Classic Fly Tier Turns to Salt

That would be me, not turning to salt, but tying some saltwater flies, specifically a palolo worm pattern for tarpon in the Florida Keys. Going back twenty years, and off and on since then, I have tied Clouser Minnows, Deceivers, and some original squid-type patterns for stripers and cold saltwater fish, and once did an order of some bonefish flies. But I have never tied tarpon flies, except for a handful of Stu Apte’s Tarpon Fly that was on the 1991 United States postage fishing fly stamp series. These all went into frames with the stamp.

This palolo worm pattern came about in a strange way. It seems a customer found the site www.MyFlies.com, and saw my Floating Inchworm pattern; here’s a pic of that for those of you who have not seen it:

My original design, Floating Inchworm pattern.

My original design, Floating Inchworm pattern. The hook is a #16 TMC 2488. This fly is a great late spring, all-summer, and into fall dry fly search pattern. When the hatches taper off trout turn to terrestrials, and this fly fits that need nicely.

So my customer saw this fly, and somehow thought I could perhaps adapt this design to a tarpon fly. Say what? I think of tarpon as these large, predatory fish that can bust up your tackle, not to mention wearing you out in the process of trying to land one.

The palolo worm is tropical and various species of them live in coral reefs around the world. In researching them I discovered the Samoans covet them as a delicacy. And they breed once a year, a night-time spectacle that lasts only a few hours. The annual spawn and harvest of these things is a ritual celebration in some places. I never thought that tarpon would eat something so small, yet I know big trout eat tiny midges, and grizzly bears eat little moths, and a two-hundred pound human will eat a single peanut, raisin, or one M&M, though the latter is hard to do. The reason why trout, tarpon, and grizzly bears eat small food items is that they can occur in large numbers, making the caloric intake worth the effort.

My customer explained to me that the palolo worm larva hatch in abundance, and they are about 2-1/2 to 2-5/8 inches long, and they do not undulate, but rather look like a stick moving in the water. They have small legs, sort of like those on a centipede, that move, but you can’t see these until you get close. My customer also explained that if the projected pattern would float or at least, sink slower than any other palolo worm patterns that it would work to his advantage.

I used closed-cell foam, 2mm, and doubled the cut section up to make the body. This image shows a finished worm body on a tube fly jig:

Original design, a palolo worm body on a tube fly jig. I later used a large-sized paper

Original design, a palolo worm body on a tube fly jig. I later used a large-sized straighten-out paper clip because it had a uniform size diameter for the entire length of the body. I was initially working onto the tapered part of the jig.

I was using Wapsi Ultra-Thread brown in 6/0, but only because I had some. I really don’t care for that thread, it seems to flatten out and fray too easily. When that spool was used up I went to Danville 3/0 brown monocord. To illustrate how much thread these things used, I went through a full 50-yard spool of the monocord in a few hours, which reminded me of my commercial tying days, when I did the same thing, using an entire spool of monocord in a day, tying Wooly Buggers. Most tiers have no clue as to what that volume of tying is like. I also put a huge dent into the second spool of monocord until these were finished.

Here is a macro of the finished worm:

Don Bastian's original design Palolo Worm pattern, the hook is an Owner

Don Bastian’s original design Palolo Worm pattern, the hook is an Owner 1/0 Mosquito Hook, #5377-111 Black Chrome. Bass Pro Shops carry these hooks, so I was fortunate to be able to order them from my local Bass Pro Outlet which is also Winner Hardware in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. If you have never tied on these hooks, let me tell you, they are excellent quality. And sharp as a needle.

The body section on the hook has a strip of foam pulled over the top like a nymph case; the ribbing is the tying thread made with my reverse-dubbing process, and the “legs” are the rabbit fur picked out and clipped just like when making a cress bug pattern. The color is a custom blended mix of brown rabbit that I have in a large ziploc bag; I can’t remember what is in it because I made it up about fifteen years ago and labeled it “Dark Sulfur Nymph.” Finding that when looking for the right color of dubbing to use on these worm, I thought, “perfect.”

The entire lot in the order, fifty-four in all.

The entire lot in the order, fifty-four in all.

