Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Icelandic Sheep Dubbing Product Testing (Part One)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm currently a product tester for Tie the Fly.  The man behind the site is considering carrying a new type of dubbing, and put out the call for tyers interested in using some samples to tie up some flies.  Just a few days after getting in touch, I received a small package with nine tiny baggies of dub inside.

As luck would have it, I didn't get to sit down and really work with it for a few days, but when I finally did, I made a commitment to rigorous and scientific research, and tried to tie a few of several different flies, representing all major categories.

When I opened the dub and handled it, it reminded me vaguely of mature seal, except less buggy, less translucent, and not sparkly at all.  Now that may sound like a complete put down, but it isn't.  The texture is very similar, though less slippery, and therefore easier to work with.  The fibers are long, but soft, meaning the dub can be as buggy or as smooth as you like.  The lack of flash makes it less eye-catching than seal or synthetics, but for day to day fishing, that might be a desirable characteristic.  In any event, the best way to see what you've got it to tie with it, so I quickly got out some hooks.

First up was dry flies.  Now with the knowledge that this was icelandic sheep dubbing, I figured this material would behave like wool and become waterlogged and sink.  Still, in the interests of objective review, I decided to at least give it a shot.  Also, the fact that I'd been tying stimulators the night before and still had all the other stuff out on my bench also helped influence my decision.

A few tense minutes later, and I snapped this picture at the vise:

In this fly, I was going for a nice tight, even dub, and while it was a bit of a challenge, it didn't disappoint.  It's bulkier than a typical dry dub like superfine, but probably about the same as the poly yarn I sometimes use for these flies.  The hackle stem also buried itself nicely into the dub, which helps with durability.

While the dubbing will probably absorb water, I'm banking on it also absorbing plenty of floatant, in order to stay up top.  Once I test these flies on the water, I'll know for sure.

Next, I decided to try tying a small nymph.  I don't typically fish nymphs, but lots of people do, so as a tester, I felt I should try it out.  I came up with a quick pattern in my head and got to tying it.  I believe this one was tied on a #16, 1x long nymph hook.

Nothing too fancy here.  I used a looser rope dubbing method than I did for the dry, and used a bit of fine wire to rib the abdomen.  It's a bit hard to tell from the photo, but those are goose biot tails, starling hackle, and a black bead.  I will probably be trying this one out over the weekend, and giving a report soon thereafter.

After that, I wanted to see how the dubbing would take color.  Since the color selection provided was severely lacking in the earth tones department, I decided to try an olive soft hackle.  After tying the body of the fly using white dubbing, I grabbed an olive prismacolor marker and went to work.  After coloring the body, I finished the fly by adding the soft hackle and tying it off.  The hackle I used here was a Coq de Leon Hen saddle.

The dubbing took the dye from the marker very well, and the color seems true.  A day in the water will determine whether or not it is color-fast, however.

After that, I was still in the mood for soft hackles, so I tied another, smaller example, using one of the colors of dub I hadn't yet opened.  Here's the starling & purple:

After this, I wanted to see how well the different colors of dubbing would blend together, so I tried tying a second, larger nymph.  I mixed the black and the burnt orange dubbing and achieved a sort of dark brown.  The dubbing took some time to mix evenly, but once mixed, it had a very nice effect.  Once I had a nice small pile of the tone I wanted, I built my larger nymph (stone?  hex?  mostly just an attractor) with a lead underbody, and a body dubbed with a dubbing loop.  Overall, I was very pleased with how this nymph turned out, and might even tie more of these to fish with, as they just look like they'd be a good pattern for larger trout in swift water.

That's the majority of what I've tied so far.  I'll have some streamers to tie over the next few weeks, and I'll be fishing these flies as well in the mean time.  If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments, or email Tie the Fly directly, via the site linked above.

Monday, April 18, 2011

New Glass

Over the weekend, I jumped on a good price for a new (to me) lens online.  I'm now the proud owner of a AF Micro Nikkor 60mm f/2.8 D!

While I've still got a lot to learn about it, I couldn't wait to share a few shots with my readers here.  So without further ado, here's the goods:

Friday, April 15, 2011

What I've Been Up To

It's been a while since my last post, and while things are still busy, I want to fill in all my readers as to where I've been lately.

