Posts Tagged ‘BSP’

Guide Flies

December 7, 2011

Things have been busy of late and that means that other than a lot of additional shopping, sandwich making, car servicing and such there is the perennial issue of having the right flies. If you are a social angler not being able to match the hatch or fool the fish is simply a matter of annoyance but if you are a guide it represents a most serious professional faux pas. I have to admit that I did once forget to take the rods with us in the car but I pride myself on finding a solution to finicky fish even if I have to chop up a pattern on the river to make it work.

Flies of course wear out, they get lost, hooked in bank-side herbage, caught in client’s socks and clothing and even simply fall out of one’s hat or fly box. In short they have a limited lifespan. With windy conditions, a bushy stream and an impatient and unskilled client their longevity is only marginally better than that of an unstable sub-atomic particle. More than a few give up their brief lives without ever having been presented near to a fish. I figure that if flies had feelings they would undoubtedly feel disappointed, perhaps even insulted by the way they are discarded with gay abandon. Trouble is, as one of my favoured writers, John Geirach, points out, to be of any use at all flies must be “thoughtlessly expendible” and that is pretty much it.

With all of the above then – there is the necessity to match the hatch, carry plenty of patterns, replace those lost and worn out and still have flies that are sufficiently efficacious to satisfy both discerning trout and fussy clients. One then has one’s work cut out work that frequently requires long hours at a hot vice in the wee hours of the morning.

Guides want their clients to catch fish and we want them to catch fish on the flies that we supply and recommend, but we don’t want to be spending an hour constructing a pattern that as likely as not will end up in a bridge support before it gets wet.

Guide flies are therefore a little different to standard shop bought patterns. Firstly I would venture that they are generally “more” and at least “as” effective. Secondly they are carefully geared to the likely requirements on specific waters with which the guide is intimately attuned. As far as possible they are equally durable, inexpensive and quick to manufacture and most of the time it is a huge advantage if they are also highly visible. People with sufficient time and financial resources to utilize guides are rarely blessed with 20:20 vision any longer, mind you neither are most of us aged, bent and arthritic guides either. For the client to miss a take is forgivable, the same doesn’t apply to the guide, so visible flies are a professional necessity.

So it comes to pass that I have been in need of churning out more than a few patterns of late and I thought that I might share a couple with you. You don’t need to be a guide to benefit from them and indeed anyone can make use of these invaluable patterns and adapt them to their own requirements.

The Key Patterns I like to carry are:

Elk Hair Caddis 

Once you get the hang of them Elk Hairs are pretty simple to tie, bleached or light hair makes them pretty visible and they not only make for great caddis flies but are respectable “bugs” covering any number of terrestrials, they will even fool more than a few Mayfly feeders much of the time. They have the added advantage of being one of the few patterns that are sufficiently aerodynamic to be easily forced into a stiff breeze when the need arises and equally act well as high floating indicator patterns when nymphing with a two fly rig. If there is a disadvantage it is that they are not that durable and require a palmered body hackle which if you are using genetics can be wasteful. On the smaller sizes you don’t really need body hackle at all and brushed out dubbing bodies will suffice. On the larger ones one can frequently use oversized hackle and trim them without ill effect. Either way they are patterns that you can’t really go without. Details of how to tie Elk Hair Caddis Flies can be found in my eBook “Essential Fly Tying Techniques

Parachute Mayflies:

I carry virtually no “standard” or “Catskill” ties at all in my boxes, the parachutes have major advantages in terms of presentation, they always land the right way up, are easily spotted on the water even in small sizes and require less hackle to make them float. They can therefore be tied more sparsely than Catskill ties which provides in my opinion better imitation and improved economics. My standard parachute pattern is the BSP “Bog Standard Parachute”. The flies vary in only size and colour, but their manufacture is identical. Again this is a major advantage in production tying, once you get in the groove you can churn out effective patterns at a rate of a dozen an hour or more. The key issues for me are that the BSP’s don’t use any dubbing, they sport bodies of thread only. Thread colours are easily and cheaply obtainable in such variety that you can match near anything that you may encounter and for our streams the slim bodies better match the anorexic forms of most of our naturals. We don’t have fat mayflies for much of the time, simple as that. There is a post on this blog “Bog Standard Parachutes” which gives step by step instructions. Also there are two parachute patterns detailed in my “Essential Fly Tying Techniques” eBook demonstrating the various techniques of tying in the post and performing a “super glue whip finish”. (the SGWF is a boon to guide flies, it does an amazing job of increasing durability and speed of tying, most flies get lost before they get broken)

