Not all that’s hot in fly tying is new, however. After years of being seen only in the pages of pre-1950 fly fishing books, classic wet flies are enjoying a vibrant period of re-discovery- a renaissance.
Don Bastian, a fly tier from Cogan Station, Pa., leads the resurgence. To help illustrate the book Forgotten Flies by Paul Schmookler and Ingrid Sils, Bastian tied nearly 500 of the wet-fly patterns found in the color plates of Ray Bergman’s classic 1938 volume, Trout. Those ties, exquisitely executed and captured in stunning color photographs, triggered a wave of curiosity among tiers.
Bastian answered the interest by producing and publishing an instructional DVD, “Tying Classic Wet Flies.” Except where noted, the techniques in the following step-by-step tutorial are his:
When tying more than one of any pattern, it’s best to prepare materials beforehand. Not only does it save time, it helps the tier to develop a rhythm that makes the tying process flow more smoothly.
To tie this fly:
Clamp a 1XL, heavy-wire wet fly hook into the vise. Bastian uses Mustad’s 3399 model, but a Mustad 3906B or 7957BX would do just as well.
Snip two 6- to 8-inch lengths of fine Mylar tinsel from the spool. Set them aside.
Snip an 8- to 10-inch length of red floss from the spool. Set it aside.
Clip three adjacent fibers from the right and left trailing edges of a matched pair of red duck, goose or swan wing quills. Set them aside. Then clip three adjacent fibers from the right and left trailing edges of a matched pair of white duck, goose or swan wing quills.
Matching lefts to lefts and rights to rights, hold the butts of the red and white sections edge to edge and stroke the fibers toward the tips. With a little wiggling and finagling, the fibers should eventually “marry” and yield two tail slips that look like this:
Repeat the clip-and-marry process for the wing slips — red on top, white on bottom. With goose primary quills, seven or eight fibers of each color are about right for a No. 6 fly. When finished, the tapered end of each wing slip should be approximately two-thirds the width of the hook gape:
Strip about a quarter-inch of fibers from one side of a webby red hen hackle or schlappen feather. Repeat the process for a white feather. Holding the tips of the fibers even, roll them between your fingers until they become well mixed. Or, if it better suits your taste, keep them segregated into red and white bands. Set them aside.
Beginning approximately 1/16″ behind the hook eye, make a jam knot and wind the tying thread toward the rear of the hook in flat, edge-to-edge turns. For all but the heads on classic wets, white thread should be used. Right-handed tiers should keep the thread flat by spinning the bobbin counterclockwise for 1 to 2 seconds after every dozen wraps (clockwise for lefties). Stop when the bobbin hangs directly over the cut of the hook barb.
On the far side of the hook, tie in one of the tinsel pieces with three or four wraps of thread. The gold side of the Mylar tinsel should rest against the hook, and most of its length should extend past the hook’s bend.
Using tight, edge-to-edge wraps (don’t overlap!), wind five turns of tinsel rearward around the hook shank. Reverse directions and, keeping the tinsel tight and edge-to-edge, wrap back to the tie-in point. Secure with four or five turns of tying thread.
Holding the convex sides of the married tail slips together at the butts so that the tails flare slightly outward, measure them against the hook shank. They should be roughly the same length as the flat part of the shank. Hold the tails against the top of the hook shank at the tie-in spot. Bring the thread up between the near-side wing slip and your thumb, then loosely over the top and down between the far-side wing slip and your index finger. While pinching the slips in place, pull the tying thread downward. Release and make two more wraps at the same spot. Preen the tails so that they sweep slightly upward and flare slightly toward each side.
Spiral the tying thread forward toward the head, taking care with each turn to trap the butt ends of the tails on top of the hook shank. Stop at the spot where the head should start. Clip the wing butts closely and return the tying thread to the tails’ tie-in spot. Keep the underbody as smooth as possible. The floss, which comes later, will magnify any irregularities.
Tie in the second length of tinsel the same way the first was tied in — extending rearward, with the gold side of the Mylar against the hook shank. Tie in the floss. In flat, edge-to-edge wraps, advance the tying thread to the head of the hook, trapping the floss and tinsel butts underneath as you go.
Stroke the floss between your fingers until it flattens, then wrap in slightly overlapping turns toward the head. Try to keep the floss as smooth and flat as possible. Tie off with three or four turns, but don’t trim the excess just yet.
Spiral the tinsel forward in evenly spaced wraps. The third wrap should cross the center of the hook shank at the center point of the body. In all, five wraps should show on the tier’s side of the hook shank. The last turn should finish on the bottom of the shank and be trapped by the tie-off thread on the side toward you. Tie off with two or three turns. Trim excess floss and tinsel. Make a 2- or 3-turn whip finish and cut the white tying thread.
Switch to black tying thread. Starting at the end of the hook eye, make a jam knot and wrap the thread backward to the wing and hackle tie-in point. Using the loop-and-pinch method, trap the red and white hackle fibers underneath the hook shank. The fibers should extend rearward roughly the same length as the flat part of the hook shank. Secure with two or three tight wraps. Trim the fiber butts, clipping as closely as possible to the tie-in point.
Tying in the fly’s wings is the “moment of truth.” What you do in this next step can literally make or break the looks of your fly. Bastian has a unique technique for this, and it bears repeating here.
Match the wing slips at the tips and hold them, convex sides together, between the thumb and forefinger of your left hand. Position them over the tie-in point so that the wing tips extend to a point roughly half the length of the tails. Roll your fingertips open. Pass the tying thread between the near-side slip and your thumb. Bring the thread loosely over the top and pass it between the far-side slip and your index finger. Pinch your fingers together with enough pressure to hold everything — wing slips and thread — in place. Let the bobbin hang.
Grab the wing butts between your right thumb and forefinger. Pinch. Holding all the wing-slip fibers on top of the hook shank, relax your left-hand fingertips and let the weight of the bobbin pull down on the thread and compress the wing fibers. At the same time, fold upward with your right hand to create a V-shaped crease for the thread to follow. Ideally, the thread should drop straight down and bind the flattened wing fibers to the shank.
Pinch the tie-in spot with your left thumb and forefinger and pull down on the bobbin. Relax your pinch, make another quick wrap, pinch again and re-tighten. Whatever you do, don�t let the thread pressure roll the wing fibers toward the far side of the shank. If necessary, provide counter-pressure with your right index finger and return the butts to the top of the shank.
Secure with four or five tight wraps of thread. If your first couple of wraps were tight enough, the thread pressure won’t cause the wings to roll over. Make sure each succeeding wrap of thread advances slightly toward the head. Don’t wrap back over the wing, or you’ll ruin what you’ve started.
Trim the wing butts as closely as possible to the tie-in point. Bastian clips them on a slant, all at once. I prefer to fray them apart with a dubbing needle and clip them a couple at a time. That way, I can get a nice smooth taper for a very small head.
Using flattened thread, wrap a smooth, cone-shaped head. Tie off with a three-turn whip finish or two or three half-hitches. Apply three to four coats of head cement, varnish or nail polish to make a shiny, tidy head.
Your Ibis & White is finished! Put it in your wet-fly box and take it fishing. Have fun!