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Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Anatomy of Fly Design

A breakdown of the creative process in designing a pattern

There's a certain mantra in fly design that basically says "it's all been invented, so you're basically just ripping off someone else's pattern". To an extent that is likely true. We all attach crap to a hook and it's called a fly. So at a high level, the first dude to ever do that, is likely sitting on his cloud laughing at us all for ripping off his idea.

At a more realistic level, I think you can borrow techniques and aspects of a given fly design and incorporate those into a pattern you are designing. Who's to say what constitutes a "new" pattern? Is it a small change in color or a swap-out of a few materials? That's a judgment call, but if someone wants to change the color of my Fripple and call it a Stripple, then have at it. But whatever you decide on in your design, it may not be new or revolutionary, but it's part of a creative process that every fly tyer must go through when they decide to create something new or newish. In other words, they're not following a recipe.

On a somewhat related note, there are also the naysayers that comment "A hare's ear or pheasant tail are the only nymphs you really need. Why re-invent the wheel?". In other words, why create a "new" pattern when the current ones work well already? By that logic, why not just fish with a worm on a hook? For me, I tie flies as part of a creative outlet that is also very therapeutic.  So even if my "new" pattern didn't catch any more fish per se, I'd still put in the time at the vise in design mode.

But I digress...this post is about the process of new fly design. So the other day, I sat down at the vise and went through my "to-tie" list. I keep notes after most every trip, or just when ideas come to me, regarding patterns or ideas I'd like to try out. The genesis for this pattern was a situation where I was throwing an indicator rig with some chironomids. Only problem was the fish were a bit spooked by the indicator or just didn't want chironomids. So I took the indicator off and went with a small beadhead generic stillwater nymph pattern. I still didn't get the results I was looking for as the fly seemed to just sink a bit too fast for the fish to take notice. I switched flies a few more times. As it turned out, the ticket turned out to be an unweighted simple pheasant tail type fly on a floating line that could sink very slowly, thus maintaining more "face-time" with the fish as I stripped it slowly through the water just below the surface. I realized I didn't have many small nymphs that fit the bill, so I jotted down the need to have an unweighted very sleek and slender mayfly imitation (callibaetis or baetis etc).

I'm basing my new pattern, somewhat on my previous Aero-Baetis in that I wanted something sleek (gotta have the CCG) but unweighted. With that in mind, here I begin my design process...

First pass: 
I'm never afraid of messing up a few hooks during the first pass. This is the rough draft, I'm looking for some proportion checks and whether all the materials will fit as I had hoped. This specific first pass really sucked, but I changed my mind on some proportions for the second pass. Note I left out the legs and tails because I'm not focusing on those areas just yet.

Second Pass: 
After the first iteration, I decided on a more chironomid shaped thorax (maybe a dual purpose pattern) with some flash. Got done and realized...yup, it's a chironomid. Next...
Third Pass: 
Back to the thorax. I made it a bit more mayfly-ish and finally added some legs. I also used some Montana Fly Co. Skinny Skin for the wing-case (I liked it better than mylar) and some brown Hun for the legs.  Getting closer.

Fourth Pass:
Now that I have the overall shape and material list dialed in. I work on proportions and tying steps. I didn't like the tail as it was too long and I also changed up how I built-up, tied and coated the thorax area with the CCG so that it didn't gum up the legs.

Final Version: 
I shortened the tail, tweaked the CCG coating sequence again and adjusted the legs so they came out at a more level angle with the body (as opposed to the previous step where they hung down a bit more.

So that's a little breakdown on how I go about designing a new or different pattern. I chucked a few iterations into the round file, but ended up with something I think I'll really like.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Callibaetis Emergers a la Deep Dish

The Deep Dish dishes on the fish

For those of you that follow our site here, you know that we're fanatical about field-testing our patterns and tweaking them as needed. The Deep Dish Callibaetis, tutorial and fly design found here, has continued to sizzle on our trips -- both still water and even rivers.

callibaetis nymph emerger mayfly deep dish

As with any field-test flies we throw, we usually try to fish them side-by-side with other patterns to see how they stack up and we try to fish them in a variety of waters to get a better idea of how they'll perform. As with my first rounds of field-testing, the most recent results prompted this update.

