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  • Writer's pictureBrian Lansing

fly tying - color, size, and material matter

It’s Wednesday, April 22, 2020 and it’s snowing again. It has snowed more than it has not in the last week. That said, it was 60 degrees and sunny for the first half of Sunday and we encountered rising trout. When it’s warm and the warm sun hits the water, activity is firing up fast. If you’re heading fly fishing, pick your days as inconsistency is a staple in the weather this year.

The fishing was good over the weekend, again exploring new places and small water. Stunningly colored wild brown trout were the prize. After covering a lot of ground boulder hopping through the streams this weekend, I admit my legs and ankles were feeling it for a day. While I always stay active, running or walking each day with my Wife, my legs are not in fishing shape yet. It’s a special kind of shape. With uncooperative weather, I’m spending a couple days off the water, catching up on some other work, and tying more. I’m putting together a little fly tying tutorial and how-to on my bug of choice lately, the jigged micro bugger. Stay tuned for that coming later this week.

Last week, I mentioned in my previous post size, color, and materials of flies matter and some colors fish better on some streams vs. others. I tie many of my flies in different colors. While they are the same size and the same pattern, the color can make all the difference. Sometimes, different shades or different materials of the same color make the difference. For instance, I tie a lot of jigged buggers. I tie them in size #8 - #16 and I tie them in black, olive, peacock, brown, white, and chartreuse. I also tie them in different shades or materials. Each serves a purpose. I’ve found black or olive work best on local stream X while I’ve found they don’t work nearly as good as brown on local stream Y. While color and flash also matter based on light conditions and water turbidity, color also matters just because you’re standing in stream X vs. stream Y. Pay attention to what colors produce best in your favorite locations. However, if you’re not putting fish in the net, don’t be afraid to try something new. Have you heard “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”?

fly fishing flies and fly tying jigged buggers
Jigged buggers in different sizes, colors, and materials

Type of tying material matters. Sure, the color and luster of the material matters, but the density of the material and its ability to hold water matters a lot as well. Flies that hold water feel heavier and they sink, often quickly, since they remain saturated. This is something to keep in mind when building a fly you want to get down quickly. For example, when I create a bugger body out of ice dub chenille, I know the fly will fall a bit slower than if I build a body out of some type of fine dubbing or yarn. The chenille is not very dense, doesn’t hold water well, and has far more surface area to impede the fly’s rate of decent. This isn’t a knock against this type of material. It works great, has a lot of flash, draws plenty of strikes, and I use it frequently. I also know when I tie with it, I need to add more weight in the form of non-toxic body wire or a larger tungsten bead in order to get the desired action. I wrote about changing bead size to change rate of decent and drift speed in the past here

I also want to mention tying material matters greatly, perhaps even more so, for tying lake and saltwater flies as well. As I, and many other anglers, continue to tie in preparation for striper season, keep in mind some materials hold water more than others. Flies holding water mean added weight when casting. Take this into consideration as you may need to step up in rod weight in order throw certain flies. On the contrary, some materials trap air and make any kind of sink difficult until your sinking line drags it down. While I don’t want my saltwater flies to “sink”, I do prefer they fall slowly and are nearly neutrally buoyant. Baitfish don’t sink or float when they swim or stop swimming. I don’t like my baitfish flies sinking or floating either. If I want a fly to float, I’ll fish a popper and floating line.

Lastly, is fly size. I’ll throw bead size in this category as well. We all know fish can be quite finicky when they are feeding. While we love the days where fish are feeding to the point it doesn’t matter what fly we tie on, those days are matched by days of aggravation felt after throwing an entire box of flies, only being met with refusals. Trout key in on certain bugs or sizes of bugs, just as stripers key in on certain bait and sizes of bait. Go prepared. When you’re tying flies, tie your main patterns and sizes you’re most confident in but tie a couple sized up or down from your usual to be prepared for really picky fish. For saltwater guys and gals, tie a fly or two an inch or so different from your usual pattern. Give yourself options for tough days. As I’ve mentioned previously, I tie a lot of patterns in different sizes. My buggers are anywhere from #8 - #16 and my nymphs anywhere from #12 - #18. I don’t have the hands, or desire, to tie smaller than #18. Do you need to tie all of these? No, you absolutely do not need every size of every pattern. I’m a guide and a fly fishing nut. Pick a few sizes and go with them, just give yourself a couple options.

In regards to throwing in bead size with fly size, I often tie bugs of the same size with different sized tungsten beads as I mentioned in the previous post, For me, this is important as I am confident in certain size flies on certain streams, but a size #14 bug with a 2.4mm bead is not equal to the same fly with a 2.8mm or 3.2mm tungsten bead. They don’t fall or drift at the same rates. There are A LOT of variables (water speed, depth, how the fish are eating, etc.) that determine which size bead I’ll start with. I then change flies accordingly.

I understand this is a bit techy, but there is a method and thought process behind each fly. Each fly is designed to do different things and for different conditions. Each has a purpose. Some are tied with the intent to use them and nymph in faster water, while others are tied with the intent to be fished in the middle of the water column, maybe 20” above my bottom fly. Having the right tool for the right job applies to flies and catching fish just as it does a mechanic having the correct wrench for the job.

While we are all still home and tying flies, I hope my advice and ideas help get the wheels turning on your own buggy creations. We tie flies with the general purpose of catching fish, but tying flies for the purpose of catching fish in specific scenarios helps us be more prepared on the water and put more fish in the net.

fly tying wooly buggers
jigged buggers

I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy, but has been able to enjoy a little water time. I’ll have my recipe and how-to for jigged buggers up soon. Thanks for reading, happy tying, and good luck on the water.


Brian Lansing


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