Texas saltwater fly fishers are blessed with accommodating weather conditions for the majority of the year. However, the little bit of in climate weather we do experience often seems to last an eternity. Smart anglers use this time to their advantage by cleaning and maintaining their equipment.
This downtime also presents an excellent opportunity to stock your fly box. For long-rodders who have mastered the relatively simple art of fly tying, loading up on patterns is an issue of how much time, rather than how many dollars, they have. With frequent blue northerns blowing through during December, January and February, most every angler has a little spare time.
Anglers Can Utilize Down Time to Tie Saltwater Fly Patterns
Not so hard
Learning to tie is sometimes intimidating. But, once you have mastered a few simple techniques, tying is a fast, cost-effective way to fill your fly box. In addition, knowing how to tie allows you to experiment with colors or original patterns.
Saltwater patterns are elementary when held against their freshwater counterparts. Often times, local shops or clubs hold fly tying seminars during the winter. Attending one or two sessions is often enough to get you on your way. Even if you can't get to a lesson, shop professionals can usually show you the basics in a matter of minutes.
Buying the basics
The initial investment in tools and materials can be somewhat staggering, but it doesn't have to be. Again, most saltwater patterns do not require rare or exotic materials. In addition, several materials, such as bucktail, can be used to tie a variety of offerings. For this reason, stay away from the pre-packaged kits. Most of these assortments are filled with materials that, while useful for freshwater trout patterns, may never by used by a saltwater tier.
Keep the list simple. When you are just getting started, pick materials that can be used for a variety of patterns. Knowing what you want to tie will help when selecting materials. Find a good pattern book, like Lefty Kreh's Saltwater Fly Patterns or Greg Berlocher's Fly Patterns of the Texas Coast, they will list the materials needed for each fly.
The Clouser Minnow is a good example of a simple, productive pattern that utilizes material that can be used in other patterns. The body of this pattern can be tied with bucktail, super hair, fly fur or any number of other materials. Add in a little crystal flash, some dumbbell or bead-chain eyes, thread and a hook, and you are set to go. A quick glance at the pattern book reveals that some or all of these materials can be used in at least a dozen other patterns.
The beginning fly tier will also need an assortment of basic tools. Necessities include a bobbin (for holding the thread), bobbin threader, dubbing needle, whip finisher (for tying the final hitches), hackle pliers, scissors and a vise. Actually, you only need a bobbin, scissors and a vise, but the others are nice to have.
Your vise need not be the most exquisite model on the market. The main function is for it to hold hooks. Make sure the jaws are large and strong enough to hold hooks ranging from size 6 to 3/0.
Bobbins range from plain, aluminum barrel models for a couple of bucks to versions with ceramic or titanium inserts in the barrels. The latter can cost upwards of $20. Something in the middle is most practical for saltwater tiers. Saltwater patterns require heavy thread and the lower end bobbins usually work fine. Smaller thread size will necessitate the use of a smoother bobbin to protect against nicks and abrasions.
Scissors should be comfortable on you hand and sport thin, ultra-sharp edges. Many tiers prefer to wear their scissors on their fingers the entire time they are tying, so comfort is of utmost importance. Don't be afraid to put their on your hands for a "test-tie."
As for luxuries, the bobbin threader functions like a sewing needle threader and saves the frustration of trying to push limp thread through the barrel of the bobbin. Dubbing needles are designed to 'fluff' dubbing, but for the purpose of saltwater tying, they are most often used to apply head cement or glue. A whip finisher is a neat little tool that ties half-hitches. Although this knot is fairly simple and can be performed with fingers, whip finishers usually tie a neater, more reliable knot. And, finally, the hackle pliers are used to hold hackles, or feathers, while they are wrapped around a hook shank. Again, this can be done with fingers, but is much more efficient when done with pliers.
Again, a good pattern book is handy for learning about what’s needed and how to tie various saltwater fly patterns. However, a good number of the patterns in these books are best attempted after you’ve had a bit of experience lashing fur and feathers to hooks.
Of course, in order to get that experience you have to tie flies. Luckily for saltwater anglers, there are a number of easy to tie patterns that actually catch plenty of fish, too. Here are a few good ‘starter’ patterns that are excellent for both learning fly tying basics as well as catching fish. And, as a bonus, they can each be tied in minutes with just a few basic tools and materials.