Just a few days ago, we hit yet another high mountain lake that held good numbers of native Bonneville cutthroat. Early on, the dry fly action was insane and we didn't really have any reason to try a dropper, but eventually the fish went deeper with the sun rising higher, so I decided to throw on a dropper. After a few unsuccessful midge patterns and a damsel pattern, I decided to go with the Deep Dish. My fear was that the fish had already retreated too far for a simple dropper from a hopper. Nonetheless, I tied on the Deep Dish Callibaetis and the first cast resulted in a swing and a miss. The next two casts were similar. Then on the fourth or fifth cast, with hits on all preceding attempts, I was into a solid fish.

And so it went for the next hour or so, until we left, catching fish after fish after fish. Granted the fish ended up also turning onto damsels later, but during this non-hatch time period, there was just something about the pattern that got some attention.

So once again, a pattern has moved onto the varsity team in the fly box. As Hannibal always said "I love it when a plan comes together..."

Friday, August 23, 2013

Online Fly Shop Ready to Roll...

We finally got our act together

Baby steps, right? After a bit of poking and prodding from a number of people here and there, we finally got our act together and built an online fly shop to showcase some of the custom patterns we feature here on the site.

So starting today, you can go to and you'll see the (somewhat limited) selection of custom flies we have to offer. If you want parachute adams or regular pheasant tails, this isn't the site for that. We're focusing on more specialty patterns.

Over time, we'll add more patterns and eventually materials and who knows what else...

Check it out and let us know what you think and what else you'd like to see there!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Hook is a Hook, Right?

Why skimp on your most important piece of gear?

Copper John tied on a TMC 2499SPBL

The hook.  The essence of a fly, and the business end of what makes our sport what it is.  When I first started tying flies, there was a wide array of hooks that could be bought at the fly shop, online, or in my case in Dennis Brakke's garage.  When I first started out, I bought the original Mustad hooks that were so popular because they were cheap, readily available, and strong.   These hooks were very functional, but they were lacking what I later found to be the most critical part of a hook...  A sharp point.  Sharp hooks are critical to fly fishing because of the minimal pressure applied to the fish (compared to most other styles of fishing) when setting the hook.  Sharper hook points will protect your tippet, penetrate more easily, and essentially catch you more fish.   I remember my first pack of Tiemco hooks, scratching the hook across my thumbnail only to have it dig in - THIS was a real - live - hook.  I learned that the key to these lazer sharp hooks was a chemical process that the manufacturers used to sharpen them.  Chemically sharpened, conical point hooks became the only hooks I tied with.

The aforementioned Mr. Brakke, who is no longer with us, taught me a lot about hooks in my early years of tying, and inspired my tying a lot.  He was always tinkering with different varieties of hooks, and showed me what to look for is a quality hook.

In todays market, there are many manufacturers that make fine quality hooks, and I have tied and fished with most of them.  Chemically sharpened hooks are more readily found, and even Mustad has moved to chemically sharpened hooks.  Mustad's signature series is a very fine quality hook with a needle sharp point that far surpasses the Mustads of years past.  For you streamer aficionados and people who like to tie and fish BIG stuff; there is a hook for you.  Eagle Claw (a company that proudly makes hooks in the USA) has come out with a line of hooks tailored mostly to bass fishermen called Lazer Trokar.  They use lazer technology to cut the points on their hooks into a three sided killing machine.  I have been bass fishing with them for a few years now, and they are probably the meanest hooks for big bugs on the market.  If a fish even looks at it wrong, you are going to hook up.  They are a bit spendy, but if you are chasing a trophy, it would be worth it to tie your trophy flies on a Trokar.

As you will see, there isn't much that I don't like, but I decided to break down several of my favorite hooks.

