Category Archives: Fly tying Materials

Where to find them cheaply

The Debut of the “Do it Yourself” fish hook?

The folks at Fishingmatters Ltd, whom you may recall purchased the Partridge hook company, are concerned about the amount of time us over-consuming fly tiers spend searching for the better hook …

In the June issue of Tackle Trade World (pg10), suggest that they’re introducing the “Do It Yourself” hook, outfitted with a straight shank that allows you to bend it into the curve of your liking.

“ … research carried out by the company that shows advanced fly fishermen and pro guides are constantly searching for new hook patterns that don’t exist.”

– via Tackle Trade World, June 2012

As an “advanced fly tyer” and chronic hoarder I can attest to the time spent searching for good hooks. Most of the niche players that sponsored hook innovation like Partridge, have been plowed under by the Japanese and Korean hook companies, and esoteric models like the Flybody, Mariano Midge, Captain Hamilton, and Keith Fulsher’s Thunder Creek, all died lonesome.

Consolidation is a good thing until the pendulum swings too far and you’re left with Plain Vanilla and his kid sister …

Hooks used to have odd bends and varying length shanks, and an entire hook nomenclature was discarded to reduce the many to only best sellers. Outside of the constant influence of the salmon-steelhead crowd, and the Czech nymph phenomenon, we haven’t seen much in the way of new hooks in the last decade.

X-Stout, Offset, X-Heavy, Kirbed, Sproat, O’Shaughnessy, Limerick, X-light, 1,2,3,4,5 XL(ong), 1,2,3,4,5 XS(trong), and 1,2,3,4,5 XS(hort), haven’t been on the packaging in a mighty long time. Nor do today’s anglers understand why in this pinched-down-barb-era, how a good sproat or limerick offered something tangibly and different.

But we’ve got Black Nickel, which is a start …

For WT Bash, who was nice enough to inquire what I was spending most weekends on (besides laundry and travel)

What Color Am I?That last comment was innocent enough, but all the hellish labor, gnashing of teeth, and fits of cursing that go into a simple task like selecting final colors, are invisible to most .. as is the time spent sulking …

Dyeing is already a place most fear to tread, and the reality of choosing colors for dry flies is an agonizingly long effort.

So I’ll demonstrate my pain by asking, what color is that innocent little swatch featured above?

Dyeing materials for dry flies is not the rich and colorful business that is dyeing hackles for steelhead or big chunks of polar bear for streamers, rather colorations used for dry flies are typically pastel, a weak shade of color, not the lemon-yellow, orange-orange of your favorite breakfast cereal …

Instead you take an intentionally weak helping of color and dilute it so the colors are suitable for dry fly bodies; the pale olives, rusts, yellows, and grays, that make up your go-to colors.

“Weakening” is much worse to contemplate, given the many variables that affect bright colors, and how weak colors add more complexity given the many paths to dilution, including; additional water, pulling a material after a short immersion, or overwhelming a fixed amount of color with a large amount of materials.

… and while I continue to insist that dyeing fly tying materials is really quite easy, getting the same color a second time is &%#$@# impossible. Sure we write copious notes to record both keeper colors and clean misses, but when waxing lyrical – what exactly did you mean by “toothpaste green?”

Most colors of dye are mixtures of other colors, that when combined in a traditional bath, yield something similar to the label. A complex color like Olive, which contains yellow, green, and black, begs the question – which of the component colors dyes first?

If the black colors first, then yanking the material quickly yields a gray. If either the green (yellow+blue) dyes first – it’ll either be a dirty yellow, or a cold pale green – and if the yellow is first it’s liable to have a hint of either black or green, and will wind up a mustard.

Resolved to buy someone else’s efforts? So, have I …

What’s complicating things is I’ve had my hard water softened compliments of Culligan, and the increased salt in the water has added a new wrinkle to old calculations.

