Sunday, March 18, 2012

Instructors Offer Advice on Tying Trout Patterns That Catch Fish

By John Hayes, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
With easy access to the Laurel Highlands, Central Pennsylvania and Steelhead Alley, it's no surprise that the Pittsburgh area has a lot of outstanding fly tiers.
A TV monitor provides a live, close-up, wrap-by-wrap  perspective
on the creation of a Pheasant Tail Soft Hackle variation, as fly tying instructor
Bruce Cox demonstrates at a recent meeting of Penn's Woods
West Trout Unlimited. -John Hayes/Post-Gazette.
The opening of trout season is just three weekends out, and most of the regional fly tying courses that started in January and February are wrapping up. Fly anglers are wrapping like mad.
At weeks-long courses and one-time classes, demonstrations and events, tying aces offered tips for beginners and experienced fly tiers.
Bruce Cox, a veteran instructor for International Angler in Robinson and the Tri-County Trout Club of Lower Burrell, said many tiers are limited by making the same subtle mistakes.
"Pay attention to the details," said Cox, of Springdale, during a tying demo last week at Penn's Woods West Trout Unlimited in Brentwood. "What I see is people not paying attention to proportions. In most cases you're going to tie clockwise. Divide the shank by thirds allotting one-third for the thorax, two-thirds for the abdomen."
Often, he said, experienced tiers become accomplished at a particular technique, but they try to use it in every situation.
"Be flexible. Once you master one technique, don't apply it to every kind of fly," said Cox.
"Everybody's taught to whip finish the head of a fly. But when you're tying parachutes, if you use a whip finish tool you might tie over some of the parachute fibers. Use the half-inch tool, put on a double half hitch and a drop of head cement and it will never come off. If that's good enough for George Harvey [the Western Pennsylvania fly fishing legend who founded Penn State's vaunted fly fishing course], it's good enough for me."
On March 26, at a 7 p.m. meeting of the Upper St. Clair Fly Fishing Club (, Cox will demonstrate tying midges and other small patterns.
Bill Nagle of Bridgeville, fly fishing expert for L.L. Bean at Ross Park Mall, says he advises beginners to avoid over-tying.
"My experience is that the novice tier often doesn't tie sparse enough," he said. "They use too much dubbing or too much hackle or too many thread wraps. They tend to tie them too robust."
In the wild, most flies are extremely thin -- anatomically efficient -- and their silhouettes, as seen from below by trout, are very small. Nagle said bulky fly patterns may seem unnatural.
"You don't see insects that are overweight," he said. "You put two or three layers of wrap on the hook and you may already be exceeding the size of the natural."
Efficiency in tying is important, too. Nagle says a good fly shouldn't take more than a few minutes to tie.
"You can spend hours tying a fly that looks beautiful or five minutes on a very similar-looking fly that will catch fish," he said. "When I'm tying for myself, if I can't tie a fly in two or three minutes, it's not worth my time -- I'm going to lose so many, I need a large supply."

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