Tiemco / TMC

Bunny Midge on a TMC 518 #30
  • 3761 - Slightly longer than a normal nymph hook and heavy wire.  Great for longer nymphs such as the Masked Marauder, or other stonefly nymphs.  I love the #10 and the #12.
  • 102Y - Light wire dry fly hook with a wide gape.  I don't know if I just love the matte black color of the hook, or the odd sizing.  I use this hook a lot, and use them when I tie the Grumpy Frumpy, or Iris Caddis.  I like the #13 and #17
  • 2488 - This is perhaps one of the most versatile hooks made.  A wide gape curved shank hook with a straight eye.  I use them for everything from #28 midges, to #10 chironomids.  
  • 2499SPBL - Imagine the 2488 on steroids.  It's barbless, but it has the spade point that penetrates very quickly.  I like this in bigger sizes for Czech nymphs and stoneflies.
  • 100 and 100SPBL - The Tiemco 100 is their standard dry fly hook.  I use it for dries, nymphs, soft hackles, etc.  It's just a great all around hook.  The SPBL is barbless with the mean cutting point.
  • 5262 - 2x long streamer hook.  I tie most of my stillwater flies on this style of hook.
  • 5212 - 2x long dry fly hook.  This is a great hook style for hoppers and other long bodied dry flies.  I also tie stimulators on this hook instead of the TMC 200R due to a wider hook gape.  You can see that the 200R didn't make my favorite list but that's another story...
  • 518 - This is a great hook for tying micro flies in the #28-32 range.  Yes the fish eat them.

Stonefly on a Mustad C49S
Mustad Signature

  • C49S - Scud/pupa hook similar to the TMC 2488, but with a slightly different bend.  This has become one of our favorite hooks, and Curtis even tied big hopper patterns with it.
  • R30-94833 (Barbless Dry) - Very light wire barbless dry fly hook.  I like it for fishing very delicate dry flies and light leaders.
  • R72 (Streamer) - Another great 2x long streamer hook.  the Cheech Leech on this one when they are sitting on my desk.
Allen Flyfishing 
 A lot of people have asked up about their hooks, and we have been very impressed with the quality, especially in their barbless series.  I have purchased about 3500 of these hooks to date, and they have proven to be worth every penny.  Here are some of my favorites.

Elk Hair Caddis tied on an Allen D102BL
  • B200 - Bass bug hook.  I tie most of my El Sculpitos on this hook, and it holds up great to being banged off of the rocks constantly.
  • D102BL - This dry fly hook has amazing retaining ability for a barbless hook.  I have started to switch to this hook for my dry fly needs.  I only wish it came in sizes smaller than 16.
  • D104 - 2xl dry fly hook.  For a light wire hook it has great strength, and a really good point.  
  • J100BL - $3.49 for a legit competition ready barbless jig hook?  Yes please.
  • N204BL and N203BL - LIght and heavy wire scud hooks.  Need I say more?  This is the original hook that I ordered to see what kind of quality I was dealing with.  They passed the test with flying
    Stonefly tied on an Allen J100BL
  • N205BL- Their newest release in the barbless arena.  It's got a great bend that is great for Czech nymphs and caddis pupae.  It is also light enough to tie emergers and dry flies.
  • S402 and S402BL - This is the one that gets the most mileage on my desk.  Great for stonefly nymphs, buggers and Cheech Leeches.  The BL is crazy sharp.

Daiichi (they mean it when they say "world's sharpest hooks")

  • 1130 - One of my favorite curved shank hooks for dry flies.  Thin wire, and slightly offset.  This thing hooks up really well.
  • 1150 and 1250 (barbless) - Another curved shank hook that has a slightly "up" eye.  This hook makes great chironomids and pupae patterns.
  • 1710 - 2xl nymph hook that is great for anything from stoneflies and mayflies in the smaller sizes, to wooly buggers in the larger sizes.
  • 2461 (Black straight eye 3xl) - This. Hook. Is. Mean.  One of my new favorites.  Flat black finish, and SHARP!!!  

