Tie a better fly: 7 ways to improve your creations

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WE ARE creatures of habit and it’s important that fly tyers new and old don’t allow the ‘anything will do’ philosophy to creep into their tyings. So when starting out, we should try to adopt good habits and at least aim to tie something we can be proud of.

Good tyers take pride in their work and if you want to tempt wily trout, it pays to take extra care. Professional tyer Bill McIlroy highlights seven essential areas where you can enhance the profile of your patterns. Read on and iron out your tying faults.

Bill’s chosen pattern - a size 10 Pearly Invicta - is a true all-rounder. A good sedge imitation, the fly also fishes well as a fry pattern.

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COMMON FAULTS

1 The wrong hook

Although not pictured here, it’s obvious that if the hook is too long for the natural you’re trying to imitate, everything else including wing, tail and body will be too short for the hook. If the hook is too small everything will appear exaggerated.

2 Tails

These are often too short, too long, bulky or even twisted. Again this ruins the fly’s proportion and profile.

3 Body

This is the fly’s foundation. Remember that you’re actually building something and an uneven, bulky body results in an uneven rib. Indeed, this has a knock-on effect in that too many turns of rib are made over the uneven surface, again spoiling the neatness of the fly. If palmering a hackle over the body, an uneven hackle is also likely. Some tyers wind the body all the way up to the hook eye, leaving no room for the head. The head has to be tied over this resulting in a bulky head.

4 Hackles

These are often too long and wound unevenly. Remember that the emphasis is on proportion. There are certain flies, especially Irish wets, where the hackles are deliberately long to create a disturbance in the water, but most hackles should protrude only slightly beyond the hook point. The fly looks better and is more streamlined.

5 Wings

Again, these can be too long, too short or, as in many cases, off centre when looking down from above the fly. They can also be tied in wrong, namely too much of the wing is tied in forming bulk near the head region. This in turn, results in a shorter wing. If using paired slips of feather, they must be married up together, otherwise the fly’s profile is ruined. It’s worth aiming for neatness because the tail, hackle and wing act as rudders helping the fly to fish on an even keel.

6 The head

The head on this fly (above left) is too bulky giving a poor finish. Too thick a thread has been used.

7 Poorly selected materials

You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and this definitely applies when fly tying. Good flies are often ruined by a poor quality hackle, for example.

SOLUTIONS

1 The right hook

Don’t just choose any hook; select one that suits your purposes. Here’s a very general guide to hook sizes to get you started.

Reservoir wet flies: Standard shank from sizes 8 to 16

River wet flies: Standard shank sizes 14 to 22

Mini lures: Longshank sizes 8 to 14

Bigger lures (ranging from normal reservoir lures to pike and saltwater flies): Longshank sizes 2 to 8

River nymphs: Longshank or traditional shank size 16 to longshank size 12

Stillwater nymphs: Size 10 longshanks for Damsels; otherwise size 10 to 14 traditional shank

Dry flies: Size 12 to 16 standard wire dry fly down or up eye hooks depending on preference

2 Tails

These should be even at their tips, sweeping upwards and not too long or short but in proportion to the fly. The tail fibres here are golden pheasant topping feathers and these are ideal because the tips are even and there’s a regular amount of feathers along the length of the stem. Choose the ones that curve and apply them so that they curve upwards. Stop the tail from twisting by holding the fibres between forefinger and thumb on top of the hook, then lock in with three turns of thread.

The length of the tail is again dependent on personal preference, but for the fly to look in proportion the tail should be no more than the length of the beard hackle and slightly shorter than the wing. On a size 10 hook, the Pearly Invicta should be no more than 15/16 of an inch from hook eye to end of tail - in other words complying to international rules.

3 Body

This should be in proportion to the fly and built up to the thorax area, leaving enough room for the head hackle. It’s important to remember that you’re building something, so always plan ahead and leave room for other sections of the fly. The body should be neat and without bulk, so apply the dubbing evenly to the thread and decrease the thread wraps around the hook. Many tyers think that a few more wraps of thread will make the fly more durable. Don’t use too many.

4 Hackles

The hackle tips should just mask the hook point. Preferences differ between tyers but remember that the hackle helps balance the fly, helping it to fish properly. Beginners can find choosing a hackle difficult. Here’s a general guide.

For dry flies purchase a saddle hackle. A Metz grade 1 will cater for hook sizes 12 to 18 and a grade 2 for hooks 8 to 14. A neck cape will suit a whole range of hackles from sizes 8 to 16.