Fly Tying

I've only been doing a little bit of tying lately, mostly fishing on the reserves I tied up over the winter.  I'm tying a few patterns now as a product tester for Tie the Fly, and once I've finished them and fished them, I'll post a full report here, identical to the information I'll be sending back to Tie the Fly.

The product I'm testing isn't some new brand of knockoff hook or gimmicky tool (or those hideous pre-made bodies), but rather a less common type of dubbing: Icelandic Sheep.  I'm sure some of you, especially those to fish warmwater, will be familiar with the Icelandic sheep for its long, water-shedding hair, of use in streamers.  This is the dubbing made form the underfur.

Keep an eye on the blog here in a few weeks for a full review.

Fly Fishing

With the weather breaking in late March, freezing up again with snow in April, hail storming (and tornado-ing), then dumping tons of rain, I've still managed to get out and do a little fishing.  Mostly, I've been bluelining, hitting the little spring-fed headwaters up in the mountains, least affected by all the precipitation.  I'm still under a dozen fish on the year, but I've gotten the first few wild brookies of the year, all on dries.  The luck of the Irish was with me, as I went fishless for eight or nine trips in March, finally taking my first one on St. Patrick's Day.

A few days later, on my birthday, I caught a nice sized fish, just upstream from this one:

The bass and gills are starting to wake up, but are still pretty sluggish.  Only one bass and zero gills so far in 2011.


Last Saturday, I went on an outing with the Boy Scout troop I used to be part of and gave a lesson on fly fishing and fly tying.  Oddly enough, more guys showed interest in the tying than the fishing, but everyone that tried it out seemed to enjoy it.

Unfortunately, no pictures, as I was busy actually teaching.  No fish caught, but I think I caught a few fishermen.  There were some really nice flies tied up as well!

Hopefully, I'll have a chance to see some of these guys again later in the summer for some warmwater fishing, which tends to be more enjoyable for the beginner.


Lately, my photography has veered away from my fly fishing somewhat.  I started taking a photography class in January, and most of my photography efforts have been devoted to progressing through the class.  The course seems to concentrate more on post-processing using Photoshop, but it's been enjoyable, and I'm learning a lot.  Just yesterday, I spent a few hours in the studio, learning to use the lighting systems.  Once I'm done, I'll be sure to share some of my favorite work here.

The teacher seemed to like that I was a fly tyer, and even included one of my shots for display:

Trout Season

Tomorrow marks the season opener for trout in PA (or, at least, non-southeast-PA), and to celebrate, I won't be getting within sight of the mad house that the main streams become for a day.  I'll either be trying for pike or fishing for wild trout.  Good luck to any fellow Yinzers going out to do battle with the hatchery fish and the first day zombies.  Wear a helmet.

Friday, April 1, 2011

6 Key Features of a Small Stream Dry Fly

Fishing small streams for wild trout presents a different set of challenges than most typical fly fishing: the casts are short and the drifts are shorter, the conditions are crowded, stealth becomes a huge factor, and often a decent cast will involve throwing line across three or four separate stream features and currents, to deliver a fly within a few inches of a rock, under branches hanging just a foot or two over the water.

This type of fishing places many additional demands on an angler, but also affords him the opportunity to meet those challenges by giving him freedom in other areas.  Fly selection shows this better than many other aspects of fly fishing, and a blueliner's fly box, while it may look fairly standard, is carefully tailored to this kind of fishing.

In simplest terms, there are six essential elements that make any dry fly great (or not so great) on a small stream.

6. Buoyancy

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it's an extremely important feature.  By saying that a small stream dry must be buoyant, I'm saying it needs to float on the water, not in it.  You want your fly's body to be totally up, out of the water, seemingly bouncing across the surface.

Compared to a standard catskill tie, this Adams has an extra helping of hackle.

There are a few ways to accomplish this, using foam or other buoyant synthetics, using a hollow hair like deer or elk, using a heavily greased fly, or, the most common method: tying your normal standard dry patterns with extra heavy hackling.  Much like 'western-style' dries, a small stream dry benefits from a few extra turns of hackle.  Flies like the Bivisible, which incorporate a lot of hackle just from the pattern are also great choices for small streams.

