackle; the parachute style removes that hiccup very effectively.

The great advantage of this style, to my mind, is that the fly very nearly presents itself. It really does land like the proverbial thistledown and even for anglers who struggle to cope with long fine tippets the fly will introduce slack into the leader and provide “drag free floats” even for the average caster. Then of course there is that inherent mobility of the materials, the wiggling legs that proved so effective in the original. I no longer limit myself to the classical red and pheasant tail livery of the original and will tie the pattern in a wide variety of colour schemes. It is more a style than a pattern I suppose you could say.

Others tie the fly with all manner of additional accoutrements, legs fashioned from anything from Egyptian Goose to Vervet Monkey hair but as a true guide fly the materials have to be obtainable and easily incorporated and that is where the halo hackle of Coq de Leon comes to the fore. It is an unlikely looking bug to most anglers, but it can prove tremendously effective, having the ability to draw fish up on slow days and equally represent any number of real insects from actual spiders to large mayflies. It has caught fish on streams ranging from hallowed waters running through chalk meadows in Southern England, to freestone spate rivers on several continents. Due to its size and visibility it also makes for an excellent and delicate indicator fly when throwing nymphs upstream.

Not long ago I was fishing over a massive and one can safely assume educated brown trout on a local catch and release water. The fish was feeding sporadically on something very tiny and not easily identified.

I made numerous casts over that fish, with a variety of “killer patterns”, a BSP, then a brassie, a soft hackled midge pattern and my favoured “hatch breaker” the Compar-a-ant. All to no avail. Then in desperation I heaved out a large parachute spider, and the fish took on the first drift. It was one of the best brown trout I have ever seen come off one of these rivers, well over twenty inches and probably in the region of 4lbs in weight.

This large brown trout fell to a parachute spider after refusing several other more imitative and smaller flies.

So don’t imagine for a moment that this rather strange pattern can’t fool smart fish, it undoubtedly can.

A versatile pattern, perhaps a little more complicated than some guide flies but not overly so and well worth manufacturing and testing.

The tying sequence is pretty much standard BSP with the only real variation of having two hackles, a standard hackle and a “halo hackle” .

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

Thanks for reading, stay safe out there.

Lockdown Day 8

April 3, 2020


Corona Virus Lockdown day 8

One of the negative issues of being a fishing guide is that all too often one doesn’t have the time to spend on complicated patterns. Much of the in season fly tying revolves around whipping out quick and effective flies to replace those lost in action over the course of the previous few days.

Now with us all in enforced isolation I suppose that excuse is no longer valid and there is no reason we cannot spend some time on more complicated patterns. With that in mind today I thought that I would take a look at a hopper pattern which I use, there are many great hopper patterns out there but this one has been designed to fit a couple of specific requirements which I personally think can be important.

Although I don’t fish hopper patterns very often on those occasions that I do it seems that one of the key triggers is the “plop” which the fly creates on landing. It can winkle fish out of difficult lies and pull fish towards flies which have been deliberately presented some distance away from the fish to avoid spooking them. The tactic can be particularly effective on the Yellowfish of the Bokong River in Lesotho. So the idea is to create a pattern that isn’t bulky, but will plop nicely, that isn’t overly difficult to cast on light gear and yet provides a fair imitation of a grasshopper without too much complexity.

Below an extract from Guide Flies..


Grasshoppers quite obviously represent a massive meal for a stream based trout which exists primarily on a diet of tiny baetis nymphs. As such hopper patterns can be deadly effective in drumming up trout and in particular larger than average trout that simply won’t bother to charge after tiny flies unless there is a significant hatch on.

The “Twisted Tail Hopper”is one of several terrestrial patterns discussed in “Guide Flies”, it is also by far the most complex of them to manufacture.

There was a time when we would fish the Witte River with little more than hoppers. The stream is in the high country, given to vagaries of wind and weather and stiff breezes are far from uncommon up there on the mountain tops. Hoppers, which are near omnipresent on the grasslands are not particularly good fliers, the combination of wayward jumps and strong winds land more than a few of these insects in the water where they become trapped.

From the fish’s perspective this is a double bonus, lots of calories in a single mouthful and one that cannot easily escape. There are a few specific instances where I have found hoppers to be particularly effective.

