Waters & words : a celebration of flyfishing

Fly Tying

Tying tips: Dubbing loops

There is a lot of hype around the splitting of threads to form a dubbing loop. In my opinion, if you are using fine enough thread, you can simply create a loop in the thread, and you, or anyone else looking at your flies, will never be able to tell the difference.

To create a loop, simply use your fingers to hold a loop of thread away from the shank, and return the bobbin lead thread, to the shank, wind it around the base of the loop so formed, and continue winding. You could also introduce a thread loop using a separate thread of finer diameter than that which you are using to tie.

I use 14/0 thread most of the time. On delicate nymphs I use one of the “spider threads” for the dubbing loop.

dubbing loops (1 of 2)

dubbing loops (2 of 2)

One advantage of making a loop instead of splitting the thread, is that the winding up of your dubbing in the loop, will definitely not wind up the thread you tie with thereafter, meaning that it will continue to lay flat. There is a technique for ensuring that the split thread doesn’t remain wound up (and rope-like) after wrapping your dubbing, but I don’t think it is failsafe.


Photo of the moment (43)

Heptageniidae (1 of 1)


Stippled Beauties: Seasons, Landscapes & Trout.

To read about the book, or to order a copy  click here.

Stippled Beauties (6 of 7)

Visit the Facebook page

Book launch

When I was at varsity there was this dumb saying, that in a man’s life he should buy a farm, write a book, and visit a whorehouse!

I have no intention of achieving one of those, and another I simply can’t afford.

I have however published a book!

This is an announcement  I make here with conflicting emotions of satisfaction and humility. Satisfaction, because it has been close on two years of work, and I am pleased as punch with the result. Humility, because ……well because it feels downright pretentious and uncomfortable to announce this out in the marketplace and to then ask people to part with their money to buy it!

But such is my lot, because I have self published, and if I don’t sell it, nobody else will.

So here it is.

Stippled Beauties

(The cover picture was painted by my Dad.  I am very proud of him.)

If you ARE interested in parting with some money, please do go to the page on this blog called “Book Launch”. There you can read about it, and, if you like what you see, proceed to the order form.

That form will take a pre-order for the limited edition hardcover, or give you an opportunity to be on the waiting list for the second edition.

I say “pre-order” because the first edition is still with the printers, but it will be ready to post out in a few short weeks. That edition is downright expensive. I would apologise for that, but the main reason for the price (apart from the considerable cost of doing such a limited run in such high quality) is that this is a fundraiser. For every book sold, a figure of R350 (about $27) will be donated to an initiative to clear wattle trees and brambles from the upper Umgeni River. This is a cause that is very close to my heart, as those who know me will be well aware.

So there it is. If you like what you see, and if I haven’t stood on your toes or broken your fly-rod, then I would be most grateful to you if you could spread the news by posting a link to this blog entry, or visiting the book’s facebook page and doing the “like and share” thing.

And if you do choose to buy a copy of either the first or second edition:

Thank you!

Tying tips: Avoiding steps

When tying in materials, and this applies in particular to bulky materials, you need to handle steps in the diameter of the thread base.

If you tie in a bunch of thick deer hair, and trim the butt ends in a straight line, you will probably have a wide diameter zone over the butt ends, dropping in a step to the smaller diameter zone where you have only thread around the shank.

This is depicted in the top sketch :

steps (1 of 1)

A sudden step like this can be managed:  You can leave it as a step, and wind one material on the “high ground” and another on the “low ground”, as depicted in the centre sketch above. Watch Davie McPhail do this (watch from 8 mins into the video to about 9 mins 45)

Alternatively you can build up thread to make the base even, or manageably sloped as depicted in the bottom sketch.

If you choose to trim the waste materials at an angle to create a tapered base to work on, that is fine, but be aware that a steeply tapered base will still cause problems as materials wound onto it may slip down the cone shape. Either consider working on a step by building up thread in front of it, or put a thin base of superglue and wind carefully onto the glue brushed, steeply tapered base.

Steps and tapers close to the hook eye are invariably problematic, and should be avoided completely by tying materials well back of the eye. If you have a step or taper problem close to the eye of the hook, you probably haven’t left enough space for the head of the fly in the first place.

“lay flat threads” are also preferable, and there is the aspect of deliberately creating a step to splay materials, but I will get into that in another post.

(One step at a time!)

Bends, Barbs & Beads

In looking through my boxes of hooks a while back, I realised how many “bad” hooks I had in there. By “Bad”, I mean ones that, if you break it down, are not really any good to anyone. I am talking here of ultra longshank hooks, and small nymph hooks.

You see the ultra longshank ones are just long levers for helping the Trout rid itself of the sharp bit sticking it in the mouth. Well that is my theory, and I am sticking with it. Sticking with it more than an ultra longshank hook sticks in Trout skin!