Even better is the announcement that well water is no longer fashionable in my town (read toxic) and how they’ll be pumping Sacramento River water in to mix with all the agricultural runoff. The resultant brew will have chemicals added, “to make it smell and taste better.”

Which means all my hard work will have to be redone in 2016, once construction is complete property values decline even more …

Until then, I continue to plunk perfectly good materials into an intentionally weak stew to come up with the twenty or thirty needed to make a good dry fly selection. Then I try to create them a second time the following week, after reading my careful worded notes …

This latest trial was for the Pale Morning Dun color (for the Hat Creek / Fall River drainage of California), and was a miss. The Pale Olive was the correct intensity but it needed a bit more yellow to match the version dyed last week.

Most vendor-created packaged dubbing change a couple shades with every run, they just run big batches that last a couple of seasons to make it less noticeable.

It’s easy enough to save the dull material at left, I’ll add it to a weak yellow bath for a minute or two and it’ll be nearly indistinguishable. It’s one of those hard lessons learned early, “ … that nothing can fix a dye job that’s too dark …”

Which is why after shipping out quite a few samples, I’ve gone silent over my latest brainchild.

Add in work-related travel, a winter that never came, and I’m behind on a great deal of efforts I was counting on completing during those dark, rainy, months between Christmas and Opening Day.

* The swatch above is Olive, yet the yellow component dyes first with only a hint of the black and green, yielding dirty Mustard. Care to try to get that a second time?

Wherein we recant the “you can’t have none” taunt, and admit to most of the obvious shortcomings

One of the horrors of being thoroughly enamored of a hobby is the fits of giddy that result when something attempted actually lives up to the original idea, versus flaming out midway through the development process.

My ambition was to develop a dubbing that mimicked the superfine aquatic mammal fur we’ve reserved for dry flies, yet was cheap and plentiful, took dyes well, was easy to mix and blend, and could replace the increasingly costly fur bearers like mink and otter.

Synthetics have become dominant in many areas of fly tying, yet have never lasted long in the dry fly space. Most are borrowed from aerospace or the carpet industry and have fibers too coarse for tiny fly bodies.

The fly tying market is tiny relative to carpets, which is why we’ve always adapted other items versus entreating DuPont or 3M to make something to fill the void. We dutifully salvage what looks promising, but most fibers made for upholstery, yarn, or car interiors, are useful for nymphs and streamers, not for gossamer or tiny.

Periodically some neo-prophet makes a wild claim that vaults a product into the limelight, like polypropylene, but nothing made by Man has ever lasted long enough to dominate muskrat or beaver, or any of Mother Nature’s aquatic fur bearers.


Dry fly bodies need extra fine materials that allow the body to be dubbed thinly to avoid absorbing too much water. Tiny amounts of fur can be air dried with a couple of false casts – too much fur is a sodden lump that we curse with every ungraceful landing.

With all the yarns and oddities I’ve pawed through over the last decade I managed to find a material heretofore unknown in the fly tying lexicon, whose fibers rival the thin filaments of aquatic mammals, absorbs dyes like a Black Hole, and is cheap as dirt – other than requiring a great deal of my labor to render it from its found form to dubbing.

Here’s the best part … the damn stuff floats as it’s naturally buoyant, something the aquatic fur bearers can only gnash teeth over …

Queue giddy.

As a means of apology for the excesses of yesterday’s post, if you email me your mailing address I’ll toss a couple of useful colors into an envelope allowing you to fiddle with it, after which you can call me an outright lying SOB, so thoroughly wrapped up in his own magnificence as to have lost sight with reality.

I will not use these addresses for any other purpose. unless you say you don’t like the material – then I’ll sign you up for every porn site containing pygmies and grape Jell-O

I have about four pounds of test colors, most being initial attempts at the Big Three; olive, pale olive, and gray. I have plenty of rust, some browns, a bit of Trout Underground Scarlet (which has been reserved by his Bleeding Lordship), and plenty of PMD look-a-likes.

I don’t mind sharing, and wouldn’t mind a bit of feedback either.

