Ten Fly Tying Idiosyncrasies

I suppose you could call these fly tying tips, but I’m aware of my own limitations and hesitate to make any great claims for these odd ways of mine. I only publish them because they may be useful, or at least a source of amusement, to others.

Number 1 No Whip Finishing Tool

I learnt to tie flies from books and magazine articles (in the dark ages before the enlightenment of the Internet and the coming of the great god Google). I didn’t know anyone who tied flies and there weren’t any shops selling fly tying gear where I lived (and this was even pre-mail order!).

So I taught myself how to whip finish using my fingers. Took me ages, until I realised what I was trying to achieve, namely, wrapping that part of the loop over the standing thread. Here’s pretty much how I do it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-WqowBsrBY

Number 2. I tie backwards

Just about everyone else I know winds the thread up, over and away. Me I tie down, under and towards. Not better, not worse, just different. The result of self-teaching from books, perhaps.

Number 3 Nail varnish

Now, I know I am not alone in raiding the bargain bin for nail varnish to use instead of fly tying varnish/cement. I have three types that I use fairly often:- clear, white, and glitter. The clear is for general purpose use. The white I use for white heads or white background for eyes. The glitter is used for fish bodies or just to add a little flash.

A little trick: I cut the brush applicator down to a few hairs for applying the clear varnish to small flies.

Number 4 Eyes on flies

Usually I will build up a head out of tying silk (yes, that’s silk see Number 5) and apply the clear varnish as a base coat. When that is dry I will add a dab of white on each side. When dry I will make the pupil using a fine black marker (Sharpie). Then I will dab (don’t stroke as this may lift the marker) with the glitter varnish all over the head. Usually this leaves a little sparkle in the eye.


Number 5 Silk and Tinsel

Again, I am not unique in this regard. Pure silk thread and the most amazing holographic tinsel is available in the craft stores (in Australia Spotlight stocks Gutermann silk and metallic threads).


Number 6 Cutting

A scalpel or a pair of nail clippers cuts the thread more neatly and more safely than scissors. Nail clippers are also good for cutting tinsel and wire.

Number 7 Ribbing

If possible, I wind the ribbing straight off the reel, rather than cutting a length. This reduces the waste and gives better control over the tension.

Number 8 Waste Not

All those little bits of fur and the short hairs pulled from fur wings go into a ziplock bag for later use.

Number 9 Spool control

I use small hair ties wrapped around the spools to keep the thread from unravelling. This looks like a good idea, too. http://flyguys.net/fishing-information/fly-tying-tips-tricks


Number 10 Out of credit?

Two uses for old credit cards.

Glue the hook part of Velcro onto an old credit card cut into a long triangular shape. Glue the Velcro around one of the edges so you have a fine side to get into small spaces.

Cut into appropriate shapes, they make great applicators for glue, varnish, and goop of any kind.




Here’s a really good site for ideas about how to tie flies, including everything you ever wanted to know about dubbing, but were afraid to ask: http://thelimpcobra.com/category/fly-tying/fly-tying-tips-and-tricks/

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Fly Tying Lap Station

A Fly Tying station so I could “watch” television with the family and not isolate myself , or just relax in an armchair with a glass of red ned, or tie more or less anywhere…Now, there are a number of great models out there and a quick search on Google will lead you to a number of far more elaborate models than mine. But then I try to keep it as simple as I can.

I based this on what I really needed and just about always used when tying flies. That meant I needed a station which could hold

  1. the vice (Okay, okay I can tie flies without one…really by hand… but it’s more of a party trick than fun)
  2. the tools (we’ll come to which ones in a moment)
  3. the varnishes & flytying wax (mostly I forget to use the wax)
  4. the magnifying glasses (probably, at my age and eyesight, the most needed of all)
  5. the sharpie (for dotting the “i’s” of course) & a yellow fabric pen (for making the eyes).