And the nymph hooks:  Give it a thought. Let’s just say I want to tie a nymph, with a body length of 10mm. I have a choice. I can use a #10 “wet fly”/standard shank hook, or I can use a #12 2XL long shank hook. Same shank length. Roughly. It depends which brand and model of hook we are talking about.  But either way, it’s the same right?


Take a look at the gape width in each of the following hooks of similar shank length:

gape comparison (1 of 1)-2

From left to right: TMC 5262; Grip 11001; Mustad R30; Grip 14012BL. Notice how the gapes are progressively wider from left to right. These hooks are all #12 incidentally!

The bigger gape (better hooking) comes from the bigger looking hook. The worst by far is the so called “nymph hook” at left. Sure, this big hook point dangling down below the dressing on the wider gape hook is more visible, but us flyfishers are blind to the glaringly obvious bend and hook point anyway, and the Trout seem to be too. Let’s face it: they don’t seem to see the bend, and the point, and the eye and the knot and the tippet. It’s pretty obvious stuff but they aren’t that sharp! If they were, we wouldn’t be catching any of them.

So that is why we are seeing more an more flies on standard shank hooks, even when the pattern is intended to be elongated in profile. I have had enough trouble with trying to hook trout on small emergers, so when it comes to the smaller sizes, I am a convert: large gape hooks it is, and those silly #16 long shank things are on mothballs.

While we are talking about things sticking in Trout skin, have a look at a modern barbless hook, vs an older style barbed hook. You may have noticed that the hook at far right in the picture above is a barbless jig hook.

Take stock of the length of that point.

If you were a six inch Trout, hooked in a small mountain stream, would you rather have that little barb (or maybe flattened barb) (hook at far left) in your lip, or the other serious steelwork (far right) up through your brain and out your eye socket?

OK, so I am dramatising to make a point, because in a high mountain stream with six inch Trout, you should be using a fly small enough that it doesn’t impale the fish like that. But consider for a moment, that perhaps this polarised thing of “I only fish barbless” and “You haven’t squashed the barb on that fly!” is a bit stale and only considering one aspect of the whole thing. The truth is I have impaled some unfortunate little buggers rather harshly over the years when they took a fly that was not anything other than small. (You know you’ve gone and done it when they go back with a droopy eye!) They were impaled on hooks with long points, and no one is talking about that. People just get all uptight when they see barbs. In the past, many barbed hooks had short points.

I have long been a proponent of fishing barbed hooks.

There. I said it.

…..awaiting more backlash than a certain cat shooting dentist……………

But before you admonish me for all the death and destruction I have caused:

I can’t remember when last I was unable to return a fish with just a quick twist, and I normally return them without lifting them from the water.  Also, most barbs nowadays are what we used to call “whisker barbs”. Barb size has decreased considerably, and that is all for the better in my opinion. And if truth be told, I don’t advocate barbed hooks. I just use them and defend myself. I am also going to tell you, that when I one day plant a hook deep into my own being, I sure pray that it is a barbless one.

The other thing is, I have been losing a lot of fish on the strike, using some of my barbed hooks. (more about that below) So I am thinking of taking the gloves off now, becoming a real “meat hunter”, and going barbless…I mean LONG  spear. Take a look at the LOOONG spear on barbless hooks. Here is a diagram to explain:


I borrowed this image from “A Dictionary of Trout Flies” by Courtney Williams. Look at what they mean by “spear” or “bite”

Some of these modern barbless hooks with their chemically sharpened point, meanly “rolled in”  point (as they call that little upward facing twist), and long spear are downright evil! I like it. Really effective fish snaggers they are!

OK, so before I get ruthless and go “long spear”, why would I be a proponent of barbed hooks. Well you  see it all goes back to the days before beads. Theo Bakelaar (Mr Goldbead) changed all this.  We used to fish hooks with “Sproat bends” and “Limerick bends”.  These were short spear hooks. The hook took a sharp bend just back of the barb, so they couldn’t penetrate very far.   I mentioned these shapes to a buddy recently, and he hadn’t a clue what I was talking about.  (He knows who he is!  He’s the one who rolls his eyes at my barbed hooks!)

Let me educate the youngster, with the help of the dictionary:

New Doc_4

See how the effective spear of the sproat and limerick could be limited, depending on how soon that bend started.

Digression:   Effective spear is my own addition to the old hook diagram above. It is the spear as measured from the point of the hook, to the position where the angle of the hook bend prohibits any further penetration. A limerick bend hook tends to stop going in. How far does a round bend hook penetrate?  I don’t know, but a good way around the bend. Measuring effective spear on a round bend hook is a bit of a hit and miss thing. Suffice it to say that in the tables provided here , I have been very conservative, and have measured only to where the shank starts to bend. A round bend hook can practically stitch a Trout!  See the Bushmans River Trout below, practically “stitched” by a barbless round bend hook!  (see: proof…I do fish barbless already!)

Bushmans (21 of 26)

This got me thinking about all the nymph hooks nowadays, which, quite apart from being long speared and barbless, have to have a round bend to accommodate all the beads we use. Beads don’t go around a limerick bend you see.

