Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sparkle Sculpin Step by Step Fly Tying Tutorial

After I posted a step-by-step for the baby sparkle sculpin, a few of my friends that follow the blog jokingly asked about an adult sparkle sculpin.  At the time, I had to sheepishly admit that I'd never done such a fly, but if I did, it would probably be for bass, not trout.

Well after several months, I've got a basic sparkle sculpin pattern worked out.  While I'm sure it will go through a few changes over the course of it's freshman year in my fly box, I think that it's got the basic elements of a winner.

Sparkle Sculpin


Hook: Mustad 34007 Stainless Steel Saltwater hook (not critical, use your favorite bass fly hook), #2/0
Thread: Uni 6/0 (White)
Tail: Rabbit Zonker (2-tone, hot pink w/ purple tip pictured) with silver flashabou accent
Butt: Temple Dog (white pictured)
Body: UV Polar Chenille (silver pictured)
Collar: Cross-cut Rabbit Zonker (2-tone hot pink w/ purple tip pictured)
Head: Senyo's Laser Dub (pink over purple pictured)


Put the hook in the vise and start the thread at the bend.  I tend to run big hooks for bass, who generally aren't shy or soft on the take.  The wide gap of these stainless salt hooks gets that point out and away from any bulk on the shank of a fly.  That said, your favorite bass fly hook will work just fine, as long as you've got enough shank to work with.

Tie in your zonker strip tail, approximately equal to the overall hook length.  I went color coordinated for these instructions, but you can use any colors you like.  I also tie this fly in olive, orange, blue, and natural...and plan to do them in white, black, and purple as well.

Add a few turns of lead wire just in front of the tail.  This is optional, but I find that even with the heavy hook, this fly has sufficient bulk that it traps enough air so that it affects its sinking and action.  A bit of lead cures this (for me), and in this location, it doesn't affect the tying process or action of the fly when fished.

I've also tied in a few strands of silver flashabou on each side of the tail as well.  This is purely optional as well, but I really like the looks of the fly with it as opposed to without.

Tie in your butt as a sort of veiling for the tail.  This is to make a smooth transition from the tail to the broader body, as well as to provide a background for the flashy body.  Usually, I use three pieces, one on top and one to either side of the tail, but in this fly, I just used the one, mostly because the pink will provide better contrast than the white anyway.

I used temple dog here, but a variety of materials could work here, including marabou, bucktail, or even a few turns of schlappen.

Tie in your UV polar chenille at the bend and wrap forward to completely cover your lead underbody (or to roughly the midpoint of the shank of you didn't use lead).  Tie it off and trim.  You can use other things here, but for my tying, this polar chenille is tough to beat.  It adds profile without bulk, movement without the soggy absorption of marabou or furs, and a lot of flash easily...all while still being mostly transparent.  

I used silver here, but white, pink, purple, or even black would have worked.  If you don't have polar chenille, get some. you can substitute by making a woolly bugger-style body of a long-barbed rooster saddle over estaz, hackle over pearl mylar braid, or whatever else you like, but it will most likely have a different overall effect.

After this, tie in a cross-cut rabbit zonker, and make one or two wraps in front of the chenille, then tie off and trim.  I forgot to stop and take a photo of this step, but it isn't rocket science.  Cross-cut.  1-2 wraps.  Trim.

After your cross-cut is applied and trimmed, the rest of the space (roughly 1/4 to 1/3 of the shank) will be used to make your laser dub head.  Now I am a fan of substitutions for materials that you may not have a specific match for, but this, like the polar chenille, is one that will significantly alter the overall pattern if you change it.  Long story short, I won't suggest any subs for this as I haven't tried any.  Some might work, some might not, I don't know.

In any event, the picture above shows one clump of purple laser dub tied in over the cross-cut rabbit.  Before you get to that point, though, you have to prepare the material for this use.  

Senyo's laser dub, like most dubbings, comes in a small package, all mixed up.  For this use, you want the fibers mostly aligned in the same direction as well as having the ends approximately lined up.  To do this, the easiest way is to get a small clump of dubbing (you'll figure out what size as you tie), and pull it apart between your fingers, then put both pieces on top of each other, and pull the reformed clump apart again.  Repeat this about ten times, pulling off the loose fibers on the ends, and you'll have a small pile of laser dub, aligned and ready for tying.

When you're ready, spread the clump out, being careful not to rip it apart, as well as keeping the fibers in alignment, and pull it back over the eye of the hook, allowing the eye to poke through the center of the patch.  

Hold the dubbing at an angle and make 1-2 loops around it (with the portion above the shank leaning back over the fly and the portion below the shank extending out under the eye), then pull the bottom back tightly and make a few wraps in front of them, so that all the fibers are swept back.  Repeat this a few times, occasionally orienting your fibers horizontally, to provide a full head.  Once you've tied in 3-4 clumps, you're ready to switch colors.

Here, I've tied in my first clump of pink laser dub.  You can see how I'm trying to spread it evenly all around the head of the fly, as well as how small a single clump actually is.  You need to make sure to save space by tying your clumps very close to one another.  Again with the pink, I'll tie in two clumps vertically, then one horizontally, then back to vertical to finish up the tie.

