Many of our familiar patterns have evolved by way of random experiments: recent revolutionary additions have been the result of radical rethinking and of research into trout behaviour.
You must be careful when defining what is, or what isn’t, a ‘new’ trout pattern. Many new artificials are merely tinkerings with old ideas; a change of body colour here, a change of feather fibre there.
Trout patterns that break new ground and that are unique in both concept and construction are few and far between. And in recent times—perhaps the most exciting and prolific in the entire history of fly-tying—only a handful of patterns can truly claim to push forward the boundaries. Such a fly is the Muddler Minnow. Although not a new pattern, its influence is still as strong now as it was over 20 years ago when it was first devised. Many people believe that the Muddler Minnow got its name because of the way it moved in the water. They say it confuses the trout into taking it. This is not true. The Muddler Minnow was a direct attempt by its creator, Don Gapen, to tie an exact imitation of the flathead Cockatush minnow found in the Nipigon River in Northern Ontario, nicknamed ‘muddlers’ by the locals. Whereas the majority of flies before the Muddler relied on feather fibres in their construction, the Muddler Minnow is largely made of hair fibres. The part that makes most uninitiated fly-tyers wish they had never started on a Muddler is the head and shoulders made of deer hair. This material is believed to have been used by North American Indians to make trout lures. However, the method used to tie the head is quite original and not as difficult as is often made out.
Tying the Muddler Minnow
The space at the head of the hook where the deer hair is to be tied should be left bare. A small bunch of stiff fibres is cut from a deer skin and held horizontally over the hook where the silk has been wound off, having tied in the body and wing. Two loose turns of silk are wound round the fibres and hook shank with enough tension to hold the fibres on the hook so that they need no longer be held in position with your fingers. The silk is then pulled tight and the fur spins like a hackle round the hook shank. Having done this, the silk should be behind the fibres. Wind the silk through the fibres and make a half-hitch knot. This knot is then pressed close to the fibres. This operation is repeated 4-5 times depending on the size of the head. Press each ‘spinning’ close up to the last one until the hook shank has been sufficiently covered. When this is complete, the head of the Muddler should look something like an electrocuted sheep-dog. Clip the fibres so that the head is bullet-shaped, leaving some fibres nearest the body to act as a hair hackle.
The Muddler Minnow has been used as the basis for several fly-tying variations. The well-known British anglerentomologist John Goddard and his companion, Cliff Henry, for example, took the Muddler ‘deer spinning’ technique and adapted it to create a highly original imitation of the adult sedge.
The G & H Sedge
Arguably the most buoyant of all dry flies (deer hair is hollow) and certainly the most revolutionary sedge pattern ever to have fluttered from a fly-tying vice, the G & H Sedge is one of the very few all-British pat- terns to have enjoyed enormous impact in America (normally, it is the other way round).
Place a long-shank No 8 or 10 down-eye hook in the vice. Tie green silk in at eye and wind it to the bend, leaving a double length to be used later as the underbody. The body material of deer hair is spun on Muddlerstyle. Several spinnings of this hair are necessary, each new one pressed close up to the last until the hook is completely palmered with deer hair. Clip this hair to give the correct sedge silhouette when viewed from below.
Tie in two rusty dun cock hackles at the head. Leave the stripped butts protruding over the eye as antennae. Clip the top of the hackle. Finally, dub dark green seal fur on to the length of silk left at the bend. Pull it taut under the trimmed deer hair body and whip it in at the eye.
Hatching nymphs hugging the surface film in fast flowing rivers, the Suspender was adapted for still-waters by John Goddard.
A small ball of ethafoam, trapped in a pouch made from a woman’s nylon stocking or tights, is attached to the head of the hook. The ethafoam acts as a float keeping the imitation ‘suspending’ motionless —head in the surface film, body dangling down—in exactly the way trout see the natural midge pupa poised to hatch out the adult. Before the Suspender, a midge pupa artificial had to be kept moving to prevent it sinking out of the surface film, or greased up which meant that it sat on the surface horizontally and not in the natural position.
