Reminiscences of an Old Fly Fisherman

By Wes Bigney

Rigging

When I get to the destination and am assembling the rod and lining up the guides I stand the rod against a rock or tree.  I never lay it on the ground or against the car to be stepped on by an errant foot or eaten by an auto door.  After I have run the line through the guides I do not coil any line on the ground where I can step on it and cut it against a stone or gravel.  I make sure the ferrules are seated.

The Rod and Handling

The taper transmits force to the various parts of the rod depending on the amount of force applied.  So a little force bends the tip and more force transmits to heavier parts of the rod right down to the grip.  This applies whether casting or retrieving the line.  Much has been written about casting and I want to address retrieving, where the action is!

In retrieving mode the rod tip should be held close to the water and pointing in the direction the line lies.  Holding the rod tip up makes a belly from the tip down to the water.   When a fish strikes, the slack in the belly must be taken up before the hook can be set.  This split second can allow the fish to spit out the hook.  Holding the rod down makes the line straight to the hook, causing immediate hooking.  Also, holding the rod down and pointing down the line gives you a telegraph from the hook to your hand.  After some experience you will be able to tell if a line hesitation is a fish or a snag and you won’t have to wait for the snag to start moving to know it’s a fish!  Never set a reel drag up tight!  That eliminates the drag and makes a direct connect of reel to line thus eliminating the clutch action that the drag was designed for.

Simultaneously with hooking, the rod tip should be raised so that the grip is pointing up at forty-five degrees.  This puts a bend in the rod which is a shock absorber and it prevents the fish from making direct stress on the leader tippet reducing the chance for break off.  If the fish is large enough that you can’t get the grip up at forty-five degrees – let out some line until you get the grip into position.

Stripping the Line In

Assuming you’re right handed and retrieving the line with your left hand – the line should come back from the stripper guide to the middle finger of your right hand.  When your left arm is fully extended and you want to pull in another arm length of line, you come back to the middle finger of the right hand, which the line slides through all of the time you are retrieving.  You close that middle finger to keep the line from sliding back out after you have retrieved it or a fish is pulling it.  The middle finger keeps the line where you know it is at all times.  You never reach up to the stripper guide to pick up the line unless it has dropped from the middle finger and you are replacing it.  The middle finger is also a sensor that feels every foot of line that passes through it for knots, nicks or debris that may cause problems casting or retrieving.

Imparting Life

Fish generally bite living food and living food usually is moving.  Therefore, when retrieving a line it is to your advantage to make it act alive.  Stopping and starting a lure erratically makes it look desirable to a fish.  If you have been retrieving in the same style for several minutes and not elicited a take – ALTER YOUR RETRIEVE and/or change flies.  Don’t get in a rut.  Change position or cast to a different spot.  I have seen people fish the same spot for hours without success.  Keep moving, keep exploring, and keep changing lures.  A successful fly in one spot may not be successful in another spot.

Just because the water is moving, it doesn’t exempt you from also moving the lure.  If your lure is drifting with the current it looks dead.  You must give the lure some life by either twitching the rod tip or retrieving the line in short jerks.

You can cover different depths by letting the fly sink longer or shorter before retrieving. Try counting to return to the depth you have just fished.  If you were retrieving from the count of ten and had a take, you can get pretty close to that depth by going to ten again.  Fish often hang in a comfortable thermo cline.  Still water settles into temperature levels (the deeper the cooler it is).

There are a couple of situations I would like to mention. When you come to a chute between two rocks or other objects, a good way to fish it without walking around and ignoring it is to stand a short distance below the outflow and cast right up the middle of the chute with a weighted fly.  Then strip fast so that the fly is moving through the chute FASTER than the current.  This usually elicits a hard strike by a fish that most fishermen bypass.

One day I was out to my belt on the San Juan and at the bottom of a run channel.  I casted up the channel and hooked a fish.  He shot straight down the channel and went between my legs.   I was out too deep to keep my balance and lift a leg to free the line.  I finally sidled into shallow water and freed the line and landed the fish.  Moral: don’t stand in the middle of a run, stand on the edge and cast to the middle.

Another situation that merits mention is when a fish flashes and appears to have missed your fly.  Make ONE more cast with the same fly to see if the fish wants a second chance. If there is no take remove the fly and replace it with a different pattern about the same size.  Present this as quickly as possible and generally the fish will take it.  Don’t keep flailing the water with a rejected fly!

