Waters & words

Fly Tying

The FMD revisited

The FMD on video

Tying the FMD from Andrew Fowler on Vimeo.


Comeraderie

“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.

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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)

 

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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.


Knotted legs

In a previous posting I showed a fly pattern that uses knotted pheasant tail legs, and I promised a posting to help readers tie these.

Tying knots in short pieces of feather fibre is difficult, so don’t beat yourself up if you end up with bits of knotless feather on the floor, and a foul temper. That would be entirely normal, and part of the process. In fact, if I haven’t tied these in a while, I forget all my own learning and do the same for a good 20 minutes before the synapses fire, and I remember this method:

Choose your fibres.

knotted legs (1 of 16)

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Tying a cripple: a step by step

This represents a half hatched nymph. A crippled and hopeless morsel for the Trout to take at will. The idea is to hang the fly in the surface film, with the tail end of the nymph shuck still attached and hanging in the water. The front end of the fly represents the half hatched winged insect, it’s looped body stuck in the top of the shuck, and its legs trailing beneath its thorax and partially opened wings.

Cripple (23 of 23)

The materials you will need:

Cripple materials

 

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Tying the woolly bugger

 

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Woolly Bugger (1 of 28)

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Keepers

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My friend Roy sent this to me the other day:

“I grew up with parents who kept everything & used them time & time again! A mother, God love her, who washed aluminium foil after she cooked in it, then reused it. She was the original recycle queen before they had a name for it. A father who was happier getting old shoes fixed than buying new ones.
Their marriage was good, their dreams focused. Their best friends lived barely a wave away.
I can see them now, Dad in trousers, tee shirt and a hat and Mom in a house dress, lawn mower in one hand, and dish-towel in the other. It was the time for fixing things. A curtain rod, the kitchen radio, screen door, the oven door, the hem in a dress. Things we keep.
It was a way of life, and sometimes it made me crazy. All that re-fixing, eating, renewing, I wanted just once to be wasteful. Waste meant affluence. Throwing things away meant you knew there’d always be more.
But then my mother died, and on that clear summer’s night, in the warmth of the hospital room, I was struck with the pain of learning that sometimes there isn’t any more.
Sometimes, what we care about most gets all used up and goes away…never to return.. So… While we have it….. it’s best we love it…. And care for it… And fix it when it’s broken……… And heal it when it’s sick.
This is true. For marriage……. And old cars….. And children with bad report cards….. And dogs with bad hips…. And aging parents…… And grandparents. We keep them because they are worth it, because we are worth it.
Some things we keep. Like a best friend that moved away or a classmate we grew up with. “

……………………………………………..(The piece goes on to more important aspects like the role of God. I have not repeated the whole message here)

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Big “Nasties”

As the weather gets bitingly cold, and the landscape loses the soft warm comforts of summer, one’s demeanour as a fisherman probably changes.

By that I am suggesting that when you are out there in a cold wind, with waves coming in at you across a large stretch of cold water bounded by drab dry grass, and no sign of anything moving, you are less likely to fish a #18 emerger. Well I certainly am less likely to do so!  Less likely that is, than when it is spring, and a soft breeze brushes a water surface occasionally disturbed by large Trout whose noses appear amongst tiny hatching waifs, and then turn slowly away in a beguiling languid swirl. In those conditions, there are few of us whose thoughts wouldn’t turn to light tippets, low stalking profiles, and miniscule flies meant to deceive.

two and thirty

A #2, and a #30 hook: the extremes of fly size!

 

But come winter, with dust and wind, and big jackets, and you will find me out on the boat or tube, with a sinking line, and some heavy artillery. It just seems more fitting to the circumstances. The Trout are dark, and the cocks have those hooked jaws that make them look angry, and it seems befitting that we supply them something to be angry at. Something to hit…not to sip!

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Gill bodied nymph revisited

I recently wrote about a new technique for created in a nymph body with breathing gills along the sides.

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In more recent weeks, I have been working up a few more variants and exploring the concept further.Fly tiers will know that such experimentation is a frustrating thing in many respects. You end up with several disasters before you get anything worthwhile. Materials are not as fine as you thought they would be, or not quite subtle enough, or too slippery to bond against, and so it goes; and you end up with little film canisters of tangled cast offs, of zero value to the fisherman in you.

We have a long awaited fishing trip coming up shortly, and instead of stocking up my boxes, I am “wasting” hooks and tying materials experimenting.

But when you get it right, it is all worth it.

