Posts Tagged ‘Spun Dun’

No Hackles?

October 3, 2011

No Hackle Flies,

Or should that be no hackles no flies?

You will be well aware by now that fashion industry has done a bit of a hostile takeover within fly tying circles, pushing up the price of particularly saddle hackles and denuding shelves of the dry fly purist’s most prized possessions. All in the name of the latest fashion fad: feather hair extensions.

Of course fashion is a fickle mistress and it has always amazed me that women around the world will follow the opinion of some unspecified and self appointed luminary who ups and decides what this year’s hem line, fabric  colour or hair style will be.

This lot have managed to convince the fairer sex at different times that outer garments should vary from Islamic propriety to hooker like knicker flashers, somehow they have persuaded that propolis, avocado, soya beans, cucumbers, natural essences, bees wax, or even volcanic mud is good for the hair, complexion or libido.

Over the years women have voluntarily  (frequently at great expense), allowed themselves to be incased in painful whale bone, dipped in volcanic springs or pierced with metal objects in almost every portion of their anatomy. They have primped and preened in front of mirrors ranging from the still reflective surface of the common or garden pond to the burnished metal of a conqueror’s shield.  They have ironed, curled, cut, blown, died and dried their hair, they have permed it, plaited it, woven it and covered it with wigs, hats, ribbons and flowers

And now, NOW! as an affront not only to their own senses of propriety but equally in a declaration of war against fly anglers the world over they are weaving our treasured feathers into their pampered, coloured, conditioned, hot ironed and waxed locks in yet another wanton frenzy of unabashed consumerism. All apparently in the name of beauty.

Mind you even the most callously chauvinistic of us would have to admit that the hair extensions are a tad more comely than plastic curlers and they represent less of a danger to your eyesight should you roll over in bed for that matter. Still it ain’t right, there are any number of animal parts with which the ladies might adorn themselves and one would have to suggest that delving into the fly tying box is just taking things a little too far.

At least hair extensions aren't quite as dreadful or dangerous as curlers.

From now on selecting a date might get even more complicated, no longer enough to pick a curvaceous blond with the aforementioned belt wide mini and a whale tail of black lace, you will now have to ask if her hair extensions are the required light dun size 18’s that you have been seeking out for those essential midges and will have to invite her to stay over that you might pluck the odd feather whilst she snoozes in post coital bliss.

Really not only has the world gone a little mad but it is making things darned inconvenient for those of us wishing to simply whip up a few mayfly patterns and head for the water. Apart from the allure of actually fishing,  being “on the water” is also one of the few means left to avoid the fashion houses, the cosmetics counters and previously mentioned consumerist frenzy undoubtedly occurring right now at a shopping mall near you. Time on the water is sacred, time on the water with sufficient flies is not something that should be messed with, even in the name of beauty.

Anyway enough of the frivolity, what is to be done? Carefully selected genetic roosters have a naturally determined lead time before they produce perfect dry fly saddles and of course it won’t escape your notice that they can only do this once. The upshot being that there is a shortage of feathers and that the shortage is expected to last well into 2012.

With that in mind it is the perfect time for inventive fly tyers to revisit some ideas of no hackle flies and even synthetics which will obviate the need for the products of our slow growing cockerels.

Indeed to my mind it wouldn’t be a bad thing if these became, to borrow a phrase from the fashion fundis  “in vogue” and it would be wonderfully ironic if by the time the sellouts in the feather world have spent their twenty pieces of silver they were to find that demand from trout anglers was at an all time low.

I can understand that in the business world one needs to take the best price, but to leave all of your loyal customers in the lurch for what will surely be a flash in the pan is lacking a bit in terms of customer relations.

Therefore I thought it appropriate to investigate some other fly patterns, devoid of genetic hackle and just as effective.

Comparaduns, Spun duns, F flies and the like will cover a lot of bases on the stream allowing the fly tyer to either do without precious saddles or at least save their stocks for essential patterns only.

A number of flies, like this thread bodied Spun Dun offer alternatives to using hackle

So for those willing to take up the fight, and of course those who have already exhausted their supply of suitable hackle and are now visiting discotheques in the hope of finding the occasional plume on the dance floor here is at least one option.