When you are casting a wet fly or nymph across the stream to the far side, the current will take your fly downstream.  Move your rod in an arc so it will always be pointing at your fly and your line will be straight toward the fly for better hooking a strike.  A dry fly used in this situation must be handled differently. When you put a dry fly on the far side your floating line will lay on two or three different currents, each moving at a different speed.  You will have to make extra slack in the line because each current will pull the line so there will be some long “s” curves in the line.  This acts as a corrective action keeping the fly from dragging across the current like a motor boat.  The big difference is you have to watch the fly to see a take and lift the rod to straighten the line to set the hook.  You generally can’t impart any action to the fly without sinking it.  This is opposite to a wet fly where you want to give it life and movement.  A good technique is to put a dry fly on the nearest current and fish it, and then work further currents where it will be harder to control the fly and keep it floating.

Wind

Wind is a fisherman’s friend on a lake.  Wind sweeps a lake surface like a broom and it pushes everything that has accumulated on the surface toward the windward shore.  Since wind is non-directional the windward shore can vary from day to day.  So on any given day the place to fish is the shore with the wind in your face.   Never mind easy casting with the wind at your back – here you have to punch out the line into the wind but it pays off.  (See Scum Lines for a variation.)

The fish cruise just off shore picking up whatever looks like food.  Frequently the fish are at a depth of only a foot.  In order to fish at that depth and that close to shore the fisherman must stand back from the edge by about a rod length.  One can also cast parallel to the shore from a greater distance.  By walking up, wading out and then casting, it puts the fly into deep water and beyond the fish’s feeding range.  When fishing a lake, check the wind direction and head for the shore the wind is hitting.  It will take some effort to cast into the wind, but it will be worth it.  If the wind is coming against a steep bank and not a sandy shore the fish will still be there up against the embankment.  In this case cast parallel to the bank and two to four feet out.  Keep moving the fly to attract a cruising fish’s attention.

A number of years ago I had a conversation with Gary LaFontaine (a researcher, fly innovator, and writer) now deceased.  I said the best place to fish at anytime is in the delta of a feeder stream since it washes in food.  He corrected me to say it is the second best place and the best place is at the outflow.  He had found that there is a minute current in a lake which carries food toward the outflow.  I agree with his finding but, depending on the amount of inflow, evaporation, and use of the water, there may not be any outflow and no current.

There is another part of a lake that attracts fish: where a feeder stream comes in and carries in food.  There is an aspect of feeder streams to consider.  Depending on the time of year, the inlet deltas may have fish congregating to go up the streams to spawn.  They may not be active feeders at the time but some will still bite.

Scum Lines

This is where two currents come together (either wind or water) and it forms a line on the surface which contains bubbles, debris and food.  The fish have discovered this and follow these lines which can be found on a river or a lake.  I was fishing at Spinney Reservoir in Colorado and the wind was fierce and blowing in my face but I was standing where a scum line was hitting the shore.  I forced a fly into the wind and slapped it onto the scum line before the wind could blow it back. I let it sink a little and was retrieving with my rod tip pointing down the line.  I had a solid take and then nothing.  When I got the line in, there was no fly.  I put on a new fly and repeated the cast.  Again a solid take and then no fly. I decided to try again, but to hold my rod to one side instead of pointing down the line.  This would leave some spring in the line and the take wouldn’t be so solid against the leader.  It worked and this take produced an eighteen inch rainbow.  The fish didn’t have either of my two previously lost flies in its mouth.  There are some large Northern Pike in the lake so I surmise it was one or two of them with big mouths full of sharp teeth that sliced my trout leaders.  Sadly, this episode ends here because I had to leave to make a prior commitment in Denver.  Anyway, I never pass up a scum line.

Wading

If you are wading in a stream or river you can fish the overhanging edges on each side.  Cast up and across so the fly hits the edge and will fall into the water.  Sometimes there is just overhanging grass and sometimes it is an undercut bank housing a single large fish.  A big clumsy fly works well for this because it looks like a terrestrial stumbling into the water.

One day I had crossed the back channel in the Quality Water on the San Juan, which was about hip deep.  Then I was out fishing the main channel.  I was walking along the edge and hit a small willow shoot that a beaver had chewed off.  This sharp top made a hole through my wader ankle and my first step into the water filled up my foot.  Now I have a problem in getting through the back channel to get to the car to repair the hole.  There was nothing to do but “go for it”.  The water ran up the leaky leg, got to my crotch and then ran down and filled the dry leg.  When I got through the channel the water drained out of the leaky leg but kept the other leg full – and heavy!  That last quarter of a mile to the car was a real one leg experience.

When I’m in moving water, I cast upstream first and retrieve faster than the current.  Then I cast across the current and pull in across the current.  Then I cast across letting the fly sink and retrieve up at a forty-five degree angle and last come straight up with slow, short jerks.