Firstly when of course there are a lot of the naturals about and a bit of a breeze to flip the odd one off the bankside grasses and into the water. The fish know all about them and will readily accept the fly, particularly when fished near the bank and around overhanging grasses and vegetation.

The second and slightly less usual application for the hopper is to induce a responsive take to a tricky fish which is either lying in difficult calm water or perhaps so close to structure that to delicately land an alternative pattern close to the fish is near impossible.

Hopper patterns have the ability to pull up large fish especially along the bank edges.

Years back I can recall guiding clients on the lower reaches of the Smallblaar River. We came across a trout of considerable size, as it turned out over 20 inches in length. The fish was sitting in a small channel off the main flow and its head was firmly tucked under the overhanging grass, such that we could only see the body and tail of the fish.

It was impossible to drift a dry fly over the fish as the grass was touching the water and would have resulted in immediate drag as the leader snagged.

After some thought we tied on a hopper pattern and deliberately dampened it so that it would have a little more mass. Then by “plopping” the fly down behind the fish we hoped to induce it to spin around out of its secure feeding hole and give us a chance at a hook up.

The fly made a distinct splat as it landed just short of the fish’s tail, and in a moment the trout turned and lazily followed the pattern for a few feet before engulfing it.

Splatted down hoppers offer tremendous opportunities to winkle trout out of tight structure and although one may refer to it as a “minor tactic” it is none the less highly effective at times. It is also a heart stopping means of angling because in my experience there are only ever two results. The splat almost always results in an immediate response, either a confident take or alternatively a rapidly departing and spooked fish. So the method is always something of a gamble.

With no cover for the angler and grass hanging over the river, the Upper Bell River offers great opportunities to winkle out fish with a “plopped” hopper pattern.. Image courtesy tomsutcliffe.co.za

High up in the mountains around Rhodes in the Eastern Cape lies Boarman’s Chase a stream characterised by crystal clear water, clean bed rock without a great deal of structure and overhanging grasses which dangle on either side of the stream forming an near impenetrable curtain. Behind those dangling stems the fish can hide with impunity, frequently impossible to see and often spooked by careless wading or casting.

The “splatted hopper”, fished as close to the grass stems as one can manage will often pull trout out from under the banks far more effectively than delicately presented dries. In fact I have used the same tactics on overgrown streams in the Cape, Rhodes and the Kamberg in Natal, all to good effect.

Thus to my mind a successful hopper pattern should have at least some mass to provide the required “plop”. Equally though, given the chances of hooking up the bankside foliage and in keeping with the simple fly tenet required by my definition of Guide Flies, most hopper patterns are too time consuming for inclusion in this book. Even then the hopper pattern I use most is a little more troublesome to manufacture than some of the flies illustrated here. The fly is a combination of several other worthy patterns but is designed with a few local issues in mind. Firstly I rarely if ever fish with tackle heavier than AFTMA #3, big bulky hoppers are tremendously troublesome to cast on such gear, especially combined with the long leaders that I far prefer.

The “Twisted Tail Hopper” has an extended body of twisted yarn which provides size without mass. The spun deer hair head is more time consuming to manufacture but can be squeezed to absorb more water when a distinct “plop” is required of the presentation. Equally quicker to tie patterns with “folded back” deer hair heads lack durability and are easily torn up by the fish’s teeth.

Most of the information on these posts comes directly from my books “Essential Fly Tying Techniques” and “Guide Flies”..

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

Thanks for reading, stay safe out there.

Lockdown Day 7

April 2, 2020

Corona Lockdown Day Seven


Can you believe it, we haven’t left the house in a week, not for anything, not to walk the dog or head for the shops. I wonder when was the last time, if ever, that has been the case? Some of you may well be out there having suffered this restriction for even longer, but I do remain convinced that it is the best strategy for everyone for the time being. So well done if you have stuck to it, double points score if you have used the time to tie some flies too.

So having covered a lot of techniques in the past week today I am going to look simply at a variation of the spun duns, especially well-suited to tiny flies where even the finest of deer hair tends to be a little bit unruly .

