fly design, doctors, accurate inaccuracies and ‘oh, what the heck… !’


“Many doctors fish for trout, but there have been endless arguments over the best choice of fly. To extend evidence based practice from their professional into their leisure hours (where it might conceivably be more useful) Britton et al ( p 1678) carried out a randomised trial of five different dry flies (artificial floating flies) on the River Kennet in Berkshire. Before the trial the investigators had most confidence in the Grey Wulff and least in the Cinnamon Sedge. In the trial the Cinnamon Sedge caught the most trout and also seemed to be significantly favoured by brown as opposed to rainbow trout. These findings are of biological as well as practical importance, but the trial was small and the authors press the urgent need for much more research.
None of the investigators has any intention of taking the slightest notice of the results of this study.”
quote via

what a conundrum !
on one hand, we have flies like the one above based on LaFontaine’s Emergent Sparkle Pupa. it’s a classic in all its variants, it repeatedly catches fish all over the world:
it’s a go-to fly but it’s also based around elements that are more of a pipe dream than reality.
caddis pupa aren’t surrounded by some mysterious ‘force-fieldish’ type haze or veil as they’re working their way towards the surface and then there’s this ‘issue’ of a self-produced air bubble to assist them in reaching the surface that seemingly no entomologist has been able to observe in any considerable percentage (most haven’t observed them at all… ) meaning that this sometimes bubbly occurrence can’t be considered a biological fact, further meaning that from a practical/logical standpoint, this freakish element of a fly’s design is hardly worth considering.picture_2868_medium1
but then once again, this fly works very well and that’s the interesting part because it seems to me that it entices but not for the reasons we might think, further proving that the common saying “try to think like a fish” is bunk because a) fish don’t think, and b) we don’t even know how we think so it seems kinda dumb to be randomly transposing guesses and wishes onto creatures that can’t tell the difference between a ragged mess of fluff bound to a hook and the real thing.

and then on the other hand, we have the doctor’s example where even though a certain pattern entices fish more, it’s  scoffed for some mysterious reason and i’ll venture that reason is that they didn’t believe in/have faith or simply denied the cinnamon sedge’s mojo (even though the smarter docs caught most of the fish with it)(oops ! that implies the others weren’t very smart. oh well… )
ok, the doctor’s example is hardly scientific and can’t be considered as anything really serious but i chose to cite it here because it’s an example of a group that has a higher-than-most education level based on science and science is usually based on facts yet here their judgments seemed to have been based on tradition, which in turn, makes this all the more interesting because  this very same approach goes way beyond education or social status and can be found in all levels of people all over the planet, so if anything, we can leave logical reasoning out of the equation.

how does this happen ? why is that ???????
well, apart from just a few of many more possible ramblings mentioned above, i don’t have a clue and since this subject might be a good one for the Physiological studies à la Freud department, don’t expect any answers from me but if you want to see what is yet another great tying tutorial from Curtis Fry at Fly Fish Food on tying this awfully successful yet ‘make believe imitation’, ignore all this and click below. enjoy !

Trout Fly Design- The Easy Peasy USD

by Roy Christie

we’d already seen one version of the Easy Peasy and it’s step-by-step and here’s the method behind the madness.
indeed, i like repeating myself: this is pure brilliance and one of the better examples of well thought out fly design. it’s the combined result of observing bugs, fish, where they come from and how they all inter-react. this is a fly that has everything it needs to catch insect eating fish and a lot of them and just about anywhere.
enjoy !


“Waterside observation of the behaviour of the particular insect we wish to represent, in whatever stage of its life cycle, is the first stage in fly design. I was often told by an artist friend that no matter what I thought I saw, I should draw just what I was looking at. When designing trout flies this has a distinct advantage. Looking at the mayflies, they are an obvious challenge to build upside down on a hook. The result – lovely drawing; hooking ergonomics – disastrous! So how do we build it?

Tails tied in around the bend, split for aerodynamics; abdomen built along the shank; wing behind the hook eye, tied within the bend; thorax in size and colour to match the natural. Legs, if any, further complicate the build. Do we choose to hackle the fly? If not, the thorax may be picked out to assist floatation. What if we want to imitate the legs, like in the yellow may dun with its bright legs and glowing body? How do we build the upside-down fly to land USD and ensure it stays that way? And finally, will it catch trout?