I usually don’t use weighted flies because I feel the weight dampens the action applied by the currents.  So I use shot clamped onto the leader about eighteen inches above the fly.  This way the shot carries the fly down but it can still move with the current.  However, in opposition to this weighted theory I offer this tale.  I was with Doc Jones (long gone to the Happy Fishing Grounds) and we had zigzagged down the trail leading to the lower Red River just above where it joined the Rio Grande.  The area is populated with many boulders and the Red runs somewhat heavy and fast sculpting pockets in them.  Doc was out fishing me about three to one when I finally swallowed my pride and asked what he was using.  He pulled out and offered me the business end of his line.  There was a brown Woolly Worm about size twelve with a split shot slid down tight to the knot for the fly, essentially a weighted fly.  I had the same thing except my weight was up the leader.  Go figure!

Here’s another weight tale.  Several of us climbed into the Rio box to fish.  We were all picking up an occasional fish except one fellow.  I finally asked to see how he was set up.  He was using a Brown Hackle Peacock which is what most of us were using, but he had no weight on it.  I clamped on two BB shots and said to try that.  He said, “I’ll be hooked up in the bottom.”  I said, “You might get hooked to a fish, also!”  He was standing on the edge of a run about two feet wide and twelve feet long.  He worked the weighted fly through the run and started to holler.  He had hooked about a fourteen inch Brown.

The upper Rio has a lot of broken water where fish can hold then dart out to pick up food and move back to hold.  Studies have found that trout don’t move very far off holding position to feed.  Therefore, a fly should be placed pretty close to a potential hold to get the response you want.  Speaking of studies, it has also been found that top water feeding only occurs about fifteen percent of the time.  That percentage is why I usually fish wets.

Desperation has led me to convert a sinking line and wet fly to a dry rig when I come upon a rising fish (not a hatch).  I use twenty to thirty feet of line and false cast a number of times.  This dries the line and fly.  If I lay this out with a soft touch I can get a thirty second float before it all sinks.  That is enough to get a take from a rising fish.

One of my favorite flies is the black Woolly Bugger and it has become my starting fly.  I fish it differently depending on the water (lake or river).  In a lake I use it without weight, but I use a sinking line, and when I cast it I count to ten and retrieve it relatively fast.  This is because it generally represents a dragon fly nymph whose method of movement is by jet, which means it tends to dart not swim.    This movement incites action to keep up with it and the take feels like the fish is swimming alongside it.  If the ten count doesn’t entice a strike, I work my way deeper by tens until I guess I’m near the bottom.  If this doesn’t work I change position.  If I change position a couple of times unsuccessfully it’s time to change flies.

The Early Days

In about 1939 when I was in my early teens, we were still affected by the Depression.  Most fishermen had one outfit that was used for everything.  My dad had a fly rod and gave me one he had retired to get me started.  His was a Shakespeare and mine was a South Bend, both nine feet.  We fished fresh water in southeastern Massachusetts and on Cape Cod for trout, bass, pickerel, and crappie.

The lines we used were size “D” oiled silk level.  Tapers were too expensive: an EDF was about $20.  The silk lines had no memory and you could coil it in your hand or on the ground and it would cast without tangling.  The level lines came in four, twenty-five yard coils all connected and the merchant would cut off as many coils as you wanted at about $3 each.  The lines we used were made by Newton Line Co. and were called “Streamline”.  These had some types of flexible finish that belied the term “oiled”.  The finish never peeled as opposed to some lines that peeled something akin to cellophane.  It jammed in the guides when one tried to cast it.

The leaders for the fly fishermen were supposed to be cat gut maybe, but were some kind of gut anyway.  The suppliers sized and then moistened them to make them pliable so they could be knotted into several lengths (6, 7 ½, 9, and 12 ft. were the usual lengths).  Then each leader would be coiled into about 4 inch coils and dried and packed in cellophane envelopes.  Before you could use one of these it had to be re-soaked so you could tie it to the line and to a fly.  If you didn’t get it moist, it would crack in the tying process.  Special 4 inch cans were made to hold two pieces of wet felt that you put the leaders between to soak while driving to the fishing spot.  Then, as now, we selected the leader length based on depth, clarity, and openness of the water we were to fish.

The gut leaders were not very strong when you got above two or three X, the knots wore out and broke after three or four fish were caught.  Frequently, we automatically broke off a fly and retied it after landing a few fish.  The weak knot problem led to development of some complicated knots.  We solved it by just breaking and retying, but would always worry that the leader would not hold if we had hooked a large fish.

