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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Bugger Leech

Get your spook on!

This is an oldie but a goodie. One of our favorite fall leech or bugger fly patterns. Nothing fancy, but it's a great pattern. I apologize for the old style picture and video on the fly, but you get the idea. It's more of a style that can combine the leechiness of a leech and the bugginess of a bugger. Make sure you have a good dubbing brush.

Cheech sporting the Halloween style buff on a fall Rainbow
Hook:  TMC 5263 #6 - #12
Thread:  UTC GSP 100 Denier Orange
Tail:  Rust/Orange Arctic Fox w/ orange Krystal Flash
Body:  Alternating black and orange dubbing in a dubbing loop. Mega-Simi Seal would be great for this.
Hackle:  Orange Grizzly

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

How to Make Shrimp or Crab mono eyes

Easy and awesome

how to make shrimp crab monofilament eyes
I'm sure most anyone has seen or has created their own monofilament eyes. It's not rocket science, but there are still a few things I've found that make it easier yet keep a bit of realism in the mix.

So for this method, you'll need:

  • 30 to 50 lb monofilament. The brand or type doesn't matter. Use whatever you have and whatever color you might want.
  • Clear Cure Goo. I use Hydro, but you can use whatever style you'd like. Because of the "sculp-a-bility" of Hydro, it's very difficult to get this shape and effect with anything else.
  • Lighter
  • Sharpie. You can color up the eye in any color or combination you might need. Crab eyes come in a wide variety of colors and sizes (another reason the Hydro and Sharpies come in handy here)

As shown in the video below, you simply melt the mono with a lighter (starting with the flame above the mono held vertically), allowing the glowing ball of liquid nylon to melt back on itself thus forming an eye shape. Once I extinguish the flame, I immediately flip the eye upside-down so that the still-malleable eye can pull back to form a nice tear-drop shape (shown here).

how to make shrimp crab monofilament eyes
Mono eye painted up and coated with CCG
You can then apply a bit of color with a sharpie before you coat and sculpt the shape a bit more (if needed) with the Clear Cure Goo. Pretty easy, but here's a video to show you how...

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Importance of Good Soft Hackle

Hungarian Partridge: Grade #1

Hungarian Partridge Skin, Grade #1 (Natural)

I'm not quite sure what it is, but I love to wrap soft hackle. Just something graceful about how those fibers lay when tied in and preened back with a nice clean head and tie-off. But don't settle for just any feathers when you're tying soft hackles or tying flies that call for Partridge. Pay close attention to the quality of feather to get the most bang for your buck. I'll try to lay down the reasoning here and explain why I sometimes have an inexplicable urge to cuddle with my Hun skins for warmth and comfort.

For the past few years, I've lived on a steady diet of a few Hungarian Partridge #1 olive and brown dyed skins from Hareline. They are, in a word -- exquisite. Because I'd been given a "natural" colored skin a few years ago by a good friend, I initially stuck to the olive and brown colors purchased from Hareline and used the natural color "wild" skin only when needed. The shot-in-the-wild bird was good, but nowhere near the quality of these skins from Hareline. Further, if you compare the quality of the bagged loose feather crap they sell in stores, it's an even bigger difference. In the end, I eventually broke down and relegated the wild bird to the left-over bin and bought the natural skin from Hareline.

Hungarian Partridge Skin, Grade #1 (Olive & Brown)
So why spend $30 on a full grade #1 skin? First off, I truly believe you get a much wider variety of feather than you do from a wild bird or lesser quality skins. The variety comes in both color variation as well as size variation. With these grade #1 skins you can tie very small to large flies and you can also pick the stiffer longer fibers along the wings and tail for other purposes (tails, legs, wings etc). Plus, the finer feathers on the neck are really fine. You can tie very small and clean soft hackles in larger numbers than what you'd get from a bag or an uglier bird. Plus, in a pinch, you can use them for a nice pillow if you're banished to your tying man-cave for misbehavior.

Here's an example of a feather from a Grade #1 skin. The colors and mottled aspect of the feather are more to my liking, the fibers are the perfect length and they're not as stiff so as to give better movement in the water.

 Using this feather, I tied up a nice classic "Partridge and Orange" soft hackle. You'll note the length is spot-on and the feathers lay nicely back without sticking out at right angles. It makes for a much more enjoyable tying session with good feathers. Spring for the nicer won't be disappointed.

Partridge and Orange Soft Hackle

Hook: Allen N205 BL #12 << Buy from our store --
Thread: Pearsall's Gossamer Silk, Orange
Body: Thread
Hackle. Grade #1, Hungarian Partridge Hackle, Natural

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Articulated Flies - The Importance of a Back Hook

Streamer fish have short man's syndrome

This Brown swiped the back half of the Mongrel Meat

Barely pinned on the back of a 7" prototype fly
I really didn't get on the articulated bandwagon until about 4 years ago when I started messing around with the Cheech Leech.  Admittedly, I tied the Cheech Leech in tandem because of a certain swimming motion that I was looking for, but I didn't think too much about how effective the back hook would be.  I think we have all heard people say "But... predatory fish will eat from the head first right?"  Logical, and I agree with this, BUT, this is definitely not a reason to omit a hook in the back of the fly.