So the evolving barbless trend, plus the round bends necessitated by beads, has produced these evil long speared hooks, on which the hook-ups are GREAT.

Does it really make that much difference?

I think it does. Take a look here:

gape comparison (1 of 1)

These are hooks from far left and far right in the first picture. These are both round bends, so as to compare apples. Here are some key measurements on these #12 hooks:

TMC 5262 Grip 14012 BL
shank length 11mm 9.2mm
gape 3.9mm 5.5mm
spear 5mm 7mm
effective spear 4mm 6.2mm

There is quite a difference isn’t there.  Look at it in percentages. effective spear is 55% longer on the barbless hook!

Now, about those fish that I have been losing on the strike:

Take a look at these hooks and their specs:

klink & fake (1 of 1)

left to right: #12 Partridge 15BN and Grip 14582

Partridge Klinkhamer 15BN Grip 14582
gape 6.5mm 4mm
spear 6.5mm 5mm
effective spear 5mm 4.6mm

That percentage again: the proper klinkhamer has 9% more effective spear length. Perhaps more relevant, the gape is 62% wider!

The relevance of this is that I have been a “cheapskate” and have been bending a Grip 14582…the one pictured on the right above…. to make a klink hook!

I have also been struggling to connect on these recently. Having photographed the above hooks and measured them with my caliper, I can now guess why!

No more “cheapskate!”. The proper Klinkhamer has a better spear than even the nymph hooks, and is not far behind that Grip Jig hook , and the gape is even better!

* Another digression:  Hans Van Klinken’s special hooks are now made by Daiichi, and Partridge were spelling it with an extra M after they parted ways with Hans. …

Have a look at Tom Sutcliffe’s site for an article on the Klinkhamer by Hans himself.

Partridge now seem to be spelling it with one M again in the “Klinkhamer x-treme” hooks, and are saying something about  “This hook is now exactly as designed by Hans van Klinken. It is now possible Partridge to make it according to the original plan. Designed as the ideal hook for tying the famous Klinkhamer designed by Hans van Klinken” Sounds fishy.  I wrote to Hans, and he confirmed that the real deal is still  the Daiichi, with whom he has a happy association…….. Get the real thing.

End of digression.

So what am I saying?  I am not sure. I think I am saying that barbless hooks are not as pure as driven snow, and that some guys need to get off the high horse. I think I am saying that as a barbed hook guy, with a mean “meat hunter” streak in me, I am going to use barbless hooks more. And I think I am saying that I am questioning the hook-up benefits of various terrestrial hooks (limerick type bend)  in comparison to these barbless hooks, but that proper Klinkhamer hooks are great.

Either way, if we meet in the pub we can do some back slapping and name calling, and while I am now unsure as to who will be calling the other a “meat hunter”, I am sure that I will want to buy you a beer and that the banter will all be in good spirits.

All puns in this essay are intentional.

Tying tips: what to do when the thread snaps

It happens to everyone, and usually at some critical point. Simply grab the tag end of the broken silk as quick as you can with one hand, letting the bobbin fall. With your other hand, reach for your superglue. You will soon master opening that with one hand. (try not to glue the tube to your lips!) Dab a tiny, barely visible amount of glue onto the thread, and wrap it once or twice.

Superglue finish (1 of 2)Superglue finish (2 of 2)

It will stick very well. Now you can reach for the bobbin and re-start where you broke off.

(Note, some tiers dispense with the whip finish, and tie their flies off this way)

Tying tips: bulky brushes

You will often find that the brush on your superglue, UV glue, or Sally Hansen’s nail varnish, is just too bulky for the fine work you do. Simply use a small pair of scissors to trim away the brush fibers, leaving a much more manageable brush size. I find I trim away three quarters of them!

trimming brushes (1 of 3)

trimming brushes (2 of 3)trimming brushes (3 of 3)

Crow bars and treble hooks

Last week-end, we kept a Rainbow from the Umgeni.

Umgeni (47 of 49)

That is only the third Rainbow I have ever seen come out of the Umgeni, (It is a Brown Trout stream) and in the interests of purity I encouraged my fishing buddy to smack it on the head. We don’t do that very often anymore, so it took me repeating the suggestion several times before he reluctantly harvested the little fish.

What was remarkable about it, was what was in its stomach. There was a whole bunch of digested stuff that wasn’t immediately identifiable, but then there were these hard little shells. Anton reached up from the river and passed them to me. We couldn’t work them out. They were not snails, and it was too gloomy to get a really good look. I popped them into an empty coke bottle in my vest.

