The aim of this blog is to connect fly-tyers all over the world, to share, techniques, patterns, information and knowledge.

Step by Step

Fly tying course # 14 The ribbon shrimp

Sorry for taking so long for my next installment for the tying course but I am very busy right now photographing sea trout fishing as the season is underway.  This is a simple but extremely realistic salt water shrimp pattern I designed for salt water sea trout fishing in Northern Europe.

IMG_6917Ribbon Shrimp

Hook Mustad Shrimp C47SNP-DT

Eyes: Easy shrimp eyes

Feelers/Body: Organdie decretive ribbon  If you’re looking for pre-dyed “organdie” it’s available in the UK from  in a good range of colours and widths, just go to the site and search for “organza”, different name same product. 

Shell back Bug Bond

From late autumn until early spring the majority of bait fish around the coastline of Northern Europe leave the shallows and head out for deeper water where they will be protected from the bitter cold of winter. Many of the species of shrimp that can be found on the other hand move into deeper tidal pools and onto shelves were the coastline is steeper and falls abruptly away into deeper water.


Therefor shrimps are on the coastal sea trout’s menu the whole year round, and can be found in great numbers.  These are particularly important to fly fishermen because they mature in the shallows where we do most of our fishing, and all sea trout fishermen should have at least a couple of good shrimp patterns in there fly box at all times.

Where, When & Why ?

You may think that a perfect small translucent shrimp pattern fished blind, may not be the easiest prey for a sea trout to notice in a large body of water! and if you fish something that “ stands out in a crowd ” a little colour and movement, it may increase the chances of it being noticed and picked-up.

The most rewarding colours for shrimp patterns, in my experience are red, pink, orange and olive.  Occasionally, it can be worthwhile, tying some very small shrimp flies in sizes 12-14-16 and in more neutral  mundane colours, such as grey and white. Shrimps of all shapes and varying sizes are without doubt the most important all year round food sources for salt water sea trout. Unlike other seasonal foods like rag worms, sand eels and small bait fish, that the sea trout feed on throughout their first years in salt water.

Natural selection takes a favorable view of effective and adaptable feeding, a proficient predatory fish when feeding will maximize energy intake and minimize energy consumption. Predators quickly learn to avoid areas where there is little or no food. These rules also apply to the fish familiarizing themselves with the best feeding locations and habits that coincide  to the different seasons.  So its paramount that the effective fly fisherman is aware of this and adapts his techniques, flies and strategy to that of the sea trouts feeding habits. This is especially important during the winter months when food is few and far between. Look for the signs, deeper bays with vegetation and structure, or the classic leopard bottom, with dark spotted patches of vegetation on a lighter backdrop of sand, where prey can have accessibility to sufficient food and cover from predators. The natural collection points of wind lanes of all shapes and sizes are also worth working. These collect plankton and other small forage that attract shrimps and bait fish. If there is ice on the surface, which is quite a common occurrence in the winter months, on Scandinavian coastal waters, pockets of open water generally indicate warmer water or flow. Both these elements will attract prey and predators alike.

Fast or Slow ?

Most species of shrimp have three very different ways of locomotion. When foraging for food or resting on the bottom they use their front walking legs for moving short distances on vegetation and other structure. When migrating or moving over larger distances they use their swimming legs. These are located under the abdomen and undulate when swimming, and can be used to propel the crustacean in all directions slowly. But when alarmed or fleeing from a predator they use a contraction of their strong abdomen muscle which results in a powerful rapid snap of the tail plates propelling the shrimp quickly backwards away from danger.

With this in mind one has a better understanding of the type of retrieve required to imitate a swimming or fleeing shrimp. Your retrieve will not only decide the speed of your fly but also its action in the water. If you know your prey and choose the correct retrieve, your overall chances of connecting will increase. If you choose the incorrect retrieve even the right pattern may not result in a take or even a follow.


Organdie ribbon can be bought at most craft or sewing stores.

Whilst tying flies at one of the large European fairs, I saw a similar material as Organdie  being used for nymph gills, When I returned home it wasent difficult to find at my local sewing shop just for a couple of pounds, and as far as I can see its exactly the same material as the one marketed by a large fly tying supplier but for just a third of the price. I have also experimented with colouring the ribbon with waterproof markers but the colour washes out for some reason in salt water, but dying may be an option, that I have yet to try.

This is an extremely quick and easy pattern, that only takes a few minutes to tie if you use Bug Bond as the shell back, if you use epoxy it does take a little longer in curing time.



Secure your shrimp hook in the vise with the shank horizontal.



Cut a length of Organdie ribbon approximately 15 cm long, depending on the size of hook you are tying on. With a pair of long sharp scissors make a cut along the edging of the ribbon as shown.



Now repeat this on the other edge of the ribbon. You will now be able to pull out the short  woven lengths of Organza.



Pull out enough to make a bunch of strands long enough for the shrimps beard.



Attach your tying thread to the hook shank and run back so that it hangs between the hook point and barb.



Tie in approximately one third of the length of fibers that you prepared for the beard.



Trim off and tie in the full length of the remaining fibers  on top of the shorter.



Trim these off to form a tapered beard.



Now use the two edge strips that you cut from the ribbon and tie these in for the feelers, one each side of the beard.



Take the length of ribbon and with long straight scissors divide the ribbon diagonally from one corner to the other. Then you should have two strips of ribbon from the one cut for two flies.



Pull out all the fibers that run the length of the ribbon.



Tie in the ribbon hackle at the widest end just behind the beard. This will create a tapered body, large at the front and smaller at the tail.



Position and secure both your shrimp eyes, these should be quite long. After tying down secure with a little super glue or varnish.



Now you can wind on your ribbon hackle forward to the hook eye forming a christmas tree like effect on the shrimps body. Tie off and whip finish just behind the hook eye.



Coat the back of the shrimp with Bug Bond and cure with the UV light. You may have to make two or three coats to build up the shell back.



The very easy but life like result ready for the salt.

Fly tying course # 12 The Matuka streamer


This is one of my own patterns for sea trout fishing, The Matuka Tobis. All types of hackle can be used for the wings, so experiment.