Front hook!  He was hungry
Here is my logic, and it's nothing new, but something to think about specially if you are considering a fly that is long enough to warrant a back hook.  I always tell people that streamer eating fish are feisty...  More specifically, they are the short guy at the bar who has had a few and has something to prove (like the fact that he can drink BEER damnit- even if he's only 5'2" and uses a New York yellow pages book to see over the steering wheel of his F-350 dually).  Suppose you walk by that guy and bump into him accidentally - in his short guy syndrome brain, it's go time and fists are thrown...  He doesn't necessarily want to kill you, but he wants you to learn a lesson to never come over in short-guy land EVER again.  Ok. Ok. Point proven there Poindexter.  I regress - streamer fish are feisty, but they don't have fists to duke it out like shorty.  They have mouths, and tend to bite stuff to tell it to "get the hell out of here." (Wouldn't it be entertaining to see a bar fight where 5'2" dudes just bit each other?)  Anyway, this is why the back hook is so important.  When a fish is merely "enforcing" as opposed to eating, they will bite any part of the intruder that is available, and when a smaller fish flees from a bigger fish, there is a good chance that he's going to get bit in the tail.

So I wrote all that to write this.  Tie on good, sharp, and exposed back hooks to your articulated flies to catch more fish.

~ Cheech

If it's pink.. all bets are off.  They try to swallow the whole thing!

Back Hook Rainbow Swiper

Friday, October 11, 2013

REVIEW: Fish Skull Fish-Mask

The best disguise for your flies...

Ok, so not really a disguise, but the words rhyme, it's almost Halloween and it's a mask to boot. Anyway, I got a package in the mail a few weeks back and tore open the container of Fish Skull Fish-Masks (in a variety of sizes) to get a good look and feel. 

First off, I was impressed by the wide variety of sizes. Pretty much anything from a smallish nymph or leech all the way up to some big salt-water baitfish patterns would be covered.

The mask has an inset eye "socket" so you can very easily place some realistic style eyes in there nice and snug. A dab of super glue held like a champ. 

The mask also provides just a small amount of weight but without being too heavy and bulky to cast.

So with that said, I whipped up a double Trokar blood-drawing articulated baitfish pattern. Due to a funny incident with auto-correct on Cheech's text message, this fly was dubbed the "Double Wife". Also we live in Utah. ;)

The fly consists of Cascade Crest Tools Body fur (great stuff, BTW), some Arizona Diamond dubbing and some Cascade Crest Tools Krinkle Flash fibers with Senyo laser yarn mixed in there. I also ended up shooting the inside of the mask with Clear Cure Goo thick so that the mask would maintain a better grip on things. I suppose if you crammed it on there and then tied in front, pushing it back with thread, you'd be fine, but the CCG was quick, easy and painless.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Jake The Snake

Simple and effective

Olive Jake the Snake

We had just arrived at the 4 foot deep beaver dam after bushwhacking through some big nasty "moose hiding" bush, and we see some great brookies at the bottom of the hole.  I knew what I was going to throw, and immediately saw a flash of red, black, and white dart toward my presentation.  Fish on! But - it wasn't the big one.  Jake took a bit more time breaking down the hole, and he saw a much larger fish hanging in the bottom.  I had forgotten that I gave Jake some "experimental" flies to try, and little did I know that he decided to tie one on.  He made quick work of the grandpa fish of the hole, and to my surprise, he held up the fly that he caught it on.  In Jake's honor, It was dubbed Jake the Snake.

mountain brook trout effective fly pattern
Brook Trout Love the Snake!

I tied these originally for czech nymphing to fish in tandem with a much heavier anchor fly because there are times when I just want a lighter presentation to go along with the bigger nymphs.  This fly has no weight and is left to dance in the current a bit more than his tungsten brothers, and is also great for brookie beaver dams;).  The tail and body don't matter quite so much, but the hook and the dubbing really make this fly cool.  The dubbing is a very sparse dubbing loop of Arizona Synthetic Dub (to give the soft hackle effect), and the hook is an Allen D102BL.  Just look at the point on this thing - yep.  MEAN.  It also means that it sticks fish with minimal pressure.



Hook: Allen D102BL <--- Buy it here...
Thread: Uni 8/0
Tail: Coq de Leon
Body: Bug body wrap, or spanflex in a color to match the dub
Head: Arizona Synthetic Dub various colors

Video Tutorial

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Beginners: Getting Outfitted for Fly Tying

Fly Tying Kits or Not?