The Goose Biot Spun Dun,

This is a tremendously effective and highly adaptable mayfly imitation that can be modified to suit almost any hatch and happily requires not a single fibre of hackle, genetic or otherwise.  The spun dun is effectively an offshoot of the Comparadun , the greatly vaunted invention of Caucci and Nastasi and brought to public prominence in their book “Comparahatch”.

To be honest I can’t find who came up with the spun dun, it could indeed been have invented first for all I know. What I can tell you is that it is a little easier to tie than the Comparadun and boasts a far slimmer abdomen than can be obtained with the Comparadun version. It also has the benefit of its own personal life jacket of hollow deer hair butts set about the thorax region that greatly enhances its buoyancy.

To tie:

  • Lay down touching turns of thread preferably 120 Denier or similar, you are going to need some strength when you tie in the hair collar.
  • In my version keep the tag end of the thread on top of the hook to assist in splitting the microfibbet or nylon bristle tails. You can use other materials for the tails if you wish.
  • Tie in two microfibbets or bristles from a Hamilton’s nylon brush (the fibres should be tapered).
  • Pull the tag of the thread up between the tails helping to separate them and splay them apart.
  • Tie in a dampened goose biot of suitable colouration, (you can use just the thread, dubbing or any other abdominal material if you wish, it makes little difference).
  • Wind the thread to just behind the eye of the hook and follow with the body material.
  • Tie in a small amount of dubbing to neaten up the thorax (this is entirely optional)
  • Now select a bunch of deer hair from the skin and remove the under fur before stacking in a hair stacker.
  • Align the hair on top of the hook shank, just behind the eye of the hook and tie in, adjusting the overhanging tips to the length you wish for the hackle
  • Tie down tightly with three or four wraps of thread, don’t allow the hair to spin.
  • Cut off the tag ends of the hair leaving a neat thorax of butt ends.
  • Take the thread to the front, stand up the hair with your thumb nail and build a neat ball of thread in front of the hair to hold the wing vertical.
  • Whip finish or use a super glue whip finish and cut off the thread.
  • Watch the video if you wish to see more clearly the sequence of tying.

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Going Micro

December 1, 2010

Things are still getting going with the season on the streams and there has been that (possibly) fortuitous influx of brownies, which are keeping many of our hopes alive because without the life long education that the stream born rainbows have received to be honest the brownies are still a little naïve.

So right now larger flies still work pretty much Ok and although you are likely to be getting refusals from some of the “bows” the brownies will frequently make an error of judgment. But summer is coming the late rains have added a flush to the system but pretty soon you are going to be reaching for that 7 or 8X tippet and the micro patterns.

Whilst it has taken a few years for their general acceptance it isn’t uncommon for one to find even neophyte anglers on the streams with tiny patterns and fine tippets, it has become accepted pretty much that small is often better when the going gets tough. Of course a quick glimpse at the size of the actual bugs on the river will confirm that much of what the trout eat is pretty tiny and it makes sense to copy that, at least the size if not the pattern. The fish have wised up to the idea that if something appears to be too good to be true then it probably is and I would have to say that most of the better fish that I have caught come on tiny dries or nymphs, particularly in lower water conditions.

So what patterns are likely to be effective and how can you best fish them?

My top producing micro patterns include:


The parachute micro caddis, these flies arrive in great numbers, last a long time on the water and definitely fall into the drink on a regular basis. In fact I am not sure that the hatch is that important, it is the residual caddis flies wandering about the rocks which provide a regular food source. They come in two primary colours, tan and black and you should carry patterns of both although the black one is a favourite.

Micro Spun Dun.


Spun duns manufactured out of deer hair can only be tied so small , after that they become problematic but a switch to using CDC or poly yarn as a wing will allow you to tied these flies down to minute sizes without much trouble or indeed expense. A favourite being the blue winged olives which can be readily manufactured with dun or gray poly yarn and olive thread bodies.

The Compar-ant.


Using similar methods to the spun dun techniques, this is a remarkably visible fly for a micro pattern and fish just love ants. Whilst falls of flying ants aren’t common they do produce superb fishing with almost every trout in the river “on the top”. Even when they are not about in numbers the fish will target them and you can frequently break the spell of a tricky fish by using an ant.

Sunk Patterns:

Fishing micro patterns sub surface is probably even more effective, if only because when reduced to micro tactics it is generally a result of  the water being low and clear and the fish  being particularly troublesome to tempt. The fishing of patterns sub surface not only sinks the leader or tippet but also often seems to tempt the trout more easily, they just seem more accepting of subsurface flies some how.

