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Gretchen & Al Beatty

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BT's Fly-Tying Tips & Tricks

Welcome to BT 's "Tips & Tricks" page. This page is dedicated to giving helpful hints, tricks, and tips to needy fly fishers and fly tiers. You can scroll down the page or click on a particular subject to go directly to that topic. If you have a specific question, just ask.

Click on a specific topic below or scroll the page

Dying & Preparation .....Tying Tips

Dying & Preparation - This section is dedicated to material preparation, selection, and dying. If you have special need just ask. Here are the topics available: Bring feathers back to life; Dying materials; Bleaching materials; folding hackle made easy; selecting hair;

1. How to bring feathers & flies back to life. Steam brings mangled flies and materials back to life. Often ruffled flies can be returned to like new condition by holding them over the spout of a steaming tea kettle. Damaged quills can often be reconstitued to near new condition or at least much better condition. Peacock herl comes to life under the jet of steam. It's amazing to watch the herl unfold, give it a try. Back to the index.

2. Dying materials is really very simple if you follow a couple of simple rules. First and most importantly your materials must be clean and grease free. This is usually not a problem if your material is fabric based but if it's fur or feathers wash the material to be dyed in warm soapy water and rinsed before dying. Also it not possible to dye a dark material a lighter color and get results you may expect; natural deer hair does not dye well to a light color like yellow but does dye well to a dark color like brown or black. To dye a darker material to a lighter color you need to bleach the material and then dye it (the next item covers a simple bleaching formula). No matter which dye you use (Rit, Veniards, etc.) it's a good idea to make a slurry of it before adding it to the water for the dye bath -- a slurry is a thin paste made by dissolving the dye with a small quantity of hot water. After all the dye is dissolved in the slurry add it to a couple of gallons of water for the dye bath -- this water should be 180 degree F for most materials but if you are dying closed cell foam do not get the water any hotter than 140 degrees F. When you are ready to start the dye process add a half cup of white vinegar to the two gallons of dye and then add your cleaned/pre-wet materials. Stir the materials in the dye bath so the bath throughly soaks them and repeat the stirring process every ten minutes. Keep the materials in the bath for at least 45 minutes and also keep the dye bath "up to temperature" during the whole process. At the end of the 45 minutes remove the dyed material and rinse in cool running water. TIPS: Use stainless steal pots only, no aluminum. BLACK is a difficult color to dye, at the end of the 45 minutes, let the dye cool with the mateiral in it for several hours before removing it -- I usually let mine set over night. Dye is available at your local grocery store (Rit) or Veniards dye is available at Kaufmann's (800-442-4359). We at BT's also stock a good quality commercial dye and will sell a small quantity, just email us or call toll free to 888-243-FLYS (3597). Back to the index.

3. Bleaching materials is really quite simple and inexpensive using this formula -- one part hydrogen peroxide to two parts non-sudsing ammonia -- be sure the ammonia is "non-sudsing." The best hydrogen peroxide is the type you purchase at a beauty supply house (it's a 20% solution). The hydrogen peroxide you purchase at the drug store is only a 3% solution -- it will work but much slower, like days to bleach a piece of hair rather than hours with the 20% solution. If you want a fast bleach and are not concerned with expense then use the regular hair bleaching foam available at most beauty supply houses or drug stores -- the same stuff people use to bleach their hair. CAUTION: Do not use this foam with out a protective glove of some type. They are usually supplied with the bleaching kit. Back to the index.

4. Folding Hackle is really simple if you use the Joe Ayres foam block method. Start by getting a block of foam (the kind you find wrapped around computer equipment to protect it in shipping) about 3"x3"x10" long. Cut 1/2" deep slots in the foam -- you should be able to get about a dozen slots in a 10" piece of foam. To fold the hackle all you have to do is insert the feather's stem in the slot and the hackle is folded. I like to fold a dozen at a time and then tie flies. Back to the index.