Cabela's Fly Tying Kit

Besides the popular, "can I tie with my cat's belly hair and what's the best way to extract it?" question, probably one of the more commonly asked questions for tyers is whether or not a fly tying kit is something a beginning tyer should consider. Or more specifically "There's so much stuff to buy, how do I know what to get???"

In simple terms, my answer is usually "it depends", but in general, kits can be a really convenient way to get started as long as they're full of stuff you'll need and use and not some store-bought made-in-China setups. There are two good reasons we recommend being careful with those types of kits:

  • First and foremost, almost any commercial kit I've seen usually has materials or tools that you don't need. What I mean by that is that you might be interested in tying pheasant tails and brassies, but it comes with materials to tie flies that are not specific to your region or your style of fishing. Or worse, they throw in a couple of spools of regular sewing thread or some huge pieces of regular yarn that you wouldn't use anyway. In that case, a custom-built kit would be the way to go. With that, you can choose the specific materials in the quantities and colors you choose.
  • A good portion of the pre-assembled kits have sub-par tools and/or materials. While I've seen some quality kits out there, I'd say the majority of them try to skimp on both quality and quantity of tools and materials. I remember back to when I got into tying over 20 years ago and I, of course, rushed out and bought a kit. I probably still have materials from that kit that I've yet to use because they were either horrible quality or the colors were not consistent with the materials I needed. Now this doesn't mean there aren't good kits, but you'll see a mixed bag there. Don't be fooled into thinking that because the kit is cheaper than the sum of the individual parts, that you're actually saving money.
What you have to look forward to!

So because of these two challenges, we've decided to take a different approach. We get asked by all sorts of beginning tyers what we think the "perfect kit" would be. There are two ways to go about this:

Curated fly tying kit
  1. If you're more of a do-it-yourselfer or have a few tools already, we've provided a fly tying kit primer for a list of what to look for. The options listed there are good tools and you can pick and choose what you want. You can also choose materials based on what flies you might tie. It's more of a hunt-and-peck effort, so if you want to just cut to the chase, look at the 2nd option here.
  2. The 2nd option here is more for the "give me all the stuff I need so I don't have to hunt around and find things all over the place!". Cheech and I have gone through our most popular tools, vises, materials and doodads to come up with a curated list of things that we would recommend to anyone starting out. They range from just materials to just tools to all of the above. You can mix and match and pick only what you want! Check them out here.
    The main advantage to this option here is that you get a complete material and tool list to tie some very specific and useful entry level flies. Not only that, these flies are all documented and include video tutorials for your viewing pleasure.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Chimera

A fly with many faces...

I went through a phase a few years ago where I tried to really minimize the number of flies I carried -- especially on back country trips where space and weight are important factors. After one specific outing where I caught fish on scuds, damsels and callibaetis, I decided it was time to pick a few features on each type of bug and create a mega-bug "Chimera" style fly that had pieces of several insects. It's not so much a generic searching or attractor pattern as it is a multi-tasking bug imitator.
brook trout fly pattern chimera damsel dragonfly
A high mountain Fall Brook Trout that fell to a black Chimera
 I ended up spending some time at the vise and combined a few nymph styles, including a couple I stole from Cheech, and came up with this pattern. I've been fishing it now on some stillwaters and even a couple of rivers and it's done very well. The nice thing is this fly, depending on color and size, can pass as a scud, callibaetis, damsel, dragon fly or whatever else you might want to cover. What makes it even nicer is that you have a set of materials for one pattern that's tied the same, just mixing those colors up.

Mix up the colors, go wild.
Give it a try. It's a fun one to tie...

Hook:  Mustad C49S #10 or Partridge Czech Nymph Hook  -- Buy It-- 
Thread: UTC Ultrathread, 70 Denier Black  -- Buy It --
Eyes: 50 lb Mono, Melted
Ribbing: UTC Ultrawire, Silver, SM -- Buy It --
Top Coat: Loon Flow

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Muskoka MagnaVise

Innovation meets functionality

Muskoka Magnavise and Workstation

Magnavise with magnetic base
Last spring Curtis and I were tying at the annual Wasatch Fly Tying Expo and people came over to us to ask if we had gone to see "the vise."  This piqued my interest, so I went over to see what all of the attention was about.  The "vise" was the Muskoka Magnavise.  The first thing that struck me about the MagnaVise is that it looks REALLY cool, so the sexy factor got a big check-mark from me.  Upon talking to the vise's creator, Matt Plott, we found out that he was a mechanical engineer with a background in designing medical instruments.  Precision... check.  Then I asked him if I could steal one for an hour or so to give it a whirl.  I will preface the rest of this post with the fact that I'm pretty particular about vises, and it's hard for me to tie with anything other than my trusty Griffin