Cut out a small ball from a block of ethafoam. (The padding from in between the walls of a padded envelope does just as well.) Push it into a small square of stocking material and attach it to the head of the hook with two or three turns of silk. Having done this, continue to tie a midge pupa using the standard ‘buzzer’ method, using a seal for the colour of the natural on the water as body material. The Suspender does not require a hackle at the head.
Without a doubt, some of most significant developments of the last five years have been made on rivers, notably, the work of the fly-tyer John Goddard, and his co-writer Brian Clarke. In their recently published book, The Trout and the Fly—an expedition into the world of the trout using underwater tanks and cameras—Goddard and Clarke made a detailed study of natural and artificial flies as seen from the trout’s point of view.
Their expeditions resulted in a long and demanding check-list of how a dry fly should perform if it is to seduce the trout into taking it without the merest hint of suspicion.
One of the observations they ti&m underline is that a dry fly should float hook-up in the air, rather than dangling unappetisingly below the surface in full view of the trout.
In order to meet this criterion, they devise a series of upside down flies called USD (upside down) Paraduns. These were presented by carefully positioning hackle tip wings and parachute style of moun-ting the hackle. This ingeniously and elaborately made the fly float hook up in the air.
Their Paraduns and Polyspinners (using polythene for wings with pinprick holes to imitate the action of light on the veins of the natural) are of immense beauty, delicacy and realism but require an extraordinary degree of dexterity to create them.
In the wake of Goddard and Clarke’s research, an upside down fly devised by Neil Patterson comes most of the way, if not all, towards meeting the Paraduns’ goals. Named the Funneldun on account of the process involved in tying in the hackle, it calls into play very simple fly-tying procedures and does not require the high quality cock hackles normally needed to tie a dry fly.
The Funneldun is a straightforward, hard wearing and cheap fly to tie and incorporates an entirely new approach to tying a dry fly.
Place an up-eye hook (14-18) in the vice. Wind the silk in at the eye. Dub in a small thorax over the turns of silk right up against the eye.
Take a ginger and grizzle cock cape and select one hackle from each zone where you would normally consider the hackles too large. Tie in these two hackles (shiny-side facing the bend of the hook, the tips curving forward towards the eye), about one-third of the way down the hook behind the thorax. Wind the ginger through the grizzle and tie in the butts at the bend side of the hook. The hackles should be sloping slightly forward towards the eye rather than at right angles to the hook.
With the silk behind the hackles, ‘funnel’ the hackles forward with the thumb, first and second fingers of your right hand. With your left hand, wind a few turns of silk over the hackle roots to hold the hackles sloping at an angle of 45 degrees towards the eye.
Wind the silk towards the bend (a little dubbing can be added) winding in a bunch of grizzle whisks as you go as tails. Wind these tails in so they finish a little way round the bend of the hook. Whip finish at the tail. Finally, with the fly still in the vice, clip a small V out of the top of the hackle. This will ensure the Funneldun lands on the water hook in the air ten out of ten chucks.
Popularized by Goddard and Clarke, the Shrimp brings a degree of simplicity into an art that is becoming increasingly fingersome as fly-tying standards rise by the year.
Pioneered by Bob Preston who used it to fish deeplying trout on the Wiltshire chalk streams, the Shrimp is a crafty way to conceal weight —large amounts of it—in the guise of a tasty food parcel that sinks a hook down to trout at great depths.
At the bend of the hook (size 8-14), tie in a length of gold wire and a strip of plastic doubled up that will later form a shell back. Plastic money bags from banks make excellent backs as they don’t contract when tension is put on them. Build up strips of wine bottle lead on the back of the hook or wind lead wire round the hook shank—to form the characteristic hump back. Mix 95 per cent olive seal fur with 5 per cent sunrise pink, dub it on to the silk and wind it over the body. Rib with the wire and pull the plastic strips over the back of the fly and tie in at the head. Whip finish and tease out the dubbing to represent legs.
The patterns discussed here have all displayed their value to scores of flyfishermen all over the country. They have earned their spurs in terms of trout caught, and for that reason they have also earned a position in the fly-boxes of every fisherman. Not many new patterns win such respect. But be warned. When considering buying or tying up a new pattern for the first time, it is well to remember that fly-tying innovation alone will not improve your catches.