The Matuka style streamer originated from New Zealand and unlike traditional feather wing streamers where the wing is allowed to flow freely, the wing on the Matuka is attached to the body with the rib. The dimensions of this pattern can be played with and adjusted to your own taste. You can use larger hackles and make the tail longer or use hen hackles and make the pattern higher in the wing, you can combine hackles to create a different colour effect, for example, tie in two large blue hackles as the center of the wing and then two smaller green hackles one each side. The body doesn’t have to be tinsel, but can be made from chenille or any kind of dubbing. So use your imagination and create some tasty Matuka’s.



Secure your streamer hook in the vice with the hook shank horizontal.



Run your tying thread all the way back to the hook bend.



Tie in a good length of fine copper wire. It handy to keep this length long so its easier to handle.



If you are tying a tinsel body, its important to keep the under body of tying thread nice and smooth. This can be done by rubbing a small piece of closed cell foam up and down the hook shank to smooth out the tying thread.



Cut a good length of flat tinsel with the cut end at an angle as shown.



Tie this in on the underside of the hook shank where the throat hackle will be placed later. If you are using two sided tinsel as here, the side you dont want as the body (silver) should be tied in facing you as shown.



The tinsel is now ready to wrap.



Wrap the tinsel in tight even turns all the way back to the hook bend, make sure that you cover all the underbody and no tying thread is left showing. Now wrap the tinsel back towards the hook eye and tie off as neatly as possible. 



Select two hackles of your choice. These should be the same size.



Place the hackles back to back and measure the wing against the hook shank to the correct length.



Strip off the two matching sides as shown of the hackles to the correct length. This should be done as precisely as possible.



Check they are correct and adjust them if necessary.



Before you tie them in you can flatten the hackle stems with a pair of flat nose tweezers just in front of the hackle fibers. This will help stop them slipping on the hook shank and remain in the correct position.



Tie the hackles in at the front of the hook.



Now, using a dubbing needle from the rear you can open the fibers of the wing in the correct place for each wrap of ribbing. Make the turns of rib evenly spaced and tight.



Once the whole body is ribbed tie off the tinsel.



Trim off the excess hackle stem ond tinsel. Prepare a hen hackle as shown for the throat.



Tie in the hackle at the base of the wing and wind your tying thread forward behind the hook eye.



Wrap your hen hackle taking care to brush back the fibers with each turn. Tie off.



For this next little trick you will need a small piece of card, I use a backing card that once had braid on it. Fold the card in two and cut a hole in the center, large enough to go over the hook eye.



Whip finish.

Wet your fingers with a little saliva and stroke the hen hackle back from the sides into the required position.


22 Once your happy with the position of the hackle, place the card as shown over the hook eye and clamp into position. Let this stay like this for a couple of minutes.



Once you remove the card the hackle will be nicely positioned and remain that way.



Varnish the head.

Fly tying course # 11 The Humpy


This popular western pattern comes in many variants of colour, wing and tail materials, hackle and single and double hump.  The Humpy is also tied in two styles, short and fat and the long and slim version I am tying here.  Although made to imitate nothing in particular, except a juicy mouth full, this has a reputation of being a difficult fly to tie, but as I have mentioned in earlier step by step posts, follow the procedures and proportions and you will soon be banging them out by the dozen. 

Hook: Mustad R50 # 10-16

Tying Thread: Dyneema

Tail: Natural deer hair

Body: Floss

Shell back: Deer hair

Hackle: Furnace cock

Wings: Deer hair


SEcure your hook in the vice making sure the hook shank is horizontal.


Attach your tying thread and run the full length of the hook shank, stopping at the bend.


Take a small bunch of natural deer hair. Here I am using European roe deer hair from the summer coat, its much finer and flares less than hair from the winter coat. The deer hair tail should be approximately two times the hook gape in length, unlike feather fiber tails that are 2.5 times the hook gape length.  When tying this in the wraps of tying thread near the tail base should be firm but not tight! If you tighten too much at the tail base the hair will flare. Tie down about 2/3 of the hook shank.


Trim off the excess hair at an angle so you get a tapered end.


The tapered end will make it easier to tie in the other materials later.


Cut another bunch of deer hair, clean and stack in a hair stacker. This is the crucial point of proportions! The wing and shell back are all made from the same bunch of deer hair so its important that you get this right. From the center of the hook shank to half a hook shank length longer than the tail.


Once measured trim the ends square, Tie down the ends of the tail you cut at and angle and wrap your tying thread to the middle of the hook shank.


Keeping all the deer hair on top of the hook shank tie in as shown. This can be tied in much tighter than the tail as you want it to flare.


Now wrap your tying thread forward over the trimmed ends of deer hair making sure that you build up a nice even cigar shaped body with tying thread. This is important if your under body is un even, it will be difficult to get a good looking finish later with the floss. A little over half way of the hook shank tie in a length of floss.


Wind your floss back tight into the tail base making sure that you cover all the wraps of tying thread. Then you can wrap the floss back towards the thorax. When winding floss make sure that you dont twist it, each wrap of floss must retain the fibers flat, otherwise you will get lumpy humpy…


Tie off the floss and trim away the excess. Keep your tying thread tight into the floss body.


Take the shell back hair, taking care that you dont take any of the tail hair with it, and fold tightly over the floss body. Take care that all the deer hair fibers are parallel and not crossing each other.


Tie down the shell back keeping the hair about half way up the body. You can now see the importance of the correct proportions to obtain the correct wing length.


Now tie down the wing about half way between the body and the hook eye.


Fold the wings back and make five or six turns of tying thread tight into the wing base. This will hold the wings up right.


Your wing hair should now fan out from side to side and stand 90 degrees from the hook shank.


Now prepare and tie in a hackle. Many variants of the humpy require two hackles to achieve the correct chunkiness, but I prefer when possible to use one long saddle hackle. Tie in the hackle tight into the body behind the wing. Wrap your tying thread back towards the hook eye.



Now separate the deer hair into two equal wings. make a couple of wraps of tying thread around each wing base just to keep them collected and erect.


Side view of your split wings position, pointing slightly forward.


Make the first wrap of hackle tight into the body, but not too tight that the hackle points go off at an angle, the hackle points should stand 90 degrees from the hook shank. Wind the hackle tight and dense forward making as many turns as possible, the humpy requires a real chunky hackle. Tie off.


Whip finish, but before your complete your whip finish but have only  a short length of tying thread again before you tighten, place a small drop of varnish on the tying thread, and then finish your whip finish ! This will stop you getting varnish on the hackle.


The view from the bell tower.