Now apart from number 5, everything on that list is used for just about every fly I tie. Number 5 was included because I had the space with the glasses. Everything else depended on what flies I was tying: the hook, the tying thread, the ribbing etc etc.; so all that stuff could be stored somewhere else and brought to the station as needed.

Making the station was pretty simple. I had some grooved boards left over from renovations (good Tasmanian oak). So I glued the boards to make the base. Now you could use a cutting board (wooden or nylon) or any flat base.

The tool holder and the oddments were made from hard foam packaging used for a PC. Just glued on and then the tools pushed in to make the necessary holes. I coloured around the holes with the Sharpie (not recommended as it will mark the tools); I’d suggest marking the holes with acrylic paint instead.

One great advantage of using this material was that I can stick the drying flies onto it.

The vice stem was separated from the clamp base and mounted in a small block of wood previously glued onto the board.  “Mounted” is probably overstating the process of jamming the stem into a hole slightly smaller than the stem’s diameter. 

I also added a trash collector (cut off from a plastic juice bottle). I was going to use velcro to position this, but having used it I won’t bother.


One thing I might change. Increase the height of the vice. It’s a tad low.

ImageThe other advantage of having the top of the station clear is that I can add a clip on light.


The tools.


Scissors, clips, bobbin holder, hackle pliers, ordinary pliers (for mashing down the barb, mostly), tube for aligning deer hair, velcro stuck onto a piece of old credit card for teasing out fur.


So there you go. Not the greatest piece of workmanship, but simple and effective.

Happy tying!





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The Grand Theory of Fish Behaviour & Great Secret of How to (almost) Always Catch Fish using a Fishing Line Revealed

I went fishing on Sunday. For this time of the year (Spring) , the weather was uncharacteristically warm and bright, with a touch of a light breeze.

At Little Pine Lagoon, the fishing was slow to dead. With just the occasional fish showing and then nothing, no-one was catching anything. “Too much ripple on the water” was the consensus. “Curious” I thought. “I’ve had my best fishing here, when there is wind on the water”. Are we on the wrong shore? Nope.  There  is a nice quartering in- breeze to bring the feed in along the shore.”  I did see one really great fish in shallow water, just as I was walking behind the dam wall. I froze, the fish mooched a bit, flicked its tail and was off. I resumed breathing, got my cast ready and waited. After a small eternity, the fish came back, coming towards me, looking this way and that. I waited for him to come to the end of his beat and turn away when I could make a cast. Suddenly he darted back to the deeper water. Something had spooked him. I waited for a long eternity, then gave it up.

Little Pine Lagoon to dam wall

At Pine Tier Lagoon (usually reliable), I and everyone else did not see a fish. The trollers were idling up and down, lying in their boat. The spin fisherman was just going through the motions. The bait fishermen were just leaving. “Too bright” the spin fisherman said. “Funny” I thought. “I’ve had some of the best fishing here in bright light and slight breeze”.

At Bronte, I did manage to catch one fish (deep down on the nymph). He was full of small (number 16) green copper beetles and tiny black beetles. The fly he took was small and black. This was the only fish seen there.

All of this got me to thinking about fish behaviour, anglers and catchability.  I am now about to propound my Grand Theory of Fish Behaviour —and the weather has only a little to do with it.

Before I do so, however, I should warn you that it probably won’t reveal the Great Secret of How to (almost) Always Catch Fish using a Fishing Line, although it is definitely related to it.

The Grand Theory of Fish Behaviour as it relates to their catchability.

Probable fact (I can’t find any scientific evidence for this one way or the other, so take it on faith, or not): Fish don’t feel hunger. Or to put it more accurately, fish feeding is, unlike humans and lions, not triggered by hunger. Fish feeding is governed by the availability of food. The more food there is available, the more the fish will want to eat and the more they will feed.  That is why fly anglers yearn for the hatch, sea trouters chase the whitebait runs and maniacs gather at the mouths of the Taupo estuaries.

