Wet Flies and Wasps

Wet Flies and Wasps

Exploring the traditional and new Spanish tying methods.

  • By: Darrel Martin
  • Photography by: Darrel Martin
Jose Manuel Ruiz Perez, Know to fly-fishing friends as Cholo.

Cholo, my companion and knowledgeable fishing guide, called me for lunch. Might as well, since the Órbigo river ran low and we’d found only a few taciturn trout. Over cheese, nuts, fruit and wine, we spoke of fly patterns and the past. Several years ago, I had fished southern Spain, but now I was in Northern Spain, León’s ancient heart of fly- fishing. World-class rivers—including the Esla, the Porma, the Curueño, the Torio and the Órbigo—flowed not far from León.

José Manuel Ruiz Pérez, known by his friends as Cholo, comes from generations of artisans. One grandfather was a textile artisan; the other, a cabinet-maker whose work appears in the Royal Palace. His father—who worked in watercolor, oils, textiles and ceramics—was part of the movie-set team for several major films, including 55 Days in Peking and Cleopatra. Both Cholo and his wife Maribel produce a wide range of fishing flies, patterns that have participated in the Fly-Fishing World Championships for the past three years.

After the lunchtime wine, Cholo showed me a simple and graceful pattern, a traditional Spanish wet fly with gallo de León wings. Once, a Spanish feather merchant took me to task (and rightly so) for calling these ancient feathers “coq de León.” The latter is a French phrase, apparently propagated when the French first marketed the Spanish spade feathers. These fabled feathers of León deserve their Spanish name.

Described in the Manuscrito de Astorga (1624), they are the oldest genetic feathers bred for fly-tying. I admire the sparkling and speckled, richly colored Pardos (the reddish browns), especially the flor de escoba (broom bush), the corzuno (roebuck) and the aconchado (conch shell).

The original Spanish wet had a silk body, silk ribbing and a gallo de León barb wing. Early patterns were probably tied only with fine silk floss. No tying thread was used.

Yet, even with a silk body and ribbing, tying thread allows me to reduce bulk for a more delicate pattern. Modern variations of the Spanish wet often use synthetic yarns and threads for the body and ribbing. But true to tradition, stripped gallo de León barbs still form the wing.

Today, teams of Spanish wets are thrown with spinning rods and bubble floats. This design is as good as it was nearly four centuries ago: the antique wet fly is simple and modern and you can fish it anywhere. Although the historic tying process lacks detail and modern tiers differ in techniques, a general tying sequence follows:

Tying the
Traditional Spanish Wet Fly

Hook: Most standard-shank wet fly hooks; TMC 3761 or similar
Thread: 6/0 black or to match body color
Body/Ribbing: Modern patterns often use various synthetic yarns and threads. For traditional patterns, Alec Jackson of Seattle markets Premium Silk Floss and Pearsall’s Gossamer Silk threads in various colors. The pattern seen here is tied with Pearsall’s Gossamer Silk thread.
Wings: Gallo de León spade feather barbs

  1. Use contrasting thread body and thread ribbing. Although sparse barbs from gallo de León are often mounted as tails on modern Spanish wet flies, the original patterns lacked them. Mount tying thread, ribbing and body silk. Wrap the tapered silk body and secure with silk tying thread. Spiral the ribbing forward and secure with the tying thread. The body and ribbing are remarkably simple, but always keep the silk tight while wrapping it.
  2. Strip and stack the barbs from both sides of a gallo de León feather. Some tiers use saliva to gather each barb bundle for matching. A few tiers trim the barbs to proper length before mounting. Sometimes this works well. The short, slippery barbs, however, can be tetchy. It is perhaps best to mount them long with four or five tight wraps and then trim waste. I want a small head that completely hides the barb butts. A few tiers even allow the barb butts to overhang the hook eye. Smaller patterns may have only a few barbs (approximately 20) taken from a single side of the gallo de León hackle. Few barbs makes securing and folding the wing easier. After positioning and trimming the barbs, overwrap the barb base several times to secure. Use enough wraps so that the barbs are firm yet distributable.
  3. With your thumbnail on top and the index finger beneath, gently caress the head to distribute or expand the barbs over the back and half-way down each side. The barbs should flare in a semicircle. Some patterns have barbs completely encircling the fly body. Trim the barb butts, and then firmly secure the base of the barbs with several solid head wraps and add a drop of penetrating cement.
  4. After the cement cures, fold the wings forward over the hook eye and pass the tying thread behind the wings. Place several thread wraps behind the wing barbs to raise them. Finally, pass the thread under the body and forward to the head. Firmly whip-finish. Although some tiers whip-finish the pattern behind the wings, a less difficult and more secure finish is done on the solid head. The angle of the wing barbs varies among tiers. For improved water entry and realism, some modern emergers are tied with less erect wings; other patterns may have the wing raised nearly 45 degrees or more.
  5. The finished Spanish Wet Fly.