Fly tying course # 8 The Brassie

The BrassieIMG_0695

Hook:  Mustad C49SNP # 6-22

Tying thread:  Dyneema

Body:  Copper wire

Head:  Mixed hares ear dubbing

Its normal to weight nymphs with and under body of lead, but on small flies its sometimes desirable  to maintain a slim but at the same time heavy, body profile. With the Brassie copper wire of different sizes is used in respect to hook size, but you can achieve the best results with copper wire that is no thicker than the hook wire being used.  Copper wire in different colours can give extremely natural looking abdomen on pupa and larva patterns. Copper wire gives the impression of gas bubbles that hatching pupa and larva carry with them to the surface. The Brassie is especially effective in fast flowing water as a free swimming caddis larva or in smaller sizes as a midge pupa in still water.

In those situations where you wish to get down deep quick, this pattern is a must, especially when tied with a brass bead at the head of the fly. While fishing sea run char in Iceland once on the beautiful small river Fljotaa, where the holes are deep and the current strong, this pattern worked every time.

Try this in different sizes and colours, with and without brass bead heads.

Dont forget! If you have any questions please dont hesitate to ask. Just post your question at the foot of this page.

If you would like to receive a message when the next stage of the course is published, just add your e mail address at the top right of this page. Thanks, The feather bender.



Secure your hook in the vice.



Attach your tying thread and cover the hook shank.



Cut a length of copper wire. This is where many fly tyers make a mistake with this pattern.



Take some flat nose pliers and flatten just 3 mm or so of the copper wire end to be tied in.



The end of the copper wire should now look like this! Many tyers dont do this and get a considerably thicker body at the tail of the fly when they wrap the copper wire over the tying in point.



Now tie in the flat end as shown and then wind your tying thread forward to the hook eye.



Begin wrapping your copper wire in tight neat turns up the hook shank towards the thorax.



Once you have covered the whole abdomen tie off at the thorax.



Split and wax your tying thread. If you are not using thread that can be split make a dubbing loop and wax.


Take a hares mask and pull enough of the spiky hairs from the ears and mix in the palm of your hand.


Place the mixed hares ear dubbing in the waxed dubbing loop.


Spin the hares ear dubbing in the loop.


Wind on the dubbing loop brushing back the dubbing with each turn to get the best buggy effect.


Whip finish and varnish.

Fly tying course # 7 Bullet head technique Madam X


This is another deer hair technique that very useful for many dry, terrestrial, and streamer patterns. Although not an easy technique to get right without detailed instruction, once mastered, never forgotten!

Hook: Mustad R30 94833 # 4-10

Tying thread: Dyneema

Tail: Bleached elk hair

Body: Floss silk

Wing/head: Bleached elk hair

Legs: Rubber legs

This pattern was designed by US tyer Doug Swisher for attractor fishing in the Rocky mountains. The advantage of rubber legs in an attractor pattern is that the create maximum movement in the surface, ideal for searching out fish with both free drift and stripped across the surface. The large amount of elk hair and the bullet head make the Madam float well but low, using bleached elk hair also makes it easier to keep visual contact with her as she floats over rapids at a distance! Madam X can be tied in several colour combinations with bleached elk hair, as here but also natural and dyed black. You can also change the colour of the body and rubber legs. The bullet head construction should be very compact. If you think the head is too little or too loose you can build up a dubbing ball under the head, see my earlier post ‘Thunder creek’ for this technique. This pattern should not be underestimated, especially during caddis fly hatches in fast flowing rivers and streams.



Secure your hook in the vice, remember always so the hook shaft is horizontal.



Cover the hook shank with tying thread, until your thread hangs plumb with the hook barb.



Cut a small bunch of bleached elk hair. You will see that it has quite a large amount of  underfur.



Once you have cut a bunch of deer hair from the hide, ( while still holding it in your left hand by the tips) take your comb and brush out the under fur and any loose hairs that might be there.  Now you can stack your hair in a hair stacker and then comb it once more just to remove any smaller hairs that you may have missed the first time.



Now place your elk hair in a hair stacker.

This is probably the most important tool for achieving a good attractive finish to a deer hair fly.   I like to have at hand three different sizes of stacker Small, Medium and Large.  The smallest is for traditional tails and wings, the medium for normal sized bunches of deer hair and larger wings i.e.; caddis fly wings, and the largest for long deer hair such as buck tail.


To use a hair stacker, cut a bunch of hair and remove the under fur and loose hair with a comb.  Place the hair tips fist into the hair stacker and tap firmly on the table.  This will make the hair slide down into the stacker and align the tips. When removing the hair from the stacker hold the stacker at 60 degrees, not upright, so the hair doesn’t fall out, but will slide out.

If you would like to try and make mixed coloured bodies and wings etc take a few strands of equal lengthen different coloured hair until you have enough for the job at hand and place them all together in a wide necked hair stacker.  With a dubbing needle stir the hair around, so as to mix it evenly together.  This works like a dream for attractive natural wings (Streaking caddis) and multi coloured clipped bodies.



Once the hair is cleaned and stacked tie in the tail. Firstly with two loose turns of tying thread, you dont want to tighten too much here otherwise the hair will flair too much.



Run the tying thread towards the hook eye tying down the hair as you go. Trim off the excess hair and cover the whole hook shank in an even layer of tying thread.



When the hair is cleaned and stacked measure the wing. This is important to get the proportions correct. From the tip of the tail to the hook eye. The wing should be tied in at the point of your thumb tip.



Before you tie in the wing wrap your tying thread tight into the hook eye.



When you tie in the bunch of elk hair for the wing make sure it spins around the whole hook shank tight into the hook eye.



Carefully trim off the excess elk hair at the rear of the head. you can leave a little if you would like a larger foundation for your finished bullet head.



Tie down the ends of the clipped elk hair.



Tie in a length of floss silk and wrap it down to the tail base and back up again covering the whole body.



Once you have returned to the head with the floss tie off and cut away the excess.



If you have a transparent plastic tube, you can use a drinking straw, this next stage is much easier. First brush your elk hair wing with a tooth brush so all the fibers stand right out. Now take your plastic tube up-to the hook eye. Make sure that your tying thread is hanging where you would like the head to be tied!



As you push the tube over the head of fly, grasp the wing with your left hand. If you have a transparent tube you are able to see if any of the deer hair has crossed each other and the everything is lying correct. If not gently twist the plastic tube from side to side and the deer hair will fall into place!



