written by Jean Turner
Published: FlyDresser - Winter 2003
Last June, a frustrated fisherman (I'll call him Sam) talked to me of sulky fish and of flies that 'wouldn't work' on the river that day. I'd had a good few hours and when asked what I had caught my fish on, I offered him a fly that had worked for me - a 'Lazy Girl' simple deer hair mayfly imitation. He took it, looked at it and returned it saying it was no good - he would soon lose it and then where would he be. So I put two more the same into his hand, suggesting that he file one and copy it during his next flytying session.
Sam, a 'failed fly tyer' (his words, not mine) again expressed anguish, this time at his inability to copy exactly a fly from one tying session to another, and even worse, from one hook to another. He said he could only tie one fly reasonably well, and so that was what he stuck with. Thinking no-one could really be that bad, I asked him to show me some examples. Sam pulled out and opened box after box from his waistcoat and bag. They all contained Grey Wulff variants, all different. Groups of flies tied at the same sitting were similar, but although he stated that he used a 'model' fly when he tied, no two flies were identical in proportion. He'd had lessons, read books, took magazines and felt that he tried hard at his tying. While Sam understood concepts such as 'at the bend' and 'behind the eye', he seemed unable to convert what he saw into similar proportions on another identical hook.
After 40 minutes of his company, I left feeling rather sorry for his defeat, and started thinking about the inconsistency in my own fly tying. My aim was to work out a practical way to help myself in the exact duplication of a favourite fly.
Experienced fly tyers use aids to help maintain consistency in their tying. Some make pencil marks on their scissors, their thumbnails or even use a set of adjustable calipers. These are then used to make sure, for example, that all the tails or wings are the same length in every fly. This temporary aid is fine so long as you are tying many examples at the same time, and you know what the proportions should be before you start tying. The problem for the occasional tyer is that the marks are re-drawn every tying session, leading to an inconsistency from one small group of flies (of perhaps 6 to 12 examples of each fly) to another. A method of recording unchanging measurements was required.
Because I was in the process of trying out a series of modifications on a pattern as well as tying for an upcoming competition, I decided to try and develop a method for myself to use that would be appropriate in this situation.
The result was a set of index cards measuring 5" x 3" (costing about 1p each) which works so well that I decided to share it.
Attached to the card is a reference example of the fly I want to tie along with all the information I need to be able to reproduce, exactly, further copies. On the front I have listed the fly name, 'ingredients' and the hook model and size. On the back I have repeated the fly name and noted tying reference points. I found two methods of recording these.
The first method is to record the measurements (in millimetres, being easier to use in 'small' situations) of the tie-in and finishing points, all relative to a 'zero position' which starts at the only consistent point of a hook - just behind the eye. A ruler is held up behind the fly, either permanently by means of a clipping arm, or by hand whenever needed. It is positioned so that the 0 (zero) is level with the back of the eye of the hook. Starting at this point, all measurements are progressive moving from eye to bend of hook and beyond; e.g. 20mm to the end of the tail, 11mm to the tail tie in point (where the rib and the body material is also tied in), 5 mm to the start of the thorax and body and rib tie off point, 2mm to the hackle tie in point and 0.5mm for the head. The card will also contain other details, for example, the hackle flue-length. Seeing that different hook types vary in their shank length and gape width (thus affecting fly proportions), it seems sensible to have either one card for each type of hook that the specific fly is tied on, or to include all hook information on the same card.
The second method (and the one I find more flexible and thus now use myself) is to use pencil marks drawn at intervals along the bottom edge of the card that show the critical positioning points instead of measurements. When the corner of the card is held close behind the eye, the tying-in points and critical lengths are shown by means of marks or lines on the card itself. These marks are then labeled in some way for easy reference.
Up one side of the card I mark the 'other bits', for example in the case of the mini-muddler: the width of the wing-fibre strip which is folded to become the wing of the fly; the same for the tail; and the required finished diameters of the clipped deer-hair head.
As with the measurement system, tying materials can be recorded on one side, including the make, model and size hook used.