When I get to the process of picking final colors I will engage readers that want to take part in that process, just as I did with the Free Range Nymph products.

My mailing address is on the “About” link at the top of the page. I don’t ever dare type it in because of all the page crawling spiders that harvest email addresses for spammers.

You shouldn’t have to pay for poor quality control, take the time to visually inspect any fancy fly tying hook purchase

Tying these fuzzballs reminded me of all the notes on competition hooks and their efficacy I’ve been scribbling over the last couple of seasons. I find myself having so many defective hooks of late, and at thirty-five cents a hook I keep trying to make up for poor quality control and fix them with tying thread, simply to get a bit of service before cursing, snapping the thread, and hurling them into my waste can.

Over the last three years, I’ve accumulating a couple thousand Knapeks, Grips, Dohiku, Skalka, and Hanak’s – and the common thread among all of these seems to be how many poorly wired eyes exist in the small dry fly sizes.

I switched over a couple seasons ago because most of these newer manufacturers use the Redditch standard versus the Mustad/Tiemco extra-long shank variant.  Much of the early angler commentary I had read mentioned quality control and too-soft wire, but at the time was directed at the Czech nymph styles, which by nature are fast sinking, rock pounding, heavy abuse flies.

While I’ve had no wire issues over the last couple of seasons with nymph, Czech nymph, streamer, and dry fly hooks, big problems exist for nearly all the makers of small dry fly hooks.

Small being size #16 and below, which isn’t all that small …

Knapek has been the most egregious offender, and despite multiple purchases over the last three years, show little change in their quality control. Many of the 25 packs of dry fly hooks #16 or smaller have 8 or 9 hooks with incompletely closed eyes.

… suggesting that for each $6.50 spent on the hooks, $2 or more is wasted.

Low Profile Midge

This is one of the Low Profile Midge prototypes I’ve been fishing last month, using a Knapek #18 dry fly hook. You can actually see the butt end of the incompletely closed eye and how much thread it took to get some use out of the dang hook.

For those interested in trying these hooks I have no issues with the larger sizes and styles in all flavors and models. The larger hooks (#16 and above) have far fewer eye defects, but I would also recommend a visual inspection of the container contents.

Most of these are sold in transparent packages. Take the time to shake the hooks onto the bottom of the container so you can visually inspect the eyes. Purchase those boxes that contain the fewest visible defects.

The fly above is something I’ve been refining for the last couple of months. In Black, I used it as a Trico spinner with mind-numbing success rates on local coarse fish.

Underneath the hackle is a double shellback of moose fibers. When married with a dab of slightly undersized hackle you get a low profile, high floatation, midge-spinner shape.

Note the slim profile of the body, how the dubbed shank is almost the same diameter as the bare hook. This is my Free Range Dry Fly dubbing, natural floatation combined with fibers so fine as to make a fly tyer drop to both knees and weep aloud …

No, you can’t have any … yet.

More on the hooks and their qualities after this season …

What do you call a girl with two black eyes, other than moth bait.

Now they want the soft hackles We call it “Teardown Wednesdays” – where midweek shows and no massive oil spill has occurred on your favorite waterway, no invasive species is blissfully munching its way through your garage roof, and your daughter appears interested in an egghead for once, versus “SPaZ” the class psycho-killer …

… and you breathe that long sigh of relief knowing that the weekend is close, the home team is 4-1, and you might just eke out the remainder of the week as a 99%’er without suffering further…

Which is why we delight in grinding those rose-tinted spectacles underfoot, as we showcase the demise of your feather collection knowing greed will architect the demise of your soft hackle stash, given the speed you’ll pile these onto eBay.

It’s the next fashion menace designed to have you at war with Momma and the entire feminine contingent, which you know you can’t win.