5. Selecting hair is a matter of deciding what you are going to do with the hair. You have two basic operations with deer or elk hair -- wings or tails and spinning. The best hair for wings and tails on flies like humpies, Wulffs, compara duns, etc is located (a strip about a foot wide) on the animal along the back bone, down over the shoulder, and down over the rump. The best hair for flaring or spinning is located on the rib and belly of the animal. Seldom to we get the opportunity to select hair from a complete hide. Usually we are searching through a group of 3"x5" plastic bags in a fly shop hoping we will get usable hair and later finding the hair does not fill our needs. Here's what you look for when selecting hair that is already packaged. The hair fibers located near the back bone of the animal has a dark gray band in the middle of each -- the hair fiber is colored starting with a dark point on the tip followed by a tan (deer) or cream (elk) section directly below the dark tip. From there the hair fiber enters a dark gray area which eventually fades to a light gray area where the hair fiber joins the animal's hide. For wings and tail you need hair the is at least 50% dark grey in the middle of the hair. On the other hand if you are spinning hair you want hair fibers whose middle section is mostly light grey in color. REMEMBER -- dark gray hair, wings & tails --- light gray hair, spinning or flaring. Back to the index.

Tying Tips & Tricks - this section is dedicated to fly tiers and the many tricks they learn over the years to make different tying steps easier. If you have a particular question ask and we will provide and post an answer. Here are the Tying Topics available: making peacock chenille;  reverse tying; up and down the hill;

1. Making peacock chenille - with just a little time and effort the fly tier can really improve the durability of a peacock body on a fly. Start by tying several peacock herls on the hook by the tips. Pull the herl in line with the tying thread and secure the herl and thread together with a hackle pliers or an electronics test clip. Bring the tying thread back to the hook and take several wraps to secure it and the peacock in a dubbing loop. NOTE: it's a good idea to make the second side of the dubbing loop a little bit shorter than the first. Spin the hackle pliers or the electronics test clip and watch as the peacock chenille is formed starting first near the hook and then advancing toward the pliers/clip as you place more twists in the thread/peacock herl. You will find your peacock fly bodies much more durable using this technique. Back to the index.

2. Reverse Tying - is a method of tying your fly bodies that is much faster and also improves the durability as well. Basically all you do with this technique is tie your body material on the hook at the front and wrap it toward the back of the hook Then you tie the material off at the back of the hook and rib forward with the tying thread. When tying woolly buggers as an example: tie the chenille and hackle on the hook at the front; wrap the chenille back and secure; and then palmer the hackle back and secure it as well. Last rib forward with the tying thread and finish off the fly. If you are dubbing a body you can also use the tying thread for the rib -- on a green drake you can tie the fly with yellow tying thread, dub from the just behind the wings to the start of the tail, and last wrap back with the yellow tying thread forming the rib. Back to the index.

3. Up the hill - is the technique for tying nice looking trude flies without the hackle slipping as you wrap over the point where you trimmed the material for the trude wing -- that location is kind of a drop off point where the feather will slip as you wrap the hackle forward. If you tie your hackle on the hook just behind the hook eye and wrap the hackle from front to back you will not experience the feather slipping problem. Just be sure to wind the thread back before wrapping the hackle -- that way you can tie off the hackle and then wind the thread forward through the hackle and tie it off at the hook eye. This technique is also good for using feathers that have longer fibers near the base than they do near the tip. Check the next tip for another way of dealing with this problem. Back to the index.

4. Down the hill - again, when tying a trude style fly you can avoid the hackle feather slipping as you wrap forward over the drop off point where you trimmed the excess material from the wings. All you have to do is leave your bobbin/thread hanging at the start of the drop off point. As you wrap the hackle forward the weight of the bobbin against the thread "holds" the hackle back and keeps it from slipping. Each turn of hackle forward brings the tying thread along with it so you can easily tie off the fly after wrapping the hackle. Back to the index.


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