Since the weather is so cold at this time of the year, this is the best time to design and tie better flies for the upcoming season.
In this fly fishing podcast I will be discussing a sound approach which has helped me in designing flies I personally use and the 68 custom flies I have designed and sell in my fly shop in Edinburg, Virginia.
My approach to design flies consists of:
discerning the need for a new fly
evaluate existing patterns
evaluate many tying materials
tie several test flies
try these test flies on the fish
incorporate the most effective materials and tying styles into your final master fly
I have learned many tips and techniques from great fly tyers such as Ed Shenk, Charlie Brooks, and Vince Marino. Many of my patterns have originated by catching a natural fly and looking at the color and matching it. Then looking to see how the natural fly acts and drifts on the trout stream so that I can get my artificial to act the same way. The same thing applies for streamers in matching the natural shiners on the bass rivers.
Stop by a yard sale or garage sale and purchase a used food blender for several dollars. These are wonderful for blending your dubbing materials. Just wipe it down regularly with a Bounce Fabric Softener Sheet to hold down the static electricity.
In order to tie small delicate trout flies I hold the number of thread wraps to a minimum. The firmness of the wraps and not the number of wraps is what makes a fly durable. Also, experience has shown me our most effective small flies are tied very sparsely so I keep the number of components to a minimum. I also like to use out 8/0 thread or 6/0 thread.
In order to improve the durability of my flies when I tie them, I like to place a mini-drop of head cement at each tie-in and tie-off spot as I add a new material. I find that a easy way to do this is to keep some head cement in a hypodermic needle and just place a mini-drop where I need it. In order to keep the cement from drying in the syringe and plugging the needle shut, I stick it in a cork between steps.
For me fly tying cement has two main purposes. One is to hold the fly together and the second is to coat a pretty head on the flies. I make my own head cement so since I want the flies I tie to be durable I use a vehicle which enhances its ability to penetrate deeply into the materials and thread. This produces a fly which is almost indestructible. In order to coat a pretty head on my streamers I use my thicker head cement.
For very small nymphs I often use natural furs right off the skin after removing the guard hairs. These furs produce flies with a very effective sheen which mimics the subdued luster of the natural nymphs. These are very easy to dub and are inexpensive.
For dry flies I like to use a very fine poly blend of dubbing material such as Fly Rite 34 on the left which I use on my Mr. Rapidan Dry Flies. This material is very fine, making it easy to dub flies as small as a size 24 with a smoothly tapered body. It is lighter than water and is does not adsorb water thus producing a high floating dry fly. This comes in many colors and is inexpensive.
For nymphs and pupa I like to dub blends of natural furs because these produce buggy looking insect bodies. Counter wrapping these bodies with gold, silver, copper or olive wire produces a neatly segmented tapered fly body. However, if you wind the same ribbing materials with a forward motion you can produce an insect body with translucent living appearance.
When you are designing a new streamer to match a specific minnow it is great to tie one that looks so much like the real minnow that it impresses your friends. However, when you are on the river fishing the fish appear to take the streamers which ACT like the real minnow they are accustomed to feeding on in that area. It is great when your new streamer looks like that specific minnow but for consistent success it is a must that your new fly ACT like the real minnow in the way it swims through the currents and darts for cover when it is chased by a fish. After a great deal of experimenting with materials and tying techniques, the Murray’s Madtom Sculpin Streamer evolved into a streamer which acts like a real minnow and the fish take quickly. Check the prevalent minnows in your streams and see if you can developed an effective streamer.
It is hard to fix it if you do not know what is broken. That is where I was when I started fly fishing for smallmouth bass in the sixties. As a youngster growing up in Edinburg, Virginia on the North Fork of the Shenandoah River in the fifties we all caught many smallmouth bass on real hellgrammites as live bait. However, for my fly fishing after college none of the existing Hellgrammite patterns worked for me. The beautifully tired patterns I got from Abercrombie and Fitch in New York which they called Hellgrammites just did not work. When I started fishing the Yellowstone River in Montana I had Dan Bailey’s girls tie a dozen two inch long versions of his beautiful woven body Mossback Nymphs because these looked to me like my hellgrammites back in Virginia. These we also failures for the smallmouth bass.
Finally Ron Kommer came up with the idea of using Ostrich Herl (or plume) for very large flies. Simultaneously, I was experimenting with real hellgrammites by tossing them into the river to see how they acted. When I dropped the real hellgrammites into the river one by one, I saw that they swam downstream with an exaggerated undulating action as they headed for the streambottom. Finally I saw what was broken: All of these beautiful earlier hellgrammite patterns lacked the capacity to move in an undulating manner like the natural hellgrammites.
By incorporating the ostrich herl as an extended body in this new fly and tying it “in the round” as Charlies Brookes recommended to me, the final Murray’s Heavy Hellgrammite was developed. This is so effective that today it is my favorite smallmouth bass fly.
