A New Tie in Town

A New Tie in Town

Hot new tying materials, and how to use them

  • By: Darrel Martin

Fondling feathers and experimenting with new materials has always been one of the principle pleasures of fly-tying, and in this age of innovation there is no shortage of products to investigate. Each year tying companies introduce new materials and products to assist and bewilder us. In fact, the main challenge in fly-tying today often seems to be one of infinite choice. The recent crop of new products and materials spans the spectrum from beads and weights to preformed body parts and genetic hackles.Some of these materials may require new methods and perspectives in order to use them to their fullest potential. Over the years, I have developed some of my most effective patterns while experimenting with new materials. And of course, by the time I figure out how to best use a new arrival, another even more intriguing material has arrived to challenge and launch my imagination. Before I discuss specific new materials, I feel the need to issue a couple of notes of caution about the products described below: It would take a book, or even two, to cover everything tying-related that has come on the market in recent years. If you don't see your favorite item in this article, keep your eyes peeled, because we'll be writing about more new tying products in the future. Also, please keep in mind that not every tier will fall in love with every one of these innovations in tying materials--or even necessarily agree that the patterns resulting from some of them are "real" flies at all. The wise tier will add his favorites among these new items to his own bag of tricks, and not waste too much time fretting about how the ones he's rejected are being used, or by whom…

Beads and Weights Despite their simplicity in form and purpose, beads can be complex. Garry Sandstrom, proprietor of The Morning Hatch Fly Shop in Tacoma, Washington, found this out for himself on a recent trip to Alaska. Not one to use bead "flies" to catch large rainbows feeding on salmon eggs, Sandstrom, despite his best intentions, was nonetheless reluctantly introduced to "beading" for rainbows, thereby discovering how truly complex this controversial technique can be. Sandstrom's Alaskan guides encouraged him to use plastic beads to imitate sockeye eggs. Apprehensive at first, Garry soon learned that beading was as technical as it was effective. The guides matched the bead size (sometimes an 8 mm, sometimes a 6 mm or 10 mm) to the fish eggs prevalent in the various areas they fished. Using nail polish, the guides then painted the beads--but not before giving serious thought to the brand of nail polish that would best duplicate the various blotches, swirls and sheens on the natural fish eggs. In short, even something as simple as a bead can involve a bit of skill to use effectively. [For more on the controversy surrounding fishing with beads, see Letters, April 2005. Or read the letters on our Web site www.flyrodreel.com.] But the most common use of beads--which are available in brass, tin, tungsten, glass and plastic and come in a variety of colors and sizes--is as a component on nymph patterns where they serve as weight. Manufacturers have been responding to this demand by introducing beads designed for specific types of flies. For instance, Spirit River's Hump-Bak glass beads come in six colors. The Hump-Bak has an offset hole to position the bead above the hook shank, which preserves the gap and offers an alternative profile to most beaded nymphs. Measuring nearly 3 mm in diameter, they fit most 18 to 12 size hooks. I would like to see larger ones, and even tungsten or brass Hump-Baks in various sizes and colors. Use a drop of super glue gel to positions the Hump-Bak on the shank. Spirit River's plastic A-Lure Beads have light-refractive colors and sparkle shifts in two sizes, 8 and 6 mm, and nine colors. The 8 mm beads have a deep diameter that may not fit some hook bends. These may be mounted with a head pin. BossTin offers a creative range of non-toxic weights for fly-tying. The Stix-n-Stonz, which BossTin says are perfect for demanding tailwater trout, mix natural colors and assorted shapes and sizes to imitate twigs and pebbles. There are three colors of Stonz (green, pale brown and dark brown) and three shapes (round, oval and cloverleaf). The small Stonz in various pebble colors create attractive weights for small nymphs. Although permanent markers can color them, I would like to see a yellow included. BossTin's Fly-Tying Stylers are cylindrical weights (3 grams, 6 grams and 8 grams) that crimp over the hook shank for weighted nymphs. According to John Unger, president of BossTin, these tin weights have about 85 percent of the weight of lead. Other BossTin weights are made from brass or bismuth-tin alloys. The slender Stylers create a low profile and good water entry. Pliers can shape the Stonz if required and, for smaller patterns, a razor blade can cut them to length.

