An Olive?

Everyone has a special fly, an eye opener if you like, the fly responsible for your first taste of success and the primary incentive behind the insanity you now call flytying. It doesn't have to be anything special or even of your own creation, just a reminder of why you have that many flyrods, why you have that many hares masks and why you'll go to almost any lengths possible to recreate that feeling time and time again.

For me, this was the fly responsible for my first experience of success with a nymph, the fly that if absent from my box at any one time would result in 7 years bad luck and endless nightmares about pole fishing and itchy woollen jumpers. The Olive. Now this may come as a surprise to any budding entomologists out there but the establishment has been lying to you all along, there are in fact only three species of fly in the UK. The Mayfly (the big ones), the olive (the green ones), and the yellow May (the one that looks nothing like the other two). Yes it is a little simplistic but there you go, the truth is often stranger than fiction.

What you'll need

  • Hook - Captain Hamilton (or other comparable make) nymph hook, Size 12 -20
  • Thread - Olive
  • Tail - Pheasant or Partridge tail fibres dyed olive (the former in this case)
  • Rib - Brown tying thread
  • Body - Olive dubbing, in this case SLF river and stream, green olive MC2. Other dubbings work perfectly well, it doesn't have to be *that* specific.
  • Wing pad - a dark feather herl such as Rook, Crow, dyed black Pheasant or Moorhen.
  • Thorax - as body
  • Legs - Partridge neck/back feather (yellow/olive). Buying partridge feathers in a pack can be a little problematic; you may require feathers for size 16 or 14 flies but end up with those more suited to double that. Buying packs mail order is a risky business, if you are going to it is best to be able to see what your buying first. When it comes to things like this I usually buy a whole skin (or section of) so as to allow myself to pick and choose any size feather I require. Prices range anywhere from 10 to 26, in some cases you get what you pay for but in others you don't, so I'll say again, "look before you buy".

The stairs

Step one - With your hook in position start the thread and wind down to the bend. Now tie in three or four tail fibres followed by a length of brown tying thread for the rib.

Step two - Wind over the waste ends a few times and form a nicely tapered underbody finishing with the thread dangling at the base of the tail ready for the body. If you like that is, some people don't so by all means try it without as well.

Step three - Form a fine rope of dubbing and wind on to cover the first two thirds of underbody. But wait! You may notice that a synthetic dubbing of this sort is a much springier material and as such will not spin quite so easily as natural fur. To combat this you may need to wax the thread to form a tacky base for the material to adhere to.

Step four - Wind the rib up to the same point and trim the waste.

Step five - Now tie in up to 18 fibres for the wing pad cover, trim off the waste and wind over the butts to smooth out. The amount of fibre you use is dependant on the size of the fly but as a rule I always try to make my wing pads as noticeable as possible. The naturals wing pads are not tiny thin unnoticeable little things, the opposite in fact, so I tend to work at the limit for whatever size I choose.

Step six - Take one of the small spoon shaped partridge feathers and strip the fluffy down from the stalk, the only reason for this is that gets in the way a little, you could always keep the waste and mix it with dubbing. Now hold the feather by the tip Olive Partridge Feather and stroke all the remaining fibres backwards, the gap in between the forward and backward facing fibres is where you are going to tie the feather in.

Step seven - Hold the feather along side the hook with the butt end facing backwards and the tips out over the thorax. Now tie down at the base of the wing pad fibres and wind over the waste ends to smooth out. It is essential to make sure the feather is tied in with the dull side facing up, this feather is going to be pulled over the thorax and will therefore be facing the opposite way shortly. Why do we need this? The simple answer is that we want the legs to curve down and not up, the nicely coloured side of the feather does this naturally so it makes sense to have it facing this way upon the finished fly. Secondly, it just looks right, the fish probably don't care, in fact I know they don't, it is just aesthetic from our point of view - "the human complication in action yet again".

Step eight - Produce another rope of dubbing for the thorax and wind on stopping just short of the eye.

Step nine - pull over the partridge feather (as you would a wing pad) and tie down. Be careful though, the tip of the feather is not all that strong so be gentle when creating your legs. You may want to apply a little blob of varnish along the quill after pulling it over to give it some additional strength.

Step ten - Now pull over the thorax cover and tie down. You will notice that the application of this will have forced the partridge fibres down a little, if this doesn't happen your wing pad is too small.

Step 11 - Form a head, whip finish and varnish


At Last

This concludes our three basic nymphs (finally), they will not cover everything but by adapting the methods used to your particular needs a great deal more can be achieved. The point I've been trying to get across for the past six weeks is that you don't necessarily need to follow a specific path or someone else's idea of right and wrong. You know how to make tails, ribs, under bodies, dubbed bodies, herl bodies, wing pads, dubbing legs, folded legs and partridge legs. You have the core components, switch the legs around, alternate body and thorax types, experiment with under bodies or don't even use them if you don't want to. There is a lot to work with here; endless variations to play with, innumerable fish to torment and plenty of anglers to wind up along the way. Run with it! But remember, tie your shoelaces first.


Next time: We get wet and wild with the traditional wet thing.

Ben Spinks studies fishery science, "I have to complete 3 environmental survey reports, 2 netting operations, 4 exams and a seminar on lake restoration. This is insane, I only went to uni for sex, drugs, rock and roll and sex" and is our flytying moderator on the bulletin board. He also ties a mean fly... so what are you waiting for, ladies?

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