Each fly took me about six minutes to make, start to finish, of course I made all the bodies first, then began the process of lashing the abdomen to the hook, dubbing, and finishing the top segment with the tying thread ribbing.

I think they will work…but I’m relying on my customer who will soon be putting them to the test. I’m hoping for a Grand Slam with this design!

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Partridge and Hare’s Ear Soft-Hackle

My friend Bill Shuck in Maryland just sent me another photo and recipe of his latest fly tying efforts. It is a Pete Hidy style rendition of the Partridge and Hare’s Ear Soft-hackle wet fly / flymph.

It is taken from a recipe in the book, The Masters on the Nymph, by Migel and Wright.
Caddis “Partridge and Hare’s Ear.”
Hook: Gaelic Supreme Jack Mickievicz Letort Dry Fly Standard Shank, Size #14
Thread: Pearsall’s Gossamer, #10 Ash
Hackle: One or two turns of partridge hackle slightly longer than the hook
Ribbing: Fine gold wire
Body: Hare’s poll on ash silk thread
Head: Same as body thread
This looks like a killer pattern; simple, easy to tie, all-purpose generic food item that has wide appeal to the trout. Thanks Bill for your great tying and for the photo!
Partridge and Hare's Ear Soft-hackle Caddis / Flymph. Tied and photographed by Bill Shuck.

Partridge and Hare’s Ear Soft-hackle Caddis / Flymph. Tied and photographed by Bill Shuck.

This fly has got to be a great performer in a two or three fly rig, swung down-and-across.

Parmacheene Belle – Antique Replica

Some of my readers have heard me say that I don’t have a “favorite” classic wet pattern, which is true; it’s so hard to pick only one from the hundreds of possibilities. But considering I first tied the Parmacheene Belle forty years ago in 1974, and the fact that it was also my first-ever married wing wet fly, it has remained at the top of a list of my favorite wet flies. I enjoy tying them; I’ve probably tied more than five hundred of them over the years,  and I also love looking at any well-tied Parmacheene Belle. The fly has a great combination of color – selection, arrangement, and balance, as well as material choice, and the best part: It catches fish! It was a successful fly back in 1876 when Henry P. Wells first created the pattern and named it for Lake Parmacheene in Maine’s Rangeley Lakes Region. Back then it was still possible to catch brook trout in the Rangeley Lakes that exceeded eight pounds in weight. The “Belle” also proved an effective fly for landlocked salmon as well. Well over one-hundred thirty years later, my fly fishing relatives, my friends, a number of my customers, and me, have all caught trout on this fly in waters scattered across the country. I have customers every year who order some to fish with. Successful catches of fish on the Parmacheene Belle also includes the unexpected bonus of brown and rainbow trout. I’ve even heard tell of anglers out west catching cutthroat trout on them as well. Hairwing versions of this fly were among some early 20th century steelhead patterns; in fact Plate No. 11 in Bergman’s Trout presents a hairwing version of the Parmacheene Belle.

I have written a number of posts on this fly during the last four years since I started my blog, and if you care to research them, simply use the search tab, type in “Parmacheene Belle,” hit the enter key and off you go! It will bring up every article that is titled or even mentions this fly. I did a married-wing streamer version of this about three years ago.

My introduction to this pattern came through Trout, 1938, by Ray Bergman. It was a favorite pattern of his for catching large brook trout. In fact, in With Fly, Plug and Bait, 1947, Ray describes an occasion when he caught a large brook trout in Canada using a tandem wet fly rig consisting of two Parmacheene Belle wet flies, I believe they were both size #4. These flies were close together, much like a miniature tandem streamer.