Fact two: the other great imperative that fish have almost all of the time is to avoid being eaten (fear of anything unusual, bigger or moving fast—which just about describes some anglers I have known).

Fact three: the final great imperative is, of course, procreation, which for fish is a once a year irresistible urge that replaces the food imperative.

Food, death and sex probably sum up the trout’s main concerns —which just about describes some anglers I have known.

Now (here’s the theory part): feed and fear are alternative states, that is the more there is of one, the less there is of the other. A spooked fish doesn’t feed. It just hides until the threat is no longer dominant. If there is little food about, the fish will be very nervous (on high alert). In the lakes this means that they will be very spooky and move about a lot avoiding threats and looking to see if there is any food; hence the famous “oncers”, hence the behaviour of my fish at Little Pine. When food is abundant, the fish go into a nearly fearless feeding frenzy. At the height of a hatch, I’ve seen lined fish just relocate a little, as if the line were a minor nuisance, rather than the big-scary-dropping-out-of-the-sky thing it usually is.

Oh and the weather is only important in that it affects the availability of food.

Here is a diagram.

Now, reams have been written about all of the feeding situations, but much less about what to do in the spooky searching scenario. That’s odd, given my experience, because that’s how it is most of the time.

Now, I would love to say, I have a magic bullet that will work (actually I do, and I shall reveal it and why you can’t have it).  Some observations of mine and some things to try are

Searching: you move a lot, hoping to intersect with a searching fish or a feeding fish. Searching on the surface seems to be less productive than deeper. While something like a small black thing (Black and peacock spider, black nymph) would seem to be non-threatening, something big and flashy would be more likely to attract from a wider area. Maybe a red and black woolly bugger or a two fly flasher and small black thing might be a good cover-the-bases option. Perhaps even a third fly on the surface deer hair or foam floater, as a sighter? In the rivers, the nymph and dry might be the way to go.

The ambush (only for the terminally patient): find a good feeding spot. Watch and wait until a fish shows up. Pray you don’t stuff up your one and only cast.

The moving ambush (or fish spotting 101). Keep moving until you find a moving fish. Cast your never-fail fly exactly 1 meter or 1 yard or three feet in front of his nose and preferably on his right side. Why his right side? I hear you clamour. Well, there is some scientific research (which I don’t have with me at the moment…it’s in my other pants, guv’nor) which suggests that, having a laterally divided brain, trout would prefer the right eye for close-up feeding and prefer the left eye  for scanning for prey and predators.  Note; this might explain why searching fish waggle when they move (as per the fish by the dam wall). By doing this, they can scan the widest field for both prey and food.

Okay, drum roll please. I shall now reveal the Great Secret of How to (almost) Always Catch Fish using a Fishing Line. The Great Secret is of course predicated on basically reasonable fishing conditions. We are not fishing in a toxic waste dump (sub-lethal quantities of mercury as in the Derwent River Tasmania are okay) or during a cyclone (actually even a minor gale would make things difficult). So, assuming that there are fish where you are fishing and that the basic weather is basically okay, what’s the secret? Simple: berley. And you can’t use it because it is illegal in just about every trout water in the world (and a good thing, too).

If you have any great ideas about catching oncers or spooky searchers, love to hear from you via the comments facility.

P.S. The Grand theory doesn’t work for the Taupo spawning runs (bugger!)

Cheers & may your lines be tight.

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Simplificate Part3: What I now carry & how

So what do I find I need? A rigged up rod and reel (the tenkara boys and girls will have a different view on this), my trusty legionnaire’s hat with a set of flip down magnifiers (yep, age done gone and got the 20-20 vision), clothes for the sake of decency & comfort (I’m a fly fisher, not a worm fisher). I also may wear waders, or I may wade wet.

I may carry the landing net and fish bag ( See https://losthackle.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/diy-landing-net-and-fish-bag/), if I  (a) want to keep a fish for the table and (b)  remember to take it out of the car. Still spitting chips over that big fish that would have been on that steep bank, if only I hadn’t left the net in the car!

