Martyn White | Wednesday, 18 December 2019
As we move into winter, I've started planning an exploration up in Nagano for over the holidays. I've got some info from my mate Hiromiki who fishes up north quite regularly and I'm looking for to a bit of cold weather nymphing.
Unfortunately while sorting out my gear the other day, I discovered that my midge box has vanished. So I'm tying a new box up over the next few days rather than just topping up a few of the trays. The silver lining, I suppose, is that it's the tiny flies that I'm replacing and not my bigger nymphs which would take much longer.
Anyway, tying small flies, let's say 20 and smaller, is a proposition that seems to intimidate a lot of the people I've spoken to about it. Not surprising really, but I think moving from trout to saltwater or large predator patterns is actually more difficult - I base this on my own experience and the saltwater and pike/musky flies that I've seen tied by people who are excellent at trouty stuff. My intuition is that the idea seems easier because of the size going up, but the distance is greater between a 14 BWO emerger and a 9" Burford than between a 14 BWO emerger and a 26.
I like tying small flies, because they're simple or at least the ones that I tie generally are. Ideally I want these ties to be under 3 minutes with a minimum of steps/materials, I leave no fat on them. Small nymphs follow probably 3 patterns; Thread, rib, bead. Thread, tail, thorax. Thread, rib, breather.
If I'm feeling really adventurous, I might switch thread colours or add a body material. Dries may be a bit more complex if a hackle is involved, but not much. I'm a proponent of the puff of spikey dubbing as an emerger/dry.
So, how can you make small stuff easier?
Well, first of all you want plenty of good light, and if you struggle to see when tying this small (my friends' number 1 complaint) there's nothing wrong with using a magnifier, a TMC 2488 in 24 is probably only 3mm long.
Use the right thread, you can't use 6/0 uni. Well you can, but it's a bad idea. I often use 8/0(70 denier) but increasingly find myself turning to 12/0 or 16/0 for some tasks.
Use less material. This is probably the thing most folk struggle with. Especially with dubbing or yarns. If I've not done any small flies for a while, I actually count fibers for shucks etc. You'll quickly learn what 12 strands of antron ACTUALLY looks like. It doesn't have to be 12 strands next time, but you'll be better able to eyeball an appropriate amount next time.
Use the right stuff, I mostly use the same tools for smaller stuff as everything else. There's no need to go and buy a midge bobbin holder or tiny scissors, but a good set of bead tweezers and some electronic testing plungers, or plunger style hackle pliers are a real help for handling tiny hooks and beads (it's also worth having a set on a zinger for fishing too) . Some folk like midge jaws for a bit of extra room, but I've never used them.
Start simple and you'll soon see that there's nothing to fear from small flies, unless you're a fish..