Keeping the tube in place make a couple of loose turns of tying thread to hold everything in place.



If you are please with how everything looks, lift the wing as shown, and tighten the head wrappings.


Cut two lengths of rubber leg material the same size. Take one length and tie it in with 3 or 4 wraps of tying thread directly on the side of the head whippings as shown. The more you tighten the thread the more acute angle you will get on the rubber legs.


Tie in the other rubber legs, make sure they are symmetrical.


You can now colour your Dyneema with a water proof felt pen.


Now make a whip finish and remove the tying thread.



Apply a little drop of varnish to the whippings, you can also give the head a coat with varnish to make it a little more durable, and there you have your finished Madam X.

Fly tying course # 6 Dry fly hackle prep and traditional dry fly

This is just to show you the correct way to prepare and mount a traditional dry fly hackle. Firstly a little about hackles. 


Dont forget! If you have any questions please dont hesitate to ask. Just post your question at the foot of this page.

If you would like to receive a message when the next stage of the course is published, just add your e mail address at the top right of this page. Thanks, The feather bender.

Generally speaking the more money you spend on hackle the better they are!  But dont go rushing right away down to the bank for a second mortgage, you can also get excellent hackle without buying the absolute most expensive. The first thing to consider is the most common size of hooks you use for your dry flies. A good dry fly hackle is recognized after time using them and tying. They should be straight, long and slim with a good glossy shine and the barbs should not be webby but slim, stiff and of equal length along the ‘sweet spot’ of the hackle (the usable dry fly portion)


This you can test by holding a hackle at its point and with your other hand draw back the fibers by pulling down the stem a couple of times. The sweet spot is where all the hackle fiber points are of equal length.

The other main point to consider with hackles is the colour.  Even hackle from the most reputable breeders vary in colour.  Because hackle is a natural material its all about the condition of the bird, no two hackles or capes are alike!  So when buying hackle, lets say its a grizzle cape your after, look at all the grizzle capes in the shop, ask the shop owner if you can remove the cape from its packaging and bend it gently to examine each size and quantity of hackle on the cape. Look for the colour that best suites you or the patterns you intend to tie. With grizzle hackles the chevron markings can vary tremendously from bird to bird. So the key here is take your time and and buy wisely.

Heres a link to, Whiting farms grading system:



Secure your hook in the vice, with the hook shank horizontal.


Attach your tying thread and make a foundation for the hackle so it doesn’t slip-


Strip off the webby base fibers from the hackle stem and offer the hackle up to the tying point, at an angle.


Now make one wrap of tying thread as shown diagonally across the hackle stem.


Make a second wrap around the hackle stem in the opposite direction forming an X of tying thread.



Once you have your X over the hackle stem move your tying thread behind the hackle stem on the back side of the hook shaft.


Now wrap the remaining hackle stem to the hook shaft behind the hook eye.


Attach a hackle plier to the hackle point.


Hackle pliers tend to slip away from the hackle when wrapping. To minimize this I glue to small patches of  extra fine sand paper to the inside of the jaws of the pliers. When these are worn I simply remove them and replace with new patches.


Wind on your hackle. Make sure that each turn of hackle is tight into the previous but not overlapping, so the hackle fibers point 90 degrees from the hook shank. Also when winding on the hackle make sure it doesn’t twist, you have to correct this with every turn!


Once the hackle is wound forward to the hook eye, tie off and remove the excess hackle. Whip finish and remove the tying thread.


This is a general purpose mayfly pattern that gives a standard mayfly footprint on the water, tail, body, wings, legs… If follow this pattern and just change the hook size, colour and materials tied in proportionally you will have a good adult (dun) mayfly pattern for most situations.



Secure your hook in the vice and cover the whole hook shank with a foundation of tying thread. Make two extra turns of tying thread at the tail base, to form a little ‘bump’ this will hold the tail better in place.



Cut a small bunch of fine deer hair and even the points in a hair stacker, so all the tail fiber point are even. Tie the tail in as shown about 2/3 the body length. Run your tying thread over the hook shank and build up a slightly tapered body again about 2/3 the hook shank length.


Cut a 10 cm length of polypropylene yarn and place this around your tying thread. Holding both ends of the yarn lift it up.


Release your grip on the yarn and the weight of your bobbin will hold it in place on top of the hook shank. Tie in the wings with a figure of eight wrapping of the tying thread, going over and in between the wings with each turn.


Prepare and tie in your hackle as shown earlier just behind the wings.


Wrap your hackle firstly behind and the forward of the wings. Tie off, remove the excess hackle and whip finish.

Fly tying course # 5 Dry Fly Adult caddis

X Caddis

X Caddis

X Caddis

Dont forget! If you have any questions please dont hesitate to ask. Just post your question at the foot of this page.

If you would like to receive a message when the next stage of the course is published, just add your e mail address at the top right of this page. Thanks, The feather bender.

This next fly in the course is the X Caddis. This is a no hackle dry fly that floats extremely well because of the natural buoyancy of the deer hair and Antron tail.

Hook: Mustad R50 94840 # 10-18

Thread: Dyneema

Tail: Cream coloured Poly yarn or Z-Lon

Body: Light Olive Antron dubbing

Wing/head: Deer hair

I can´t recommend the X-caddis enough. No grayling or trout fisherman should be without this pattern in their fly box. The original from John Juraceks and Craig Mathews was intended as a hatching caddis fly that is skating across the surface trying to escape from the nymphal skin that is trailing behind it, before it flies to freedom.  This pattern has taken fish for me all over the globe, in all kinds of conditions and not only during caddis hatches but also under extremely selective feeding during mayfly hatches and midge fishing. The high flared deer hair wing and head, position the low profile no hackle body, so perfectly in the surface film that grayling just can´t resist it.  I have had most success with this pattern in the smaller hook sizes from # 16-18. When tying these smaller sizes I prefer to use the finer hair from the roe deer mask.  This hair is nicely marked and extremely fine even for the smallest patterns, and only flares to 45 degrees unlike the more buoyant body hair that will flare to 90 degrees.  Although you can tie the X-caddis in various body colours I have found the one shown here the most effective.

If you would like to receive a message when the next stage of the course is published, just add your e mail address at the top right of this page. Thanks, The feather bender.



Make sure that when you secure your hook in the vice that the hook shank is horizontal. Cover the hook shank with a layer of tying thread.