It was not until a few days later that I go around to washing out the coke bottle, and sieving out the little fellows. I cleaned them in a little sieve the size of a tea strainer. (My wife asked me shorty thereafter what I had used the sieve for, and could she safely use it to sieve some cork out of her glass of wine. What  you don’t know can’t hurt you).  The coke seems to have cleaned the little shells up, and they shone like little barnacles, but I still had no idea what they were.

unidentified (4 of 5)

I sent the pictures off to my friend Jake Alletson a little later, with an explanation that these had been found in a trout’s stomach, but that no crow bar had been found in its possession at the time.  Jake is a wise man, and we hang on his every word when it comes to aquatic bugs.  Jake responded immediately so say that he had no idea how these may have found their way into a trout’s stomach and that they are limpets (Ancylidae).  He went on to say

“I am not sure of the genus or species and would probably need to see the actual specimens to make a call on that. 

Like marine limpets, these ones stick tightly to the rocks so I have no idea of how a trout would be able to get a hold on them to eat them.  Also like the marine forms, they only move very slowly.  Therefore, if you want to tie an imitation I would suggest that you use a heavy wire treble hook.  This will sink rapidly to the bottom, get stuck on something, and behave just like the natural!”

Well there you have it! I told you he is a wise man.

Now to source some heavy wire treble hooks in size 18, and take a month off work to go and wait it out on a deep pool on the Umgeni!  

Umgeni (48 of 49) 



Photo of the moment (30)

BWO (1 of 1)-2

Getting done in 1st prep

I was coaching my daughter this afternoon on getting her homework done and over with quickly. As all “old farts” do, I related my own school experience, and the memories came flooding back.

At boarding school. we had early prep, which must have been somewhere between 30 and 45 minutes in duration, followed by supper and thereafter “long prep”. In early prep we were all showered and dressed, but many were still red in the face from the exertion of the afternoon’s sport, and spirits were still high. Little work was done. Most procrastinated, figuring they still had long prep lying ahead of them like  a vast and miserable desert.

What does this have to do with flyfishing?

There was one bloke, who worked like a machine in early prep, in an attempt to get it all done in half an hour. That was me. 51% would do. (I didn’t tell my daughter that part.)  And that was because, if I got it all done in first prep, I could tie flies for the whole of “long prep”.

1984 (4 of 6)

After supper, in the prep room, the vice was out, and I was churning out DDD’s by the dozen, while my mates did maths. There were several of us who fell into this pattern.

1984 (1 of 1)

Some of the slower learners (and I was by no means a fast learner), were also keen fly-fishermen, and they too tried this. Unfortunately their marks plummeted, and the result was that fly tying during prep was eventually banned at the school. What a bummer!

1984 (1 of 6)

And speaking of slower learners:  There was one fellow, who shall remain nameless, who provided us a lot of entertainment. He was one of those gangly, uncoordinated kids, who fly fished, but couldn’t quite get fly tying right. He was inclined to bind his fingers to the hook or suchlike. So I sold him a few flies.  Another chap witnessed this, and concocted a plan. He snuck in through the dorm window, and stole the flies that had just been bought. Within an hour he presented them for sale to the same fellow, claiming that they were tied much better than mine. The plan worked. What’s more, he did it several times, each time stealing exactly the same flies and re-selling them!  After a while guilt set in, and we came clean with the fellow, restoring his pocket money , but denting his dignity.

I can’t help feeling that we must have done him a service in some way, and contributed to his education, because I bumped into him a few years ago, and he is now a captain of industry.  But someone must still be taking money off him, because he still doesn’t tie his own.

So, my advice to my daughter:  Get it done in first prep, (and learn to tie your own flies, so that you won’t be had).

The Duckfly Hog Hopper

hog hopper (1 of 1)-2

I discovered this pattern just recently in an excellent video by Davie McPhail.

You tube video by Davie McPhail

I liked it instantly.  It ticks a lot of boxes for me. It is light and springy. It could be one of several things: A cranefly, a small hopper, a half hatched cripple, a hatching midge, and just about anything else your imagination can muster. Exactly what you want in a searching pattern.

The  one in the video is on a #12. That is rather big for me, unless it is the hopper you have chosen from the list above, so I tied my first ones on a #16. To start with I made a beginner’s mistake by trying to put on similar quantities of material to that evident in the video. The result was an overdressed fly:

Hog Hopper (2 of 2)

Notice how it looks bulky, and lacks that sparse, buggy, springy feel that one should be after? 

The smaller one is better off with a single CDC feather , and just a sprinkling of deer hair fibres. I think I could even trim the dressing more than I have done in the picture at the top of this page.  Take a look at McPhail’s one again:

Duckfly Hog Hopper

The colour combinations that you could try are endless. I put a spotter post of yarn on one, and left the wing off another.

hog hopper (5 of 8)hog hopper (7 of 8)

hog hopper (1 of 1)-3

I contemplated converting it to a parachute pattern. But just as you can’t have bacon on everything, I realised I was bastardising the pattern beyond what was reasonable, and I reverted to something closer to the original.

This one is tied on a klinkhamer style hook, and with longer more gangly legs, so that it is somewhat more of a cranefly:

hog hopper (4 of 8)

If you have a look at “Sedgehog” patterns, and the “Duckfly” (an Irish midge pattern), you will see where this pattern came from. To Davie McPhail:  hats off to you! I think you have a winner here.