Dai Riki

  • 730 -  2x nymph hook.  An affordable option for a bugger/nymph hook.  Typically sold in quantities of 50.  I have not had any problems with this hook.  Gold finish.
  • 135 Scud/Pupa - Dai Riki's scud hook.  Again, a good product for the money.

Umpqua Comp series  (Hanak)

  • 300BL Scud/Pupa -  Finally a good comp hook that is readily available.  These are top of the line barbless hooks, and you will pay the price for them.
  • 400BL Jig - Great hook for tying your anchor flies on.  With a tungsten bead, this one will ride hook point up and slither over rocks.

Umpqua U series - B sides... ( I avoid these hooks in smaller sizes.)

  • U301 3X nymph/streamer - I typically have these in sizes 2 and 4.  That's about the only size that has a consistent barb.  I have had deformities in barbs and eyes with these, but they are fairly cheap.
  • U502 Bass bug hook - This seems to be one of the shining stars of the U series.  Black nickel finish, and nice points/barbs.


  • S10 - This is a 2x long 1x fine dry fly hook.  I really like it for terrestrials and other longer bodied terrestrials.
  • R10B - 1x fine dry fly hook that is barbless.  This hook really penetrates well and retains fish due to its funky bend.  It is a very light wire hook, and I have bent some on fish, but it is a great tool for light line fishing to picky fish.
  • B10S - This hook has the same design as some of the wide gap bass bug hooks, and is great for warmwater flies, streamers, and some terrestrials.  I always have these on hand from 2/0 to 6.
  • C12U - This is THE worm hook.  I tie a lot of pig sticker style worms on this hook and it really hooks up well.
  • C12 BM 26-30 - This little hook is pretty insane...  Gammy quality all the way down to #30.  It also has somewhat of a larger eye to make threading tippet a bit easier.

Lazer Trokar

  • TK180 Straight eye streamer hook.  Designed to be fished with plastic worms, there is a plastic barb that is easily cut off to make it tying friendly.  The hook points on these Trokars are INSANE!!
    Cheech Leech tied on two TK180s
  • TK97 Curved shank / straight eye hook.  This is a great hook for tying clouser type flies.  This hook has pretty heavy wire, so a weightless fly will suspend and slowly sink.  This is my preferred hook for the low fat minnow.
  • TK10 Straight shank, straight eye, and straight money for pike/musky flies.  It has a welded loop and very think wire designed to be fished for huge saltwater fish.  I also use this a lot for bass patterns.


  • Why rate Cabela's hooks?  Because they are essentially identical to TMC hooks.  A Cabela's employee once told me that they get their TMC orders and the Cabela's hook orders in the same package...  The finish is dead on and the quality is great.  

As a general guideline, if you stick to hooks that have a conical - chemically sharpened point, you will have better luck hooking and keeping fish.  The above list is just a compilation of some of the hooks that I like to tie with.  I hope you find some of this information helpful so you can go out and rip some big fish!


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Hook Review: Allen D102BL

Sharp, Sexy and Functional

I don't very often design a fly around a specific hook, but when I got my first shipment of Allen D102BL hooks a few months back, there were several flies that screamed to be built on this puppy.

Elk Hair Caddis tied on the Allen D102BL
First off, I'm a fan of wide gap hooks. I think they give you a little more leeway in designing the pattern (room to move and adjust) and as long as your proportions are right, the flies tied on hooks like this should look great and will hook fish like no other.

From a functional standpoint, the hook is barbless but the slightly exaggerated upturn of the hook point provides a possible additional "grab" for those of you worried about coming un-buttoned on a fish.

The price is the next grabber on these hooks. A very reasonable price combined with the quality, makes for a very attractive option. I've purchased hooks from other manufacturers at similar low prices, only to find the hook quality and consistency severely lacking. The D102BL has been very consistent with no closed or open eyes and consistent hook strength.

Drake Soft Hackle tied on the Allen D102BL

So in summary, we give this hook 42 stars with a four-leaf clover and 10 bonus points.