The answer to the above is elusive. Tailing/winging are major considerations in aerodynamics in this style of fly. The winging and hackling are the major obstacles to hooking. Hackling is preferable for a long float and when you want legs. When these obstacles are overcome the fly becomes viable in its design.

Dry flies need light hooks. In my opinion long shank lightweight grub hooks are ideal for USD flies. They give a low centre of gravity, allow you to get the wing away from the point, deliver an excellent profile of a mayfly dun or spinner and accommodate enough hackle at the thorax to ensure a sound platform for the imitation.

When constructing the fly, lay a bed of thread from behind the thorax to 1/3 way round the bend. Tie in four soft strong fibres, hackle fibres are good, if they are springy. Spread them in a fan shape. They need to be springy so that they will retain their aerodynamic effort after sustained casting; and soft enough not to interfere with hooking.

Build the abdomen, ribbed for effect if you wish, on the rear half of the body. I feel that the body should be low slung, but not quite in the surface; of course the lower you sling it, the better the centre of gravity of the fly, so that lessens its chances of falling over. In a breeze, this fly, instead of toppling over, faces into the wind like a natural dun. You heard it here first folks! Segmentation is achieved with mono, wire or tinsel.

Winging the fly is a problem. The first and glaring disadvantage is that the wing and hackle may mask the hook point. The long shank hook helps a bit here, by placing the wing further from the point. We can crank the hook about twenty degrees at the wing base to alter the hooking dynamics and, of course, choice in winging material is also crucial; it must be strong, flexible and soft – not stiff. The wing is tied within the gape, behind the eye, a quarter way down the shank. Woodduck, pintail or mallard fibres stripped off the stalk and tied in thin, up to twice the length of the gape, makes an enduring wing and aerofoil which will fold away from the point on the strike. Polypropylene gives good effect and can be trimmed to a sparse wing, but will fold into the bend and collapse. Take a Velcro brush along to groom these up. Whole feather wings within the bend spell disaster for my hooking percentages.

The thorax of this imitation should be made of water resistant material. Hare’s ear fur, dyed to suit is easily dubbed. The shape should present a slightly fatter profile than the abdomen in order to imitate the natural.

We could funnel the hackle over the eye and cover the roots with dubbing for the thorax and you have Neil Patterson’s Funneldun, an excellent pattern or we could hackle the fly around the wing roots within the bend – a tricky and perhaps not enduring construction – or parachute outside the bend – USD Paradun style – a good method, though in practice the length vs. density of the hackle is crucial and the centre of gravity of the fly is just a fraction too high for my taste. Alternatively we could palmer a hackle then cut off the barbs outside the shank – this palmer design is messy and wasteful but good support is achieved and the light pattern is excellent, with that necessarily low centre of gravity.

A few hackle fibres tied, facing aft will help support the fly even better. Always select a hackle which is strong and springy, without being stiff.

One night I was sitting drawing again, cabin fever strikes down the best of us sometime, under my cabin bed, but I definitely digress here…
I drew a USD dun – a lovely fly, then I had a flash of inspiration, nothing new in principle; again, just the application changes. I thought if I took the thorax cover, as used on tying a nymph’s wing cases – and tie it in as a breastplate for the dry fly, he will have to spread his arms like a true warrior. Tied thus I could use every fibre of those precious hackles and form an excellent platform for the fly in one simple move. We have the USD Palmerdun. For a confirmed light pattern enthusiast, who is a founder member of Hackle Misers Anon, this appeared to be a step forward. It is easy to construct so it is renamed the EasyPeasy USD dun.

Thus, above, you have my considerations of the challenge of USD. The lovely thing is that, if properly constructed, the fly is extremely effective (besides being great to look at!). The manner of construction is again crucial, with regard to proportion, aerodynamics and presentation. This fly should be built sparsely. I only use Permaflote, the old stuff, as greasy floatants can ruin the profile and thus presentation, due to matting of the fibres.