And here's the completed fly.  I've tied in my last clump of pink laser dub, and whip finished.  The fibers haven't been primped and primed, but the fly as-is would fish.  Still there's a surprising amount of loose fibers in there, and a bit of hairstyling will really improve the look of the fly.

After some quality time with an old toothbrush, the sparkle sculpin is looking good.  This head is round in cross section, or very slightly oval, due to the vertical clumps outnumbering the horizontal clumps.  The colors blend nicely and the UV fibers in the laser dub give the head a noticeable, but subtle flash.

As an alternate, you can get away from the sculpin profile and get more of a baitfish/shad look, but training the  fibers in the head of the fly up and down, and adding some large, stick-on eyes.  The eyes will keep the fibers vertical, widening and thinning your head, as seen below:

This variant makes the purple laser dub very prominent, as you can see, as well as revealing even more of the flashy body.

Though I've only fished the first variant, I have no doubt that the shad profile will also work  For the shad profile, you could actually substitute a number of things for the laser dub, including another zonker, a pair of zonkers (as a double bunny), EP fibers, or other similar synthetics.

Other variants I'm considering, though I haven't tried yet, include an inverted, Clouser version, a 'low water' version, tied more sparsely, perhaps trading the zonkers out completely, a trout version, with a longer, smaller, light wire hook, and a 'creature' version that, rather than a baitfish, would use rubber legs and other additions to imitate a crawfish or salamander more than a fish.  This fall, I may try a steelhead version, with a trailer hook.

That's where I am with this work-in-progress so far...please leave comments and suggestions to let me know what you think of what I have so far, or to make recommendations for future ties.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Rainy Days Are for Fly Tying

We've been getting more than out fair share of rain here in the Pittsburgh area recently, and while I'm not opposed to donning the rain gear and mucking it for a day, it's to the point now that the only fishable water (for me), are the tiny headwaters.  While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, my ultralight rod fiasco (more on that in a later post) has me in search of bigger fish.

To that end, I've been tying some flies that are about as big as I typically tie, using synthetics that only see the light of day a few times a season usually.  I'd like to catch a pike on the fly this year, and while it may not happen, I've got a few good spots to hit that might well produce.  Yesterday, I turned out this crazy looking thing, and I plan to tie up a few more in this style before I put all those synthetics back in a box.  All three shots here are the same fly, just a bit closer to the subject each time.  Also sorry about the grain, I had the D80 cranked to ISO 1600 and didn't realize it.  I promise to check from now on.

Tied with a combination of super hair, pseudo-marabou, flashabou, cashmere goat, wing-n-flash, krystal flash, and Senyo's laser dub.

I made the head by stacking short clumps of minnow blue pseudo-marabou, then stacking blue laser dub, then gray laser dub.  After that, make sure you brush out the head with an old toothbrush to remove any loose fibers and to get all of that dubbing swept back.  It looks really nice and neat by the time you're done.

I like the effect of this type of head, and while it maintains its bulk underwater, and pushes lots of water, a false cast lets it shed most of that water, and by extension, a lot of excess weight.  In fact, that's one of my favorite things about this fly.  While it'd ideally handled by a fast 6wt or a 7, I could easily lay it out to 40-50 feet with my 4wt LTX.

As long as my casting stayed disciplined, I could turn this thing over nicely with an Airflo sinking leader, but if my casts got sloppy, it was all over.  Then again, throwing an 8" fly on a 4wt at all isn't really exactly using the right tool for the task.

I also tied a few bass flies.  I guess they'd be sculpins...maybe they're what the Baby Sparkle Sculpin grows up into?  Either way, here's a look at the first few prototypes.  Though there's more field testing to be done, I like the looks of them, both in and out of water, and they're likely to become a permanent addition to my warmwater boxes.

Again, apologies for the high ISO...

Version 1.0, size 2 (I think) with weed guard (Amnesia)

Version 1.1a, longer tail, extra flash, fuller weed guard.

I made these changes because the first one didn't foul on itself at all, which led me to believe I could get away with a longer tail, and the flash of the first one wasn't really apparent.  I doubled the amount of the brown polar chenille, added some copper flashabou, and stretched out the tail half again.  I also added some lead wire to this one, under the polar chenille so as to affect it the least in terms of how it swims.

Unfortunately, bad casting on my part led to a tailing loop and this fly sailed off into the ether, never to be seen again after just five minutes on the tippet.  Sparkle sculpin, we barely knew thee...

Version 1.1b, original tail length, extra flash, much fuller body and head.

I made this one to run through fast water, with a full, but mobile profile that wouldn't get man-handled by fast water.  The various tones of blue on this one don't really go together (this is a rare case where the picture actually makes the fly look better than it really is), but I think it has potential.  It hasn't gotten wet yet, but it's only a matter of time.

That's it for now.  I may explain the whole ultralight ordeal in the next day or so, but until then, give me some feedback on this sparkle sculpin.  Changes you'd make, things you like about it, things you hate about it, colors and color combinations that you'd choose over the ones shown, material substitutions, additions, eliminations...anything at all.  I'm all ears...or eyes, I guess.  Hell, if the suggestion is particularly game changing, maybe I'll tie you a few and mail em to you for field testing wherever you may be!  

Leave it in the comments!

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