Friday, November 12, 2010

Fly Tying Tutorial: Stimulator

While it's still possible to take a trout on a dry fly here in Pennsylvania, most would agree that dry fly season is over for this part of the world, or at very least, winding down rapidly to its end.  I caught many fish on a wide variety of flies this year, but one specific pattern stood out from the crowd this year, establishing itself firmly as the pattern of the year: the venerable stimulator.  While top honors last year were shared by the parachute adams (which positively knocked trout sideways all spring), and a green emergent sparkle caddis (quietly representing with impressive numbers of fish in any water condition short of blown out...from late August till the first frost), this year saw the stimulator out-perform both of these.

I will qualify the above by fully admitting that a big part of this probably had to do with my increased focus this year on tiny streams, ultralight gear, and wild trout.  In this game, a fly that floats high, looks generally buggy (rather than specifically buggy), and is highly visible becomes an automatic winner, often regardless of color, and usually without much of a strict limit for size, so long as it fits into the mouths of the trout you're targetting.

That said, a stimulator, tied on a #14 long curved dry hook, took a ridiculously large number of fish for me this year.  50 fish days, while not exactly common, did indeed happen, and more than once.  Several sub-50 days could have been, if I'd have been ambitious enough to get on the water earlier, or fish through dusk.  On several days out, I used nothing but a single #14 stimmy, re-dressed with floatant as needed, and caught fish, regularly, for as long as I cared to move upstream.

Without further talk, let's get to the tutorial.  Please remember that, as always, you can click on any picture to be taken to a larger version.  (For tutorials like this it might be a good idea to simply open the image up in a new tab, so you don't lose your place in the tutorial.)


Hook: Dai-riki #280, size 14
Thread: Sheer 14/0, Tan
Tail: Elk, bleached
Body: Sparkle Yarn, Orange Rear, Lt. Green Front
Hackle: Grizzly Rear, Ginger Front
Wing: Mongoose

Disclaimer: I'm not one to be too pedantic about strict adherence to the pattern, but neither am I one of the camp that argues that all tying materials are more or less interchangeable.  As we go through the tutorial, I'll explain where I deviated from the norm, as well as ways you may consider customizing the tie, cutting corners, or sticking to the classic recipe.

Put your hook in the vise and start the thread, just a bit forward of halfway up the shank.  As far as hook choice, I've been using these Dai-riki #280's, but any long, light wire dry fly hook will work.  I do think a slightly curved shank improves appearances, but again, the extra length is the only important difference from a standard hook.

Tie in a small clump of elk hair as your tail.  Tie it in at the top of the bend, extending just over the back of the bend.  This is a bit of a tricky placement on a curved hook, but just eye it up.  If anything, err on the side of getting it too far back.  You'll want the hair to flare, so pull down your wraps tightly without pulling the hair around the hook.  As you can see in my picture, two of the hairs are either in there backward or got clipped somehow.  Ideally, remove these, but it's just for looks, not fishability.

With a good bit of tension in the thread, wrap forward up over the hair, causing it to flare out to the sides.  As you wrap, work your thread up through the ends of the hair, ideally, ending up with all of the ends wrapped over by the time you reach the point where you started your thread.  You can even sweep the hairs back slightly if you need to, the main idea here is to spread out the hairs across the back half of the body to create a smooth transition rather than a bump where the butts of the hairs end.

After this, trim the butts of the hairs as close as you can get them with your scissors.

Return your thread to the tie in point of the tail, and tie in a dry fly saddle hackle, the smallest you've got (that's smallest in terms of barb length), by the butt, concave side of the curvature facing forward.  The curve direction isn't super critical on a fly this heavily hackled, so don't get discouraged if your hackle is being unruly.  The hackle I used here is from a Whiting Midge saddle, and although I didn't size it, it'd typically be appropriate for a #18-22 dry fly.

After that, tie in a length of sparkle yarn about 3-4" long, in the color you want for the rear half of your fly.  If you don't have sparkle yarn, you could get some (its cheap) or use dry fly dubbing, peacock herl, mylar tinsel, or any other typical material for a dry fly body.  With yarn, popular colors are yellow, orange, red, green, and brown, though I could certainly see black, white, blue, or any other color working as well.