Tying Tip Pin Bead Mount For large bead holes, place a foundation of thread down on the hook shank, add a touch of superglue gel on the thread wraps and then slide the bead into position. Another method is to mount the bead on a soft "head pin" (available at bead suppliers). Bend the pin to position the bead and snip excess. Monofilament of the appropriate diameter with a spot of superglue gel can also act as a bead holder. Merely whip the beaded monofilament to the hook shank where desired. If mounted on top of the shank, a heavy bead tends to invert the pattern for weedless shrimp patterns.

Tying Tip Cased Caddis A spiky, wire-core hare's ear dubbing brush creates a realistic caddis case. The small, colored BossTin Stix-n-Stonz create a weighted, pebbly caddis case. Calibrate the number of Stonz to determine the preferred sink rate. Heavy patterns may work well in early season spates and high, heavy flows. 1) Mount a wire-core dubbing brush at the front of the hook shank and then wrap the underbody. At varying distances along the overbody brush, crimp small Stonz for the pebble caddis case. 2) Shorten some Stixs for the caddis case. For an underbody, lay the dubbing strands along the shank and overwrap with thread. Then attach, at varying distances, two or more colored Stix along the strands. Only a few Stix make a heavy caddis case. Finally, fold the Stix strands back over the underbody and secure. Complete the pattern as desired.

Body Parts Although the concept behind preformed body parts has been around for decades, the early versions were somewhat crude and never really caught on. However, many companies are now turning out realistic and functional body parts--particularly, bodies, wings and legs--that measure up to traditionally tied flies. The underlying concept makes sense: All a tier has to do is to connect the various parts for a particular pattern and he quickly has a pile of completed flies. I must add, though, that in my opinion, preformed body parts can erase some of the adventure and discovery in tying. In fact, some require little or no tying talent. Furthermore, the line between fly and lure fades as we connect beads, rubber legs, extended bodies and foam wings. I respect some materials more because they demand more from me. I am enough of a tying troglodyte to think that body parts may create quick patterns, but feather and fur can create art. That said, however, more and more I find myself adding a bead or body part to the flies I tie; I simply like experimenting. Bidoz has come out with its Tungsten Nymph Concept, a shaped body for heavy shrimp (gammarus) and other nymphs. The arched, segmented body is available in natural, orange, green and gold. Permanent markers can add other colors. They range from 7 mm to 10 mm long and accommodate hook sizes 12 to 20. The weight ranges from .35 grains to 1 grain. For a quick shrimp, merely palmer a soft hackle along the hook shank, trim the top barbs and mount the tungsten body. With pliers, crimp the body to the shank. Fine wire or thread can secure the shellback (carapace) and create segments. Très facile! For saltwater tiers, Spirit River offers preformed crustacean eyes in four colors, as well as two sizes of precut crab bodies in brown, tan and gray in sizes 2 and 6. And for freshwater tiers, Spirit River offers the Aire-Flow and Aire-Foam, which are pre-cut in various sizes and colors for mayfly, caddis and stonefly wings. Rainy's Tube Bodiz, ranging from size 4 to 18, imitate sundry creatures such as mayfly, caddis, damsel, hopper and stonefly. Some, such as the large steelhead Alaska Bodiz, have fluorescent-color rumps for attraction. Rainy's also offers foam poppers and multicolor, banded or laterally layered, saltwater and freshwater and turbo popping heads.