(at the bottom there is also a link to a very interesting variation tied by Davie McPhail, Davie does some of the very best fly tying instructional videos on you tube, his CDC  dubbing wing dun version is done quite differently to the “spun dun” but I really like it and I am sure that you will have some fun experimenting with it)


The Poly Yarn or CDC Spun Dun.

I have waxed on about Spun Duns I admit, but they are tremendously effective and relatively simple to manufacture. There is one addition to this tribe however that is worthy of note. Years back I tied some using CDC instead of hair, particularly the tiny #20’s and smaller, where the hair is rather course and problematic. I recall publishing an article about these flies at the time and being, at least moderately, lambasted by more than one commentator, such patterns have however become far more accepted over the years and you will see a number of variations out there.

However Spun Duns and Comparaduns are tricky to tie well in small sizes and the use of CDC or indeed poly yarn makes a very simplistic pattern that is remarkably effective. They look too simple, I must admit that I didn’t have much faith in the first ones I manufactured, but they worked, and they worked really well when the fish were feeding on tiny insects. I suspect that the CDC versions have the edge when it comes to effectiveness but they lack the easy drying and durability of the Poly Yarn ones. So I carry both.

The simple split tail and thread body CDC spun dun,an exceptionally good fly particularly in small sizes

There was an interesting story associated with the development of these patterns however, which I suspect provides some insight into the effectiveness of CDC. Much is made of the material’s floating properties but I think that perhaps the softness of the material is at least equally important. You see I suspect that when a fish takes the fly, CDC very closely approximates the “feel” that a real insect would provide, wrapped about a tiny hook the fish fails to notice the deception and therefore hangs on to the pattern longer than one manufactured from stiffer materials.

One day out fishing alone and having caught sufficient trout to allow me the comfort of careless experimentation I came across a fish. It wasn’t large and was feeding amongst some water grass, rising regularly every few seconds to a hatch of tiny olives. I determined that I wouldn’t strike before I so much as threw the fly out, I wanted to see what would happen, and made a presentation to the fish with a tiny #22 CDC spun dun. The fly drifted down on the current, the fish move slightly to intercept it and swallowed, I did nothing, the fish then moved approximately a foot to the right and intercepted another real fly, at which point I struck, hooking the fish well back in the throat.

I like to think that after its release that fish was still thinking “You know I wasn’t entirely sure about the first mayfly, but I would have sworn that the second was real”. Perhaps the “feel” of the fly does make a difference, if not in eliciting takes, at least in improving hook ups, and for that reason these versions of the spun dun hold a special place in my fly boxes. Obviously Poly Yarn and CDC don’t spin or flare in the same way that deer hair does, so it requires a little manipulation and tugging about to get the right effect, but on small flies it is worth the effort and a simpler and more effective tiny mayfly or midge pattern would be hard to find.


As mentioned at the beginning, here is another variation of a really nice looking pattern very similar to the spun dun tied by Davie McPhail. What he calls a CDC dubbing wing Dry Fly.. I really like the look of this and I think that you will too.

Davie has a huge number of excellent fly tying videos on line and if you are locked up at home and looking for more inspiration I recommend you to investigate his channel.

Most of the information on these posts comes directly from my books “Essential Fly Tying Techniques” and “Guide Flies”..

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

Thanks for reading, stay safe out there.

Lockdown Day Six

April 1, 2020

Corona Lockdown Day Six

We are close to a week into this “thing” and have fared well so far, the intention was not to go outside more than three times max during the 21 days, shopping perhaps once a week if needs be. We are looking good, I have baked some bread and tied some flies, painted a couple of walls in the house and mowed the lawn.

I am even recovering quietly from a rather nasty and persistent cold, which has hampered activities to a degree. So far we aren’t having to ration our supplies, there is plenty of tinned food in the cupboard and frozen stuff in the freezer, chances are that by the third week we may be eating things more based on availability than culinary desire but we won’t starve. The milk is running low but the whisky stocks are holding out just fine..

In “lock down mode” I even went so far as to bake some fresh bread..

Of course if you are all wrapping flies madly the same supply chain issues may well start to affect your operations. If you are running low on hooks that could be a problem, but many materials can be effectively substituted with others.. so today I am going to look at great dry flies that don’t need hackles..