I don’t know that I have the gilled body nymph right yet, but I have succeeded in incorporating more translucence, and sparkle into the pattern.

gill nymph 1 -7

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The FMD

Also known as “Fowlers Magic Dragon”, “Puff the Magic Dragon”, or just “the Puff”, but most likely not known at all.

I suppose I have done  very little to spread the news about this fly, but that was borne out of a desire not to be pretentious about the thing, rather than any motivation to keep the pattern to myself.

This fly is a catcher of fish in stillwaters in South Africa. And a catcher of some large fish too.

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Fly boxes

Once you own a collection of boxes, as one inevitably does after a few decades of fly-fishing, it becomes quite difficult to justify buying a new one. I drool over boxes in shops regularly. I turn them over in my hands. I stand there in the shop, thinking  that if I bought this one, I would use it for my Caddis & Midges, or my general purpose river nymphs, or some such thing. Then I put them back, and move on. Because you see, at home I have whole collection of perfectly good ones.

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The Haberdashery Caddis

I strolled into a haberdashery yesterday while my son had his hair cut. The woman behind the counter viewed me with suspicion over the top of her bifocals. I was an uncommon sight for her I suppose.

She seemed happy enough when I bought a few things however. One of those things was a small reel of glistening green material, with no name on it. While she was ringing it up I converted it into a Caddis pupa in my minds eye. After dinner I converted it into a Caddis pupa in my vice.

caddis exp 1-1-5

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A gill bodied nymph

Some time back, I worked on a few methods of achieving a “gill body” for my nymphs. I was convinced that Ostrich herl was the way to go. I think I still am convinced. For the time being at least. It has such fine dense fibres, that seem perfectly sized for nymph gills. This is particularly so for the smaller nymphs, #14 and #16. The problem with this material is that it is so frail, and even a good ribbing fails to protect it, and it ends up tattered. The main problem is that the stem of the herl is frail.

So what we did here was to wind a body of V rib, leaving spaces between the wraps. Then the herl gets wrapped into the spiral between the strands of V rib, where it’s stem sits low and protected, but the lovely fine fibres of the herl protrude.

Then trim the fibres top and bottom

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And here is the body that results:

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How you put the rest of the fly together is up to you, but here is an idea:

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Damsels

A damselfly pattern I use for Trout on still-waters.


My Space

I don’t know if all us fly-fishermen are afflicted with this thing, but I suspect most of us are. Just take a look at our fly vests. A myriad of pockets, zips, buckles and zingers. And if we fish with a backpack, you can be sure it will have hidden pouches, rain cover, waterproof key pocket, secreted expansion zip and the like. Fly boxes: row upon row of little compartments that clip open. And then there is the fly tying desk!

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The Adams

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A trusted pattern on our streams and rivers

 

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Fly Size

I often marvel at the guys who buy their dry flies. Mostly I marvel at guys who buy dries for the second time. First time I can understand, but second time around….wow!

Now this sounds like an obscure thing to say, but have you seen the size of dry flies in tackle shops?

Generally the fly sizes start about a #10 or #12, and go down to a #16. If you are lucky, perhaps a #18.

Now that’s just fine if you are imitating a hopper, or in the case of the DDD, a dead stable rat, but lets consider the mayflies for a moment. And what about the caddis, and the midges?

Next time you are out on the water on one of those sticky summer evenings, when everything is hatching around you, blow some of those “miggies” out of your nose, and have a look at them. Measure them against the thumb nail of your small finger, or better still, prop one up beside a #18 imitation on your fly box. Looks a bit silly, doesn’t it!

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Brown Trout and favoured flies

This piece originally appeared in the FOSAF publication “favoured flies” in Oct 2008

 

Brown Trout have been tickling my fancy for over twenty years. There is something about a Brown that is appealing, fanciful, and frustrating all at the same time, and whatever that something is, it has me hunting them regularly. I struggle to define what it is about a Brown that holds appeal for me. Perhaps it is simply that there are less of them around than the Rainbow, but I suspect it runs deeper than that. Whatever it is about Browns, it keeps me coming back. Stippled beauties they are.

What I have noticed about these wily fish, particularly in rivers, is that they will decide whether or not they are “on the prod” as I call it. And if they happen to decide that, you will feel as though you are tripping over them. At every bend, every pool and run in the river, you will see them doing something, and often something crazy. They will rise, knock the fly, get caught, swim into your leg, grab something off overhanging grass, and just generally let you know that they are about. In all likelihood you will scare a lot of them and see them dart off at alarming speed, but at least you will see them. Days when the trout are “on the prod”, are to be treasured. Call home and tell her you are going to be VERY late!

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