Most flies during that time and earlier were quite colorful and exotic feathers were used in tying them.  Those feathers, for example golden pheasant crest and jungle cock, were too expensive for me and I just left them off the patterns I was tying.  I tried to make jungle cock out of other feathers but with little success.  Most of my flies never had jungle cock.

Dry and wet flies were frequently the same, but tied to be wet or dry.  So a dry had an upright feather section, split wings, and hackles at right angles to the hook because the hackle points tend not to cut through the surface tension (all clean water has this characteristic).  The hackle points suspend the fly on the surface until the tension is broken.  A wet tie had the feather section wings flat, back to back, and pointed back along the shank.  The hackle was a small clump under the eye as chin whiskers.  The material used for both flies was frequently identical because dry materials were scarce.

I think some of the gaudy patterns were made as attractors while the dull patterns were to be imitators, and a water logged dry fly along with wet flies was taken as nymphs.  I saw my dad practically destroy a dry fly with his knife and then use it successfully as a wet fly.

When I was growing up brook trout still populated many of the streams and a few ponds.  We were always pleased to get a brookie – they were so beautifully marked and they were great to eat since they were more of the salmon than the trout family.  They generally seemed to take different flies than trout.  We found that either red and white, or yellow and white buck tails with silver bodies worked the best.

The brookies were so productive they tended to overpopulate and that stunted them so they rarely got over ten inches in our streams.  In recent years Massachusetts experimented with stocking them in some of the deep clear water lakes.  Most of the lakes of this type were created by glaciers and don’t have inlets or outlets.  The brookies grew large but were unable to spawn for lack of running water.  Brookies are still stocked but without regard to reproduction.

Minnows

In the east there were more varieties of pond minnows than we have out here in the Rockies.  The fish fed on them regularly which led to our fishing streamers to imitate the minnows and we had great success.  The ghost flies were used extensively (black, grey, green, and brown).  My favorites were black and grey ghosts and I tied them extensively for myself and friends.  Since the ghosts were streamers they were made to look like and fished like minnows.  These were tied on sizes 6, 8, and 10, on 4x and 5x limerick style hooks.  The wings were two or four hen hackles laid together to imitate the minnow body.  If there was a tail it was short, but they always had chin whiskers.  If we could apply an eye we did.  This involved using sections of guinea hen, loon tippets, or small sections of various other tippets (breast feathers) with a dot of black paint applied for an eye.  These streamers enticed practically the whole range of fresh water fish that were in our area.  When we had a take while lake fishing, most of the time we couldn’t tell what we had until we could see it.

Since the lakes had no current we had to give the streamers life in the retrieve.  The relatively fast retrieve generally gave the flies the nervous “get out of Dodge” movement to solicit strikes.  Even if we were in a boat trolling a streamer, we continued to give the fly life with extra jerks while moving.  A fly moving at a steady, constant speed is not natural.  I have used this technique successfully while trolling a Woolly Bugger out here in the west.  I have also seen people trolling Christmas Tree spinners at a steady speed waiting quite unsuccessfully for a strike while I was getting strikes.

Herring were a great and abundant food source.  In the spring large schools of adults (12 – 15 inches) worked their way from the ocean up streams to lakes where they would spawn.  The fish in the lakes loved those babies (1 ½ – 2 inches long).  The herring were rather flat sided and shiny silver with a black back.  I made imitation streamers with silver tinsel bodies and white hen hackle wings and white turkey marabou for a tail.

When the small herring moved out of the lakes to the ocean, they made large schools for protection.  The mackerel, blue fish, sea trout, and stripers had a field day tearing into those schools.  My friends and I had much sport using my imitation herring fly when the big black bass and the pickerel were feeding in the lakes.

New Equipment

We continued to use our fly rods to fish in salt water, where the stripers kept getting larger each year and not so for the other fish which stayed out and in deeper water as they grew larger.  The stripers started getting into our backing and we started looking for fly reels with more capacity.  (The salmon reels were too big and over balanced our fly rods.)  My dad, an old time mechanic, decided that we could split a fly reel and put spacers in to widen the spool for more capacity.  I think we used Shakespeare Au Sable model reels to enlarge.  We could wind on fifty yards of backing and seventy-five yards of level E line spliced to it.  Generally, as long as we could stay tied to a fish we could eventually land it.

The most productive time for us to get stripers was at night at the incoming and top of the tide, using sea worms.  Days were not very successful and we failed to click on to big streamers for school stripers (schoolies).  Eventually, (I think it was in the 50s), the fly materials suppliers came out with long plastic strips to tie big streamers (8 – 10 inches long).  These acted much like marabou and gave the big streamers a lot of live action.  Heavier fly rods in the 8, 9, and 10 weight were made for salt water use.  New larger capacity reels with advanced drags were also produced.  The new flies and rods to deliver them made daylight striper fishing quite successful if speedy retrieves were employed.