Deer Hair Bass Surface Bugs are easy to tie and are very effective to fish. Here are some tips which help beginning fly tyers in the winter classes I teach in my fly shop tie great deer hair bass bugs. The most important step is to remove all of the fuzz and short hair from each bunch of deer hair as you trim it from the skin. To do this I hold the trimmed bunch of hair by the tips and brush it vigorously with a stiff toothbrush. Next I like to keep the hook shank free of thread wraps except right where I tie the tail in. I also like to use Kevlar tying thread to reduce thread-breakage. Trim the finished bug very closely on the stomach in order to hook the bass securely. Paint the stomach of the bug right along the hook shank with spar varnish cut 50-50 with paint thinner to make the bug very durable. Keep the bug’s appendages on the sides (such as wings and legs) to a minimum so the bug does not twist the leader when casting.
The Tapply Hair Bug and the Murray’s Deer Hair Bass Bug Series are good examples of smooth, very effective Deer Hair Bass Bugs.
The Grizzly Hen Hackle tips you see here is one of my favorite dry fly winging material when I want to show distinct wing outline. Using this in a spent wing position is what I believe makes the Murray’s Housefly such an effective fly, prompting strikes from trout which pass up regular flies. Adams Dry flies tied with these wings are preferred by many anglers. The webby texture of these feathers enable us to tie very attractive and effective nymph with them.
This pound of Ostrich will tie enough flies to catch many thousand fish. Ostrich Plume is used to tie streamers, Murray’s Pearl Marauder is one example. It is highly effective because it has natural minnow action in the stream.
Having trouble with your dubbing loop? The Dubbing Twister Set used in this video is the easiest way to master dubbing loops for any of your fly tying needs. It works great for natural and synthetic materials. You will find it works well with standard thread from 3/0 – 6/0 or kevlar.
Do you have questions or comments? Need help with tying this fly? Give us a call (540-984-4212) or drop us an email.
Several years ago I stopped in a fly shop in Montana which was owned by a good friend. One of his employees was an excellent fly tyer and the gentleman, who had never fished for smallmouth bass but knowing I fished for them often, pulled out several beautiful, well tied flies he called smallmouth streamers for me to see. I complimented him on the great appearance of his smallmouth streamers, some of which he had skillfully incorporated more than twenty different body parts. When we were outside in our car I turned to my son, Jeff, and said, “Those were some of the most beautiful smallmouth streamers I have ever seen, but I do not believe they will catch many fish because with all that material on them it will be next to impossible to sink them.”
Several years before this we had done extensive testing on new fly designs and found that in many cases the most sparsely tied nymphs and streamers caught the most bass and trout. I believe much of this success came from the facts that these flies sank well, were strongly suggestive of the natural nymphs and minnows I was striving to mimic and could easily be made to duplicate the swimming action of these naturals.
Some of our flies which fall into this classification are groups of flies in our Shenandoah Simple Streamer series for both bass and trout, the Mr. Rapidan Soft Hackle series for both bass and trout, many of flies (although they are drys) in my “Change of Pace” trout series, the Murray’s Marauders, the Murray’s Floating Minnows and the Murray’s Strymphs.
The outstanding book, Simple Flies by Morgan Lyle shows how to tie and fish fifty two flies for trout, bass and in saltwater. If you are considering tying some new flies for your personal use I believe using the simple approach I have used in many of my flies and those Morgan Lyle discusses in his great book will help you catch many fish.
Both beginner and advanced fly tiers in our classes often have difficulty with the “spinning” or “dubbing loop”. There are many tools available to fly tiers to assist with tying a functional and effective dubbing loop. This dubbing twister set is easy to use, functional and with about 15 minutes of practice, easy to master.
The Deluxe Dubbing Twister Set comes with three interchangeable heads to meet your fly tying needs and personal tying style. In addition, it has a built in hair packing tool in the lightweight handle (perfect for tightly packing deer or elk hair for bass bugs).
We use this in our personal fly tying anytime a dubbing loop is preferred. The Shenk’s White Streamer or the Murray’s Madtom Sculpin Streamer are two great examples where a dubbing loop works very well.
This is the second in my series on winging material. For those just starting to tie dry flies many find poly yarn the easiest of all materials to use. Actually, this is easy to understand because it is easy to handle, comes in many colors, floats well and does not absorb water. Personally I seldom use it because I feel delicate dry flies tied with poly yarn wings lack the aesthetic appeal of those tied with feathers.
This is part one of three parts on dry fly winging material. The woodduck flank feathers you see here are one of my favorite materials for tying delicate dry fly wing. They are easy to use and many of the students in my fly tying classes use these to tie great drys on their first attempt. I have friends who use these on the Quill Gordon Dry Fly, March Brown Dry Fly, Light Cahill Dry Fly and many other patterns.
Calf (Kip) Tail is a very useful material with many applications in tying dry flies, streamers and bass bugs. The yellow calf tail I show here is what I use to tie the wings of the Mr. Rapidan Dry Fly series. The space between the two pencil-pointers gives us the hair which is easiest to make nice even dry fly wings. I hold these hair fibers by the tips and brush out the short, useless hair and the fuzz with an old tooth brush. Usually these hair fibers are even enough to tie in as they are producing nice straight wings. If you like you can straighten these hair fibers in a hair evener, but I seldom find this necessary. The long hair fibers on the tip of the tail make excellent streamers, bass bug tails and even sometimes wings for Trude dry flies. These come in many dyed colors and are inexpensive. The more you experiment with these in your fly tying , the more great uses you will find for them.