I now carry between 1 and 3 small boxes of flies with me. One box (made from an Altoids tin) contains my go-to flies. These are the flies that have worked for me in a variety of conditions and can be used in all situations.  The go-to box is carried all the time. The other two boxes contain flies for more particular occasions.

The Go-to box, spare leader (in a zip lock bag), small spool of tippet material, first aid kit, snacks, and water fits in to a waist pack, the knife fits onto the belt, which keeps my thigh waders up or my chest waders secure. (And for the curious I never wade in water above the gonad line). Car keys and phone are around the neck, the latter in a waterproof case.  On a quick small trip, this would be all I would take. (Note to self, I should put the line clippers and a fly patch on this waist pack).

An aside: my fly patches were cut from the wool-lined slipper boots that were heading for the trash (We call them Ugg/Ugh boots, here in Oz). A nappy pin is a useful means of affixing said fly patch.

For fishing the rivers I also carry a small bag (over the shoulder or around the neck). I have thought about clipping it to the waist pack, but I just haven’t bothered. It might be a good way to further “modularise’ the system. (Further note to self: do this!). This bag contains a couple of small fly boxes (soft hackle wets in one and a mix of caddis and mayfly nymphs and dries in the other), tippet material and spare leaders. I have a similar bag for lake fishing. These bags were picked up at the local Charity Shop for a few dollars.

For estuary/saltwater fishing I use a different waist pack, which holds three smallish fly boxes, tippet material and spare leaders, first aid kit and sunscreen.  It’s also large enough to pack snacks and a sandwich!

This gives me a simple, light, modular system which can be adapted to the conditions of the waters I am going to fish.

This is the system that works for me on the waters that I currently fish. The principles for making it easier on yourself are to be ruthless about deciding what you really need and work out what you really use in all conditions and make that the core of your system.

For a different view on what you might really need and for good advice see


by @CatchandHatch

Good (& simple) fishing!

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Useful link for DIY Tasmania

http://www.fishingworld.com.au/news/up-the-creek-without-a-guide-tasmania A couple of flyfishers make their first trip to Tasmania and do it without a guide…here’s how (& they also have further useful links).

Note to self: organise blog to have the link pages accessible from the first page!

Note to others: Part 3 on simplificating is coming. Honest.

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Simplificate Part 2: The Big Cull of My Fly Fishing Gear

The first to go was the etymological paraphernalia. It was kinda fun to search out the little critters that trout feed on and learn about their appearance and life cycles. I once had the delight of watching nymphs hatching at home and a room full of mayfly duns. But I’m actually on the stream to fish, not conduct a scientific survey.

The second to go was the clerical junk: scales, measuring tape, fishing log, pencil and camera. I no longer care what a fish weighs or how long it or what its condition factor is. I no longer care to record detail observations or take photos while astream (I’d rather fish).  I do carry the mobile cell phone, so I have a camera if I am moved to take a photo.

I then followed the rule of the Boy’s Golden Book of Camping “When you get home from a camping trip, divide your gear into three piles. Into pile 1, put the things that you used every day. Into pile 2, the things that you only used occasionally. Into pile 3, the things that you didn’t use at all. Leave piles 2 and 3 at home.”


No forceps or pliers. This, for me was a Pile 3. I always mash the barbs down on my flies when I tie them. I almost always removed the hook from the fish with my fingers. Split shot, I hardly ever use .


“Lead’ (tungsten putty) or split shot. The putty is better than split shot. Very much a Pile 2, since mostly, I would use a bead-weighted fly to get to the bottom anyway. Although I’m now toying with idea of adapting the Paternoster rig for deep rocky bottom streams, using lead putty on the point.


Line floatant and sinkant. This was a bit of a toss-up. On lakes, these proved useful in really calm conditions to grease or degrease the leader. On streams they were never used. So I now carry them for lake fishing only.



Streamside fly tying kit. Pile 3. It was just a romantic notion caused by reading too much Skues.