The research for my ongoing book project, Favorite Fishing Flies – 1892, led me to the American Fly Fishing Museum in Manchester, Vermont, where the actual fly plates used in Mary Orvis Marbury’s 1892 book, Favorite Flies and Their Histories, are stored and occasionally placed on display. I had the privilege of gaining access to and viewing, studying, and photographing these historic fly plates. My work with them allowed me to ascertain many previously misidentified components of these patterns. This includes the tying recipes listed in every known publication that has claimed to represent these old wet fly patterns that were at one time cataloged by the Orvis Company. The problem was that Mary did not include the fly dressings for the patterns in her book. My research also led to to the 1883 book written by Charles F. Orvis and Albert Nelson Cheney, called Fishing With the Fly. In that book, there is a chapter called Fly Fishing in the Rangeley Region by Henry P. Wells, the originator of the Parmacheene Belle. In his chapter he presents the complete (almost- see below) original dressing for his pattern. I found it odd that the Orvis version did not feature the original white-with-red-stripe married wing that he specified, but rather, a simpler wing of married red and white in equal parts. Subsequent variations of this pattern developed over time, some no doubt modified to make them easier to tie commercially, and others as a result of unknown reasons.

A friend provided actual, custom-dyed mohair dubbing that I could use for the body, as specified by the originator. This mohair dubbing is available on John McClain’s website: www.feathersmc.com

I also started tying and teaching the reverse-wing method that was widely used in the 19th century for mounting wings on practically all fishing flies. My reasoning for this is that the threads in use for fly tying at the time were made of either cotton or silk and lacked the tensile strength of modern threads. Therefore, to prevent wings pulling out of the flies, someone developed the method of mounting the wings to be tied in, backwards, with the butt ends facing to the rear, wrapped in place, then the forward portion of the feathers were folded over to make the wing of the fly, and a band of thread, resembling a collar, was wound in place over the folded butt end of the wings to provide the final stage of secure the feathers to the hook. This caused the heads of the fly to be large, bulky, and rather unattractive, but nonetheless, completely functional. This method also calls for longer sections of wing quills to complete the process; goose wings quills are my preference, and one must be careful regarding the proportions so that the finished, folded-back wing is properly sized to the hook.

This method also gave the flies of the day their characteristic high wing angle. My personal feeling is that too many tiers today attempt to replicate these historic flies, and they too often use the widely available goose shoulders for the wings. This material looks fine, depending on your point of view, but goose shoulder was used mostly to make “splits” or side-sections on wings to add extra colors to a pattern, and was not used on wings, according to the hundreds of antique flies that I have seen and studied. Goose shoulder was used to make wings and sometimes tails on the old lake, bass, and trout flies. Flies made like this today are perfectly acceptable in that they look fine, they display well, especially to an untrained eye, and they will catch fish, but with the inherent low, sleek-looking wing that goose shoulder renders, they are not historically accurate. I’m talking about the original patterns, not just following or substituting ingredients and then lashing them willy-nilly to the hook. I believe the accurate reproduction of these historic flies is important, and is something that should not be forgotten. Like our society and culture in general, even in fly tying, at times it seems like there is too much of an “anything goes” attitude.

Following that slight but pertinent digression, I present a historically accurate reproduction of the famous the Parmacheene Belle:

Parmacheene Belle, 2/0.

Parmacheene Belle, 2/0. The authentic silk gut leader is doubled at the head of the fly, creating what was known as a “helper” or bite guard. This was either whipped with thread and varnished, or knotted an inch or so ahead of the head of the fly, and then another loop was made on the leader to provide a snelled loop-to-loop connection. The bite guard was thought to strengthen the leader and prevent the fish from breaking off the fly at this critical joint in the connection. This specimen also features the traditional closed-wing, tip-down mounting of the quills that was most popular at the time. Red was often used as a finishing thread on old flies.

Here is Henry Wells’ written narration of his recipe description for the Parmacheene Belle, taken from the text of his chapter in Fishing With the Fly:

“This fly somewhat resembles the No Name figured as No. 15 of Lake Flies in this book. As I tie it, the tail is two strands of white and two of scarlet; the body of yellow mohair, with silver tinsel; the hackle double; first white, with scarlet hackle wound over this – capping the former, so to speak; the wing white, striped with scarlet. By scarlet, the color of the scarlet ibis is to be understood.”

Wells does not mention the tag or butt components, but these ingredients, determined by my visible inspection of the 1893 Orvis Fly Display in the American Museum of Fly Fishing, are silver tinsel and peacock herl. Cosmetically speaking, especially considering the head, this is not representative of my “cleanest, most tidy” work. But that is not the intent with this article. My desire was to accurately replicate an actual 19th century Parmacheene Belle Lake Fly, as if you went back in time. I believe this is right on to what you would find in 19th century fishing fly store bins. The 2/0 hook was not outlandishly large for a brook trout upwards of five pounds.