Also incorporated with buoyancy is making sure that the materials will accept a healthy dose of paste floatant as well.  Hackle will soak up it's fair share, as will most dubbings and hair.  Things like foam, quill/biot bodies, and most synthetics don't accept much floatant.

5. Water Resistancy

With all the currents and obstacles in a small stream, any dry fly is going to get dunked from time to time, regardless of how high it rides.  Its resistance to the water is what will set a great fly apart from one that is more trouble than it's worth to keep it floating properly.

This property depends on two things: the way the bodies are tied and the material used.  For materials, you want things that won't wick moisture into the core of the body.  Things like foam, antron, or naturally water-resistant fur like muskrat or beaver.  As far as method, you want a body that is wrapped or dubbed as tightly and evenly as possible.  Bushy, buggy dubbing will allow the fly to soak up water through capillary action, which will eventually sink it.

4. Quick Drying

No matter how high your fly rides, or how waterproof it is, at some point (probably sooner than you think), that fly will be completely waterlogged.  At this point, you'll have to dry it out again before it'll float correctly.  Of course, a few good crisp false casts will wring a good deal of that water out of your fly, but after that, you've got a few options.

First, you can try any number of fly-drying products: amadou pads can squeeze a fly and absorb the moisture that comes out, powdered desiccants (like Frog's Fanny) are brush on powders that do a great job of really pulling every drop of moisture out of your fly, and recently, I've started seeing a few 'spray-on' drying agents, that come in a pump bottle.

All of these products work, to an extent (I carry powdered desiccant and have been trying a few spray-ons as well).  Try the false cast until it doesn't work, as its the fastest method, then after that, I usually dust it with Frog's Fanny, false cast it again to knock excess powder off, then spray a shot or two of a liquid dryer/waterproofer on, and false cast again a few times, then reapply my paste floatant.

Eventually, however, the water will work its way down to the thread and the insides of your fly, and no amount of false casting or chemical will revive it.  At this point, clip it off, hang it on your fly patch, and let it air dry, while you tie on a fresh one.  Naturally, it's a good idea to have several copies of each of your best patterns.

3. Durability

Another great reason to have multiples of your best flies is because if you're on a small stream, you're bound to surrender a few flies (or a lot of flies) to trees, rocks, bushes, fallen logs, and whatever else happens to be close at hand.  The ones you do manage to recover often are a little worse for the experience, with messed up wings, twisted hackle, and crinkled hair.

On a good day of fishing, the fish themselves will shred a fly to bits, too, and a well-chewed fly is a thing of beauty.

The best way to delay the inevitable is to concentrate on tight ties at the bench.  Practice technique, use minimal thread, use a drop of head cement if necessary (but if your technique is good enough, you shouldn't need it).  In short: you want bulletproof flies when you start out.  There's nothing you can do to increase the durability of a fly once you're on the water.

2. Bugginess

I know I said up above that a buggy-dubbed fly would absorb water.  That's true, it will, but there's other ways to get that look that won't turn your fly into a sponge.  Hair wings, heavy palmered hackle, and materials  like peacock herl that will break up the outline of your fly are all safe bets.

The reason for this is because you want to be able to minimalize your fly selection while making sure you're covered for most situations.  In this way, you can tie an elk hair caddis in light tan, olive, medium brown, and black...all in a size #14, and be covered for tan caddis, early stoneflies, mosquitoes, BWOs, and olive caddis.

When you're on a small stream, it's usually good to dumb down your entomology skills, and instead of thinking in terms of 'isonychia', 'october caddis', and 'baetis', start thinking in terms of 'little', 'big', 'light', and 'dark'.

1. Visibility

The most important aspect of a small stream dry fly is that it is visible.  To you, not the fish.  The fish will be able to see any fly, no problem, but in the twisting, tumbling currents of a mountain stream, it's easy to lose track of your fly.  You want to make sure that you're looking at the fly when that brookie rises to it.

In this vise, this means light colors and bright colors.  For any hair wings, I use bleached elk or deer.  In other flies, you can use antron yarn in fluorescent green, pink, and orange, as well as brightly colored foam.  For parachutes, both bright and bleached white turkey flats and calf body hair are used with great results as well.

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