 Spare reel/ spools with sinking and sink-tip lines. Only ever used on lakes or saltwater and then rarely used as a change-over. So I carry them in the car and decide whether to use a floating or one of the sinking lines on the day. Probably 90% of the time it is the floating line.


Hook sharpening tool. Pile 3! Make sure your hooks are sharp when tying the flies. If they get blunt during use, change the fly!



Strike indicators. Yes, I have used them. Yes, they are very useful when fishing nymphs. BUT, I’d rather have a two-for-one bet and  use a foam-based floating dry as an indicator.



Fly drying powder/patch of chamois/amadou  and fly floatant gunk, goo and glop. Pile 2.  Alternatives to these are treat your dry flies when you tie them with a waterproofing agent, false cast, dab the fly on your shirt or change the fly. Or if you must carry something, check this out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOPDH6E1zOY&feature=youtu.be  (Don’t worry if your Spanish isn’t up to it. Just watch it)

Leather leader  straightener. Used constantly until I discovered that just stretching the leader works about as good as anything else. That and not storing the leader on the reel in the first place.


Priest. Pile 2, because I mostly practise catch and release, and the finer art of the long distance premature release. If I want to kill a fish for the table, I use the back of the knife to administer the last rites.

Flashlight. I now have an LED on my key ring which works in an emergency.

Pipe smoking kit. I’ve quit.




Now, the BIGGIE—the fly boxes— from 9 down to 3 maximum (sometimes just 1!). I realised that, no matter how many flies I carried, I couldn’t cover all contingencies. I also realised that I would have to curb my enthusiasm for creating at the vice.  My boxes were full of weird and wonderful concoctions which I rarely ever used.  So I culled and culled. First of all, I decided on the flies I absolutely would not go fishing without. Then I figured out the “specialist” flies I really wanted to use in particular types of locations—small creeks, streams, lakes and estuaries—plus specialist flies for sea runners.

Next post: what fishing gear I now carry and how I carry it


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Simplificate Part 1: Fly fishing gear I used to carry

Well I laughed when I read that! So much fly fishing gear to carry for a short excursion. Then I reflected on what I used to carry.

One rod ( great improvement!) set up with reel , flyline, leader & tippet,  landing net in fish bag (see previous post) , sunglasses, waders (depending on conditions chest or thigh),  hat (now, thanks to ageing, with flip-down magnifiers…thank you Mr Orvis of Richmond, Virginia).

In the multi-pocketed vest I carried:  forceps or pliers, line clippers, line floatant,  line sinkant, split shot or lead putty, leaders, 2 to 3 spools of tippet material, 9 fly boxes (nymphs, streamers, mayfly dries & emergers, caddis dries & emergers, terrestrials, stoneflies, traditional wet flies, flymphs/spider wet flies, miscellaneous),fly patch, spare reel/spool with sinking line; and ditto with with sink tip line, hook sharpening tool, strike indicators, fly drying powder, scales, measuring tape, fishing log and pencil; fishing licence, leather tippet straightener,  priest, knife, flashlight, camera.

AND to keep me comfortable, a  first aid kit, sunscreen, insect repellent, snacks,  water, sweater, rain coat, a flask with a drop of uisge beatha (the water of life).

AND, just in case the 9 fly boxes didn’t cover the hatch, a streamside fly tying kit.

AND, in my scientific angler phase, I also carried a marrow spoon, petri dish, aquarium net, small vials and thermometer.

AND as a pipe smoker I carried pipe, tobacco, 2 lighters, pipe tool and pipe cleaners.

NOW of course the well-equipped angler would also carry a mobile phone, preferably incorporating a GPS and a Match-the-hatch APP.

So some time ago I decided that enough stuff was too much stuff and I had to (in the immortal words of Henry Ford) “Simplificate, and add more lightness!”. It was either that or start body building so that I could carry that load, although I did toy with this idea:

Next post: How I simplificated my fly fishing stuff.

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