I read somewhere that creativity is the art of putting existing ideas together, that no one has ever thought to put together before.  This pattern is a truly creative one. I look forward to putting it over some fish.

Your tying space

I tidied my tying desk this evening, as I do once in a while. The maid normally remarks favourably when I do this, since she is not allowed to touch.


I think the abandon with which I toss around dead birds and animals gets to her.

Thing is, when the desk is tidy, I can actually lock the thing, as my brother intended when he made it for me.


I have to say though, that I was a little worried. I was worried that it would not close. This anxiety stemmed from the fact that I have been on a long steady acquisition phase. I hadn’t realised it, but I have been collecting again (did I ever stop?), and the drawers are starting to overflow and  jam with packets of goodies.

I am happy to report that I was successful. I will not be needing another chest of drawers, and so will not be jeapardising my spot in the corner of the lounge. Which brings me to my point.

You MUST have a room, or better still a corner of a family room or lounge, where you can leave your fly tying kit out.

Trust me on this one. Until you do that, your tying will be frustrating, infrequent, and uninspiring. You cannot be hocked by having to clear away for dinner or guests. This will cramp your creative style in ways that you will only come to appreciate when you do get it right and have a good setup.

When you do get set up, a peaceful fulfillment will descend upon you, and you will become a much better husband and father. For me it has worked to have this space in a corner where I am not locked away from the family. I have a corner of a room in which the family can sit around while I tie, and it is a magic recipe for family harmony.  

Truttablog (1 of 1)

Now print this piece, and go and show it to your wife.

Good luck!

Suck it down

It really is a terrible thing to have problems that keep you up at night.

Just last week I sat down to tie up a few halo hackle, Klinkhamer style things with grizzly hackle. No I don’t have a name for them. This whole halo hackle concept is a wonderfully South African idea bank, that has been brewing for a while, with several variants around. I seldom tie a batch of flies the same as the last, and each time I fiddle with the pattern, so don’t ask me to name them. Suffice it to say they have a cute orange thing on top to aid my eyesight, a bum that trails in the water to wiggle at the trout, and a grizzly hackle PLUS a sparsely wound coq de leon halo hackle that keeps them on top.

Klinkhamer (3 of 5)


I don’t know how others do their halo hackles, but for mine, I strip one side off a coq de leon spade, and then wind it twice. I sometimes trim a few fibres, if they end up too close to their neighbours.

I like this halo thing, in that it gives the flies a huge footprint for flotation, with just a few fibres, and it looks buggy.

* a note:  I say “Huge footprint for flotation” because coq de leoon hackles don’t come small. This is unfortunate in some ways, because their fibres are just so damned brilliant that if I could get them small enough I would use them on every fly. And that would quickly eat through the great big cape I got last year. Coq de leon fibres have zero fluff on them, and are as springy and shiny as a that radio aerial that one of my varsity lecturers used as a pointer.

So I like this halo thing. It’s local. It’s lekker.


There is always a “but”. Trout suck surface flies down to eat them. I was reminded of this a while back when reading “Fly-fishing outside the box”. It is a brilliant book. Get it.

So, the trout has to suck my halo hackle fly down through the meniscus and get it into its mouth. It occurs to me that on account of those halo fibres, this may just be like trying to suck raw butternut through a hole in the side of the calabash. Just as an over-tied DDD, or one on a hook that has a narrow gape, I am at risk of seeing my fly enveloped in a glorious splash, but without a connection to the fish.  That worries me just a little. I have been wide awake for hours now.

But it doesn’t worry me too much, because British anglers have been big on daddy longlegs patterns for years, and they too have those broad splayed legs. Also, would the tippet not tether the fly in the meniscus more than the hackle could ever do? The other thing is the evidence. Maybe I am lucky, but I don’t seem to have a hooking problem with these flies. I don’t connect every time admittedly, but I don’t think they are problematic. They are catching lots of small trout up at Riverside at the moment. I must get up there and fish these flies to set my mind at ease.

Perhaps if I just keep tying the halo hackle sparse enough, all will be good.  Since a sparse halo hackle is what looks buggy, this works better anyway, right?.

OK. I feel better now. I think I will go back to sleep.

Thanks for listening.

Afterthought:  look out on the tab on this  blog called “ Topical subjects, Ideas and links”. I will soon be posting a set of links there all about the halo-hackle concept.  For a close up of the flies above, look at the fly gallery under ‘dry flies & emergers’.