Wrap the sparkle yarn forward to your original tie in point, tie off, and trim.  You can either twist up the yarn for a segmented appearance as I have here, or leave it as it is, for a smoother, flatter appearance.  Frankly, I don't think it matters in the slightest.  If your sparkle yarn is especially 'fuzzy', go ahead and trim up some of the unruly fibers.

Palmer your hackle forward to the same point and tie it off and trim it as well.  Palmering means simply to wind the hackle along the length of the body, nothing fancy.  A few tips here would be to use a good bit of tension.  Don't break the feather, but wrapping over the yarn body won't splay the hackle barbs as much as winding them about a bare hook shank, so some added tension will help them spread apart for a bushier, more evenly hackled fly that will float higher.  Also, try not to trap barbs under your hackle stem.  If they're getting trapped, back up, sweep them back with your fingers, and continue.

Select and prepare (by pulling out underfur, and evening in a hair stacker) a clump of hair to use for your wing.  Traditionally, elk or deer hair is used...usually matching whatever you used in the tail.  I've also seen stimmies tied with squirrel, woodchuck, and other hairs.  In this tutorial, I found a small clump of mongoose hair on my tying bench and decided to try it instead, having never seen a mongoose stimmy before.  Mongoose, as I discovered, behaves more like squirrel than elk.  It's hard, solid, not inclined to flare, and slippery as hell.  It isn't necessarily wrong for this fly, but it's suited far better for use as streamer winging.

Tie in your wing at the point where you started your thread (and tied off the yarn and hackle of your body), and use the same method of flare & trim as you did with the tail.  (For me, using the mongoose, my hair simply would not flare, so instead I lifted the butts of the hairs and trimmed them at an angle, smoothing the transition in that way.)  You'll want the trimmed butts to end about 1 eye-length behind the eye itself to give yourself room to finish the fly without crowding.  All these steps are why a 2X long hook is nice; it gives you the room to do all of this.

Just like the back half of the body, tie in your hackle and yarn.  Unlike the rear half, you'll want this hackl slightly longer (again in barb length), about the same size as the hook...even a size or two bigger.  You can use any color hackle for any part of the fly.  Really.  Though I tend to use grizzly in the rear (mainly because that's the only color midge saddle I have) and some other color in the front.

Wrap your yarn forward, tie it off, and trim it.  Then, do the same with your hackle, again, try to leave some space for a head.  I struggle with this on dry flies more than streamers, but if you can do it, it really does make for a better looking, stronger fly.  You can see the lack of flare in my mongoose wing pretty clearly now.  If it was elk, it would be flaring to about 3-5x the width of this wing.  The way this one looks doesn't necessarily make it wrong, or any worse of a fly, but may reduce visibility by a little bit.  The biggest problem I have with it is just that I like the look of the big, flared wing, so it's subjective.

Whip finish and trim the thread.  For a fly like this, I find it beneficial to use a Thompson-style whip finish tool like the one shown above.  You can use any method you like, but I find this tool better for crowded conditions.  While it doesn't seem like there's a lack of space at the eye of this fly, I just feel more comfortable using it with this tie, so I do.  Normally, I go with my Matarelli style tool for 90% of my whip finishing needs.

The completed fly.

Front view.

The stimulator is an extremely popular attractor pattern, not meant to match any specific hatch, but rather imitate nearly any hatch generally.  It also makes an excellent hopper as well as a stonefly adult if the trout happen to be taking a few downed adults off the surface.  Being this heavily hackled, the stimulator rides extremely high in the water, not making any kind of a clear body impression in the surface film (as befits an attractor pattern).  This, combined with the large wing, means that it floats on any water, even the turbulent riffles and rapids common to small streams and pocket water.  Also, this big, buggy tie is easy to spot in nearly any conditions.  If you find you still have trouble spotting the fly in choppy water, it's a simple thing to add some hi-viz antron in hot pink, orange, or green to the wing, for an even more visible fly.


Dave said...

This is great. I am going to be buying a kit and try making one. Great Job!!

Mark said...

What kind of a kit are you buying? If it's vise & tools only, great. If it includes a selection of materials, I'd advise buying one without the materials, and purchasing materials, as needed, individually. Often kits have extremely poor quality materials, which result in more frustration than anything.

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