I found the card method to be a quick and easy method of improving tying consistency and was surprised and pleased at the results I achieved. Because all required information is stored on one easily carried card, selecting a range of patterns and materials for a session's tying is child's play. The best part is that even though I had tied the patterns months previously, I knew the results would be exactly the same, in fact - by using this simple method I was able to reproduce my competition flies so consistently that when five examples were displayed side by side, (tied during moments of inactivity whilst cooking dinners, feeding the family and putting the children to bed) the fly with the tail 0.5 mm shorter than the others stood out from the rest.
As I recently hung my last copy of a 'working fly' in a tree out of reach, I knew that I could go home with the confidence that the means of reproducing another exact copy was only a finger-shuffle away. Whilst cooking tomorrow's evening meal, I shall tie one perfect Jeannie Blitz, four Grayling Zappers and two Greymouth Nymphs to replace those I lost during the last fortnight's fishing. Too bad I have never seen Sam again so I could show him my successful method!
Words: approx 1200
Equal Measures II
Having told you about my card method for reproducing flies consistently, I felt a more in depth look at how it's done might be useful. As an examples, we will use a Mini-Muddler. The following items are needed:
Mini-Muddler - pattern ingredients
Hook: size 10 down eye
Tail: Hen pheasant secondary wing feather, folded double
Rib: Fine oval gold tinsel
Body: Medium gold tinsel, wrapped from eye to tail and back again
Wing: Hen pheasant secondary wing feather, folded triple
Collar: Deer hair tips to just beyond hook bend, spun and with butts
clipped to form a third of the cone-shaped muddler head
Head: Another bunch of deer hair sun and them trimmed
Other items needed:
3x5 inch (127 x 76mm) record cards
fine point pencil or pen
for measurement method (in mm): short rule showing mm. One that starts with zero on the edge is better than one with a 'border', also the lighter in weight the better.
Make one card for each specific fly you are going to tie. On one side write the fly name and the ingredients. Important here is to record the hook make, type and size. On this side of the card, I trace the hook shape and mark the shank length, the barb point and end of the tip (gape width).
Hooks of a different make can easily be compared against this shape, and thus the 'pattern' card used for hooks other than the listed variety that match (many do, even though they are not the same hook size). Record any compatible hook types on the card later on.
Decide on the proportions of your fly. Either size up the existing copy, or work from memory or a picture. Consider here the hook shank length, where the body of the fly will finish related to the head, the finished and preparatory widths of wing and tail, and the quantity of deer hair required in each bunch for spinning. Begin recording the critical information.
Measuring method: Measure carefully all the critical points on the hook, and work out precisely the required lengths of tail, wing, body length, etc. Record these measurements on the card where they can be used as reference while tying. Example: From the eye measure 0.5mm to head, 2mm to second bunch of deer hair point; 4mm to the joint (where the body and rib will finish, the wing and the collar bunch of deer hair will be tied in); 13mm to tail, rib tie-in point, and end of body; 15mm to collar tips; (this will be out past the bend of the hook); 17mm to end of tail and wing. Each of these measurements starts at zero just behind the eye of the hook.
My easy 'mark' method: On the back of the card, the bottom right corner of the card (I tie right handed) is the starting point and is held just behind the eye of the hook to compare markings to the actual tying. From the right, draw a vertical line from the bottom edge of the card at the point where the hook shank ends (transfer it from either a hook in the vice or from your previous tracing of the hook). Half of that distance further along the edge of the card, mark where the tail will end (half hook shank length). Make this vertical line long enough to be able to measure the wing length when tying (wing length equals tail length). Now mark where the joint between body and muddler head will be (one third shank length from the eye). This will also be the tying in point for the body wrapping, the rib, and the wing, as well as the first group of deer hair which makes the collar and rear third of the muddler head. Now make a mark on the card where the tips of the deer hair that form the collar will finish (just beyond the bend of the hook). Label in a method of your choice what the marks mean.