Cholo's Yellow Wasp (Avispa)

Yellow Wasp

Hook: TMC 100 or similar, size 14
Thread: Black Uni-thread, size 8/0
Body and Eyes: Closed-cell foam
Antenna and Legs: Black monofilament
Wings: Medium dun hackle tips
Hackle: Yellow-dyed grizzly hackle
Paint: Water-resistant lacquer and epoxy


Tying the Yellow Wasp

  1. For eyes, attach a short section of cylindrical foam with figure-eight wraps.
  2. With tying thread, mount and shape a foam thorax and abdomen.
  3. Add, with figure-eight wraps, stiff monofilament strands for antennae and legs. You can use thicker strands for the legs, if you’d like.
  4. Next, paint the eyes, thorax and abdomen with yellow lacquer.
  5. After the pattern dries, paint the insect body marks with black lacquer. Set pattern aside to dry. For durability, coat the eyes, thorax and abdomen with clear epoxy. Again, set pattern aside to cure. When cured, use a hot pliers to shape the antennae and legs.
  6. Now, mount two brown or medium-dun hackle tips for wings.
  7. Finally, mount and wrap a yellow grizzly hackle. Whip-finish and clip the thread. Here’s the top view of the pattern.
  8. The completed Yellow Wasp (side view). What a beautiful pattern!

Cholo’s Insects

Fruit attracts wasps. But it was not my orange at lunch that lured this one. Before finishing lunch, Cholo revealed a personal pattern, his Yellow Wasp.

As a talented and creative tier, his close observations and fine detail create remarkably precise insects. Like rare and natural insects, his patterns are often mounted and displayed by worldwide collectors. A lick of a fine brush adds the proper insect body markings and colors. Hot pliers bend legs and antennae. Though perhaps more akin to model-building than fly-tying, his patterns have captured collectors, as well as some admirable trout. Nevertheless, I have always had the hazy notion that fishing highly realistic patterns usually requires greater angling skill.

No matter, I do know that there is pleasure in seeing such tying detail and talent. His signature pattern, the Yellow Wasp (Avispa), is one of Cholo’s “Virtuals,” his realistic foam flies. Although some materials and methods are proprietary, Cholo shares his Yellow Wasp with us here.

Cholo’s knowledge and skill produce small Spanish treasures. At times, his craftsmanship is startling. When the English Treatyse (1496) listed pattern materials only, the Spanish Dialogo (1539) and the Manuscrito de Astorga (1624) gave us the earliest known fly-tying directions. They also introduced us to the legendary gallo de León feathers. Spain has a long and rich fly-tying history, a history that continues with consummate tiers like Cholo.

Before we returned to the water that afternoon in Northern Spain, Cholo flavored the remains of our lunch with his guitar, a soft flamenco strum that matched the flowing water.

Patterns By Cholo

  1. Digger Wasp (Sceliphron destillatorium)
  2. Wasp Spider (Argiope bruennichi)
  3. Caddis Larva (Rhyacophilidae sp.)
  4. European Hornet (Vespa crabro)
  5. Orb-Weaver Spider (Argiope sp.)
  6. Ladybug (Coccinellidae sp.)
  7. Crane Fly (Tipula maxima)
  8. Meadow Grasshopper (Chorthippus parallelus)

For patterns and more information contact:

Cholo Silks, www.moscasorbigo.com
[email protected]

Alec Jackson
P.O. Box 82386
Kenmore, WA 98028
(425) 488-9806

Darrel Martin has written about fly-tying, and a wide range of other topics, for Fly Rod & Reel for several decades.