Comparaduns and Spun Duns.

They are favourites of mine even when I do have hackles and they provide a possible alternative for you if you have worked your way through your genetic grade stocks and don’t feel like chasing down the neighbour’s rooster for fear of being locked up for breaking curfew..


Al Caucci and Bob Nastasi first brought the Comparadun to prominence with their book “Compara-hatch” and to me at least the first sight of these flies brought about considerable skepticism.

Al Caucci and Bob Nastasi were responsible for five major fly fishing/fly tying books including “Hatches” and “Compara-hatch)


They didn’t look anything like any other flies I had seen before. I am sure that many anglers experienced the same thoughts and perhaps a lot do still to this day. We have been brought up on Halfordian and Catskill styles of fly. We have been bombarded with the concepts of crisp fibred cock hackle wound perpendicularly around a hook sporting delicate duck quill or mallard wings and find it difficult to accept anything else. Much the same shock and horror used to be caused by sights of parachute patterns, of which more in other parts of this book.

Comparaduns just look a bit weird if you are used to hackled dry flies, but that isn’t any reason to assume they are not super effective.

The Comparadun perfectly illustrates a terrible failing amongst fly tyers, fly anglers and perhaps everyone else to boot. We are all too easily lead astray by “the way things are done” instead of “the way things might be done”. In all honesty it seems that the Comparadun wasn’t entirely the invention of Messrs’ Caucci and Nastasi, there were a variety of similarly manufactured flies, their wings being made only from deer hair, probably one of the earliest being the “Haystack”.

The Haystack was essentially the same fly but with deer hair tails and generally tied in a rougher and more generic fashion.. A rose by any other name?


One has to question if in reality these patterns and those that followed along the same lines, such as “The Usual” ,which utilizes Snow Shoe Hare fur as an alternative winging material, weren’t born of poverty more than creativity. As they say “necessity is the mother of invention” and if you don’t live next to a premium fly shop or you don’t have a fly fishing budget close to the GDP of a small country you have to get inventive.

Variations on a theme or parallel evolution of fly tying. The Usual, is a very similar construction using snowshoe hare as the wing.


I fished and tied flies for a good ten years before I ever saw my first premium cock hackle cape and although their availability has become pretty universal, (and I really do love them), it behoves one to remember that there is more than one way to skin a cat, or in this case tie a fly.

The Comparadun really is a quintessentially “Guide Fly”, the materials are easily obtained, available in different colours and at reasonably low cost, once mastered the means of tying these patterns is simple and quick, they also happen to be tremendously effective and frequently out-fish hackled flies of similar hue.


The originals required that you criss-cross the dubbing underneath the wing but I rarely if ever bother to do that, part of the trimming down of things so common in “Guide Flies”. In fact many of my flies now don’t use any dubbing at all.


The only issue I have with the Comparadun style is that in binding down the butts of the hair along the hook shank one is forced into producing what is, particularly on smaller flies, a rather overly robust abdomen. I like my dry flies sleek for the most part and the Comparaduns were a problem.

The Spun Dun provides a slimmer abdomen and additional floatation from the extra hair in the thorax region. For the most part I prefer this fly over the Comparadun, especially where a thinner abdomen is required.


Then I was introduced to the “Spun Dun”, another pattern that I suspect has been through more than a few developmental changes over its life. The spun dun is tied in very similar fashion to the Comparadun and with much the same materials but it offers what I consider to be better floatation, the better representation of the thorax and perhaps even the hind wing on some mayflies as well as giving a far slimmer body.


In all honesty I don’t tie very many true Comparaduns anymore and rather opt for the Spun dun versions instead but they are both included in this book. Both from an historical perspective and because you may well favour the Comparadun over the Spun Dun, they fulfil much the same role and in the end it comes down to personal choice, as well perhaps as the chubby nature or lack thereof of your local mayflies..


The way I tie spun duns, again probably differs from its original form, the name would suggest that the hair was spun around the hook and the profile gained by the simple expedient of cutting off the bits that you didn’t want. That is far too wasteful from a true “Guide Fly” perspective and now the spinning of the hair is minimal.