Taking my own best advice above I build the EasyPeasy USD as follows:

  1. Tie silk from 2mm behind eye round bend to 30 degrees
  2. Tie in tails, splayed outwards at 40 degrees for aerodynamic effect
  3. Tie in rib
  4. Dub and wind abdomen
  5. Rib and tie in
  6. Attach wing, slim and made from 15 mallard flank fibres, tied in within the bend 1½ to 2 gapes tall, quarter way down the shank
  7. Tie in thorax cover and hackle – hackle should be 1 to 1¼ times gape, the thorax cover can be feather fibres, the hackle stem or whatever you choose. Pick a colour to match the thorax of the natural dun or spinner.
  8. Dub and wind thorax fur
  9. Palmer the hackle two turns at rear, then to eye
  10. Tie in hackle, DO NOT cut off excess
  11. Dress the palmer hackle back then down over the wing to split it in half to each side of the thorax. Ensure the rear hackle barbs point aft.
  12. Pull the thorax cover through to the eye and tie down.
  13. Cut off only the excess of the cover.
  14. Whip finish
  15. Finally pull off the hackle tip, leaving the dozen stray fibres behind to complete the light pattern and the artificial fly’s platform.

Note: if you are tying this fly streamside, you can omit the thorax cover by using the hackle stem as a thorax cover. This is also useful on smaller flies.

This fly will support a degreased leader and it will face into the wind like a natural. It presents a light pattern representative of mayfly duns on the surface of the water very effectively indeed. The aerodynamics are such that it always lands correct way up and due to the low centre of gravity it is unlikely to fall onto its side. The profile of the natural is very well imitated against any background.

The colours should be selected to match the naturals whatever they appear to the fish – since the trout can see flies through white water and outside the spectra known to man, I am still working on this area. Seals fur bodies are good, blended to suit. Tying silk should be in sympathy with the body colour. Hackles can easily be blended by using two colours or types. Excellent combinations can be obtained, even mixing for example a sunburst grizzly dyed cock with a well-defined rusty blue dun hen hackle – which makes a very effective platform for the Yellow May Dun. Play with hackle mixtures; some wonderful colour mixes can be had. Entertain your quarry! ;¬}

Subtly dressed the EasyPeasyUSD takes no longer than a standard dry fly to tie. This pattern is most pleasing in the fly box, wonderfully attractive to the fish and if it is overdressed it is a disaster and a mountain of frustration. Properly and slimly dressed it is a great catcher of trout. If you make a mess of it the first few times, you will have some excellent cripple patterns!”

 ~ Roy

Trout Fly Design: The Avon Special

by Roy Christie

just two words: simply genius…  enjoy !

When I was a youth in the late 1960’s experience with the trout on my home river had showed me that, when they were feeding on tiny midges in the surface film, they could be caught on a short dressed hare’s ear stuck on the film. The water in the late summer in a dry season would drop to a depth of six to nine inches in the pools and about a foot and a half in the holes at the neck. The trout would only accept my ‘imitation’ when the tippet had sunk below the surface for a minimum distance of about five inches. That suggested to me that any nasty tippet distortion on the surface was outside the feeding fish’s cone of vision.
Then some scientifically talented anglers showed me how to get a good presentation of a trout fly at the surface of the water. My influence was that excellent book by Brian Clarke and John Goddard – ‘The Trout and the Fly’. Particularly with reference to the trout’s view of the fly in his mirror of vision, flies were photographed from beneath the surface. Naturals, imitations on floating tippet, imitations on sunken tippets and more were shown. The floating tippet severely distorted the mirror. The sunken tippet is in my opinion always preferable.
Fishing the Avon at Durnford in the 1970’s I found an interesting problem. The trout were gorging on large dark olives. The problem encountered was that the trout were ignoring the hatched duns coming down the glide and stuffing themselves with emergers. I needed a floating nymph. I wanted a sunk tippet. I retired, troutless, to think – skunked is a term I believe universally understood in context.

While I want to design a fly I sit down with a pen and draw it. I believe myself effective in this. I draw what the insect is doing and then look at the ways of attaching the hook while sinking the tippet at the same time. If one has an evening free this is probably an artistic pursuit; I don’t, so the drawings take seconds and then flies are tied. With practice we get faster.