My friend, Roger Plourde, has vintage silk gut for sale in various sizes, the price is $15.00. His e-mail is:  rplourde01@comcast.net

I decided to include and re-post the photo of my Parmacheene Belle Streamer as well:

Parmacheene Belle Streamer

Parmacheene Belle Streamer, dressed on a 4x long hook. This older version features a yellow-dubbed body, rabbit fur. This fly illustrates is a little more “polished” representation of my fly tying.

Some of you might have noted a recent reduction in my posts here over the last few months. The reason for that is that I have been extremely busy since mid-November. I’ve added a couple new and significant and fun things to my life, one of which is drumming. I resurrected my musical ability and involvement after years  of inactivity. My rock band disbanded in 1979, and other than an occasional performance in church or at a theater musical, I haven’t played in years. My late wife, Lou Anne, and I sang in a gospel quartet for twenty-seven years, and I have not sung anywhere since our last performance in August of 2006. She passed seven years ago this month.

I started off as a substitute drummer in a local classic rock band for a New Year’s Eve gig. Considering my schedule of two November fly tying shows, Thanksgiving, deer season, and Christmas, I ended up having to learn over sixty songs in two weeks. In early February, my drumming with the Pepper Street Band suddenly became a full-time position due to the fact their regular drummer has developed a serious health issue that has side-lined him for a while.

Right after New Year’s Day I also committed to joining the contemporary praise and worship band, Firstborn, at Pine Street United Methodist Church in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, where I have the added musical experience and fun of playing an electronic drum set. I also started singing again, mostly regular visits with friends to karaoke bars where I sing anything from George Thorogood to Toby Keith to Trace Adkins, ZZ Top, Billy Joel, Georgia Satellites, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Van Morrison, Lynyrd Skynyrd, even Frank Sinatra. I’m also the newest member of Cornerstone, the contemporary choir at Pine Street church as well. Firstborn performs every Sunday at the 8:30 service, and Cornerstone sings at the same service twice a month. Plus, I sing the lead vocals on a half-dozen of the songs on the Pepper Street playlist. Here’s a link to their song list: http://www.pepperstreetband.com/song_list%20II.html

Don’t worry folks, I’m not giving up my fly tying career! Just suddenly having a lot more fun! I thank God for my renewed good health! I also found out the best thing to do with negative, toxic, trash-talking people who try to mess with or mess up your life is to forget them and not address them in any way. That’s healthy too! Besides, it is impossible to reason with people who habitually spread rumors and prevaricate the truth about someone else for their own, selfish interests and perceived personal gain. You know what they say:”What goes around comes around.”

I’ve gotten more active on facebook; my band gigs and schedule is generally posted there, along with a link from my blog as well. Anyone interested in following my more personal and / or musical activity, just let me know, besides a friend request, please include a PM.

Thank you all for your many years of support! I am personally grateful to each of you for your belief in me and what I do. Me? I’m having too much fun, doing what I’ve always done, and going back to my musical roots. I was singing and playing drums before I ever started tying flies. Adding the music and meeting so many new people who are nice, decent folk, has already brought new friends into my life. I have a feeling this is only going to get better!

Emerging March Brown Soft-Hackle – Flymph

My friend Bill in Maryland sent me this photo of a March Brown Soft-hackle / Flymph that he recently tied all in the style of and following the recipe of Vernon L. “Pete” Hidy. Bill is an excellent tier and does great work on these patterns. Here is the e-mail message from Bill. I started off asking him a question about this fly, was it a soft-hackle or a flymph? Here is Bill’s reply, the fly photo, and recipe.

“Technically it’s both; all flymphs are soft hackles. “Flymph” is the term coined by Pete Hidy to describe the type of pattern that Jim Leisenring developed to imitate the stage between a nymph and an adult. Here’s the recipe for this Pete Hidy version of an emerging March Brown as published in T. Donald Overfield’s Famous Flies and their Originators. (Note: Both Leisenring and Hidy used large ribs on many of their patterns, so I substituted for the ribbing in the Overfield recipe to make it look more like their original flies.) Great tying Bill!