Mongoose.  I got the vise back to my station, and was immediately curious about the holding strength of the jaws.  They are of the "spring-loaded" variety similar to a Regal, but they have grooves in order to hold bigger hooks.  The first hook I put in the vise was a TMC 518 #32.  There is enough bare metal in the very front of the jaw to hold most normal sized hooks, and I found that it held the 32 very snugly.  The next test was a 4/0 Lazer Trokar hook.  This took some doing, but I got it in there and it was rock solid once I found it's sweet spot.  That's another thing that I noticed - with bigger hooks, it took a bit of getting used to in order to get the grooves to bite.  Once I had that figured out, I didn't have any issues.  The verdict?  I needed to take it home to do some more serious tying.


Lever inserted into the back of the vise
Once home, I made some critical adjustments to make it conducive to my style of tying.  Typically, if a vise isn't true rotary, it's not going to get used by me - BUT, I made an exception for this one.

  1. The first thing I did was adjust the angle of the vise to be a little closer to parallel to my desk.  That addressed the rotary issue well enough.
  2. As I got tying, I realized that I would have more room behind the fly if the jaw was upside down
    (as pictured).  Luckily, this thing was built with medical precision, and it was very simple to do, and upon talking to the manufacturer, it was designed to be configured either way.  Cool by me.
  3. I had to have a way to rotate the vise without twisting a "dial" so I constructed a crank assembly out of wooden dowels at the back of the vise.  I talked to Muskoka, and they said that they have something in the works to address this.  They also said that the main lever of the vise could be inserted in the back of the vise in order to rotate it.
  4. The next thing I did was tighten all the screws on the head of the vise.  The tighter you get them, the closer you will come to 100% positive lockout of a small hook.
Magnavise ready for travel
After these adjustments were made, I tied on the vise for 60 days straight, and came to the conclusion that I would probably be able to tie on this vise permanently if I had to.  What I like the most is the adjustability of all the pieces, and how much functionality you have with the magnet system.  


I also got the work station, and immediately found out that I REALLY like the thread management system.  It's very simple to pop a spool into, and out of, the attached adjustable arms.  Very cool!  I must say that I was a bit apprehensive about the magnetic system, but it holds as solid as any other pedestal base.  I have to stand up and put my weight (A LOT) into removing the pedestal from the work station.  Another cool thing about it is that  the stem is adjustable, so you can raise the height as if it were a C-clamp.
Close up of the head


  • I like this vise.  If I weren't so attached to my rotary vise, I might even consider making this one my every day vise due to the ease of use, and the ergonomics
  • Magnetic features 
  • The thread holders in the work station
  • Very adjustable 
  • Simple to use
  • Very sexy styling 
  • Made in the USA, and great warranty
  • Not a true rotary (maybe just personal preference)
  • There is a comfort level that needs to be reached in placing hooks in the vise.  Once I knew where to seat the hook, it became more automatic. (Grooves vs. no grooves)
  • It struggles holding hooks of various sizes and shapes on a consistent basis. Probably the biggest downfall is just the lack of a true hook-holding consistency.
  • Lack of accessories with the kit (rotary crank, material clip, bobbin cradle

In all, this is a very high quality piece of equipment that will suit a lot of fly tyer's needs on the bench.  If I had my druthers, I think I would prefer a jaw with no ridges, or with only 1 or 2 ridges to get closer to 100% positive lockout on the hooks.  And... I would find a way to design a true rotary vise. 


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Fall Sculpins

A mover and a shaker

A few weeks ago, I was cleaning off my never-clean tying workbench and came across a few left-over mini Fish-Skull sculpin helmets from a previous tying session. I was headed up to do some streamer fishing in the next few days so I figured I needed to put it to use.

I snagged some Spirit River Dos Jailed Rabbit in the sculpin color (it was waiting for this pattern anyway), some Rainy's craft fur, some senyo laser yarn and some Wapsi Palmer chenille for a good underbody.

Adding another sculpin pattern to the arsenal isn't a bad thing and to keep this in the family, I'm naming it "El Sculp├│n" a bit gaudier than its brother "El Sculpito"

One of the key features on this guy is the flared craft fur "fins" that I tie in facing forward and then force backwards as I apply the helmet to the fly. It's a fun one to tie and it ended up having incredible darting and bobbing action in the water, while riding hook-point up and relatively snag-free. Fish liked it too...


Hook: Do-It Molds 785 60 degree jig hook #2
Thread: Tan GSP
Tail: Spirit River Dos Jailed Rabbit - Sculpin
Body: Wapsi Palmer Chenille, Black craft fur, black Senyo laser yarn
Fins: Tan Craft Fur
Head: Fish-Skull Mini Sculpin helmet

Maybe a tutorial on this one would be warranted....stay tuned....