The brassie:


This is a giant amongst the micro flies and serves as my number one micro nymph pattern when the going is tough. I have switched to this fly after a refusal to a dry and ended up tempting the fish more times than I care to remember. It is simple to tie, sinks like a brick on fine tippet and is one of the few fast sinking nymphs that can be easily cast on the ultra-light tackle that we tend to use on the streams. I carry them in both tailed “mayfly nymph” versions and tailless “Midge” versions.

The drowned midge:


Another tiny pattern which could in fact represent any number of drowned bugs or emergers or stillborn flies. Tied with either a thread or wire body this pattern offers a bit more movement than the brassie and will frequently illicit a response when other flies fail.

Fishing micro flies:

For the dries I generally fish them alone on a fine 7  or 8X tippet, but if you are battling to see them then you can fish them in tandem behind another pattern that is a bit more visible. You will find that it is more difficult to get drag free drifts with two flies but it is better  than missing the take entirely and takes to microscopic dries are frequently pretty subtle so knowing exactly where the fly is can be a huge boon.

For the sunken patterns again I usually fish them with a dry fly indicator, a size 18 parachute will easily support these tiny subsurface flies, there is no need for a giant indicator pattern.

When targeting a visible fish one can forego the indicator dry but the trick then is to watch the fish and not the fly. If the fish makes a sudden turn to eat subsurface a strike will usually find your pattern firmly stuck in the scissors of the trout. No matter that you thought that the nymph was some way off, it is tricky if not impossible to actually guess exactly where the fly is under water and better to tighten on any distinct feeding movement of the fish.

Fishing Micro Patterns with a sighter dry fly.

You can click on the above diagram to see an enlarged version.

So as the water levels drop you will be faced with more sight fishing opportunities and at the same time probably more trouble getting the fish to eat bigger flies. Moving to the micro patterns is of course only one of a variety of options but it is definintely one that should be part of your armoury.

When the going gets tough, the tough go micro, at least some of the time.

Have fun out there.

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There is is, a quick low down on fishing tiny flies, it takes some getting used to, faith has a lot to do with it but time has taught me that the trouble it takes to get used to fishing small can pay handsome dividends come the low waters of summer.

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Flies: Compara’ and Spun Duns

July 30, 2009

Comparaduns, Spun Duns and Derivatives.

CompSpunBanner

So we get to choosing flies for our streams and although in the early season things may well be a little different, the water higher and the fish a tad less discerning after three months without being bothered by those of a piscatorial persuasion one of the main stay patterns in your box has to be a mayfly.

Now it is easy to suggest all manner of different mayfly patterns but much of the time finding a style of fly that you like and that suits you and simply changing the colour schemes is quite sufficient.

My absolute favourite mayfly patterns, no doubt partly influenced by the rate at which clients lose them in trees, fish and even their own clothing or anatomical protuberances, are Comparaduns, Spun Duns and their derivatives.

I rarely if ever fish standard hackled dry flies anymore, that is to say the Halfordian or Catskill ties with a collar of wound generic cock hackle. I do fish a lot of parachute patterns but even those are superceded by the spun duns and their relatives most of the time.

The flies, possibly the best dry flies in the world in my opinion have a lot going for them.

  • They don’t require difficult to obtain or expensive materials.
  • They are quick to tie.
  • They are inexpensive to manufacture.
  • They land the right way up everytime
  • They can be easily tied in a variety of colours and sizes and even densities to accommodate various water conditions and hatches.
  • Some of the variants can be modified on stream to represent spinners, midges, floating nymphs and emergers with the simple application of some saliva and or a quick trim with a pair of sharp scissors.

They are simply the most effective, quick and versatile upwinged fly imitations I have yet to find. In fact despite their apparent simplicity they frequently out fish more complex patterns. So let’s have a look at the variations and discuss the pro’s and con’s.

The Comparadun.

Olive Comparadun

Olive Comparadun

Launched to the world in the 1970’s by Al Caucci and Bob Nastasi, and popularized in their book “Comparahatch, these flies have gained a huge following and wide acceptance from what was to start with possibly a skeptical angling public. They just didn’t look like the flies we had all been using, where were the gorgeous and radically expensive generic hackles, the split duck quill or wood duck wings? Surely the trout wouldn’t accept such simplistic offerings?