Sitting at the bench, I drew a nymph, reversed on the hook and upside down, as that was the easiest fly to tie and present at the surface on the, by now obligatory, sunken tippet. With short hare’s whiskers for tails the body would sink, thus mimicking the thorax, abdomen and tails of the emerging nymph. The hackle, spiralled through the bend of a longshank Yorkshire grub hook #16, and a pretty mallard wing or just the cock hackle tips left in looked about right.

In design terms the fly is aerodynamically built to fall through the air hook-point up. This is achieved by tying the wing in around the bend. The effect of tying soft mallard fibres in at ninety degrees to the point is to make the hook fall below the fibres which act as an aerofoil. Gravity versus aerodynamics is the secret of floating fly presentation, as how it lands is how it sticks.

Attached to a tippet we want to present the hook and its aerofoil prettily in the surface film. In order to make it stick there we add a hackle to fill the gap between the point of the hook and the shank. Floating is guaranteed if the hackle and wing are treated in permaflote.

Avon Special

To make this dainty presentation at the surface more appealing to the target fish we endow the shank of the hook with a body matching his current menu, be that mayfly midge or caddis. It can be further developed on a long shank hook into stuck-shuck emergers with excellent results.

Build the thorax and abdominal areas to match the general colour and profile of the emerging fly. Bodies, as a matter of interest, are best made from complex seal fur and hare mixtures. Blend them to match the insect’s general colour in daylight, against the sun – presuming 1/ you can catch an insect and 2/ the sun is still up when you do. 

Mix furs by an open window in sunlight or outside on a calm day for an even better look.
Base colour thread should be sympathetic to the natural. The seal’s fur makes a little halo around the thread so it looks like the internal layers of the ecloding insect. Some of the modern fine dazzle mixtures of furs added to the base fur mixture can give it an oily appearance for that extra-juicy look.

Ribbing is advised for strength and segmentation. Fine wire is good, coarse wire needs a longer hackle fibre to support the weight on a larger footprint. For lightness on smaller hooks use monofilament or invisible mending thread. Less and smaller hackle will then serve well for flotation. 

The overall appearance of the fly should never be bulky, unless you want a caddis emerger. Tails on a mayfly emerger are most effectively imitated by a short bunch of three or four short, thick hare’s mask guard hairs to withstand the pressure of casting and produce a lifelike visual impression. On midges use clear Antron fibres, clipped short.

When this mini miracle lands on the water, attached to a fine degreased tippet the body and thus the tippet penetrate the surface. The fly sticks on its hackle and the tippet continues to sink quickly. Four feet downstream it is perfectly set up. Casting this fly on a slack leader gives a long float down a glide. I am convinced that there is less drag just below the surface than on it. So I view sinking the tippet as a standard requirement, for this and reasons previously stated.

On a lake, as a midge, mayfly or caddis emerger this fly is a star. In a flat calm on a hot day it is one of the few flies – ah! there’s Skues’ Little Red Sedge too – that I know will pull a fish to the top when all appears asleep.

A size 10 in a gale is an excellent choice on a March afternoon when your fingers are freezing and the bottom of the lake is being churned up. Then you see the shake of a head in the side of the wave where the fly was and a spade of a tail to follow. This fly has given me some great fun as a reversed emerging buzzer; the Avon Special Emerger in it’s various guises of mayfly and as a caddis cripple.

If you lack faith in USD flies for whatever strange reason, please try these out, remembering that they need the same delay on striking as does a dry fly. Whatever that is depends on where you are fishing and how the trout are taking  the fly. One thing you can be sure of is that they should take with confidence as the fly is the right shape, size and colour and it is in the right place. What is more, the light pattern is unencumbered by any hawser effect in their mirror of vision.

Preferred hooks are short point longshank grub/scud hooks. The recent popularity of the Klinkhammer style has produced some good emerger hooks. Extra long shanks are useful for an occasion where the shuck is apparent. Whereas some of my designs require modified hooks this one is fine on a standard version.

The original inspiration was 1975-ish – an emerging midge which I watched on a lake as it came slow out through the surface on a sunny but cold spring afternoon. He took his time because, I think, the water was very cold, but then maybe he was just shy or photophobic.  Will we ever know?

Drawing and building that representation backwards and upside down and ‘inside out’, has been a revelation for me in my fly tying adventures. I’d be lost without my notepad – now where did I put it?

 see ? told ya…