Pete Hidy style Emerging March Brown, dressed and photographed by Bill Shuck.

Pete Hidy style Emerging March Brown, dressed and photographed by Bill Shuck.

Emerging March Brown Soft-hackle / Flymph

Hook: Long shank mayfly, Size #12 Mustad R50U

Thread: Pearsall’s Gossamer silk, #19 hot orange

Hackle: Brown partridge

Tail whisks: Brown partridge

Rib: Gudebrod “D” rod winding thread (sub for Primrose silk or gold wire)

Body: Blend of hare’s poll (90%) and orange-brown wool (10%) spun in orange silk thread on a Clark spinning block.

Very nice tying job, Bill! Thanks for sharing the photo and information!

Martinis and Thread Wraps

I’m sitting here tying some classic Fanwing Royal Coachman drys, just started on some #8 hooks; all two dozen hooks #8, #10,#12, have the wings already mounted, so the hard part is done! This thought hit me as I set the tinsel tag on the first hook:

What is the similarity between Martinis and thread wraps to secure tags, tails, floss, ribbing?

One is not enough, three is too many!

Yup. Tie in and wrap the tag, secure with two wraps. Add the tail, secure with two wraps. Add the peacock herl for the rear of the body, and here of course you have to wrap forward to the hook point. I’ll try to get photos to post before I ship the order.

Cracker Bass Fly

My lack of presence here on my blog over the last couple months was previously explained in a couple recent posts. Since deer season ended on December 14th I have been home, but I was especially busy; spending most of my time learning the drum parts for a list of almost sixty songs in preparation for my drumming gig on New Year’s Eve with the Pepper Street Band. That all went very well, the band members were pleased by my time spent learning their music, and they all told me I did a great job. It was a BLAST! That was the first full band gig I played in thirty-four-and-a-half years. I hope to do that more often. I will say, that yesterday and even today, the muscles in my fingers, wrists, and forearms are showing a little soreness from the exercise I got drumming. And my right leg too, from working the bass drum pedal. It’s a good kind of pain! It is a wonderful feeling to revive my music playing ability, which I regret to have kept dormant for so long. In the coming months and years, I hope to continue both my fly tying, fishing, and music interests, since they are primarily my main hobby interests in life.

To start off 2014, I wanted to post the beautiful fly tying and photographic work of a friend, Royce Stearns, who is also one of the contributing tiers to my book, Favorite Fishing Flies: 1892, a work still in progress. This is the Cracker, from Favorite Flies and Their Histories, 1892, by Mary Orvis Marbury. Royce and I were in a bit of an e-mail exchange before Christmas; he wanted to know what my book research turned up for the blue body on the Cracker. I also discovered, not surprisingly, since it seems to be a recurring theme, a few other differences in previously published pattern recipe components when comparing my photographs of the actual book plate flies and my personal examination of the flies and my macro photos. The Cracker was included among the plates of Bass Flies in Marbury’s book, but according to its originator, George Trowbridge, of New York, New York, “It (the Cracker) has caught every variety of fish which rises to the fly, when it has been cast over the waters that these fish inhabit.”

J. Edson Leonard’s 1950 book, Flies, states the body on the Cracker is blue floss. Forgotten Flies, 1999, calls for a body of deep blue dubbing. Neither is correct, though some would say those are “pattern variations.” Which is true, but only to a certain extent. Any writer can alter one ingredient of a fly, publish it as “correct” and if that happens a couple times with different authors, then guess where that might lead? Both books call for married black and white goose in the wing. Another “difference.” The actual black and white in the wing is neither of those feathers, but rather is white-tipped turkey. That can even be recognized in the book plate fly through scrutiny of the wing. Here’s another tidbit of pattern recipe information, from the originator’s words in Marbury’s book: “It is purposely overdressed. The mohair of the body should be picked out to make the fly.” Ah ha! Mohair body! And this in the words of the pattern originator. So that component has been positively identified. I have a sneaking suspicion that Leonard studied the play fly images from Marbury’s book when he recorded their pattern recipes in Flies, and made his best guess as to what they were. If one is recording fly pattern recipes for posterity, then they should be correct, or at least as close as possible to what the originator intended. That is my belief. I’m not really knocking the excellent work of writers that went before me, because overall, Flies is a great book and a valuable resource and fly tying reference. Forgotten Flies is a one-of-a-kind volume. It’s just that I’m detail-oriented to determining the exact pattern components of the 120-year-old flies from Marbury’s book, considering up to this point time, that has not been done for every fly in her book. On to the Cracker:

The Cracker

The Cracker, dressed and photographed by Royce Stearns.