Now that the premium saddles have been purchased for the next couple of years the unscrupulous have entered the market with every other feather, selling everything from bundled goose biots to Turkey blood feathers, and the howls of the duped are as loud as those glimpsing Two Girls, One Chalice

It’s a great way to unload all those freshly discovered moth infestations. Just empty all the eggs out of the bag, smooth over the chewed part, and call it hair awesomeness …

How to solve some of the ills of synthetic dubbing, perhaps even speed your fly tying

It’s the only part of the fly that works entirely against you, whose real value is the spot of color it leaves when closing the gap between tail and wing. It absorbs water, resists drying, and if ever there was a case for “less is more” this is it.

Dry fly dubbing is comparatively humdrum when compared to the litany of clever things that can be incorporated into nymph dubbing. We don’t get to play with special effects, loft or spike, and the only texture that’s helpful is soft and cloying, aiding us in wrapping it around thread.

As the fly derives so little benefit from its presence, other than the hint of color, and as it’s more hindrance than asset, we should apply a bit more science to its selection than merely whether it makes a durable rug yarn.

As beginners we were introduced to fly tying with the natural furs available from Mother Nature. We tried everything from cheap rabbit to rarified mink, and while we could appreciate the qualities we were told to look for, none of the shops carried them in anything other than natural.

There might have been three or four colors of dyed Hare’s Mask, but everything else on the shelves were the miniscule packets of synthetic dander – not the aquatic mammals mentioned in every book about dry flies written in the last half century.

Shops don’t dye materials anymore, and jobbers don’t dye real fur – as synthetic fiber is sold for pennies to the pound – and it’s shiny, which appears to be the only requirement that matters much. Real fur is expensive, has to be cut, attracts moths, and doesn’t come in pink …

When closing that gap between tail and wing, “shiny” doesn’t make our radar much, floatation does, as will fineness of fiber, flue length, texture, and color. It’s the second most common reason for fly frustration, either grabbing too much, or reaching for something ill suited to make a delicate dry fly body.

Floatation being the most desirable given our fly is cast and fished on the surface. Fineness of fiber results in a soft texture that’s easy to apply to thread, and fiber length allows us to plan how big an area of a “loaded” thread we’ll make – sizing the fur to the hook shank, ensuring we’re not needlessly causing ourselves grief when tying smaller flies.

Given that a #16 seems to be the most common size of dry fly on my waters, as it was the most common size ordered during my commercial tying days, sizing dry fly dubbing for a #16 would make my tying much easier.

That extra bit of tearing or trimming could consume 20-30 seconds, especially if you’re looking for scissors, making it one of many shortcuts that could trim minutes off a fly, enhancing whatever miniscule profits are to be had from commercial tying.

“Sizing” the dry fly dubbing to the hook shank is done by testing different fiber lengths, and determining which length yields the minimum necessary to make a complete #16 body.

Wapsi Antron, flue length = 2.5"

Assume you have a typical synthetic dubbing like Wapsi’s “Antron”, which has a flue length of just over 2.5” . If you decant a tiny bit and all two and a half inches of the fiber were wrapped with concentric turns onto a thread, what size hook would it be the body for?

Hint: a lot bigger than you think

We can’t wrap the fibers on top of one another as it would make the dubbing too thick and would add to the moisture absorbed. We don’t want fibers too long – requiring us to snip or tear it off the thread, and it’ll burn time as we doctor the shorn area to lock it down. Extra turns of thread and time are also our enemy, making our experimentations with fiber length and the optimal thread load valuable.

A mist of dubbing

If you think back to those same aquatic mammals that were our introduction to dry fly dubbing, only the beaver had fibers that might’ve been longer than an inch, the balance of those animals; mink, muskrat, and otter, are all short haired critters.

Same Mist on the thread

Transferring that knowledge to flue length, suggests somewhere between 1/2” and 1 1/2” should give us similar handling qualities of the aquatic mammals, assuming our materials share their tiny filament width and softness.

Above is that “too small” mist of 1” fibers rendered onto thread. Spun tightly, it renders nearly an inch of body material.