5 Wings

When using matched wings, take a left and right slip from a hen pheasant wing. Tie in by the root just in front of the palmered hackle with three to four thread wraps. The wing should be tied straight on the hook shank and this helps the fly fish on an even keel. A beard hackle adds balance to the fly.

6 The head

To avoid an oversized head use a finer thread. I use UTC 70 Dennier which is somewhere between size 6/0 to 10/0. The head of this fly has about four or five turns of thread but I’ll use more turns if a bigger head is required on another fly. It’s important to varnish the head after casting off with a whip finish. But my advice is to select the colour thread you require and cover with clear varnish. If you accidentally varnish the hackle, you’re not going to discolour the fly.

7 Select good materials

Buy your tying materials from a reputable dealer. There are many available including Veniards, David Rice and Griffiths to name a few.

TACKLING FIVE PROBLEMS WHEN TYING THE PEARLY INVICTA

PROBLEM: The wrong tail

PROBLEM: The wrong tail

SOLUTION: The right tail

SOLUTION: The right tail

PROBLEM: The wrong body

PROBLEM: The wrong body

SOLUTION: The right body

SOLUTION: The right body

PROBLEM: The wrong hackle

PROBLEM: The wrong hackle

SOLUTION: The right hackle

SOLUTION: The right hackle

PROBLEM: The wrong wing

PROBLEM: The wrong wing

SOLUTION: The right wing

SOLUTION: The right wing

PROBLEM: The wrong finished fly

PROBLEM: The wrong finished fly

SOLUTION: The right finished fly

SOLUTION: The right finished fly

How to attach booby eyes correctly

Professional fly tyer Bill McIlroy explains in detail the skills you need to tie in booby eyes on to your home-tied trout flies...

WHY TIE BOOBIES?

The addition of buoyant booby eyes make a pattern much more versatile. A fly can be fished on the surface, but the same pattern can then be fished near the bottom on a sinking line, with the buoyancy keeping the fly just above the weed and in the taking zone. But it's important that the eyes sit straight on the hook, not leaning to one side, otherwise the fly's profile is ruined and it won't fish on an even keel. The sequence on the right shows a neat little trick to making the eyes sit straight on the hook.

1. Take a length of booby cord. Cut off a short length to form the eyes.

1. Take a length of booby cord. Cut off a short length to form the eyes.

2. Insert a dubbing needle into the vice and pierce the needle through the centre of the cut booby cord.

2. Insert a dubbing needle into the vice and pierce the needle through the centre of the cut booby cord.

3. Apply the thread to the middle of the foam in the same way as you apply thread to a hook when starting a fly. After a few thread wraps, finish off with a whip finish and pull the foam off the needle.

3. Apply the thread to the middle of the foam in the same way as you apply thread to a hook when starting a fly. After a few thread wraps, finish off with a whip finish and pull the foam off the needle.

4. Now trim the edges to round them off slightly.

4. Now trim the edges to round them off slightly.

5. Your booby eyes are now ready to be applied to the hook.

5. Your booby eyes are now ready to be applied to the hook.

6. After tying the body and tail of your fly, position the booby eyes just behind the hook eye. Now apply the thread to the central groove on the booby cord and make figure-of-eight thread wraps around the cord and hook shank to secure. The pre-made groove makes application to the hook so much easier and stops the eyes from moving around the shank with each thread wrap. They’ll sit straight.

6. After tying the body and tail of your fly, position the booby eyes just behind the hook eye. Now apply the thread to the central groove on the booby cord and make figure-of-eight thread wraps around the cord and hook shank to secure. The pre-made groove makes application to the hook so much easier and stops the eyes from moving around the shank with each thread wrap. They’ll sit straight.

READY TO APPLY

If you're struggling to trim your Booby eyes to shape, try Floozeyes from Veniard (below). They're available in a variety of colours, are perfectly balanced and should be tied on to the hook with a series of figure-of-eight thread wraps. Simple.

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THE WRONG WAY

If you try to attach the booby cord straight to the hook without first using Bill’s tip, it's very difficult to sit it straight. As you apply the thread and start winding, the cord moves around the shank making the eyes sit at an angle to the hook and ruining the fly’s profile.

QUICK TYING TIP

USING COTTON BUDS

If it's perfectly round painted eyes you're after, then try this tip. Cut the ends off a cotton bud so that you're left with just the tube. Dip one end in paint and then gently push the painted end onto the flat side of the booby eye. You should end up with a perfect, hollow circle of paint. Now just add a dab of paint in the middle for a pupil.