>>>Buy your D102BL Hooks from our store

Fox Poopah on the Allen D102BL

Monday, August 12, 2013

Tying Tip: Finishing a Parachute

This is "the" way to tie off a parachute hackle

You may have tried other methods (we sure have), but this is one sure-fire way to tie off your parachute hackles in probably the cleanest and easiest fashion. You just need some super-glue a bodkin and to check out this Youtube video where we explain it:

Field Test Results: The Blingnobyl Wrecks...

A Serious Attractor Pattern Emerges

cutthroat trout fly fishing chernobyl ant blingnobyl
A cutthroat that slammed the Blingnobyl Ant

The Blingnobyl Ant is another field-testing work-in-process pattern that has been seeing some time on the water this summer. As I wrote about a few months ago, the pattern was originally designed to capitalize on this sparkly craft foam I found at the craft store. I like sparkly things and project that fascination onto the fish I'm targeting. It's only logical.

blingnobyl ant chernobyl dry fly pattern

Be that as it may, a recent trip to a high mountain lake brought up the possibility of throwing some bling at some native Bonneville Cutthroats. The evening hatch was more midge-focused than terrestrials, but I tied on a Blingnobyl as sort of a pop-gear type effect from which to trail some midge emergers. Even though the fish were laser focused on the Foamerger pattern, I caught a surprising number of fish on the big glitzy dry. Logical.

blingnobyl ant chernobyl dry fly pattern native cutthroat

The following day proved to be the litmus test for the pattern. Both during and after the morning midge hatch, the fish started to really key in on the Blingnobyl. When fished side-by-side with other terrestrials and even some match-the-hatch patterns, the Pink Bling really dominated. We ended up trying to throw other patterns, even in similar colors, but the fish still keyed largely on the Bling. By the end of the day, we were left scratching our heads as the fish literally destroyed and tore apart several of these patterns.

So I'm left to wonder what the "secret sauce" is. Orange legs? White Estaz underbelly? Hard to say, but this pattern just passed the field test and earned a spot on the varsity team with flying colors. Logical.

Anyway, the original post was here, but you can see the video tutorial below. Get some of these patterns in your box. Now.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Zaggin' Zook Bass Popper

Walk the Dog

A few years ago, I was fascinated with a common lure the bass guys throw a lot -- the Zara Spook. It's a topwater "walk-the-dog" style lure. Anyway, the hypnotic zig-zag motion with the accompanying clicking sounds were basically a dog whistle for fish on many occasions. As is my modus operandi, I set out to copy that motion with a fly. The Zaggin' Zook was born.

I took it through a number of on-the-water tests and fine-tuned the shape and weight distribution and came up with the final version that seems to do ok. It's nowhere near the action you'll get with the real lure, but it does a good job zagging back and forth given the right movement of line and moves a lot of water when you want to give it a sharp pop. Give it a try

smallmouth bass zaggin zook

Hook: Gamakatsu B10S 1/0
Thread: UTC GSP 100 Denier
Underbody: 0.30 lead free wire
Body: Rabbit and Squirrel Strips, Ice Wing Fiber, H2O Baitfish, Chartreuse Hackle Flash
Head: Pre-shaped Rainy's Foam Popper, Cut and Dremeled. Painted and coated with Clear Cure Goo

Monday, August 5, 2013

5 tips to selecting good deer/elk hair

Avoid bad hair days with these simple steps

Mini Workers help fly orders

I have been working on some fly orders lately and realized that I needed a new patch of elk hair for some caddis patterns.  I used to just go to the shop and grab whichever package of hair was "next in line" to be purchased, but over the years of having bad hair experiences, I have changed my strategy drastically.  I realized that there is almost a checklist of things that I look at to ensure that I buy the good stuff.  This checklist is also a good way to get looked at funny while you are shopping.