Swapping the 1” fibers for 1/2” only decreased the amount of material slightly, perhaps a 1/4” less at most.

half inch fibers decreases the body only slightly

Predictably, our longer fibered Wapsi “Antron” dubbing with its 2.5” flue length covers much more thread, and despite the small diameter of its fibers, shows its unruly nature in the thickness of the noodle it makes.

Wapsi Antron dubbed onto thread

After a half dozen turns, the remainder of the above will have to be pulled off the thread and removed. Given that implies more than half of what you grabbed, isn’t that a horrible waste?

From the above picture I’d make the claim that Wapsi doesn’t market this product as a dry fly dubbing (the label mentions only dubbing). The fly shop this was purchased at had a wall full of Antron colors, and outside of some Ice Dub and a few strips of natural fur, had standardized on this product for both nymphs and dries.

What actually may have happened is that they were tired of stocking 18 different flavors of stuff that didn’t sell all that well, and reduced the collection to a single flavor – because it’s all the same right?

Wrong, and I doubt your shop manager ties flies at all.

Still fiddling with colors and fiber sizes

I’m still fiddling with fibers, colors and blends, but am almost done on the flue length tests. I’ve got a natural fiber that’s as fine as an aquatic mammal – which plays hell with blenders, but I’ve got that solved. Now all that’s left is blending of colors and dyeing – and an entreaty to those that want to field test at my expense.

Until then – and using the above photos as a reference, you can eye your local shops offering to measure what fiber length their products provide. Now that you understand that flue length is directly proportional to the amount of thread covered, you can more easily understand why you’ve consistently have more fur than you need, and how you can take a pair of scissors to the package to shorten the fibers to a more useful size.

We’ve been in a synthetic rut for the most part of a decade. Vendors are often lazy and package their materials in whatever form is easiest, often the way they receive the product, not what form makes the best fly or tightest noodle on the thread.

Scissors or a hint of natural fur added to a synthetic can tame its rug yarn roots, making it much more useful than it exists when pulled from the rack.

What constitutes Single Barbless Artificial Only

1.08. Artificial Fly.

Any fly constructed by the method known as fly tying.

1.11. Artificial Lure.

An artificial lure is a man-made lure or fly designed to attract fish. This definition does not include scented or flavored artificial baits.

California’s Fish & Game regulations weren’t crafted for guys like me. I represent the ugly underbelly of fly tying – that 1% of fly tiers who read the fine print, that truculent, uncooperative fellow whom wardens gravitate towards – who reads the rules and has always wondered about, “artificial-fly only, single barbless hook” restrictions …

… the guy you see protesting loudest as he’s lead away in manacles.

“Fly tying” is thousands of small finger skills, mostly comprised of wrapping materials never envisioned for a small hook, in a vain attempt to tame them, or copy the imagination of some SOB in a magazine (who claims it’s easy).

The Gruyere Ghost

Take my Goat Cheese Bivisible above, it’s single, barbless, and constructed by the method known as fly tying. It helps measurably if you wait for it to achieve room temperature before dubbing it onto a floss core, then winding that for the body.

Ditto for that big-arsed Pteronarcys imitation I’ve dubbed the “Gruyere Ghost” – deadly in any color or size …

… and per the above legal in a number of states …

Horner Deer Hair with Black Thread, Humpy with Yellow, and Goofus Bug if it’s the red

I’m reminded how much of the skill is in the hands of the tier, and how much of the finished look is in the materials he selects, and for many flies the mechanical attention to proportions simply cannot fix a bad choice of materials and their effect on the final look.

Which is why we spend so much time gazing fervently at road kill and the neighbors Maltese.

The veritable Horner Deer Hair, Humpy, Goofus Bug, or by whatever local name you know the fly, is a poster child for precise hair selection. Too long a tip and the wing disappears into the hackle, and you wind up using Moose for the tail – simply because the black tip and yellow bar are too long for the size you’re tying.

