Posts Tagged ‘Lockdown fly tying’

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 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 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