Cut a very small piece of cream coloured crimped polypropylene yarn or Z-Lon (material from John Betts) Tie this in where the hook bend begins as shown. You dont need much, this is going to represent the nymph skin trailing behind the hatching caddis. It should be about half the hook shaft length.



Wind your tying thread back to the tail base. Spin a thin dubbing string onto the tying thread and wind tightly forward.



Wind the dubbing forward so that you get a slightly increasing body thickness as you approach the hook eye. Leave 2-3 mm behind the hook eye so you have room for the wing and head. Make a whip finish, but dont remove the tying thread.



Cut a small bunch with fine deer hair and even the points in a hair stacker if you have one. If you dont have a hair stacker try and get the points of the hair as even as possible. Holding the hair measure the wing by holding the hair on top of the hook shank. The wing should be a fraction longer than the body.



While still holding the deer hair make two loose turns of tying thread around the wing and hook shank, still holding the deer hair, then tighten by pulling down. Make 5 or 6 tight turns of tying thread as shown.

X Caddis


With a pair of sharp scissors cut off the excess deer hair over the hook eye with one neat cut as shown. Make a couple of whip finishes and your X caddis is ready. You can also put a tiny drop of varnish just on the whippings.

Fly tying course # 4 a simple nymph

Now you should have learned the basics, mounting the hook, attaching the tying thread and the whip finish. With these you should be able to start and finish a fly, its just what’s in between now!

I always believe its better to start with a simple pattern that illustrates other elementary techniques, than demonstrating each technique one for one. When you are tying this pattern you may find that handling the materials is a somewhat difficult task especially if you have large fingers and are not use to intricate work. But let me assure you, this will come with time. What I would like you to do, is tie six, of the following pattern. Try and make them as best you can, take your time and try and get the proportions correct. As you tie one after another and handle the materials and practice the technique, you will understand them more with each fly tied. As you tie, line up the flies one after another, and you should be able to see a substantial increase in quality and style from n.1 to n. 6.


Dont forget! If you have any questions please dont hesitate to ask. Just post your question at the foot of this page.

If you would like to receive a message when the next stage of the course is published, just add your e mail address at the top right of this page. Thanks, The feather bender.

For this first pattern I have chosen the Montana nymph. This is no random choice, This is not only an excellent fishing fly that I have caught just about everything from perch to salmon on, but it also has many simple techniques that are used in hundreds, if not thousands of other patterns.

Before you start, make sure your work space is tidy, and you have only the materials you need for this pattern to hand. The only tools you need are some small sharp pointed scissors, dubbing needle, hackle pliers and whip finish tool.

Hook: Mustad R73 9671# 6-12

Tying thread: Black

Tail: Black hackle fibers

Body: Black chenille

Thorax: Green or yellow chenille with lead wire under

Wing case:  Black chenille

Hackle: Black

Today the Montana nymph has a almost classic status. The original, Montana Stone, was tied by Lew Oatman from New York. It was tied to represent a range of large stonefly nymphs and not one particular species. The tying technique for the Montana is like learning to eat with chopsticks! At first it looks extremely difficult, but if shown the correct tying process it very simple, and when you have tied a half dozen you’ll never forget it! Today its tied in several variants. The yellow chenille can be changed for green or red and the black chenille with light olive. It can also be tied with a bead head.



After you have secured your hook in the vice and attached your tying thread strip a small bunch of long hackle fibers from a black cock hackle. Tie these in for the tail of the nymph, at a position just before the hook bends so they stand straight out. They should be about 2/3 of the hook shaft length.



Cut a short length of lead wire and warp it tightly around the thorax a few mm behind the hook eye as shown. Cover it in tying thread and then wind your tying thread back to the tail base.



Cut a 10 cm length or a little longer if its easier for your to handle and tie this in along the hook shank from the lead wire to the tail base.



Now wind on the chenille, about 5 or 6 tight even turns until you cover half the hook shank. Then tie down the chenille with 2 or 3 turns of tying thread.



Dont cut off the length of chenille remaining. Take the loose end and tie it down tight into the other end of the chenille on top of the hook shank. Dont worry if the loop of chenille is large, it will be trimmed later,



Cut a short length of green chenille and tie this in on top of the lead wire. Finishing close into the black chenille.



Before you start winding the chenille tie in a cock hackle by the point again over the lead.



Now wind on the green chenille in tight even turns towards the hook eye.



Wind on the chenille and tie off, but leave enough room behind the hook eye to finish the fly.



Once you have tied off the chenille take the hackle and attach a hackle plier and wind it in between the turns of green chenille. Make sure that the hackle fibers are pointing backwards. If done correctly you will see that it falls perfectly in place with each turn.



When you come to the hook eye, tie off the hackle and cut off the excess.



Now to the black chenille loop. Take the loop in your right hand and pull it over the thorax of the nymph to form the wing case. Tie down with 2 or 3 turns of tying thread, as close to the green chenille as possible.



Carefully trim off the excess chenille and whip finish. Try and make the head of the nymph not to large. Finish with a drop of varnish.



Heres an arial view of the Montana nymph. Check the proportions of the tail, body, thorax and hackle and compare with your own before attempting to tie the next.

Fly tying course # 3 Its a material world

Fly tying, in most cases, begins with a fly tying kit.  Unfortunately most fly tying kits can result in the same frustration as starting to tie too difficult patterns. When you open a fly tying kit for the very first time, the first thing you notice is the over powering perfume of paradichlorobenzene or moth balls. This is used to keep feather and fur eating insects at bay, and from making a smorgasbord of your materials. Beyond the moth ball vapors, your newly purchased kit, is filled with what looks like, at first glance, a fantastic array of shiny tools and materials from the most exotic foul and beast.

And if you have any fly tying /material questions, dont be afraid to ask. Just post your question at the foot of this page.

If you would like to receive a message when the next stage of the course is published, just add your e mail address at the top right of this page. Thanks, The feather bender.


My fly tying room looks messy, but there is order in the chaos!

Unfortunately the usefulness and quality of “kit” materials and tools is generally poor. In nine out of ten kits the scissors are bad quality and wont clean cut tying thread and and other fine materials. Ideally you should have two pairs of scissors, one with extremely fine points for the more intricate work and a pair with larger and serrated blades for deer hair and heavier work. The bobbin holder is of equally poor quality, cutting the tying thread with every  two or three turns around the hook. I am also of the thought that the natural materials in most fly tying kits are chosen by none fly tyers for volume and not usefulness, for the new beginner. That all being said, if you have a access to a reliable fly fishing store that has a good fly tying department and fly tying staff, ask if they can put a kit together for you with quality tools and materials tailored to the patterns that you wish to tie. Generally speaking, when it comes to tools and materials, the more money you use the better the quality.