The war effort engendered new materials: steel and fiberglass rods and nylon lines.  This revolutionized our lines, leaders and backing materials.  It also required new knots that wouldn’t slip.  The end of the leader had to have an overhand or “S” knot to pull up against the main knot to stop it slipping and untying.

The nylon lines had memory and when you stripped line off the reel it laid on the ground in 4 inch coils like a Slinky toy.  We had to pick up five foot lengths and stretch flex them to lay straight.  Coils in a fly line were bad news because you had to pull the coils straight before you could set the hook of a fly – if you had a stack line the fish frequently got free.  Also, when we used nylon braided line as backing it would stretch with a large fish pulling on it.  The line companies came up with a pre-stretched line to solve this problem.

The steel rods were pretty good but had to have copper added to prevent rusting and fracturing.  The steel fly rods tended to keep vibrating after a cast and didn’t have the dampening action of bamboo.  Bamboo became expensive since none was coming out of China as a result of the war.

I remember that black bass flies were generally large trout flies.  The patterns were identical although there were a few separate bulky bass bugs with spun deer hair and some balsa fly rod poppers.  The preferred retrieve for these bass flies was to cast it out and let the rings of the fly hitting the water dissipate to quiet water.  Then one jerk to initiate another set of rings and let them dissipate.  Sometimes nothing hit, but when you got a hit it was usually explosive and gave you quite a shot of adrenaline.

There was a small pond of about five acres that was full of bass and covered with lily pads.  We had a small wooden row boat that we put on the pond and paddled out a short distance.  Then we used a hair bass bug with a weed guard and tumbled it over the lily pads.  This retrieve produced explosive hits that would throw our bugs several feet and result in no hook ups.  If there was a hook up the fish was immediately tangle in the pads and we had to paddle over to release it.  The hits were all we cared about.

A correct retrieve in the correct location can be the making of a great day on the water.

Image from Max Pixel

Fly Tying Tips

From Wes Bigney, New Mexico Trout

Jump to a topic…

  1. Thread Use
  2. Getting the Most of a Bobbin
  3. Elimination of Ker-Flop
  4. Feathers and Tying On
  5. Elk Hair Caddis
  6. Hair Wings on Wet Flies
  7. Hair Wings on Dry Flies
  8. Posts for Parachutes
  9. Parachutes
  10. Handling Buck Tail
  11. Spinning Buck Tail
  12. Tinsel Streamer Bodies
  13. The Whip Finish
  14. Hook Extraction

Preface

IMPORTANT

If you intend to tie a pattern you have never tied, from a book or magazine photo, you are entertaining the probability that your first try will be a honking, ugly, klunker.  Do not be defeated, demoralized, or embarrassed, for you will not be alone!  Every tier has had this experience.

Put another hook (one size larger) in the vice and copy the klunker, making adjustments to the new materials so it will look better.  It may take three or four tries before you get it to look right.  When you perfect the pattern, take a razor and slide it along the shanks of the klunkers to recover and reuse the hooks.

1. Thread Use

Do not start thread close behind the eye – it only makes for a large head that is difficult to whip finish.  Start the thread ½ inch back from the eye.

  1. Tie in body material with butts facing toward eye and the material pointing back over the bend.
  2. Advance the thread to the tie off point (where the body ends). Now use the body material to wind over the tie in thread and proceed to tie off point.
  3. Now make sure the next material you tie on is in the same manner as above and tied exactly over the top of the tie off of the previous material.

This manner of procedure assures the thread is covered all the way along and eliminates the need for matching thread color of the fly.  The only time the thread shows is at the head, which hopefully takes up a very small space at the eye.  One spool of black thread does it all!

2. Getting the Most of a Bobbin

  1. Bobbins hold a spool of thread and feed it out through a small tube as needed.  The ring finger and baby finger lock the spool and only allow it to turn to release small amounts of thread.  Locking the spool allows you to put more tension on the thread to make the turns on the hook tighter.  The metal pieces that hold the spool in the bobbin should be adjusted so that when the bobbin hangs from the hook – it will not easily unwind without heavy pressure.  It is a delicate balance.  You should test the breaking point of the thread so that you can pressure the thread during the tying to make your flies stronger and more durable.  Tying loosely allows the fish teeth to pull the fly apart while landing the fish.
  2. The bobbin should be held in a horizontal position.  This allows you to keep the thread at right angles to the bobbin and the hook.  Moving the bobbin forward or backward horizontally allows you to see what you’re doing so you can place the turns of thread exactly where you want on the hooks.  This gives you precision when tying.
  3. The distance of the thread from the tube to the hook should be about three inches.  This gives the bobbin free rotation around the hook without hitting the bench during the bottom rotation.  If the bobbin hits the bench it creates slack in the thread and makes the materials loose on the hook and the fly falls apart.

