Last month was the NW Expo in Albany, Oregon. It’s one of the largest fly tying shows in the United States and I was fortunate enough to be able to tie at the show for both days. My main focus was on flies used mostly in competitions here in the states and internationally. The flies aren’t particularly different from what any other angler might use when they go fishing, but there is a more deliberate focus on the function of flies than the actual design when it comes to competition flies. I got more into the weeds with all of this when I was talking to people at the expo. I focused on two flies in particular that I fish often when I’m either competing or when I’m practicing. One was my Slim Damsel (Big Jim Damsel), that I use on stillwaters, and the other was my Kid Cuisine Caddis, that is a river pattern. They’re a couple of my confidence flies that I always make sure I have stock of when I go out fishing. I normally start the day out with one of them on my setup depending where I fish.
I wanted to put the recipes up on the blog and talk about materials I use in detail so anyone that was not able to attend still got to see the flies I tied and for anyone who did attend can get some of their questions answered if I wasn’t able to at the show.
Slim Damsel (Big Jim Damsel)
Hook: Firehole 633 – size 10
Weight: 1/8” brass bead
Tail: Woolly bugger marabou stripped from stem (blood quill works fine as well, you want fluffy marabou)
Flash: Lateral scale, or other flash (think blue)
Body: Dubbing (Squirrel, ice dub, rabbit, trilobal, etc.)
Rib: Brassie sized wire or .02 sized wire (complementary or contrasting colors)
Collar (Optional): CDC in a loop or split thread (this makes it a Jim damsel)
I use the Firehole 633 for almost all my pulling flies and attractor flies. I really like the shank length to gap for most of my stillwater flies. The other feature I like is the wire gauge. It is a bit heavy for most applications and if I was fishing a size 10, for example, in the river I would probably hate the hook. When choosing a hook you need to take into account the strength vs penetration. See my two posts talking all about hook choice here. When fishing stillwaters you are pulling your flies or you are maintaining contact with them at the very least. When a fish eats you shouldn’t be lifting the rod but strip setting with a slight lift after tension is made. It should look more like a strip set instead of a trout set (this changes if you’re fishing dries or a bung.) Because of the type of line, leader, tippet, and retrieve you can get away with a much heavier hook than if you fished the same fly in the river where you’re only trout setting and the shock absorption is required for the fine tippet. Because the tippet and line have little flex and the action of strip setting is a slack free direct hook set you can penetrate a thicker hook and get a better hold into a fish. This all being said means you can use any hook you want but a standard length heavy wire nymph hook will be your best bet for a “pulling” fly. I tie on a size 10 because it is within the size gauge for international rules, but if you weren’t competing then you could use an 8 and if you wanted a smaller hook a 12 would work well. Just remember to change your bead size if you want the same sink ratios. Next I want to talk about the marabou. I prefer a fluffier marabou like a woolly bugger marabou and I strip it from the stem and “stack” the fibers to form the tail. I then rip it to length. This gives you the most durable tail with the most motion. Blood quill or spey marabou works but you will not get as full of a tail. Also think of the dye process. The darker colors need to spend more time in the hot dye bath and that can thin out the material or shrink it. The body is made up of dubbing and a rib. I really like squirrel dubbing for my lures and damsels. Commercial squirrel dubbing is usually mixed with antron to allow you to dub it tightly but strong guard hairs really make a difference in making the pattern really buggy without being too bulky. Arizona synthetic dubbing is great too and, it’s a trilobal dubbing that I like a lot, if I want to use a synthetic over a natural material. Rabbit is really good especially when mixed with squirrel but it requires a bit more skill with dubbing to maintain the thinness of the pattern. The easy and accessible material is ice dubbing from Hareline, Sybai, Spirit River, or anyone else. It comes in a million consistent colors. It also dubs fairly well for a synthetic. You can always blend whatever colors you want. I’m a big fan of blue flash with my damsels so add some steelie blue ice dub with your olive squirrel to mix it up, just an idea. The rib is just copper wire that either complements or contrasts the fly in a way. A general rule of thumb I use is to match the bead. But red, chartreuse, blue, orange, gold, copper, green, and silver are just some colors I’ve used in the past. The collar is optional but it’s just CDC in a loop and only half a feather. You want a “less is more” attitude with it. It creates a lot of motion but a lot of drag. That being said, it does change the profile of the fly substantially without changing the hook, bead, tail or body length. Lastly the bead is typically brass for me. I like to let the line do most of the work when fishing subsurface. If you plan to fish only a couple lines then a few with tungsten beads might be your ticket if you need to fish deep.
Kid Cuisine Caddis
Hook: Fulling Mill 5045 – size 12-16
Weight: Slotted tungsten bead, Black or metallic light pink
Body: Rabbit dubbing, Caddis green
Rib: Brassie size wire or .02 size, Amber
Hot Spot: Glo-Brite floss, Fire orange #5
Hackle: CDC in a loop or split thread, Natural
Collar: Ice dub, UV Brown
I use a Fulling Mill 5045 on this fly but any jig hook will work for this fly. I would stick to a standard jig hook and not a short shank or wide gap hook just to keep proportions in order. When choosing a standard jig hook the two things I look for are wire gauge and the hook point. I’ve tied on some pretty light jig hooks and they tend to bed way too easily, especially at the point. I think with the combination of the shape of the hook and the tungsten bead there is too much leverage against it. The hook point can either be straight like a Hanak 400 or claw pointed like the Fulling Mill 5045 or the Firehole 516. I prefer the claw point just because I think it holds better. For the body I use rabbit because I can dub the body tightly and it’s hydrophilic which is what you want in a wet fly. The rib is a contrasting color to stay on the theme of attractor over natural. But a complementary color would work probably just as well. This fly is special with the hot spot being a mid-tag instead of a tail tag or hot collar. I use glo-brite as the hot spot material on this fly. It’s a single strand floss so you will need to double, triple, or quadruple it over to get the desired density of the material. You can use any color you want but I stick to a shade of orange. The collar is simple; it’s CDC in a loop or split thread. Less is more always when tying CDC collars and this fly is no different. I clean the fly up with some brown ice dub. Brown ice dub is a special color for whatever reason. The duracell fly is tied entirely with the stuff so it has to work. The bead is up to you. You can go crazy with a light metallic pink bead or dark metallic pink bead or a fluorescent color, but you can place it safely with one of the standard four colors like gold, silver, copper, or black nickel. This fly fishes well with a larger bead and is a great anchor fly when you’re fishing in swift waters with lots of caddis present. It’s one of my go to flies when I get to a river.
Hopefully this will help anyone who saw me at the expo this year and those who couldn’t attend this should give you a taste of what you missed out on. If you did attend the expo I’d love to hear any highlights you may have from the show. As always leave any questions or comments down below or reach out through the contact page.