My recommendation for a basic starter set for trout and grayling flies:


Dubbing needle

Hackle pliers


Bobbin holder ceramic

Whip finisher

Clear fine varnish

Tying thread

Cock Hackle mixed Whiting pack,  Black, brown, grizzle

CdC natural tan

Peacock eye

Pheasant tail

Fine Antron dubbing Black. Tan. Olive. 

Natural deer hair

Hares mask

Poly yarn white

Lead wire

Medium copper wire

Hooks dry fly Mustad R 30 94833 # 12. Nymph Mustad R73 9671 # 8. Streamer Mustad R74 9672 # 6.

When you have been tying for a while you will start to understand materials more with regard to quality and uses. You will quickly see how much easier it is to tie with quality materials and how much better the end result will be. Again when buying materials try and use a shop that has a large fly tying department, these normally have the best quality materials and staff that tie flies that are on hand to help and answer your questions.  But even in these shops, the materials can vary. When buying materials, say for instance pheasant tail !  don´t just take the first packet hanging on the wall ! Look through all the packets and choose the one that works best for the patterns you wish to tie. There is always varying quality in size, colour, markings, fibre length… and quantity in most natural materials, that at first glance all look the same, but only under closer scrutiny is the difference noticeable.



Since this is the most single expensive item you will require to tie flies, your choice should be made carefully. You should consider how many and what type of flies will you tie and what size hooks you will be using. Beyond the prime function of holding the hook securely, modern vises incorporate a number of additional functions of varying usefulness. Hight, jaw angle and full rotation are normal and found in most good models. Vices are available in several different designs and price classes. The best way to acquire a feeling for the vise that suites your tying style and requirements is to visit a retail store with a good selection of designs and price class. Ask the staff to point out the advantages and disadvantages of the different makes and try them out for yourself.

Tying thread:

See fly tying tutorial # 2

Bobbin holder:


A poor quality bobbin holder can be infuriating. It is really worth investing in a good quality ceramic bobbin holder, these are far superior to other models. The ceramic tubes are far harder than even the highest quality surgical steel, which eventually becomes worn and develops grooves that will cut the tying thread.

The wire arms of a bobbin holder need to be adjusted to accommodate the particular size of spool being used and the acquire the desired tension. The tension should be light enough for you to easily draw off thread, while still being tight enough to hang free under its own weight without unwinding. Setting the tension on a bobbin holder is as follows:

For less tension pull the two wire arms outward from each other, and to increase tension, the opposite. Try your spool and fine tune the tension accordingly.



Its unreasonable to expect one pair of scissors to do all the cutting jobs required when tying flies. Eventually you will need at least two. One high quality pair with sharp fine points, for all the fine work and a second pair that are used for heavier work such as tinsel, wire… If you are going to tie many deer hair flies it is also useful to have a longer bladed pair with serrated edges. These “grip” the deer hair and enable flush cutting.

When buying scissors, If you have large hands, make sure that your finger and thumb fit comfortably in the handles.

Dubbing needle:


This is probably the most simple fly tying tool, but at the same time one of the most useful.  Dubbing needles have many tasks to perform, applying varnish to finished flies, picking out dubbing, splitting hackle fibers, mixing epoxy… Your work space when fly tying can quickly become chaotic beyond recognition, especially when you have tied a few different patterns, and its easy to spend more time looking for your dubbing needle than tying flies. Therefor I have several dubbing needles of mixed diameter standing up-right in a piece of foam.  The point of the dubbing needle can quickly become covered with a build-up of varnish, epoxy and head cement.  This can be scraped away with a blade, but I keep my needles clean with another method. I have an 35 mm film canister that I have filled with wire wool. All you need to do is push your built-up dubbing needle through the canister top down into the wire wool a few times and your needle is as new!

Hackle pliers:


Its much easier to correctly wind a hackle on a dry fly when you use hackle pliers.  They come in many designs and price classes, like all other fly tying tools.  I use and recommend a rotary model.  The rotary model will keep the hackle from twisting when wound.  Its important that whichever model you choose to use that the sprung jaws have a secure grip, even on the finest hackle points.  A good tip for all models to improve their gripping quality, without damaging the materials to be held, is to glue two small pieces of super fine sand paper on the gripping side of each jaw, then trim them down to fit the edges of the jaws. This will stop materials slipping out of the jaws when maximum tension is applied.

Whip finish tool:


These again come in various models – the most important distinction being if they are fixed or rotate.  A well designed whip finish tool allows quick and neat finishing of a fly with the correct knot. A whip finish tool is preferred by most professional tyers because the job at hand can be done much faster and neater than a series of half hitch knots done by hand. The Materelli Rotating whip finisher is regarded as the best there is.



This is probably the most discussed material amongst fly tyers, When buying cock capes / hackles one should understand that ALL capes come from individual birds each with distinctive characteristics. You cant expect the same uniformity as with tins of beans from the supermarket. consider the following factors:


Look for the best colour that suites your requirements. The best capes have a even consistency in colour.  This can differ from cape to cape, in both natural and dyed. With your first purchase of quality hackle choose the colour you are most likely to use most, give this some thought. For dry flies look for capes with a good vivid colour that glows, and a high glossy shine. My choice for the three most useful colours for general trout patterns are:


From a pale red to dark red but normally called brown. This will cover most of your needs for caddis fly patterns and a good amount of traditional dry flies.


Jet black in natural capes is a rarity . Nearly all jet black capes are dyed. A black cape is always useful for mayflies, ants, tails and nymphs.


Is not really a colour but a description of the black chevron barring on a cream or white hackle background. Extremely useful not only alone but mixed as a secondary hackle colour with brown for such patterns as Adams, Europea 12… and the standard hackle for most dry midge patterns.


Capes from healthy birds will feel bouncy to the touch and the hackle will shine. Dr Tom Whiting owner of Hoffman, has said that when he chooses birds for breeding he considers not only colour and quality but also the character of birds. No matter how good the colour appears to be, If the bird is nervous and of low spirit he will be low in the pecking order. This will influence health and plumage quality. It is also useful to check the stems of a few hackles and see if they are flexible and not brittle when wound on a hook. Hackles that are brittle are useless.