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Catch more when winter fly fishing for trout with nymphs

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Don’t slip into the routine of fly fishing with lures this winter. Time your visit and you’ll still find food to imitate. In fact, during winter, nymphing is Iain Barr’s favoured method for reservoir rainbow trout…

For me, the winter months spent fly angling for trout are all about nymph fishing. Insects still live in our waters right through the winter with corixa thriving and buzzers hatching in the warmer part of the day.

The darting corixa loses the comfort of weedbeds and become easier, darting targets and small hatches of buzzers can insight a winter feeding frenzy. Bloodworm thrive in the soft beds of the lake making easy pickings for the now slumbering trout. All these are a good source of protein as the fish search for a fast-food diet exerting as little energy as possible.

Hoglouse can be abundant in the weeds and become vulnerable as the weed dies away. Many anglers associate winter fishing with throwing a long line and the gaudiest lure in their box, often a Booby. For me, there is no more pleasurable way to catch a fish other than on the nymph and the winter months are no exception.

With fewer and fewer fish rising on our reservoirs and lakes in the colder months, it is the nymph angler who is consistently taking the cream of the sport.

Lincolnshire's Toft Newton Reservoir is a very popular winter venue.

Lincolnshire's Toft Newton Reservoir is a very popular winter venue.

I favour nymph fishing over any method although I do enjoy dry flies and pulling lures when I have to. In recent years I have probably caught more than 70 per cent of my fish on nymphs, with that figure rising to near 90 per cent during winter months.

It has always been a mystery to me why I can go to my local reservoir or lake during the winter months and have it almost to myself.

I enjoy being out on those crisp winter mornings when a much appreciated glimmer of sunshine pokes through the dispersing cloud to warm my face.

Corixa

Corixa

Buzzers

Buzzers

Where to start?

Water temperatures plummet as the frosty nights set in so you must find warmer water where the hatches are likely to occur. This may mean fishing into a wind but don’t just choose any bank. Look for a sloping gradient and not a deep bank.

Many anglers insist on throwing fast sinking lines as far as they can into a headwind in deep water.

They are probably casting past the fish as they will be feeding in the shallower, warmer water.

Land jutting out into water (points) will always be a favourable place as the often silted bed at the end of these promontories hold insect larvae that will try to hatch during the warmest part of the day. They also offer a bolt hole if disturbed as the fish slope off into the deeper water at the first sign of trouble. Try the bottom of bays in the corners where the wind is blowing into, this may offer a right-to-left or left-to-right wind.

This is larder for food, as a right angle corner of bank will have two currents bringing the food in.

Don’t wade into the water as you will disturb the fish. Stand away from the shoreline and fan cast the water’s edge just a few yards from the bank, covering as much water as possible.

A good friend of mine won the Fur & Feather match on Rutland last year in December on Buzzers fished no more than seven or eight yards from the bank!

If you are fishing in more that eight-10ft of water then you are probably fishing in water that is too deep. One of my best winter sessions came in early December with frost and ice on the bank. I actually took the fish on size 16 black dry flies and size 14 Thread Buzzers as they moved into the flooded banks of Rutland’s North Arm. This was in the early 1990s and other anglers nearby also enjoyed a field day. It’s funny though,

I returned the following week and there wasn’t a fish to be seen.

When casting into a headwind Iain releases the forward cast almost parallel to the   water - any higher and the wind will force the line back.

When casting into a headwind Iain releases the forward cast almost parallel to the water - any higher and the wind will force the line back.

Marginal weedbeds

Look for any remaining weedbeds near the margins. The headbobbing swans and diving coots and moorhens can tell you where the weed is. There will be an abundance of food in this weed and rest assured the trout know it’s there too!

Hoglouse and corixa are likely to be here, so a Hare’s Ear, Diawl Bach and Cruncher combination will work. Try to imitate the corixa with short six-inch pulls with eightsecond pauses in between.

Tackle set-up

You need the right tackle to fish into the wind. A fast-action rod is required to minimise the number of false casts. The greater the number of false casts, the less line speed you will generate as the wind pushes the line back at you.

It is important to punch the last cast hard into the wind to ensure you get the distance. Aim the last cast parallel to the water at head height for maximum distance. A high cast will only drop back at you, due to the head wind, and punching it hard at the water will result in the line crashing down. When fishing into a head wind, I always use a line weight heavier than the rod states.

Non-stretch leaders

I am renowned for my 22ft leaders but I will reduce this to about 16ft with just three flies when fishing into the wind, and will go down to two flies if the wind is very strong.

