t.z. | Thursday, 2 July 2015

Paul was so kind to invite me to write a bit about fly tying and my approach to it. I will try to keep it simple and easy to understand. In my view every flyfisher should make his own flies. It is about understanding the fish and their prey. I mostly fish dry flies because this is what I come across mostly here in Norway. However, the philosophy behind the tying and the techniques involved should be applicable to other flies as well.

This article is about how to approach the construction of mayfly imitations. I will be out fishing soon so I needed a few more fluffy things imitating what is hatching right now. E. Vulgata is on the menu these days.

Imitation … ze BIIIG word. I am a strong believer that as soon size and shape of a fly is about right - fish will eat it when presented well. So learn to cast folks. However, that task gets more complicated as soon one enters the world of still water fishing with big mayflies. The silhouette against the light is so distinctive that one almost needs to go into Oliver Edwards (1) mode. 

However, these things at the end of your leader still need to be cast rather far. So weights and aerodynamics come into play. Wing material is always the tricky bit. So what are the options? 

Let´s brake down the construction into its elements:


    Wing(s) - rather obvious - imitates the insects wing. The wing works like a rudder on the tail section of an airplane and helps to land the fly correctly in an upright position. It should not be too stiff though. Otherwise the fly spins the leader, which can be a disaster. Twisted leaders spook the fish and go down in breaking strength. Materials one can use are a feathers og fibres of feathers, Antron Yarn, CDC, and fur fibres like arctic hares hair or deer hair. Take into consideration that you might need to manipulate or/and cut the wing to give the fly the right proportions. Some materials than loose their beauty, others tolerate a bit of a „haircut“. 

    Hackle - The hackle should be tied „parachute“ style. It works as horizontal stabiliser in the air and on the water. So use material which is stiff enough to keep it´s shape. Mostly this is achieved by using rooster feathers from birds bred specifically for the task. (read genetic hackle). However, a new world opens for you once you have mastered the art of inserting fibres into a split thread and transform that into a - what I call - hackle brush.

    Abdomen (Body) - the body, or better said extended body as it extends over the hook, can be made with bundled deer hair, twisted antron yarn, foam or poly-chenille. When using the latter three it is constructed in separate process. The tail fibres play an integral role here. 

    Tails - They look cool. That is about it. You will find you fly catches as well without. However, I like to use these fibres to make the fly more sturdy. Try to find very long fibres which do not brake. Bristles from brushes, natural hair - wilderbeast, wild boar, the long nose hairs from a hare - and the like are some of my favourites. To increase durability of the fly one ties these fibers together with the abdomen - foam, chenille etc. This envolves the help of a thin needle. (I will write a separate article on that)

    Hook - last not least - use something bid enough for the job.It can hang under the fly like a keel. Bigger is better I think. I really like Partridge CZ, CZF SLD or SLD2 for this type of fly. 

Tying steps:

1. Hook into the vice and wind on a thread base.

2. Tie in the pre-fabricated the abdomen bit at least at two spots

3. Tie in the hackle (if you are using a „hackle brush“ - jump to step 5)

4. there is no 4

5. Tie in the wing. - a little trick with yarn wings is to make a knot at the end and tie that to the hook. The knot keeps the later applied hackle in place. The hackle can come off by sliding upwards the wing. That way you also save the strange method of winding a lot of thread around the wing to form a „nice base“ - no need to do that.

6. Wind some dubbing not the hook around the wing base and cover the tying inn point of the abdomen. make it look nice. Finish this job with your thread behind the wing post

7. Wind the hackle around the wing-base and finish with a couple of whip finishes around the wing post.

8. go catch some fish

OK, back to the important bit. Take pictures of the insects fish feed on. Take as many you can. Gutt fish you kill and examine the stomach contents. What are they feeding on? Take pics of that as well. Try to have som size references when taking the picture. Draw some sketches before you tie. (I am sure they look ten time better than mine). Try to really understand the food source. Be out, watch, learn and than imitate. Imitate nature, not another fly tier. A lot of flies seen in books and magazines never caught a fish, let alone seen water. Come up with your own ways with the materials you find. Try to tie simple - cheap and cheerful.  

More to come on tying techniques techniques. Watch this space ;-)

(1) Oliver Edwards is known for his complex, but very engineered flies. I can only recommend getting his DVD´s. These are maybe the best out there if you want to learn tying. 

(2) find the hidden link to German pronunciation video - try to imitate ;-) - winner will be annunced on the board
(3) thanks to K for of the images
(4) there is no 4
(5) Viking Lars simple version -


airplaneAirplane - Flugzeug ;-)

2015-06-28 11.53.17
real and imitations on K's jacket

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in the hand for size reference

imitation size comparison

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spinner on nail ;-) (k)

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Dun (k)

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spinner (male) (k)

2015-07-01 08.14.52
box of tricks

2015-07-01 08.16.12
dun closeup

picture by Al Pyke

Thomas Züllich, or - “t.z.” as most call him - is a German flyfisher & flytier living in Norway. His flydressing is based on old traditions as well as very modern and innovative methods of creating flies. You can book Thomas for guided trips, flytying classes and presentations. He regularly gives speeches and demonstrations at fly fishing fairs. Thomas is member of the ProTeam at Partridge of Redditch as well as Regal Vises.