More really flaring the hair than anything else, although if it gets a little unruly one can always resort once again to the scissors.

Both patterns are shown in some detail, there are however a few points worthy of note in their construction.


Firstly you cannot tie these flies with weak thread, with the advent of some modern threads you may be able to go finer, but in normal terms I use 140 Denier thread for both styles, you need to apply considerable torque to the hair to make it secure. Skip Morris in his books actually changed from thicker to thinner thread after lashing down the wings, but I am a tad too impatient for such niceties and one has to bear in mind one of the criteria for inclusion into my “Guide Flies” list is speed and ease of tying. Messing about with additional threads and bobbins doesn’t really fit the bill. Don’t let me stop you if you feel so inclined.


Secondly judging the amount of hair required for the wing takes practice, equally it can be varied to suit different water conditions, more for rough free stone streams and less for meandering slicks on spring creeks. One interesting note is that as the hook size reduces the amount of hair required doesn’t change by much. The natural taper of the hair means that as the wing gets shorter the bulk of the hair captured in the tying becomes less. Such that you will find that the same size bunch pretty much works for all fly sizes although the actual wing size varies..


Thirdly, although now there is specific “Comparadun Hair” on sale, you can use any reasonably fine deer hair. The books all recommend coastal deer, one presumes because they are less affected by cold weather and therefore produce finer hair, but in reality you can tie serviceable patterns with most deer hair, at least except for the tiny sizes.


I am not entirely sure why these patterns should be as effective as they are, it isn’t uncommon to cast a March Brown over a feeding fish without success only to replace the fly with a Spun Dun of similar colouration and get an immediate hit. Perhaps the fish like the low floating profile of these flies, there is some suggestion that trout will focus on cripples and stillborn duns, the trout being consummate predators, and the cripples being easy targets, but for whatever reason they work and don’t imagine for one moment because they look a little odd that they are less effective.


I well recall fishing with Hugh Patterson on the Elandspad River in the Western Cape some years back.

Hugh was an airline pilot and used to, in those days at least, frequently have layovers in Cape Town where I guide. He was one of those wonderful associates who started off as a client and simply ended up as a friend and over time the commercial element of our relationship gave way to the point where if he was in town and I wasn’t busy we would head for a river.

The clear waters of the trout streams of the Western Cape are ideal for experimenting and watching fish reactions to various flies.. The spun duns work remarkably well in many fishing situations.


On this particular occasion we arrived at a beautiful laminar run on this most gorgeous of Cape Streams with fish rising all over the bubble line. They were popping their heads out and feeding as though there was no tomorrow.


I insisted that Hugh fish first and he made a cast with a suitable dry fly, got a lovely drag free drift and the fly came past half a dozen trout which ignored it. Hugh cast again and was rewarded with a solid take and a fish in the net. He dried the fly and cast again, the same thing a long drift past numerous feeding fish and just as he was about to lift off another hook up. I immediately shouted that we must change the fly but Hugh wasn’t too keen, to his mind he had caught two fish in three casts and he wasn’t giving up the “successful pattern” for anything.


I however insisted, (I still got to call myself the guide, even when we were fishing socially). We tied on a similarly coloured spun dun and Hugh caught a fish on each cast for the next six casts before the activity put the fish down.

There are two things worthy of noting with this story. Firstly, although I have no particular idea why, the Spun Dun out-fished the standard dry hands down.

The second is that although Hugh was looking at the fish he was catching, I was looking at the fish which were refusing the fly. I have often commented to clients that “any fool will change flies when they aren’t working, but a really smart angler will sometimes change flies when they apparently are”; that is good advice and if you are going to make a change, a change to a Spun Dun or Comparadun isn’t a bad move. Mind you, Hugh still tells me that without my badgering, wild horses wouldn’t have made him change that fly, he had never caught two fish in three casts before.





Whether you are running out of materials or would just like to experiment with different flies these two are giants in the world of dry flies.. Enjoy tying and fishing them in the future..

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


After initially posting this I found a really nice demo of a variation of the Spun Dun by Davie McPhail, I provide the link here because he does it slightly differently with some interesting variations..

Thanks for following these blogs, stay safe.


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……..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