It is important to use fluorocarbon (largely invisible in water) as the water is often gin clear during the winter. The takes from rainbows aren’t as aggressive as in the summer, so I tend to use lighter line and go as little as 6lb. You may be surprised at 6lb, but I catch most of my big fish during the winter months and don’t want to get broke with the fish of a lifetime.

I always use a low or non-stretch line during winter. I tend to miss far too many subtle takes with stretch lines. The fish are preserving energy so will often just mouth the nymph instead of taking aggressively.

Fish them NZ style

I’ve had fantastic success fishing my nymphs New Zealand-style in the shallow, clear water.

I use a Floating Fry with a Cruncher positioned two foot below it. The Cruncher may imitate a corixa that has made the precarious journey to the surface for a gulp of air.

A small Black Buzzer is positioned four to six foot below that, providing perfect presentation as it drifts back towards you when fishing into the head wind. It also allows your flies to be out there for the maximum time possible.

If you were straight-line nymphing in the usual way, your flies could snag bottom in the shallow water, but the Floating Fry suspends the flies above snags and in full view of the trout.

Be patient

Don’t get frustrated if the fish are not pulling your flies. There can often be just a short window of time during the lunchtime hours when the fish come on the feed.

Watch diligently for any sign of fly life and, as you see it, start fishing those nymphs.

If you wait too long the larvae would have all left the waterbed and the fish will have moved off the shallows. It really can be all over within an hour so make the change quickly.

Iain slowly figure-of-eights his winter nymphs for best results

Iain slowly figure-of-eights his winter nymphs for best results

Winter fishing can produce some explosive action and during the warmer days it can be full-on sport all day long. So why not go fly fishing, leave the lure box at home and use those nymphs? You will be surprised how successful they can be.

The best flies to try

Although the fish may be hungry they will not give themselves up easily if the nymph is not fished correctly. With a headwind or crosswind it is important to fish your flies static. With a headwind cast them out and just let them drift back to you, but keep your line tight. With a crosswind cast them out and let them swing naturally round in an arc.

Buzzers are mostly black and small during the winter so I opt for a size 10 grub hook or size 12 B175 Buzzer. This is still relatively big in comparison, but a tempting and realistic mouthful for the hungry fish.

For the corixa I use my tried and tested Crunchers and a Hare’s Ear. They imitate any shrimps or hoglouse that may be lurking.

Plain, Red or Gold Cruncher  Hook: Size 12 Kamasan B175 Thread: Black Body: Natural cock pheasant tail Tail: Red game hackles Rib: Fine silver wire Hackle: Greenwell's hen Cheek: Red/gold holo

Plain, Red or Gold Cruncher

Hook: Size 12 Kamasan B175
Thread: Black
Body: Natural cock pheasant tail
Tail: Red game hackles
Rib: Fine silver wire
Hackle: Greenwell's hen
Cheek: Red/gold holo

Diawl Bach  Hook: Size 12 Kamasan B175 Thread: Glo-Brite No4 Body: Single strand of peacock herl  ail: Redgame hackles Rib: Wire or holographic Hackle: Greenwell's hen

Diawl Bach

Hook: Size 12 Kamasan B175
Thread: Glo-Brite No4
Body: Single strand of peacock herl
ail: Redgame hackles
Rib: Wire or holographic
Hackle: Greenwell's hen

Black Buzzer  Hook: Size 10 Grub Hook Thread: Black Body: Black Flexi-Floss Rib: White Flexi-Floss tied loosely to create rib effect Cheeks: Crisp packet

Black Buzzer

Hook: Size 10 Grub Hook
Thread: Black
Body: Black Flexi-Floss
Rib: White Flexi-Floss tied loosely to create rib effect
Cheeks: Crisp packet

Hare's Ear  Hook: Size 10 Grub Hook Thread: Brown Body: Hare's ear or rabbit fur Rib: Pearl Eyes: Yellow or black paint

Hare's Ear

Hook: Size 10 Grub Hook
Thread: Brown
Body: Hare's ear or rabbit fur
Rib: Pearl
Eyes: Yellow or black paint

A guide to synthetic materials used for fly tying

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The use of man-made and synthetic materials provide the fly fisher with umpteen different ways to enhance their patterns when tying their own flies at home.

Amazing colours and light-reflecting additions can be added to your home=made flies by usign a vast array of different accessories.

Here's a brief guide to the many different materials available that keen fly fishers have used to great effect...