Cracker

Tag:                 Flat gold tinsel and yellow wool

Tail:                 Peacock sword, blue, red, yellow, and gray mallard, mixed

Ribbing:          Flat silver tinsel

Body:               Medium blue mohair, well picked out (seal fur could also be used)

Wing:              Red, yellow, blue, and white-tipped turkey, with shorter sections of peacock sword

Hackle:           Orange

Head:             Black or dark gray thread

There are slight differences between the pattern recipe and the fly tied by Royce, but the recipe was determined by my close study of the actual 120-year-old plate fly. There is no gray mallard visible on the tail of the book plate fly, but the pattern used for the book has the gray mallard on it. Artist omission? Possible. See; anytime information is passed along from one source to another, there is the risk of errors. I’m not perfect, but I hope to minimize mistakes and get these flies right.

Here are a few more notes about the Cracker – the kinds of fish taken on it as recorded by Mr. Trowbridge: Tarpon, channel bass, sea trout, cavaille` (Jack Crevalle), rovaille` (don’t know what that is), bluefish, Spanish mackerel, grouper, mangrove snapper (redfish), skip-jack, sheepshead, sailor’s choice (no idea what that is), and another nondescript fish. It is interesting for a “Bass Fly” that it was not known by Mr. Trowbridge to ever be tried for black bass at the time of his letter to Mary Orvis Marbury, but it was successful in the North for salmon, and trout in Maine, the Adirondacks and Canada. Hook sizes preferred by the originator ranged from No. 8 “for small brook trout in Maine, ‘Kennebago size’ as they say there. No. 3 is about right for trout from 3/4 lb. to 1-1/2 lb. No. 1 is what I use for the largest channel bass. It is a good size for trout from 1 to 3 lbs. in Canada. If trout are expected to run larger than that, I prefer a larger fly.”

This pattern has been a sleeper for many years, and while it is a complex fly to tie, I believe it would be worth it to experiment for some of the fish mentioned in Mr. Trowbridge’s letter. Thank you Royce, for sending me the photo and for allowing me to post your fine work!

Christmas Wet Flies

Last year, a good friend of mine who is a fly tier and lives in Fergus, Ontario, sent me a Christmas card with two original classic style wet fly patterns in it, themed to the holiday season in traditional and festive Christmas colors. Since today is Christmas Day I though it appropriate to share them with my readers and friends.

The St. Nick and The Yuletide

The St. Nick and Yuletide, Christmas wet flies originated and tied by John Hoffmann of Fergus Ontario.

This was a great idea (still is!) and I have kept this card taped to my refrigerator all year, since this was sent to me for Christmas 2012. I added the pattern recipes below in case anyone wants to download them and maybe tie them up for next year’s Christmas cards. Or perhaps these fine dressings will inspire you to create your own Christmas fly patterns for next year!

St. Nick:

Thread: Red

Tag: Flat gold tinsel

Butt: Black chenille

Ribbing: Fine flat gold tinsel

Body: Red floss

Hackle: White

Wing: Red married to white

Head: Red

Yuletide:

Thread: Red

Tag: Red floss

Butt: Peacock herl

Ribbing: Fine oval gold tinsel

Body: Red floss

Hackle: Green and red mixed

Wing: Green

Head: Red

A few old classic patterns come to mind if one were to tie some standard patterns for Christmas: Scarlet Ibis, Ibis and White, Katydid, Alexandra, and the Split Ibis, that one especially with its married wing of red and white striping, like a candy cane!

Thanks John, for your friendship, kindness, and creativity! Merry Christmas to all! And to all a Good Night!