The honey troglodyte


I have been tying along a particular theme recently, that being nymphs with a V-Rib body and a tungsten bead. On this one I was focusing on getting a glowing translucence in the body:

troglodyte (1 of 13)

Place a 2.5mm black tungsten bead on a #14 or #16 nymph hook.

troglodyte (2 of 13)

Tie in a rough base (for grip) of bright yellow silk (70 denier used here)

troglodyte (3 of 13)

Tie in a tail of natural blonde squirrel tail, and use the tag end to build up the thorax a little , so securing the bead.

troglodyte (4 of 13)

Tie in a small bunch of cock pheasant tail fibres as shown above.

troglodyte (5 of 13)

Now splay and spread the fibres either side of the hook shank in two bunches of equal size.

troglodyte (6 of 13)

Bring the pheasant tail fibres back to the back of the bead as indicated above.

troglodyte (7 of 13)

Now tie in a strand of honey coloured V-Rib, with the end in tight against the base of the bead, and wrap your silk back to the back of the thorax position.

Now dub in a fairly tightly wound sausage of a wiry gray dubbing mix containing some rabbit and ice dub or SLF.

troglodyte (8 of 13)

Bring the pheasant tail thorax back over the dubbing, secure with a few wraps of thread, and add in a strand of holographic tinsel at this point.

troglodyte (9 of 13)

Use your silk to raise the V-Rib to a vertical position, and tie the tinsel back to the back of the thorax.

troglodyte (10 of 13)

Now wrap the v-rib in tight wraps back towards the tail. Before making the last two wraps, place a dot of super glue on the silk underbody and then wrap the v-rib over that , bringing it to the position where the tail was tied in. The super glue just helps secure this tough material, since we don’t want to create any bulk at this point in the fly, and will tie it down with only two wraps of thread.

troglodyte (11 of 13)

Now pull the holographic tinsel back down the back of the body and secure with a single wrap of thread. Then dab a very small amount of superglue onto the thread, and perform three wraps, and snip the thread and tinsel away.

troglodyte (12 of 13)

Use a dark brown marker to colour the yellow thread wraps near the tail. Now apply a thin layer of UV glue along just the back of the body, and up over the thorax cover, and dry with the UV torch. Don’t coat the underside of the body, as we want to keep the ribbed appearance there.

troglodyte (13 of 13)

Stroke the pheasant tail fibres back by hand, and thin them out with a very fine pointed pair of scissors.

This is the finished fly.

What’s in the box?

On Sunday I had one of those quiet days at home. After week-end, upon week-end of a days fishing plus a day of some other activity, I needed to re-group, and sort out my fishing tackle. Fly reels were turning up in cool-boxes in the kitchen, leaders in my briefcase,  fly floatant smeared on my drivers license, that sort of thing. It was time to sort it all out. I also needed to empty the fly-patch, since I am sure I have been dropping flies off of there into bankside vegetation all over the province.

So I emptied what was in there onto the coffee table.

Trout flies (1 of 1)

It is not a complete collection, but a fairly representative sample of what I have been tying on the business end lately. 

This has all of course been on stillwater, with the rivers having been closed until this week.

At the top there is a klink syle buzzer and two woolly buggers. Down the left hand side, those olive jobs are: a Minkie, an FMD and a Papa Roach.

Centre left going down, are : an egg pattern, a gill-bodied nymph, and a San Juan worm.

Centre right: a black DDD, a cdc emerger, a caddis larva, a PTN flashback, and a red-eyed damsel.

Far right, a snail, a humpy and a DDD.

The largest one is a #6 (the Minkie), and the smallest the CDC emerger at #18.

And the flies that have done some damage?

The FMD, The egg pattern, and that red and black woolly bugger.

What patterns would you have added to a stillwater winter collection?

A Detail for Eyes

A recent topic of discussion has been that of eyes on our Trout flies.

It occurred to me that we have come a long way in that department. My earliest memory of eyes on flies was that of the Clayne Baker swimming nymph, in which one was required to tie an overhand knot on a bunch of marabou fibres. Now that was a trick!

I think at that time we normally made eyes by simply cutting a stub of tuff chenille either side of the hook. Those were not very pronounced eyes, and come to think of it, the snipped end of a length of tuff chenille was positively insipid compared to the lovely round shiny eyes we are able to get today.

Round about the time of Hugh Huntley’s red eyed damsel, we had started to loop the tuff chenille. That method persisted for a good long time, and it still shows up now and then.


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It would have been around then too, that we started melting thick nylon, to make eyes. You had to get the right nylon, and the right method to control what you ended up with, and I seem to remember that my own results were far from predictable. One difficulty that I still see on the online videos, is that it is darn difficult to get the eyes the same size.

In more recent years though, a whole plethora of ideas have emerged. Some are better than others.

Roger Baert uses a plastic sheet, from which he cuts strips, and folds them over to make eyes. The stuff positively glows along the cut edge, making Roger’s dragonfly pattern a killer pattern:

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Fly Tied by Roger Baert

Not long ago I bought these soft “Chew balls”.

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They look wonderful don’t they!

They fall off on about the third cast.

Back to the drawing board. These moulded plastic eyes are great.

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The black ones are somehow shiny, but the olive and grey ones just look dull on a fly.  You also have to shop carefully. These ones lose their colour and end up white on the fly:

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That is, unless you coat them in thin UV glue, so locking the colour in, and giving them some shin too.

