Fly tiers have it a bit easier come Spring, all those rainy days allows us to address holes in the fly box – we always wait till the last minute, but the theory of “winter tying” is sound.
The rest of you will procrastinate as well, but that initial outlay of cash for flies each season is a mixture of fear and dread; fear that the spouse will see the bill, and dread that all the #18 Pale Olives are gone.
Every fly shop is a mixture of flies, typically the traditional patterns are tied overseas and the flies unique to the area are tied by staff or local talent. Like everything else, flies can be hellishly expensive, so it pays to know a little about their construction – so you can be discriminating with your hard earned, inflation damaged, dollar.
When examining another tier’s work I look at the head of the fly, it tells me everything I need to know about skill and degree of craftsmanship. The shape and size of the thread finish, the amount of debris trapped by the final knot are testimony to proper execution of proportion or whether he was crowded for space.
Crowding often leads to weakness in the finished fly, it’s a simple thing to check as you select from the hundreds in the bin. Too many final steps have to be tied off in too short an area – tempting the tier to use less thread to secure materials, and leading to bulbous knots that are weaker due to the buildup of thread and materials.
Head cement is thinned to water consistency, materials trapped in the finish knot will wick head cement into the eye closing it completely. It’s a personal peeve of mine – 15 minutes of light left, fish slurping all around – eyesight failing – and your last #16 Elk Hair Caddis is a glue lump, nothing makes me swear louder.
You can clean them beforehand, but we’d rather suffer than be proactive.
Flies can fall apart for dozens of reasons – most are legitimate as we bounce them off rocks on the backcast, snare them in trees on the forward cast, skitter them through debris and if blessed, subject them to rows of fine fish teeth.
A fly that shows signs of wear may even fish better than the pristine flavor, we’ve little issue with failure after 4-5 fish, and may give the tattered remnant a place of honor in a hat band.
You can test dry flies by gripping the hackle between thumb and forefinger and wiggling the fibers in any direction. The hackle opposite your grip should not move – if it does the fly won’t last long, perhaps after it’s rapped on a couple of rocks behind you or after the first fish.
Nymphs can be tied in weighted or unweighted flavors and are often not marked when loose in the bin. If you want to know whether the fly is weighted, the lead will be located under the wingcase of the fly, you should be able to feel the lump between your fingers. The above assumes a “standard” mayfly style nymph – and wouldn’t be true of a giant stonefly nymph which may have lead along the entire hook shank. It’s still a good rule of thumb – simply pinching the fly should reveal a bulge somewhere along the shank if it’s weighted.
The fly shop may be midway to your destination, a helpful tip would include doing all your barb pinching in the parking lot before saddling up for the back country. Many dry fly hooks are forged making them slightly more brittle than a round wire nymph hook. If you’re headed for special restriction water, pinch the barbs down in the shop parking lot, there are always one or two hook points that snap with the pressure, and knowing your casualties up front is easier than destroying your last fly deep in the forest after a two day hike.
Many fly shops have moths, and nothing is tastier than natural fiber. You may not know the “dust” in the bin is the eggs of a thousand voracious fly eating demons, you’ll find out next season when you pull your vest out of the closet, but now they look like sawdust. When your season closes toss your fly box in a cedar drawer to prevent unwanted surprises – at two bucks each it may save you some heartbreak.
Dry flies are especially prone to damage – not just from moths – but pressed together in tight confines can set hackle askew or flatten it completely. Part of your pre-Opening Day ritual should be to examine the box and steam the hackles back to their original shape with a teapot.
Make yourself a pot of tea and hold damaged dry flies into the stream of steam from the whistling pot. Held for a couple moments with forceps will allow the hackle to return to its original shape. It’ll also allow you to examine the hook point and touch it up with a hook hone for the coming festivities.
Most of you are getting a little antsy by now, as we’ve less than 60 days before the season starts, this exercise is a sure cure for cabin fever. Remember that a bystander will not understand when you cackle like Scrooge McDuck as you count the number of #16 Adams you possess…
Earl Gray, no sugar please.