3. Elimination of Ker-Flop

Frequently at the tie off point of body material, what I call the “Ker-Flop” move is used.  This is where the right hand holds the body material and the left picks up the hanging bobbin and throws it over the material and hook shank a few times in a flopping motion.

To avoid this awkward use of hands after the body material is tied ON, the thread is advanced to the tie off point of the body.  Then the body material is wound forward to one turn forward of the thread.  The left hand pinches the body material to the hook and the right hand winds through the pinch in the normal manner and the body is locked on to the hook.  The right hand moves the thread at all times, never asking the left hand to reach over and under the hook with a Ker-Flop motion.


4. Feathers and Tying On

All feathers/quills have alternating flat and round sides.  The tops are round and bottoms are concave.  The flats are on the edges.  This is very pronounced on hackles.  This is why when a hackle is tied on it will automatically flip on to a flat side and the hackles will pop up when you wind it on.  The flat and round sides tend to blend at the tip of a feather.  The flat and round sides cause problems when tying cheeks on a streamer.  You are trying to tie a round or concave side to a round shank and it tends to twist.

Assuming you are turning clockwise, the cheek near you will twist against the wings and not be much of a problem.  However, the cheek on the far side will tend to twist away from the hook.  You may be able to:

  1. Pinch the offending cheek and take two snug (not tight) turns around it and then two or three tighter turns to hold it.
  2. Tie the cheeks onto previous thread turns for a base.
  3. There is another method that may persuade a recalcitrant feather to cooperate.  This allows you to reverse your tying rotation from clockwise to counterclockwise.  Since this changes your hand-eye coordination it should be practiced several times on a bare hook before incorporating it into a fly.
  1. Assuming the far side cheek is the problem: take the thread down the far side and loop it around your LEFT hand index finger and come back up on the far side, keeping the loop tight.  When the bobbin gets above the hook you come forward (towards you) with the thread and around the shank in a counterclockwise direction.  Keeping the loop legs tight with your index finger is critical.
  2. Now tie in the two legs of the dropped loop so that they will not unwind.  Use three or four turns to be sure the legs are tied on securely to the hook.
  3. Now you are ready to tie in the far cheek and the counterclockwise direction will twist the cheek back against the wings.  If that solves the problem, pull down another loop on the near side and come up on the near side and back around the shank to get back to clockwise tying!!


5. Elk Hair Caddis

  1. Head

Do NOT cut hair butts until after whip finish. That allows holding up butts so whip can be done without tying any butts down over the eye.  See Hair Wings on Wet Flies.

  1. Bodies

Start thread at thorax and wind back to tie in tail and ribbing with no overlapping turns.  Then reverse and wind back to thorax to tie in body material.  Then tie body material at thorax and wind back to tail and back to thorax and tie off.  This makes a smooth body with no lump of thread at the tail.  Finally wind ribbing to thorax and tie off.


6. Hair Wings on Wet Flies

When you tie hair on a hook, it tends to migrate around the shank and doesn’t stay on top to make a wing.  The wing should be the shank length.

  1. When you are ready to tie on the bundle of hair – pull the thread up on the near side of the shank and loop it over the top of the hair bundle.  Then bring the thread down on the back side of the bundle between the bundle and the shank.  Then snug the bundle – not tight – down onto the shank on the near side.
  2. Then pull the thread up on the near side of the bundle and over the top of it to the far side of the shank.
  3. Next take the thread down on the far side of the shank and around bundle and shank several turns while pinching it tight to the hook.
  4. The loop around the hair bundle tends to keep it from migrating around the shank.
  5. This technique is to be used with down wings on wet flies and Elk Hair Caddis dry fly.


7. Hair Wings on Dry Flies

  1. Hold the bundle of hair with the butts facing back and points toward the eye.
  2. Pinch the bundle and tie it on top of the shank.
  3. Lift the points and make several thread turns in front of them and up against the base of the bundle. This will tend to stand the points upright. Split the points with the thread using figure eight turns through the points and around the shank to make two bundles of hair for wings. Do NOT reverse this procedure and place the hair points toward the hook bend.  If so, it becomes difficult to make turns on the back of the bundle to make it stand upright.
  4. If one wing doesn’t have the same slant as the other, the offending one can be adjusted by looping the thread around it and pulling it into position.  A couple of turns around the shank will lock it.