In the forties and fifties, smallmouth bait fishermen on the Shenandoah River who were after the largest bass used live Hog Suckers for their bait. Then several years ago when a huge smallmouth bass chased a real hog sucker onto a shallow gravel bar to capture it just twenty feet from where I was wading, I decided to develop a Magnum Hog Suck Streamer to catch these big bass.
This new fly is effective from April until November. Fish it with a slow line hand stripping over the edges of all gravel bars along the banks and the downstream ends of the islands.
In 2016 we started a new item, Murray’s Magnum Hog Sucker Fly Tying Kit. This kit contains a photo of the Murray’s Magnum Hog Sucker, the complete tying instructions, and enough materials and hooks to tie 24 of these flies. This fly tying kit is $35.95.
When I can’t locate the exact color of natural dubbing fur I need to tie a specific pattern, I dye some of the fur I have and experiment. I have gotten excellent results with liquid Rit Dye by following the directions on the bottle. Normally I mix the dye with a 1/2 cup of clear vinegar in a quart pan of water and heat this on a hot plate until it is well mixed. I then add my natural dubbing fur. It is best to shear the natural furs from the skin before putting them in the dying pan because the natural oils in the skin can interfere with uniform dying.
When I teach my winter fly tying classes, the beginning fly tyers are amazed how quickly they learn to tie great deer hair bass bugs. I teach this with two simple rules, (1) Be sure to clean out all of the short hair and fuzz from each pinch of deer hair before you tie it on and (2) Keep a bare hook shank ahead of each pinch of deer hair you tie on.
This two hour class will teach you how to tie drys, nymphs, streamers and deer hair bass bugs. We do not supply the materials, you can purchase a fly tying kit from us or watch!
I had taken eight trout in the last several pools on my Murray’s Flying Beetle so when I spotted a nice trout feeding on the surface in the next pool I felt pretty sure he would take my beetle. He came up and looked at it on three consecutive drifts but he would not take it. I brought it in and blotted it dry and redressed it with floatant. On the next drift over the trout he took it solidly. Why? I believe it was because when it was dried and dressed it presented a new light pattern on the streams surface which looked better to him.
If you tie your own nymphs and streamers take a lesson from the late Charlie Brooks as I did many years ago. The previous fall Brooks, while we were fishing the Madison River, stressed the need for large stonefly nymph patterns for the large brown trout on the large rivers. He liked size 4 nymphs on 3X long hooks that were well weighted. That winter I experimented with tying some and sent them out to Brooks. In order to add extra weight to these large nymphs I tied them on 5X stout hooks. Brooks wrote me a very nice thank you letter and liked the style of my stoneflies. However, he pointed out that with wire that large in diameter we would have trouble hooking the trout so I tied some of the same patterns on Mustad 9672 hooks which is a standard weight wire and Brooks did well with them the next summer.
When I’m tying flies I find it very easy to apply a small drop of head cement at each tie-in and tie-off spot on the fly by keeping my cement in a Hypo Syringe. If your cement is very thick just cut it with head cement thinner. I keep the needle stuck in a cork so the cement does not become hard in the needle.
We will have two separate Advanced Fly Tying Classes over the next two weekends.
Saturday February 26, 2011 and Saturday March 5, 2011.
We will cover more advanced techniques which will help you as you improve your skills as a fly tier. These classes start at 10:00am at Murray’s Fly Shop, 121 S. Main Street, Edinburg, VA 22824. You can register online or give us a call (540-984-4212).
In fly tying, I believe the quality of the dry fly hackle is more important in floating the fly and catching the trout than color alone. When I started tying I could afford only one premium dry fly neck. I got an outstanding brown neck and caught many trout feeding on naturals from quill gordons to light cahills to march brown to sulphurs.
Winter seems to have settled in around the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Â The North and South Fork of the Shenandoah both have ice forming along the banks as well as running slush in the slower sections. Â The local trout streams continue to form ice along the banks and in higher elevations you will find ice on the bottom of many streams. Â The National Park Service has closed many roads along the Blue Ridge Parkway due to downed trees and dangerous road conditions. Â Nymph fishing continues to be my most productive method but even that is quite slow. Â I fished a local spring fed creek just west of Edinburg on Sunday for about an hour and I had one rainbow to hand and one refusal on #20 Mr. Rapidan Parachute. I snapped this picture on my way back to Edinburg.
Be sure to check out the Winter Classroom Schedule. Â Fly Tying Classes start January 30, 2010.
These eyes will soon find a home on one of the thousands of Murray’s Hellgrammites or Marauders that our USA based fly tiers will tie for Murray’s Fly Shop to use during the upcoming 2010 fly fishing season.