Bendback – This pattern can be tied to imitate either shrimp or baitfish. It derives its name from the use of a standard j-hook with a small bend near the eye. Commercially bent hooks for tying bendback patterns are available. However, fly tyers can easily modify any straight shank hook by using needle nose pliers to bend the area near the eye at a 45-degree angle to the rest of the hook shank.
In addition to a bent hook, this pattern requires some type of body material to dress the hook shank. Chenille and ice chenille are among the most popular. When attempting to tie a shrimp imitation, ice chenille is a better choice. Material for the wing, or part of the fly that extends between the hook eye and point, is also necessary. Bucktail, deer hair, squirrel tail, and a variety of synthetic hairs can be used.
To tie a bendback, begin by tying the body material in near the hook bend. Wrap the thread up to the hook eye and allow it to hang there. Then, wrap the body material up to the eye. Tie it off and trim. Then, tie the wing material in so that it lies flat between the hook eye and hook point. Use a few additional wraps to form a head, then whip finish and trim.
Clouser Minnow – The Clouser Minnow has become the most popular fly pattern in salt water. Not only is it productive, but it is relatively easy to tie. Clousers are most commonly tied with bucktail, but squirrel tail and various synthetic hairs can also be used.
A short shank hook, eyes – either bead chain or lead depending on how deep you want the fly to sink, some sort of flash (Krystal Flash or Flashabou), and bucktail or a substitute hair material is all that’s needed to tie up a Clouser Minnow.
To tie a Clouser, begin by wrapping a base of thread along the hook shank. Tie the eyes in about halfway between the eye of the hook and the hook point (on the side of the shank opposite the hook gap). Leave the thread between the hook eye and fly eyes.
Tie in a few threads of flash and allow them to drape over the eyes. Then, tie in the top wing (on the same side as the fly eyes). Pull this material flat over the eyes. Wrap thread over the eyes and use a few wraps to secure the hair behind the eyes before wrapping the thread back over the eyes towards the hook eye.
Finally, tie the bottom wing in. Do not use the second secure point on this wing. Allow it to fall at a 45 degree angle towards the hook point. Use additional thread wraps to build a ‘nose’ between the hook eye and fly eyes. Finish and trim thread.
Keep in mind, because of the eye placement, a Clouser Minnow rides ‘hook up.’ So, when using two colors of hair, the darker hair is typically tied in on the side opposite the eyes to form the ‘back’ of the fly.
Foam Popper - A foam popper is perhaps the simplest of all topwater flies to tie. It is also inexpensive, fairly durable and productive.
A sheet of flat foam, a hook and thread are all that is absolutely needed. However, part of the beauty of foam poppers is they are easily modified. Chenille, ice chenille and other body materials are often used to dress the hook shank. Bucktail, fly fur, rabbit fur and other materials are often used as a ‘tail’ for these flies.
The first step in tying a foam popper is to cut the sheet foam into narrow strips. The wider the strip, the more noise the popper will make, but the more difficult it will be to cast.
Again, foam poppers can be tied in a variety of manners. But, it is important to have an idea of what the finished product is meant to look like. If a tail is to be used, it should be tied in first. Tie the tag end of the tail material just forward of the hook bend and allow it to hang off the back of the hook.
If a body material will be used to dress the hook shank, tie it in next and allow it to hang down. Next, lay the strip of foam flat atop the hook shank, with one end near the eye of the hook and at least another hook length hanging off the back of the hook. Begin by wrapping the thread around the foam at the same point the tail and body material were tied in, then use wide thread wraps over the entire length of the hook shank to the eye of the hook.
Next, wrap the body material over the wrapped foam toward the hook eye. Tie off the body material and trim. Finally, fold the foam toward the hook eye. Allow a section of foam to extend over the hook eye. Make 4 to 6 wraps to secure the foam near the hook eye. Whip finish and trip thread. Once the fly is tied, trim off the excess foam forward of the hook eye.
These are but a few simple patterns. But, each can be modified and customized to fit a variety of needs. And, as you gain tying experience, you’ll be able to create various patterns to give yourself unique flies to throw at redfish, speckled trout and other saltwater species.
All in all, fly tying, much like fly fishing, is not near as complicated as it is made out to be. So, the next time a hard blow has you mulling your over the fly bar at the local fly shop, pick up a few tools and a handful of materials instead. After all, why buy when you can tie?