8. Posts for Parachutes

After you have tied the hair bundle as in a Hair Wing dry fly, make several turns clockwise around the base of the bundle (not around the shank) to make the post.  If you have so many thread turns that it looks pregnant the parachute won’t be able to float the fly.


9. Parachutes

  1. Peel approximately ¼ inch of points off the base of the quill so you will be tying only the quill to the post.
  2. Prepare the hackle feathers by cutting about one inch off the quill base so you will be using the pliable section of quill to tie to the post. When tying to the post keep the shiny side of the hackle up
  3. Tie the butt of the hackle on to the post with the hackle tip pointing back.  Let the thread hang down on the near side of the shank.  Wind the hackle clockwise around the bundle post (not on the shank) two or three turns, putting each turn under the former turn.
  4. Pick up the hanging thread and overlap the hackle’s last turn in a clockwise direction around the post.  Use two or three turns to secure the hackle to the post (not the shank).
  5. Now you can lift the hackle barbs protruding out over the eye and whip finish under the barbs.

10. Handling Buck Tail

Buck tail is a solid hair as opposed to deer body hair which is hollow.  Buck tail will not stack in a stacker but generally tail is used on streamers and therefore the longer hair is used.

  1. Start by separating a bundle about the thickness of a soda straw and cutting it next to the hide to get the longest hairs.
  2. Hold the bundle at midpoint and ruffle the butts so the shortest hairs fall free.  Then move your grasp to the butts and inspect the tips.  Several will be longer than the rest.  Pull all of these from the bundle and set aside.
  3. Inspect the bundle again and repeat.  This will leave you with three separate bundles.
  4. Line up the tips of all three bundles so that the tips all match. Note: now you have all the butts mismatching – clip the long butts so that all the butts are the same length. You have now hand stacked hair.
  5. Now you can set these on the hook to decide length of hairs to tie on.  (See Hair Wings on Wet Flies.)

11. Spinning Buck Tail

Since buck tail is not hollow it is difficult to spin.

  1. Take two turns of thread around a bundle of hair pointing back towards hook bend, but do not pull tight.  The loose thread will allow you to massage the hairs around the shank.
  2. Then pull the thread tight and take several turns to secure the hair to the shank.

You can make a more bulky body by tying on a bundle of hair as outlined above but this time point the hair forward and massaging it around the shank.  Then trim the butts and fold the points back over the butts to tie down.

12. Tinsel Streamer Bodies

Start thread ½ inch back from eye.  Tie in a length of tinsel long enough to wind back to bend and reverse back to tie in, keeping each piece of tinsel next and close to the previous turn.

If you want a thicker body, do the above with thread for a base, keeping each turn of thread tight but not overlapping the previous turn.  Then wind the tinsel back and forward to tie off.

13. The Whip Finish

The whip finish is NOT a do-all-end-all!

  1. When you get all the material tied on the hook – you can just let the thread hang down and place a drop of super glue on the end windings.  When it dries cut the thread at the hook and add a drop of waterproof cement.  No knot!
  2. One can also use three half-hitches to make a head but they will unwind and must be sealed with waterproof cement.
  3. The whip can be used, but it also must be sealed with waterproof cement.  If the whip is not applied correctly it is no better than half-hitches.  Most tiers use the whip incorrectly but the cement makes it work.

14. Hook Extraction

Note:  If the hook is near or in your eye – seek medical help immediately!

Hooks are much easier to take out if the barb has been turned down or flattened before use.  When a hook penetrates your skin, it makes a tunnel that can be used as a reverse path to extract the hook through without causing any further damage to the skin.  This method is illustrated in the rear hook in the following picture.

Finger holding hook eye against the skin.

Take a length of string or line and thread it through the inside of the bend of the hook. Use the thumb and index finger to hold the hook eye down against the skin.  While holding down the eye, pick up the two ends of the string through the hook bend and jerk backward and down.

This should pull the hook back through the tunnel it made going in and with little pain.

The hook in the foreground shows what will happen if the hook eye is not kept depressed.  The string will lever the shank upright and backward which forces the hook point further through the skin.  This makes for a much more painful and tedious procedure to remove the hook.