Parachute Caddis Patterns:

It is odd really that the Elk Hair Caddis is such an effective pattern, on our waters we don’t have a single natural caddis fly that would grow larger than a size 18 and most are considerably smaller. Small and micro flies require trimming down compared to their more robust brethren and the goose biot micro caddis is the perfect example. It is tied with exactly the same technique, thread body, post and hackle as the small BSP’s just that it sports neat little biot wings. As a guide fly it is superb because you can always pull the wings off and have a reasonable midge or mayfly pattern. It lacks tails of course but sometimes it will work if you are stuck.

Spun Duns:

I have written about variations of spun duns on this blog previously, in fact in the article “No Hackles” you can find a link to tying a pretty complicated goose biot spun dun. Most of mine are however once more simple in the extreme. Split tails (a twist of complexity to be sure but even guides have been known to give in to vanity and they just look nice). Thread bodies (again that ease of matching various colour variations) and a collar of semi-spun deer hair. These are superb mayfly patterns and have the major guiding advantages of being quick to tie, easy to see, floatability and near ludicrously economic. They can further be trimmed on stream to produce spinner patterns, floating nymphs, cripples and emergers if the need arises.

Drowned Midges:

These patterns are actually drowned anything, although originally designed to copy net winged midges they do a great job of covering cripples, stillborns, drowned duns, midges and even spinners and are so simple to manufacture that there is no excuse not to have dozens of them. Simple brushed dubbed thorax to imitate legs and movement and hackle point wings, added more from vanity than necessity. They aren’t visible patterns and generally get fished in tandem in much the same way one would a nymph, but they are effective. Detailed instructions in graphic and video format for this pattern are part of my eBook “Essential Fly Tying Techniques”

The Brassie:

If there ever was a quintessential “Guide Fly” then the brassie has to be it, simple, quick and inexpensive to tie, durable and deadly. It is my “go to nymph” when the fish are being difficult. We don’t have a lot of serious hatches and the fish rarely get the luxury of honing in on specific sub-aquatic forms. The brassie does a great job of covering tiny caddis larvae, baetis mayfly nymphs, black fly larva and more, plus it has that “certain Je ne sais quoi” that lures fish the world over. Tying the brassie is covered in “Essential Fly Tying Techniques” eBook, available from

Pheasant Tail Nymph:

In case I feel the need for something a tad more complicated the Pheasant Tail nymph covers more sub aquatic life, a universal pattern effective everywhere. Sporting on occasion a tungsten bead and always with my favoured peacock herl thorax for that added touch of sparkle. Another killer pattern in various guises. The PTN breaks one of the guide fly rules, it does lack slightly on the durability front, but wrapping the pheasant tail over a bed of thread moistened with head cement will provide additional longevity. The PTN is also covered in detail in “Essential Fly Tying Techniques” eBook.

The Compar-ant:

This has to be one of the simplest patterns of all, I don’t use it frequently but when you need an ant then you need one badly. Flying ants have the ability to hook fish into selective feeding more than any other natural on our streams. The fish simply love them and you can sometimes break a hatch with an ant if you can’t copy the actual hatching fly. Trout will deviate from established feeding patterns to take ants and they represent a great trick to have up one’s sleeve. The Compar-ant is made entirely of synthetic materials, a poly-yarn wing and superfine dubbing body, has a superb and uncomplicated profile which I think better imitates the key segmentation of the real insect. It is well established that the thin waste and distinct thorax and gaster of the ant act as a trigger to the fish, one doesn’t want to mask it.

All the above flies can be varied in terms of size and colour to suit, with a few colour and size variations in each of the above you will still be carrying hundreds of flies, but they won’t take long to manufacture or replace, they will catch you fish almost anywhere that you go and you won’t break into a cold sweat of panic if you lose one in a tree.

Guide Flies are essentially simple and quick to tie, inexpensive, durable and effective. You need to be able to whip them out by the dozen but still fish them with confidence.

This post brought to you by the publisher of the world's most innovative fly tying book. Essential Fly Tying Techniques

Bi-Visible BSPs

April 4, 2011

The simple BSP (Bog Standard Parachute) can be adapted in numerous ways to fullfill a wide variety of needs, covering a plethora of upwinged insects in a variety of sizes as well as many midges.