Feathers In spite of all the new preformed bodies and templates, feathers, fur and synthetics will always be the staple material for tying flies, and each year brings new applications and colors to the tying table. Spirit River's Jumbo Peacock Herls are excellent for saltwater streamers, baitfish and billfish patterns. These are strong and pliant and excellent for small nymphs as well. Their Mottlebou (mottled marabou), looking much like a fine fur tail, makes leeches and baitfish that come alive when twitched through the water. If you want longer biots than goose, try the gradual taper of Spirit River's Turkey Biots. Nature's Spirit's excellent hand-spun yarns come in 15 hatch-matching colors, including the Blue-Wing Olive, Pale Morning Dun, Callibaetis and Trico. These fine fleece yarns create attractive, segmented emerger bodies sheathed in bubbles. To achieve maximum penetration of the dye, all oils are removed from the material prior to dyeing. Following the color change, Nature's Spirit then impregnates the material with natural preen-gland oil and casine waxes to achieve conditioning, gloss and resiliency. Nature's Spirit also offers a new Emergence Dubbing to imitate the glowing aura and the gas emissions of emergers. For diaphanous wings, try Nature's Spirit Goose Cul de Canard. These "cul d'oie" (goose butt) feathers--perhaps a better description--form large, burned dun wings (for details on how to burn mayfly wings, see page 46) for drakes and spinners. The large Gadwall Side Feathers are appropriate for collars on Spey flies and drake wings. The Gadwall Flank Feathers are somewhat smaller, suitable for steelhead and Spey patterns. Also check the Pintail Sides with black and white barring and the Widgeon Sides with brown-red and black bars, or rosy tan with faded bars. Whiting Farms is now marketing Coq de Leon hen capes, a byproduct of the popular and dramatic Coq de Leon rooster spade hackles. The subtle, contrasting markings do make these thin, valuable feathers. They can serve for tailing, but Ted Rogowski of Lew Beach, New York, gives them a nobler rank: He uses whole feathers as wings: Light and dark feathers provide a range of dun and spinner wings. Lacking the thick, dense webbing found on standard hen capes, these capes create delicate, transparent wings. The wide feathers taken from both sides produce attractive matched burned wings. Such wings are stiff, durable and well marked. Their Coq de Leon wings, while thin and transparent, maintain profiles far longer than the traditional, soft hen feathers or burned CDC flats. The term "schlappen" comes from the German schlapp meaning soft or limp, describing the long dangling body feathers in front of the tail, and Whiting Farms produces them for fly-tying. According to Tom Whiting, his products are the only genetic schlappens marketed. Available in 13 colors dyed over white and grizzly, they range from 8 to 13 inches long and varying widths. The size variance in each bundle accommodates fresh- as well as saltwater sizes. Some feathers may be too narrow for traditional Atlantic streamer patterns, but excellent for Woolly Buggers and large trout streamers. Needless to say, these are great for any large freshwater patterns, especially for trout, bass and pike. Furthermore, the long, fine, pliable stems make them appropriate for tarpon, stripers, billfish and other large saltwater predators. Each feather bundle contains 73 feathers, enough for a long, enjoyable evening. Wapsi has tanned pine-squirrel skins, dyed and "zonkered" (stripped laterally along the body length). At 2.5 mm wide, these strips--wrapped as collars, bodies or strips--can create a variety of useful patterns. Wapsi's TNT Hopper Legs come in one size and eight different colors. They are soft, realistic and buoyant. To prevent excessive leg flare, remember to mount them on the side of rather than in front of the body. If desired, shave, with razor blade or scalpel, the inside of each femur so that the legs lie close to the body. Permanent markers can add supplementary coloration and markings if desired. Umpqua's Ezee Bug is a three-strand polyester artificial fur that is shaggy, buggy and bulky, appropriate for larger sculpin, baitfish and nymph imitations. The Ezee Bug strand, available in 13 colors, looks much like a refugee from a shag rug. For smaller patterns, merely pull the shaggy strands apart for a single smaller strand. Mike Mercer, in Creative Fly Tying uses Ezee Bug for several shaggy "rug bugs:" the Rag Sculpin, the Rag Egg-Sucking Sculpin and the articulated Rag Hex Nymph. The yarn bulks quickly, trims to shape, takes permanent markers and soaks up water. Although a large, soggy sculpin will not cast like a Pheasant Tail, these dimensional patterns might appeal to large fish.

Tying Tip According to Terry Ball, the owner of Nature's Spirit, the preen-oil processing promotes the emerger bubbles. Rather than cut the yarn, counter-spin the yarn to loosen the twist. Then yank apart. This creates a finely tapered end for mounting. Re-twist the yarn for segmentation.

Tying Tip It is easy to make a split-thread fur hackle with Wapsi tanned pine-squirrel skins like on this Pine Squirrel Leech pattern. 1Clamp your bulldog clip onto the fur and cut away the hide, leaving a short fur lip. 2Trap the lip in the split thread or dubbing loop, spin tightly and wrap as a fur collar, body or palmer.