When it comes to incorporating natural materials such as pheasant tail or peacock, many tyers shy away, critical of these natural materials’ ability to survive the rigours of a busy day of fishing. Many tyers today, myself included, rely on synthetic-based patterns coated with layers of superglue, nail polish, UV resins or a blend of all three. While there is no doubting the robust nature of today’s chironomid patterns there is still a place for patterns utilizing traditional materials. My Green Back Pheasant, named for its holographic Mylar shellback and pheasant tail fibre body, is an example of this ‘old school’ philosophy. The trick, of course, is building in enough durability so the fly endures the mauling of more than a few fish. Here are some of the tricks and techniques I use to reinforce traditional materials.
Pheasant tail fibres, either natural or dyed, along with other quill fibres such as goose or turkey remain popular body choices. Their pedigree remains popular with both moving and stillwater fly fishers alike. Appropriate techniques are required to increase the lifespan of a fibre- based body.
I favour pheasant tail due to its natural mottled appearance. Select a minimal clump of fibres from the stem; six to eight is ample. Prior to removing the fibres from the stem pull them perpendicular to even the tips. Once removed, trim the tips even to ease the tie in process. Tie in the pheasant tail fibres by their trimmed tips to take advantage of the material’s natural taper. Prior to winding the fibres forward, coat the shank with brushable superglue. Wait a few seconds until the glue becomes tacky. Counter-wind the pheasant tail fibres forward over the tacky shank. The superglue undercoat bonds the fibres to the shank plus if you lose your grip there is a good chance the fibres won’t unravel. With the body complete, tie off and remove the excess. Counter-wrapping the body is the initial step of a crisscrossing reinforcement process with a wire rib.
Ribbing serves three primary purposes, the illusion of segmentation, a dash of attractive flash or contrast and durability. The rib of my ‘Back’ series of patterns also secures the shellback. With the body complete and the Mylar shellback initially secured behind the bead, take a half turn of the rib so it points straight down. This positioning wrap ensures the first full wrap of ribbing binds the shellback along the body. I wind my wire ribs over the top and away, the way most materials are wrapped. Combined with the counter wound body this practice reinforces the body. If you counter wind the rib the tie off process can loosen the ribbing as the thread wraps push the stiff wire back, against the direction it was wound. When you tie off wire that has not been counter-wound the securing wraps constrict and tighten the thread, adding durability. With the ribbing process complete, break off the excess wire using a pulling and twisting motion. This practice creates a smooth break that won’t sever thread or cause premature scissor wear.
Despite the popularity of thread thoraxes I still favor the natural iridescent wink of peacock herl. Looking closely at a single peacock herl strand you will notice that the fibres protrude from one side. I trim the brittle tip and then tie in the trimmed tip along the side of the shank directly behind the bead so the fibres point down. The wrapping process places a 180-degree rotation in the herl. The subtle soft fibres radiate outward creating a full attractive thorax. Use four to five wraps to form the thorax. The finished thorax, at most, should be no wider than the bead.
Without reinforcement a peacock herl thorax is the first component to unravel after the attention of just a few trout. Additional reinforcement is required. Dabbing head cement onto the tie off area typically results in matted peacock fibres and the adhesive failing to get where it needs to be. Apply a thin coat of brushable superglue or low viscosity UV resin to 1/2 an inch of tying thread. Wind the coated thread directly behind the bead so it carries the glue into the base of the fibres and the tie off area. Slight thread pressure also helps squeeze and spread the adhesive or resin into place. When using UV resin remember to cure with the appropriate light. This coated thread technique works whenever you tie off behind a bead or cone or when facing any situation where there is a risk of getting cement into areas you don’t want it to go.
Using these reinforcing techniques prolongs the life expectancy of my ‘Back’ series of patterns along with a host of other pattern types. Give them a try. They should do the same for your patterns as well.
The Green Back Pheasant Designed by Phil Rowley
Hook: Curved Scud Hook #10-#14 Thread: 8/0 Olive or Black Rib: Fine Gold Wire Body: Light Olive Pheasant Tail Shellback: Holographic Green Mylar Thorax: Peacock Herl Bead: Gold (#10 7/64”, #12-#14 3/32”) Gills: UV2 Sparkle Yarn, White
Tying Note: Don’t be afraid to experiment. By varying the body, rib and Mylar colours the combinations and permutations are practically endless.
Cover the front quarter of the shank with tying thread. Tie in the gill material directly behind the hook eye and secure back to mid-point of the hook to build a subtle body taper. Use firm thread wraps to compress gill material so a bead can easily slide over. For smaller flies reduce the volume of the gill material so smaller beads can slide over the butts. Cover the butts of the gill material, whip finish and trim the tying thread.
Slide a gold bead, narrow end facing forward, onto the shank over the gills tight against the hook eye. Attach the tying thread directly behind the bead. Cover the balance of the shank down into the hook bend. Return the tying thread back up to the rear of the bead. Secure the rib material directly behind the bead and secure down the shank into the bend along the near side of the hook.
Remove 6-8 pheasant tail fibres from a dyed center tail feather. Trip the tips even to aid tie in. Tie in the trimmed tips at the bend of the hook. Wind the tying thread forward to the rear of the bead. Be sure to leave enough material to wind forward and form the body. Place a light coat of brushable superglue along the shank. Counter wind the pheasant tail fibers forward to the rear of the bead tie off and remove the excess material.
Secure a short length of holographic Mylar on top of the shank directly behind the bead ensuring there is enough material trailing back over the body to form a shellback. Fold the excess material protruding forward of the tie in point and secure back with a couple of thread wraps to lock in place. Once secured, trim the excess Mylar that was initially protruding forward.
Take a half turn of ribbing material so the wire is hanging straight down, perpendicular to the shank. Lay the holographic Mylar along the body and hold in place. Still holding the Mylar, wind the wire forward using open wraps to the rear of the bead. If possible try and create seven ribs to create nine even body segments. Tie off the wire. Using a pulling and twisting motion break away the excess ribbing.
Trim the balance of the holographic Mylar even with the hook bend forming a short stubby tail. Tie in a single strand of peacock herl. Wind the peacock herl directly behind the bead 4-5 times. The peacock herl thorax should extend no further back than the width of the bead. Tie off and remove the excess peacock herl.
Apply a thin coating of superglue or UV resin to the tying thread. Wind the coated tying thread directly behind the bead 3-4 times. Whip finish and remove the tying thread. Remember to use the appropriate curing light if using UV resin. Trim the gills so they are approximately the same length as the bead.