Recently I had some clients with me on the river who were rushing off home to catch a spot of the rugby, which left me with something of a dilemma, should I return home as well or maybe catch a couple of hours of fishing and miss the Super 15?

In the end with a bit of careful planning I managed to get in some much needed personal angling time and still make it to the pub closest to the river to catch the kick off. Of course that had the minor disadvantage of having to limit my alcohol consumption during the game and to stick to light lager during a thrilling match when normally I might have partied a little harder with the Stormers win but you can’t have everything..

Anyway, the morning was tough, low water and few fish on the move, those that were were exceptionally spooky and we did all the normal stuff like remove watches and fish thin tippet and all of those little adjustments that one can make when the going is tricky. All to pretty much no avail, sure the clients raised a fish or two but they were missed, striking being the one part of fly fishing that one can’t practice.

So then early afternoon saw me on the stream in very tough conditions and with an hour or two to myself. I don’t fish when I guide and hadn’t had anything like enough angling time of late, well out of practice for sure so I was looking forward to a bit of time casting for my own account as it were.

The fish came on a little here and there, there were a few rises and in the occasional pool numbers of fish rose energetically to Choroterpes spinners egg laying over the water.

The conditions were perfect with a light upstream breeze and I fished a very long twenty odd foot leader down to 7X and a size 18 dark BSP (Bog Standard Parachute) pattern. That worked pretty well although when the breeze failed to ruffle the surface of those pools the takes dried up.

I had met up with Riaan at the top of my beat and the beginning of his, apparently he had set off late and was fishing very slowly and we discussed tactics. He like me was fishing a dark fly on a long fine leader and suggested that he thought that the fish were getting wary of the white wings on the paracute posts of the BSP style flies. I have certainly had this with bright posts designed to make spotting the pattern simpler and no doubt over time the fish may well shy away from the white as well. In fact I had already moved over to gray posts on a number of my patterns.

In the end I finished with eleven fish in the net and perhaps half a dozen missed due to mistimed strikes or even the fish coming short (could be those posts again, putting them off at the last moment).

However with the BSP style of tying variations are very simple to achieve and I have found that by tying in the posts in two parts one can gain beautiful bi-colour wings that are more in harmony with the naturals without having to give up entirely on visibility. Common combinations are a small hot wing in front of a more toned down main wing. Bi-visible wings of black and white which aid visibility in bright reflective light and evenings and pure black wings which show exceptionally well in the silver shimmer of the late afternoons.

BSPs enjoy a number of features which I think can be advantageous compared to more standard commercial ties.
The whip finish is unobtrusive and done with a super glue whip around the base of the post, this adds to both the durability of the fly and means that there is no whipping about the eye of the fly which frequently leads to difficulty in threading the tippet.

Whipping around the base of the post reduces bulk, keeps the eye clear of thread and improves durability.

The thread only body on most of the patterns provides for super slim profile, particularly useful on tiny dries.

Slim abdomens are features of the BSP design, although of course you can fatten them up if you wish to.

I thought that I would share a few variations of tying the BSP’s, sure the standard is a thread body and a white or gray wing of poly-yarn combined with suitable hackle colours. Other variations can be easily achieved though. Quill bodies can be used with ease although on these patterns I add a small amount of dubbing at the thorax to cover the butts of the quill. Thorax colours can be changed with a pinch of dubbing, bi-visible wings can be simply manufactured from different colours of post material, usually poly yarn and you can even dub the abdomen if you feel so moved. Plus use of two hackles allows subtle variations of colour as with the Adams BSP shown so really one can cover pretty much any upwinged fly and a number of midges as well with these simple variations.

The real joy to me of this style is that they are not only pretty simple, even the more complicated ones, but they remain slim and sparse, far more so than commercial patterns and from my perspective that makes them real winners when the fish have seen it all  before.

Adams BSP, featuring banded wing post and two hackles of ginger and grizzle. A simple and still slim version of the classic mayfly pattern.

Bi-visible wings, the latest variation providing subtle colouration and still better visibility.

Blue Winged Olive BSP with dubbed thorax.

Choroterpes BSP, A good imitation but tricky to see under some light conditions.

The Bi-Colour "hot wing" makes for better visibility without spooking too many fish.

Olive variation with fluoro' yellow bi-visible hot wing.

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Bog Standard Parachutes

March 28, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many commercial patterns are overdressed and unrealistic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tan Parachute Mayfly


Olive Parachute Mayfly

Olive BSP



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