Featured image from Pixabay

Tips & Skills – Catch and Release Techniques  

Noah Parker, Land of Enchantment Guides

Releasing the fish we catch is the best way we have for preserving a quality fishery. If you want to have good fishing tomorrow, please release the fish you catch today. Just because a fish swims away after it leaves your hands, does not necessarily mean it is in good shape. A fish that is carelessly handled and then released, may die later the same day or may be so weakened and injured that it dies a week or month later. It takes care and caring to properly catch and release a fish so it stays healthy. Here are some guidelines to try and follow:

  • When holding a fish, either for a picture or to look at it, always use both hands.
  • Cradle the fish by cupping your hands under the forward part of the body and the tail. (Don’t pick a fish up with one hand in the middle as you see in so many photos; it hurts the fish – especially larger ones picked up this way).dont-hold
  • Where applicable, use barbless hooks. An easily removed hook reduces the amount of fish handling. You can pinch the barbs down with a pair of pliers or hemostats.
  • Try and land your fish as quickly as possible. The longer you play a fish, the more exhausted it becomes and the less likely it is to recover.
  • Before handling a fish and/or taking it out of a net, wet both of your hands. This helps prevent the removal of a fish’s protective slime.do-hold
  • Don’t squeeze the fish; don’t put your fingers in its mouth, gills or on its eyes; don’t grab its tail and lift it out of the water.
  • Back the hook out carefully. If it helps or is needed, use a suitable tool such as forceps, pliers, or a de-hooking/catch and release tool.
  • Try and keep the fish in the water at all times. If you want to take a photo of the fish out of the water, get everything set up, then lift the fish up and snap the photo quickly. Put the fish back in the water immediately after you take the picture. Try and limit the fish’s time out of the water to less than 15 seconds.
  • Don’t let it flop around out of the water, on the ground or in the bottom of a boat. If possible, un-hook your fish and take any photos of it over or better yet, in the water – those pictures of a trout lying in the grass are not a good idea and very harmful to the fish.
  • If the fish is hooked any deeper than the lips or in a part of the mouth where you can un-hook it easily, clip off the fly and let the fish go leaving the fly in it (the hook will rust out quickly).
  • If a fish rolls over on its side or back, it’s exhausted. You will need to give the fish special care (see the next section).
  • If your fish is exhausted and appears weak and overly tired, you will need to revive it. To revive a fish, grasp it gently in front of the tail and just behind the gills by cupping your hand underneath the belly. Move it gently back and forth so water works through its gills, providing it oxygen. Don’t let go the first time the fish tries to swim away; let it go the second time, making sure it is revived. Try and do this in an area where there isn’t much current. If need be, you can block the current with your upstream leg and revive your fish in the quiet water behind it.
  • Don’t dump a fish into fast water. It can start to tumble and not be able to get to a safe location where it can rest and breathe. Try and let it go gently in calmer water so it can swim away easily, at its own pace and find some shelter.

Thank you in advance for releasing the fish you catch. We owe these fish quite a debt of gratitude for letting us catch them and providing us with such enjoyment. The least we can do in return is to release them correctly and try to guarantee their continued survival and health.

Fly Fishing Clinics in Sipapu 

Van Beacham, owner of the Solitary Angler, and his staff of certified instructors, are conducting free “quick start” fly-fishing classes every Saturday from 10:30-11:30 am. Sipapu is located just 20 miles southeast of Taos on Highway 518. The Río Pueblo flowing through the heart of the resort contains “some of the best small pocket water fishing in the state.” The resort also offers a private, stocked fishing pond for all visitors to enjoy for free. The state Department of Game and Fish typically stock the pond every other week.

414“Over the years I have have developed a unique technique that makes learning to fly cast fast, fun and easy,” Beacham says. “Students will learn how to read water, make fly selections, use the right casting techniques and to fly fish small streams like we have in New Mexico.”

Students are encouraged to bring their own equipment although fly rods and reels will be available to borrow at no charge. However, a New Mexico fishing license is required.

After the free fly-fishing class, the Solitary Angler will offer an afternoon Small Stream Clinic, and Beacham expects to offer private tours throughout the summer as well.

Reservations for the free class and to borrow equipment, or additional tours may be made by calling (800) 587-2240 or at http://thesolitaryangler.com/

Cowles Fishing Reopens 

403Cowles Ponds in the upper Pecos Canyon 20 miles north of Pecos are open to the public again, featuring a ramp and path designed for people who use wheelchairs. The ponds were closed The ponds were closed for improvements, which included draining and dredging to improve fish habitat. The project cost more than $380,000 and was paid for with funding from the state Habitat Stamp program, federal money and local donations. The ponds are periodically stocked with rainbow trout by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. One 12-foot-deep pond was built for children under age 11 and people with disabilities. The other pool is 8 feet deep and available to all anglers with a fishing license.