On the left edge of the card (lefties - use right edge and left corner), starting at the bottom corner is optional. On this side, make marks denoting the width of the fibre strips required to make the wing and tail. (wing = 3 times finished width, tail = 2 times finished width - both these finished widths will be two thirds the hook gape width measurement marked on front of card). This is easier than counting herls. Also make marks to show the finished diameters (min and max) of the cone-shaped clipped deer hair head. If, once you have trimmed the head, the marks are just barely visible when the fly is held above the card and viewed straight on, you know all the flies will have the same sized heads.
Once you have all your marks recorded, it is just a matter of tying the flies to match the marks. (For the measurement method, simply use the ruler measurements as your 'marks'. Hold up ruler, not card.)
Holding the card up against the hook, start the thread at the mark where the head and body join (deer hair spins more easily around a bare hook shank). Check your accuracy by holding up the card against the fly before and after each step. If you are out at all - unwind and do it again! Catch in your rib and wind down to two turns before the body/tail point. Catch in the tail fibres (folded in two) using pinch-and-loop and wind two turns down the shank to the mark, making sure the tail is straight. Take thread to starting point, tie in tinsel and wind down the shank to the tail point and back up again in smooth turns. Tie in, then counter-wind rib up and tie off.
Prepare the wing fibres according to your pre-measured widths, fold in three and tie in at joint point, making sure that the tip of the wing meets the mark made for the tail length. Hold the prepared fibres in the right hand to length against the hook shank while holding the card up in the left hand. Put the card down, pinch with left fingers and tie in so it sits straight on top of the wing. Trim ends and bind down in minimum turns.
Return to joint and prepare bunch of deer hair for collar. Align tips and hold either side of wing (split in two) so that the tips touch the mark made just behind hook bend. Transfer to left hand, and pinch and loop these fibres in around the shank with two turns. Hold tightly while tightening down the thread to flare only the butt ends. Fasten down with a couple of light turns to hold collar tips slightly flat against body, and extra turns to secure the main hair bunch, then take the thread through to in front of the hair.
Wind some turns to keep hair vertically round the shank and spin in second (equal sized) bunch of deer hair to complete the head, this time with the tips facing forwards (aids in the correct trimming of the head). Again bind down the fibres firmly and take the thread through to the front of the bunch. (This should be about 0.5mm from the eye).
Wind a neat head, whip finish and varnish threads. Trim the head to the diameter required, checking against your card to make sure it is the right shape and size.
Start on the next fly and enjoy the results at the end of your tying session! Be very fussy and stay consistent to your card, and all the flies will look the same. If, after the first example, you are unhappy about the proportions, simply erase the mark on the card and re-draw.
I hope this method works as well for you as it has worked for me.
'Elizabeth' by Jean Turner
On the day of HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother's funeral, our branch (Wilts and Chalk Stream Branch) was due to hold our annual Cheese & Wine and Presentation Evening. Part of this evening is a fly-dressing competition, which of course includes a novelty section.
Due to the somberness of the occasion, and being acutely aware of memories of my own grandmother's death (she would have been almost the same age), I felt I did not really want to make a 'funny fly' for the evening. I thus set out to tie a fly that would help me with my feelings, and still fulfill the requirements of the novelty section. On seeing my offering, several members of our branch, including our chairman, said that I should send in the pattern and a photograph of this one-off never-to-be-fished fly. So here she is, simply called 'Elizabeth' in honour of two great ladies. The colours are linked to HM's standard as well as my grandmother's favourite colours and the topping is deliberately set at half-mast, like the bowed wings of an angel.
Hook: standard down eye size 10
Tag: fine oval silver
Tail: red Glo-brite, 8 strands
Rib: black floss (over both body halves)
Rear body: gold tinsel
Joint: green-blue peacock sword herl, three turns
Front body: silver tinsel
Throat: blue jay, about 15 strands
Inner wing: triple folded hen pheasant secondary wing feather
Outer wing: fibres (about 4 each side) from the tail feather of a blue macaw, to half cover the inner wing
Sides: One golden pheasant crest feather each side, tide curve down to cross bottom of bend of hook in 'half-mast' fashion
Pattern created by Jean Turner who can be contacted at jean (at) jeanturner.co.uk for further information.