Feather count:

The more hackles of a good usable quality on a cape is of course desirable. You can again gain a feeling for this just by handling the cape, check it´s depth (thickness). Inspect the individual hackles for barb count, (the density of fibers along a hackle stem) and fibre stiffness. This is difficult for a new beginner but will come with time spent at the tying bench.

Hackle size:

Expensive modern cock capes are generally sized. This means they give you an indication as to what size flies they are most suitable for and ca. how many flies you are able to tie with them. The most useful cape/hackle size for the fly tyer here in Europe is for hooks # 10-16.

Pheasant tail:


The least expensive and most common pheasant tail used in fly tying is from the Ring neck pheasant.  The best feathers come from the centre of the tail of the male bird (cock pheasant) These long centre tail feathers have the longest fibers and normally the best chevron barred markings. Uses include, legs on nymphs and crane flies, tails on may flies and nymphs, wing cases and the only material needed for the most famous of all nymphs the pheasant tail.

Hares mask:


This refers to the mask and ears of the European brown hare.  Individual masks range in colour from pale tan to almost black. The texture and length is from fine and soft in the under fur, that is an excellent dubbing. To long and stiff guard hairs, that can be used for feelers and tail in many patterns.  The ears are covered with short stiffer hairs without almost any under fur.  A mixture of hair from the ears and the mask makes one of the best buggy nymph dubbing available. As used in the Gold ribbed hares ear.

Deer Hair:


See also my earlier post on European roe deer.

Deer hair is normally described as hollow, This doesn´t mean that it´s hollow like a drinking straw, but that each hair is built up of hundreds of small air filled cells. This type of hair structure is most defined in deer from areas with an extreme winter climate. The result, the colder it is, the better the spinning qualities, with some exceptions. The hair from reindeer and the north american caribou. In order to achieve optimal insulation, these hairs hold so many air cells that they have a tendency to be brittle, and break under the pressure  of tying thread.

The winter coat of the Norwegian roe deer has many air filled cells and is ideal for spinning, packing and clipping.  While the hair from the summer coat is somewhat stiffer and extremely fine. A first class hair for tails and winging dry flies.  The colour varies from light red brown on the summer coat to dark grey with darker barred tips on the winter coat.  The best hair for spinning is found on the back of the roe along the spine. This hair is extremely dense, not at all brittle, and floats like a cork. The chalk white hair on the rump is excellent for dying, or for patterns that require white deer hair.

You should also be aware that the roe mask has a diversity of hair that is difficult to equal. Here you will find hair in many different lengths, shades of brown and coarseness. Ideal for dry´s from # 10 and down to the very smallest comparaduns. Anyone who ties caddis flies shouldn’t be without a roe mask.

If you know a hunter or a game keeper, try and secure yourself a whole roe skin, you wont be disappointed.

Polypropylene Yarn:

A smooth or rough textured synthetic yarn available in many colours.  Being less dense than water, poly yarn is particularly suited to dry fly applications, such as wings, parachute posts, shuck cases, loop wings…  Silicon coated yarn, is even more water repellant than standard polypropylene.


Peacock eye:

The eye tail feather from the peacock (male bird) provides us with the famous herl. Covered in iridescent  green fibers and used for wound bodies and butts in hundreds of patterns. For stripped herl patterns the best herl to use is from just under the eye of the feather. These herl´s are stronger here than otherwise found on the lower tail.



CdC in short for Cul de canard or more correctly Croupion de Canard, was first used as a fly tying material in the 1920s in Switzerland.  In more recent years the Swiss perfectionist Marc Petitjean has been responsible for popularizing the use of this material.  All birds have these feathers, but the best for fly tying come from ducks.  The feathers are located around the gland that produces preening oil. This highly water repellant oil is collected on these small feathers,  and its here the bird obtains the oil with its bill to dress its feathers.  Without this oil the bird would drown.  The small fibers catch tiny air bubbles that work wonderfully on emerger patterns. Besides its excellent floating properties CdC

is not only extremely aqua-dynamic pulsating with life in the water, but also hydrodynamic. A CdC hackle will collapse under air pressure while casting, but as soon as the cast ends the hackle opens and falls perfectly back to its intended shape.


See also my post on dubbing:

Just about all natural furs, feathers and hairs can be used as one form of dubbing or another.

Many tyers have become use to mixing there own dubbing material, in a particular texture or colour, or even mixing several different materials to give a special sparkle or shade. When choosing a natural material for a dry fly, think a little about the animal or bird that it comes from,  the fur and under fur from a beaver or mink is excellent as this has a lot of natural water repellent oils, this will make it float well.  The under fur is also very fine, this enables you to dub extremely small dry fly bodies.  Where as for a buggy nymph you would need a material that will absorb water and sink and command a little more volume that a fine dry fly body. Synthetic dubbing is available in literally thousands of colours and textures for all types of flies. So consider the requirements of the dubbing needed for the job at hand before beginning to tie your flies.



Head cements and varnishes used in fly tying have come a long way in the last decade. But still In some fly tying circles, purists believe that glue has no place, and should never be used in fly tying. I am of the school that uses both super glue and epoxy in most of my tying. The best varnish to start with in Veniards Clear fine.  This varnish is easily absorbed by most tying threads and dries hard with a reasonably glossy finish.  If you would like a super hard glossy finish I recommend that you firstly coat the head of your fly with Veniards clear fine, after this is dry, you can then give it a coat with nail varnish. The best nail varnishes are Revlon Top speed and Sally Hansens Hard as nails.



Dry fly hooks:

Dry fly hooks are normally all fine diameter wire hooks that are made from standard, fine or superfine wire so that there is minimum weight in the hook making the fly float better. 1X being the standard and 4X the thinnest

The most important thing to remember when choosing your dry fly hook is the right hook for the particular pattern you are going to tie without jeopardizing strength.  A superfine hook has more chance of straightening when fighting a large fish.  For “regular” high floating deer hair and hair wing dry flies a standard wire hook will suffice. And for the tiny dry flies #18 and smaller, standard wire hooks will work fine and give you all the strength you need, even for big fish.  As these hooks are so small they nearly float on there own.

