Andy Dear | Monday, 25 April 2022
Over the years, I have become obsessed with fly tying materials....more specifically synthetic materials that can be sourced from off the shelf products intended for a purpose other than tying flies. There are a ton of these out there for those frugal tyers who are willing to do some experimenting. This week's Front Page details my two favorites.
Several weeks ago Jackson and I took a regularly scheduled trip to chase Redfish on the Laguna Madre with Captain Freddy Lynch. The trip while somewhat eventful (a story for another FrontPage), found me afterward with a severe shortage of crab flies. A few days after our return, I sat down at the vise to replenish the boxes and found myself almost two weeks later still experimenting with materials and patterns. These days I rarely follow a standard recipe for a given pattern. Rather I'll pick and choose a few different techniques from different patterns and mix them up and see what comes out. It's more of a stream of consciousness type of tying than it is anything, but I enjoy the process and the result.
For the past several years I've been tying variations using the tried and true Merkin style of construction. That is to say, strips of material tied with a figure-eight wrap across the shank then trimmed to shape. Usually, that material is some type of polypropylene fiber, also commonly known as EP fiber. EP fiber is great but quite expensive for the amount you get at the fly shop, and in my opinion, not offered in the easiest platform to use. Fly tyers dungeon also offers a cheaper alternative called Congo Hair that is priced much more competitively, but again I HATE those hanks that end up a bushy mess.
Several years ago I stumbled on a youtube video detailing that EP FIber and the like is nothing more than polypropylene macrame cord that is combed out into filaments. I can attest that this is the case and is virtually an identical product if not an exact match altogether. If you weren't aware of this, or haven't tried it before, order some Bonnie Braid macrame cord from Pepperell Braiding Co. and try it for yourself. It's simply a matter of using a steel-wired pet brush and combing the "braid" out into filaments. It's a FANTASTIC material and here in the states, you can get 100 yards/91 meters for about seven U.S. dollars. Compare that to one package of EP fiber that runs eight U.S. dollars and is equivalent to about 1 yard/meter of material. The attribute that I love the most about Bonnie Braid is that you can trim off exactly what you need and comb it out for use on the spot. No more dealing with those unruly hanks of uncontrollable material, a fair portion of which ends up as waste.
Once I grew bored with using the polypropylene material for crab bodies, in the interest of historical accuracy, I decided to tie up a few Merkin style crabs using the tried and true method of using yarn as the body material of choice. I remember back in the old days we used to use a type of yarn marketed as "sparkle yarn", as it had a shiny sheen to it. The truth is that most of what was being offered as sparkle yarn was actually a product called 'Aunt Lydia's Rug Yarn". For anyone who isn't "obsessed" with the details, let me save you the time and the trouble. You can't just use any product labeled "Aunt Lydia's Rug Yarn".....well you can, but you won't get optimal results. You see, over the years, Aunt Lydia's rug yarn was manufactured from several different types of filaments. Some were a Rayon/Cotton blend, some were Acrylic, and some were Polyester. The Polyester yarn is by FAR the better product for our purposes. Not only because it has the proper "sheen" that gave it the moniker "sparkle yarn", but also because it is MUCH stiffer than the other two versions, and holds its shape and profile better when wet. I have three friends who are extremely talented seamstresses/quilt makers/and garment weavers. Over the years I have amassed HUGE piles of the scraps they have donated to me for tying purposes, and I have yet to come across a yarn product that even comes close to Aunt Lydia's rug yarn for yarn based crab bodies. Many of the softer yarns work fantastic for blending dubbing, but the rug yarn is where it's at for traditional, historiclly accurate Merkin-style crab construction.
Many years ago, a close friend called me for some advice on buying a vintage Marshall guitar amplifier. Hoping to help him get the tone he wanted, I pontificated for over an hour about the differences between the various incarnations of the "Plexi" models, the tonal differences between the JCM 800 2203 and 2204, and the intricacies of the influence an output transformer has on tone. Unbeknownst to me at the time, my wife was eavesdropping on the conversation we were having. After I hung up the phone she said "Man you sure do have a lot of knowledge about a lot of different subjects". Her remark got me to thinking "Yeah...and it's all pretty much worthless, and has never made me a millionaire"
That's exactly how I feel right now after writing about yarn for the past hour. However, in the event you are interested, here are some links to check out.
Hoping you all are staying safe and healthy,