Posts Tagged ‘Covid Lock Down Fly Tying’

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 ONE

March 27, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Threading the bobbin holder:

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

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

Positioning the hook in the vice:

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

Starting the thread on the hook:

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

Tying “touching turns”

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

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

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

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

Tying in “tails”.

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

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

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

A neat foundation:

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


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

Tying in a “throat hackle”

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

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

The whip finish

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

Kindest regards

Tim Rolston

Stay safe.