  1. Not all hair is created equally.  Decide what flies you need to tie and buy hair specific to each technique.  It's obvious that deer is different from elk, and caribou is different from moose, but each person might have their preferences.  I know this is somewhat common knowledge, so I won't go into it too much...  Some tyers prefer deer hair for tying elk hair caddis patterns, and others might use elk for spinning instead of deer.  I have many patches of deer hair that I label on the back with a sharpie.  I have specific patches for humpies, comparaduns, bass bugs, stimulators etc.  Point is; don't always trust what the package says until you can check it out for yourself.
  2. Check the black tips!!! (for deer and elk)  This is critical in buying a piece of hair.  Right at the tip of each hair, there is a black tip that looks pretty cool, but it is really fine and basically useless in tying.  That part of the hair is not hollow, so it doesn't aid the buoyancy of the fly at all.  When you are looking at a package of hair, make sure that the black tips are not very long, and that they are all relatively the same length.
    An example of good black tip length.
  3. Check for underfur.  Our hooved friends have to stay warm in the winter, so during the colder months they grow underfur that serves as insulation.  If the animal was harvested during the cold months, it is likely that the fur will have a lot of underfur.  It's not the end of the world if it has a lot of underfur because it can be combed out, BUT... if it is not completely removed, it will absorb water and eventually cause your fly to sink.  Ideally, you should buy patches of hair with minimal underfur.  Worst case scenario, you can brush it out with the Wasatch Fur Comb.  Arguably my favorite tying tool.
    Wasatch Fur Comb
  4. Check for length and color.  If you are looking for a good patch of hair for #4 salmon flies, you should probably be looking for something that is longer than average.  If you are looking for comparadun hair, look for something shorter and finer (I say this because I have bought packs that were labeled "comparadun" that were junk.  I have also found hair that was not labeled as "costal" or "comparadun" that works great for comparaduns.)  Also look for the color you want in a natural hair patch.  Each animal can vary slightly, so just because it is labeled "natural" it doesn't mean that it will always be the same color.
  5. Check overall condition of the patch.  Most manufacturers do a pretty good job of eliminating the bad hair, but there may be patches of hair that have a lot of broken or mangled hair on them.  It might be from the animal falling down, being shot etc.etc.  When you are looking over your hair patch, make sure that all (or most of) the tips are intact, and that they are relatively straight.

And as luck would have it, we stock a lot of high quality hand-selected deer and elk -- especially the incredible stuff from Nature's Spirit. Check it all out here.

~ Cheech

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Tying on Jig Style Hooks

Gettin' jiggy wit it...

Over the past few years I've seen a definite resurgence in the use of jig style hooks for tying flies. Once relegated to the bass or jig fishing world where I had to "sneak" my hooks from the bass hook section in stores, these effective hooks are showing up more and more in the line-ups of most fly hook manufacturers these days.

So what do you gain with these funky looking hooks? Well for starters, they typically are intended to ride hook point up, thus reducing snags on the bottom. There is also possible improvement in hook-up success due to the lever arm created by the bent section of hook. If this holds true, it would also explain why fish are more often hooked in the upper part of the mouth on these style hooks. You'll also notice that a lot of the competition guys are also fishing on these jig style hooks, and they don't mess around when it comes to fish "hookability".

A jig style crawdad pattern

As far as tying considerations, you'll need to think a bit upside-down in your tying as the hook will usually be inverted in the vise and you'll need to deal with the hook point on the top. If this becomes too much of a pain, you can also tie the flies "in the round" (similar to the baetis nymph above), where there really is no top or bottom to the pattern.

Great Stonefly pattern
So where do you get these jig style hooks? There are a variety of suppliers today that you can go to. However, our favorite right now, for the versatility (60 degree bend) and size availability -- especially for smaller nymphs, is Allen Fly Fishing. Their J100BL hooks, sold here, are sharp as can be and the price is great. The Tiemco/Umpqua C400BL hooks from their competition series are also very good hooks and come in a good size variety as well. You'll pay a steeper price though. Both are barbless. Other hook suppliers will have the jig hooks, but usually limit the selection to bigger sizes (Daiichi is my favorite for the #2 and bigger sizes).

Cheech's Snorkel Hopper
Here's a recipe on the Snorkel Hopper to get you started...