Well truth be told the trout do and possibly with more enthusiasm than some of the more traditional ties. I personally feel that amongst other factors, the low floating properties are preferred by many feeding trout, plus they are sparse, simple and delicate, all attributes of the real thing and many traditional patterns appear far too “solid” and bulky by comparison.

It takes a little practice to tie these flies but they aren’t difficult, just different to what one has been used to in the past. Colour schemes are completely at your discretion and with readily available coloured deer hairs and dubbing materials comparaduns can be manufactured to copy almost any mayfly and quite a few midges as well.

The downside, if there is one, is that the tying buries the hair butts under the abdomen, which pretty much limits one to using dubbing as a body material, tends to make the flies a tad fatter than they should and makes the tying a little tricky to get neat and tidy. Plus with the natural hair the ability to trim them on stream without affecting the “look” is limited. Having said all of that these are classic and deadly patterns. Described by Skip Morris in his book “The Art of Tying the Dry Fly as “the most popular dry flies in the USA” or words to that effect. That is a terrific book by the way, and you will learn myriad tricks from it if you have never read it before.

The Spun Dun.

Olive Spun Dun

Olive Spun Dun

I have not been able, at the time of writing, to determine who came up with the spun dun pattern originally. It was first  shown to me by Eddie Gerber in Cape Town and I am not sure where he found it.

But it was I think originally tied by spinning deer hair around the hook and then trimming the lower section off afterwards. These days most of us only “flair” the hair on the top side of the fly, giving almost exactly the same profile as the comparadun but with the addition of a slightly spun collar/thorax of hair butts which both aid floatation and I suspect do a good job of imitating the thoracic thickening on real mayflies, perhaps even suggestions of a hind wing? One thing for sure, these are easier to tie than the Comparduns and what I really like about them is that you have no limitations as to body materials. You can use simple tying thread, dubbing, goose biot’s, quills, anything that you like and still get a slim and delicate body. Very many of the spun duns that I use are tied with little more than 120 denier tying thread, which both allows the creation of a slim coloured abdomen as well as obviating problems with breaking the thread when clinching down the hair nice and tight. Add to that a “super glue whip finish” and you have a remarkably simple, quick and durable pattern that you can churn out of the vice at a rate of knots.

The Poly Wing Spun Dun.

Poly Yarn Spun Dun

Poly Yarn Spun Dun


One of the limitations with using deer hair as the wing material is that it is tricky to use on tiny patterns, I find that #18 is about the limit of my abilities and then they start to look pretty ragged. But for years now I have been using smaller spun duns tied with polyyarn. The stuff is dirt cheap, available in a wide variety of colours and is totally resistant to the absorption of water and fish slime. The poly yarn versions are tied in exactly the same manner, however you can trim the yarn to the correct length afterwards as it isn’t tapered like the deer hair. This also means that you can trim the stuff on river and manufacture a wide range of emergers, spinners and floating nymphs from the same flies if you need to.

One point, when tying with the yarn, it doesn’t naturally flare well so you need to tug and pull it into shape.

The CDC spun Dun.

CDC Spun Dun

CDC Spun Dun

Again another variation, CDC is magic stuff but it tends to get wet and unusable, it does however make for superb small to micro patterns, provides wonderful delicacy of presentation and is both visible and not too bulky, all great attributes in a material for small dry flies.

By playing around with variations of these patterns, different colours , sizes and material combinations you can cover almost all of the mayflies that you are even likely to encounter, I even have a flying ant version which is deadly. So if you are going to start filling your boxes with useful flies you could do a lot worse than churning out a few dozen of these varieties in the next week. It won’t take you long and you will be amazed, come September, how fantastically effective these flies are.

Comparaduns and their derivatives are my “go to flies” when the  fish are being tricky or in larger sizes these patterns make excellent searching patterns to “drum up” some fish, even in the faster pockets.

The flies shown in this article all have split micro fibbet tails but again variations are plentiful, sparkle duns with zylon or antron tails, standard cock hackle, Coc du Leon tails, hair tails, water mongoose tails etc etc. These patterns really lend themselves to all manner of experimentation so don’t imagine that your flies need to look exactly like mine to work..