But the real trick nowadays is to go and scan the bead shops for all kinds of interesting beads and make your “dumbbells” yourself.

Jan recently showed us the faceted beads he has been using.

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These ones came on a string, but most of them don’t. So here is how to make them up yourself.

First, lay you hands on the heaviest nylon that you can thread the beads onto. Builders line is a good option:

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Thread two beads onto a short piece.

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Now light a candle, and position the first bead about an inch from the end of the nylon. Hold the nylon near the tip of the flame, and wait for it to start sizzling. Keep it there until it practically catches fire.  It will burn back into the bead and stop. The bead is like the firebreak!

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To do the other end, move the free bead to a position about a quarter of an inch from its stuck partner, and then snip the nylon about an inch away from that. Now slide the free bead back against it’s stuck partner. Holding the unit by the locked bead, and with a pair of sharp nosed plies holding the free bead, advance the end of the nylon into the flame until it catches fire. Let it burn to the point that you want it to stop. Then swiftly but gently use the pliers to move the bead to that point. As the bead reaches the rapidly advancing bead of sizzling nylon, it will put the fire out and embed itself in the desired position. The sizzling nylon is however as soft as butter, so you have to avoid sliding the bead right past the desired point and off the end. It is a knack!


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Another way to do it is shown in this clip from Global Fly-fisher.

Now the only issue with this method, is that your bead is fouled with a “gob” of dull melted nylon. A lot of the pictures and videos on the internet don’t get you in close enough to see this for what it is. It is not as shiny as the bead, and it is often not symmetrical either.

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On a black bead, you can solve this with a black  permanent marker.

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I normally coat my bead eyes with loon thin UV glue. This helps secure the bead. It also fixes the black marker. You can also do this with Sally Hansens “Hard as nails” or  epoxy, as shown on this video that I came across.

The problem is that not all beads are black. One can find a wonderful assortment of translucent beads in plastic and in glass. These look quite fantastic, but that melted nylon is somewhat of a blemish.

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I have tried different melting techniques, to give a smaller blemish, and then secured the bead onto the line with UV glue to compensate for the smaller stopper. But I don’t feel as though I have got it right yet.

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But if we step away from the beads for a while, and dwell on the idea of creating our own translucent bead using UV glue, we might be onto something.

Take a look at this video.

In that clip he says how the top layer of UV glue is so thin that you can’t even tell its there. But I got to thinking: what if you do want to know it is there! What if you want your colour in the middle of your “bead”, and successive layers give you the translucent layers over the colour. And what if you introduced some sparkle into those successive layers. I know that you get glitter type material that you can infuse into your epoxy or UV glue.

So what I did was to start with the old melted nylon eyes described above. Then I used this base of a small nylon ball as a base onto which I dropped a small amount of very thick UV glue . I twirled it while wet and then cured it with the light, when I was sure that it was smooth, and even more symmetrical than the original ball of melted nylon underneath. Then I couloured it with a permanent marker. In fact I did some with a white board marker: it doesn’t have to be permanent.

At that point, check to see if the bead is slightly tacky. If not, you may want to give it a very fine brush of nail varnish or thin UV glue. Then before it is cured, roll it in some glitter of your choosing and then cure it. Now roll on some more thick UV glue, roll the dumbbell around to get it smooth and even and then cure it with your UV torch.

You can play with colours and glitters, and multiple clear or coloured layers.

What do you think?

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The Roach wears undies

At a recent gathering of the Natal Fly Dressers Society (NFDS), Jan Korrubel demonstrated the tying of the well known “Papa Roach“, that excellent Dragonfly nymph pattern that is making it into halls of fame.

Papa Roach by Herman Botes

Herman Botes’ Papa Roach: Photo ex Tom Sutcliffe…see link above

Jan has a pragmatic approach that I enjoy. He chatted about the fact that he couldn’t bring himself to leave the hook shank bare under the Zonker strip, “because it just looked wrong”. I Know Herman Botes intended the hookshank to be the flat base of the fly’s shape, but a bit of dubbing finishes it off nicely. We briefly discussed whether Trout could count legs and settled on four. Jan showed us the faceted beads he uses for eyes, and then he went on to tie a “Banana Roach” in pale tan colour.

That particular colour didn’t do anything for me, but Jan’s introduction of his fruity version, and his comment about not leaving the hook shank bare, got me thinking on the way back home.

I have always been one for subtle things showing through. Like a single strand of Krystal flash, that flashes only occasionally in the sunlight. Or a small tag on a nymph. I quite like the “hotspots” that people are adding to everything nowadays, although I think that too often they are too large or prominent. I am one for a single wrap of bright colour. People have often suggested that a red band which appears around the gills of a bait fish imitation suggests blood, and therefore injury, and therefore a weak target. The red or green body was always important on a Walkers Killer, and yet you never really saw that. But like a drably dressed lady, who has racy red underwear beneath the tweeds, the body of the fly was somehow significant, if only to those who knew it was there. On that rare occasion when the lady reached up to fetch a jar, or a current shifted the walker’s feathers, the racy red bits worked their magic, and the prey was like a moth to the candle!