Wet fly and Nymph hooks:

Both your standard wet fly and nymph hooks are in the same category, with the exception of some more recent specialist hooks that fall under the Emerger category. They are both normally made with a heavier diameter wire to give the hook extra weight, in order to make it sink. Generally the standard nymph hook is a little longer in the hook shank, to give you room to imitate the slender body of the natural insect.

Emerger hooks:

These are hooks that normally have more bend than hook shaft, that are designed to imitate hatching insects that are hanging in the surface water film. The bent hook shaft helps the fly tyer imitate this stage, with the rear part of the body of the insect submerged  and the thorax and wing case above.

Streamer hooks:

Because almost all streamer patterns are tied to imitate small fish, the hooks that are used for streamers tend to reflect the natural body shape of  bait fish of various sizes. Most streamer hooks are made of standard diameter wire or heavy and come in various shank lengths.

Hook Size:

Hook sizes are were most fly tiers can get confused. The number on a hook generally refers to the relative size of each hook with respect to each other. However there is NO industry standard and different manufactures have different standards for applying numbers to their own sizes.

The most important thing to remember is that the size number on a hook packet is a “relative size” NOT a actual measurement of a hook.

The higher the number i.e. (# 28, very small hook) the hook size is increasing with a decreasing number.

The lower the number i.e. (#1, large hook) will increase in size with an increasing number i.e. (# 8/0, very large hook) the larger the hook size.

Fly Tying Course # 2 Thread and Whip finish

Tying thread:

There are many threads available today that have many different properties. The tyer will want to use the one that is most suited to the task at hand, in respect to thickness, strength, stretchability, waxed or un-waxed and weather it has a flat or round profile on the hook, And of course colour.

Size / thickness:

Thick threads are described in lower numbers  3/0  and thinner threads in higher numbers 16/0.  And strong threads such as Kevlar and Dyneema are as strong as carbon fibre. Silk threads and flosses are still available, but most modern threads and flosses are made from synthetic materials such as Rayon, Dacron, Nylon and Polyester. Stretchy flosses are normally made from Lycra. These modern threads may not please the purist but they do have a significant roll in contemporary fly tying.  Rayon and Acetate flosses are extremely shiny and I use them only for tags. If used for floss bodies they have a tendency to fray easily.


The following relationship applies to straight, uniform filaments:

DPF = total denier / quantity of uniform filaments

The denier system of measurement is used on two- and single-filament fibers. Some common calculations are as follows:

1 denier = 1 gram per 9 000 meters
= 0.05 grams per 450 meters (120 of above)
= 0.111 milligrams per meter

In practice, measuring 9,000 meters is both time-consuming and unrealistic; generally a sample of 900 meters is weighed and the result multiplied by 10 to obtain the denier weight.

  • A fiber is generally considered a microfiber if it is one denier or less.
  • A one-denier Polyester fiber has a diameter of about ten micrometers.

You will notice that for most of the patterns on this blog, I use only one type of tying thread, Dyneema.

This has several advantages when tying. Its a un-waxed super strong multi-filament polyethylene fibre that offers maximum strength combined with minimum weight. It is up to 15 times stronger than quality steel, on weight for weight basis. Dyneema floats on water and is extremely durable. Resistant to moisture and salt water, UV light and chemicals. Being a multi-filament thread it can be spun anti clockwise, and the fibers will open and flatten out, making it ideal for the largest of flies, splitting and spinning dubbing loops and tying with deer hair. Its also makes “O” build-up under tinsel bodies. If you spin Dyneema clock wise, the fibers twist together and become a super strong micro tying thread 16/0. suitable for even the smallest flies. The other advantage is that you need only one colour of thread, as Dyneema colours well with waterproof felt pens. The applications are therefore more or less unlimited. But it also has disadvantages. Being unwaxed it has a tendency to be extra slippery with some materials. So I either wax it when needed or change to a more traditional pre-waxed thread.

I will come back to Dyneema later and make a whole tutorial on its uses and related techniques.

Attaching Tying thread to the hook:

When you attach the tying thread to the hook shank, its not only for attaching other materials but lays a foundation for all the materials to be tied in, and stop them form slipping on the smooth bare hook shank.

If you have any questions about fly tying, techniques, hooks or materials please post them here and I will do my very best to answer them quickly.  

If you would like to receive a message when the next stage of the course is published, just add your e mail address at the top right of this page. Thanks, The feather bender.


1. Holding the end of your tying thread in your left hand and your bobbin in the right place the thread behind the hook shank.


 2. Keeping tension on the thread with your left hand bring the bobbin around under the hook and cross the thread as shown.
3. Now make another turn of thread close into the first.
4. Still keeping tension on the thread in your left hand make six or seven more turns with the bobbin, keeping them tight into each other. If you are making a tinsel of loss body fly that requires a fine even foundation its important that the first wraps of thread on the hook are neat and even for good results. On the other hand if you are making a fly with a dubbed body its not so important. But once again if you learn to be neat with every pattern you tie, you will accomplish better looking flies all round!
5. Now you can trim off the butt end of the tying thread.
6. Tying thread attached, you can now carry on and cover the amount of hook shank needed with a thread foundation.
Whip Finish:
This is the knot used for finishing a fly, or tying off a section under tying to stop a material from moving while you progress to the next step. This is a technique that many new beginners find difficult to master, but once learned its never forgotten. Just take your time and practice the whip finish on a bare hook.
1. Holding the bobbin in your left hand, place the hook of the whip finish tool into the tying thread and over the bend as shown.
2. Now keeping tension on the bobbin with your left hand, turn your whip finish tool a half clock wise revelation so the tying thread forms a triangle and the thread from the bobbin is parallel with the hook shank.
3. Now keeping tension all the time in the bobbin turn the whip finish tool clockwise so it leads the tying thread around the hook shank two or three times.
4. Once you have made two or three turns around the hook shank pull the bobbin hand to the left while you tip the whip finish tool hand slightly upwards and let the thread slip off the bend, not the hook! of the tool.
5. Once the thread has slipped of the bend keep pulling with the bobbin hand but keeping tension in both hands and pull the hook of the tool down towards the hook.
6. Once the hook of the whip finish tool is tight to the hook just slip it out and tighten the tension of the bobbin to finish the knot. Trim off the tying thread to finish the fly. I tend to make at least two whip finish knots on dry flies and nymphs where the heads should be small and neat. But on larger and salt water patterns I make three or four.


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