Horner Deer Hair Wing, showing deer hair colors

Unless all of the colors are small enough they won’t fit on a wing which  dry deer_facefly proportions dictate is merely twice gape, and the long black tips will bury the gold bar in the thickest part of the hackle where it can’t be seen.

Deer do possess hair that will tie a Humpy smaller than size 20. The down side is that it’s the muzzle of a deer – the area between eyes and black shiny nose.

You won’t find that at the fly shop, as most of their selection is prepackaged six or eight states distant, but you may be able to find a local taxidermist whose hunter didn’t pay the bill – or some garage sale mount that isn’t too badly moth eaten or brittle and can still be salvaged.

Yellow_Humpy, hiding in all them hair extensions 

The Dawn of the Five Dollar Dry Fly

The Five Dollar foot-long Tackle Trade World has a small article outlining the rapidity by which European salons adopted hair extensions and the demise of Europe’s stock of Grizzly hackle (PG 46) – due to the hair extension craze. The only real news is the article documents that which I’ve feared most, they’ve moved from saddles to necks …

Turrall has received a surge in enquiries for Metz necks worldwide, with individuals wanting to buy thousands of capes. Metz’s hatchery reported ample stocks of most neck colours and grades on June 15th. Thirty days later they were gone.”

Quick to capitalize on the meteoric price increases, and counting on the split-second attention span of the fashion conscious, fly tiers and shops have recovered from their initial outrage-disbelief and intent on unloading their extra Whiting saddles for the $400 plus bounties paid in tertiary markets, like eBay. 

While it’s perfectly prudent to offload extra materials at usurious prices, what they’ve actually done is blur the line between “old timey loyal fly tying customers” and those horrid interlopers, the beauty salons.

Everyone is out to make a buck … and Keough and Whiting know it.

As a result both Mssrs. Metz, Keough and Whiting have the luxury of ignoring their former audience, simply because BOTH shops and anglers are cashing in on what few feathers are sent through traditional channels.

“We are conscious of preserving the interests of individual fly tyers as well as our own production, but it has become really hard. We have tried to ration supplies to our dealers to look after fly fishermen but we can’t police the final use.”

Unfortunately, absolutely everyone is going to get burnt, given that the vendors will be enjoying a couple years of enormous profits, and will quickly become used to the additional coin, both to grow production and pay off existing debt.

When the fad ends, the prices will likely remain high – possibly remaining near current levels, given there’s no competition in the market, and all vendors need do is cut production to match the increased demand as shops replace empty racks, and fly tiers restore those empty dry fly bins back to flush.

The economy has shown them exactly what the market will bear, and without new companies entering the field to keep prices low and competitive, and with most of the anglers having to substitute for their favorite flies – there’ll be no reason to return to former prices.

Those of you who fish dry flies nearly exclusively should bear this in mind.

Might’ve been the biggest breach of trust ever

Remember that especially gentle and reassuring voice I used when I mentioned, “don’t fear dyeing your precious fur and fibers, as everything is useful for something …”

Boy was that a windy.

I’m pawing through a drawer full of goodies and see that dusty plastic bag scrunched under all that marabou, and naturally figured it had to be those long lost bucktails I simply knew I had …

Rather than the burst of bright colors I was expecting, I get the Color that Cannot be Used, a reminder of my greatest fur mistake …

I’d spent the better part of six months higrading all the shops in San Francisco for their best bucktails – each with hair damn near six inches long, as I was prepared to tie a big fistful of striper flies.

I needed a dark olive layer for the Anchovy imitation I had in mind and tossed three-quarters of those tails into the pot with a brand new dye and too much heat …

Pumpkin with Olive tips

… which yielded shrunken pumpkin orange bucktail with olive tips. Twenty years later I’ve not found a use for a single hair – despite fishing fresh, salt, and everything in between.

I know. You’re sitting there saying, “CRAYfish …uhm, STONEfly dry …uhm, no …uhm, WAIT …”

Just like I did.