I can work with theories like that. They are neat and logical, and can never really be disproven. Most of fly-fishing is built on that stuff!

So with Jan’s ideas in my head, I added some racy red underwear to the Roach.



What do you think?

Tying a tiny Parachute Adams

This is a fun clip I made a few months back.


It’s still a delight….in any colour

The DDD is old hat here in South Africa.


(Photo courtesy of Tom Sutcliffe)

I did a quick google search for DDD. First time around I got all sorts of weird stuff, so I added the words “Dry Fly”, and still got no less than 89,000 hits!  That says something, doesn’t it? I will admit that after page three the real DDD gets replaced by tent fly sheets, and obscure digital equipment, but let’s just say you won’t struggle to uncover information about the real thing.

Probably the most comprehensive article about tying and fishing it, is written by none other than its inventor, Tom Sutcliffe. I wont even try to top that!  Take a look here.

In one’s online search, you will find debates about which deer hairs are acceptable, (most notably the wonderful Klipspringer hair vs conventional deer hair). You will find debate on what to use as a hackle, whether to tie it roughly cut, as Tom does, or neatly. You will see discussion on whether to use a deer hair tail, or a hackle tail. There is mention of using some krystal flash in the hackle. And there is talk of colour.

In the colour debate, the primary discussion goes around natural vs yellow. I remember many years ago, getting Hugh Huntley’s help to dye a patch of klipspringer bright yellow, and the fear and trepidation of dunking an entire patch of highly sought-after klipspringer hair into the simmering cauldron. I still have that small patch, and I still tie up a few yellow versions.

But in recent years I have gone off on another tangent with the DDD, and that is the black one. Maybe it has something to do with a sub conscious affection for  the new South Africa and political correctness, I don’t know.

What I do know, is that you wont find a whole lot of information on the black DDD.

I got an unexpected result when I did an image search for the black DDD:



The FMD revisited

The FMD on video

Tying the FMD from Andrew Fowler on Vimeo.


“Despite the threnodies of a few recidivist Halfordians, the fly-fishing tradition is a progressive, generous and inclusive one, and it pays to be mindful that not everyone will be interested in the stipulations of your personal code”  From “Trout Hunting” by Bob Wyatt

There are many of us fly-fishermen who are quirky, moody, and solitary. We have built up some illogical notions over the years, and we only stick with other fly-fishermen who happen, against all odds,  to “get us”. So we go for years, wearing older and older clothes, fishing with the same blokes, and probably the same tackle.  We take on routines and peculiar rituals, and have used the same knot to tie our flies since Pa fell off the bus. And we talk about the old days, and regard new entrants to the sport with a mild dose of suspicion.

We forget that once we were the ‘newbies’, with shoddy tackle, and no clue. We were once the pimply students, hanging on every word of some doyen, who graced us with his time and attention. Here in Maritzburg those days for me were back in the mid 1980’s. We had fly-fishing personalities spilling out onto the pavement on a Saturday morning, and we were swept up the the enthusiasm.

old NFDS meeting

Barry Kent demonstrating the tying of a fly in the 1980’s.


The Slinky Damsel: a step by step


I started tying this pattern about 10 years ago. The idea was to have a smooth body, and at one stage the thorax was smooth too, to represent the exoskeletal properties of the naturals. In other words I wanted to steer away from a “fuzzy” fly, and stick with a sleek profile, with well defined eyes and legs. This sleek profile helps the fly to sink with minimal additional weight: a worthwhile property, in that it allows for delicate presentations in the shallows.

I started off with a single plastic bead at the front, and then moved to a set of bead eyes. These tended to fall apart, but with the advent of UV glue, I think we have solved that problem.

I still tie the pattern in a number of different ways. Here is one of them:Materials for the slinky damsel

Slinky Damsel (1 of 12)



Feathers: buying decent marabou

The other evening, I was tying up a few flies for still-water, and I was getting to the end of a pack of marabou. When I remarked to the family that I was running out of feathers, I got some funny looks. That’s because as I said that there were wisps drifting about me in the air, there was some getting in my nose, and there were black feathers all over the place. But they were the wrong feathers you see.

Those who use marabou, will know what what I am talking about, feathers with thin, sharp ends. No fluff at the ends.

Poor Marabou

In desperation I looked in a packet that I thought contained grey marabou. As it turned out, it only looked grey because the old plastic packet (with a “Fly-fisherman” price tag of R4-50 on it!), had whitened. Inside, it contained the most glorious black marabou, as I remember marabou from 20 years ago:

Good Marabou

Now that is a proper feather.

Look for feathers like this when buying marabou. Some packets have a lot more of this in them than others.