Beads

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Metal beads, whether brass or tungsten, are an easy way to add weight to a fly. Beads have a pre-drilled hole through the centre with a small hole one side and a countersunk hole the other. The bead is slipped onto the hook point via the smallest hole, around the hook bend and positioned just behind the eye. It is important to match the bead size to the hook size. Get it wrong and you either won’t be able to get the bead over the barb and around the bend, or the bead will be so big it will slide over and obscure the eye. Gold, silver, copper and black are popular colours, with ‘hot’ and fluorescent colours achieved by giving the bead an enamel finish.

Cones are bullet-shaped and produce a different profile. Fit to the hook in the same way as beads, available in brass, tungsten and alloy in a range of colours.

Dumb-bells also add weight and are mounted onto the hook with a figure-of-eight whipping. Available in a range of materials and colours, some with pre-painted eyes.

Plastic beads add hotspots, whether for a head, or a row of beads slotted onto the hook to produce a complete body.

Tinsels

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Available in oval, round and flat in sizes extra small to large. The oval and round are built around various diameter cores to produce different thicknesses and are used mostly for creating ribs and butts. Flat tinsel can be wrapped along the shank in close touching turns to create a whole body, and is also excellent for making ribs, butts, tails, cheeks, shellbacks and wings. Again, there are countless colours available in all three types but oval gold and silver are a good starting point for ribbing. Flat tinsels are very popular in gold and silver, pearl mylar, UTC Mirage and holographic.

Thread

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Thread is probably the most important material you are going to use as it secures all the other materials to the hook. You will come across two types – twisted and untwisted (flat) and the two popular makes are Uni-Thread and UTC.

Uni-Thread produce a wide range of waxed and unwaxed polyester-based threads from 3/0 (the largest diameter) to 17/0, the finest. The most popular sizes for trout flies are 6/0 and 8/0.

UTC produce lightly waxed nylon threads in sizes from 70 (the finest) to 280 (the thickest) and suitable sizes for trout flies are 70 and 140. It ties in very flat, but if you want to add a twist into it just spin the bobbin.

The colour range covers everything from natural imitative shades to hot fluorescents and day-glow colours. If you want to buy the absolute minimum to start with, go for black, then build up to other colours as and when you need them.

Waxed threads provide additional grip on the hook and also give a bit more longevity. Unwaxed thread are a better choice if you want varnish and adhesives to soak all the way through to the hook.

Floss

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Flosses are a thicker version of thread and used to be made of silk although multi-stranded nylon and polyester are now more common. Floss can be used to build up a body and is ideal for creating tails, butts and cheeks. Floss is available with a slight twist, and also as a flat material where all the fibres lie parallel to each other. Do watch out when using flat floss as it is all too easy to catch the fibres on rough skin. If they break they weaken the floss and also give an untidy finish to the fly. Huge range of colours, including fluorescents for tails and hotspots.

Lead wire

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An effective way of adding weight is to wrap touching turns of lead wire around the hook shank prior to dressing in the other materials. Wire comes in a range of diameters and choice will depend on the amount of weight you require. One of the most traditional wires is copper, and a classic example of its use is in the Pheasant Tail Nymph which uses a fine diameter copper wire for added weight and to replace the thread. Coloured wires can be used as ribs, or in close touching turns to create full bodies, showing the colour off to its full potential.

Straggle and Blob Chenile

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These are synthetic ropes formed of multi-fibres. Blob chenille is a very dense Fritz-type material, available in different colours and diameters and ideal for creating the Blob attractor pattern. Straggle chenille is one of the newer materials and is nowhere near as dense as Blob chenille, has slightly longer fibres and gives a more translucent and sparse effect when tied along the hook shank.

Bead chain

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Originally obtained from hardware stores, bead chain is now available from specialist fly-tying retailers in plated silver and gold plus various hot colours. To make a pair of eyes on a fly, cut a pair of beads from the chain and mount onto the hook with a figure-of-eight whipping. Not as heavy as dumb-bell or brass beads as they are hollow, but add enough weight to submerge the fly.

Foam

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Foam comes in many colours, shapes and sizes from blocks and flat sheets to cylinders and long lengths of Booby cord. To cut cylinders from a block of foam either use cylinder cutters in different diameters or, as many do, use the sharpened sections of an old car aerial to do the same job.

Booby cord, or Booby eyes, are coloured cylinders of foam which can be tied in on top of the hook with a figure-of-eight whipping and then trimmed with each side to create a set of highly buoyant eyes, for example in the famous Booby pattern. The slimmer cylinders of foam can be used to make extended bodies on Daddy Longlegs or foam posts in parachute flies.