Bob Boese, Louisiana

October 20th, 2008

Easy Chenille Patterns
By Bob Boese, Louisiana

(Generic flies are simple-to-tie patterns that a novice tyer can easily accomplish and which requires less than four dressing components.)

Some fishermen get to use manly terms when discussing their angling passion. Things like lead sinkers, and hard wire leaders, and size 6/0 hooks, and gaffs and billies, and drag (well maybe not that). In contrast, fly fishermen get to talk about split bamboo, and maribou, and krystal flash, and beads and chenille and nippers and tippet. Ouch!

A Roman scholar, Claudius Ælianus, and his conqueror buddies were traipsing through Macedonia in the 2nd or 3rd Century when he noticed the locals fishing. He later described them using bug-shaped wool and feather lures. Note, the Romans were doing the crushing and destroying while the locals were doing the fly fishing. Not a good omen. For the next 1200 years we can suspect that fishing for survival wasn't very artistic, but there were a lot of sheep and chickens available. Then, in 1496, the prioress of an abbey is credited with writing A Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle which gave specific details about the construction and use of fishing equipment, including artificial flies. (There is debate about authorship of the Treatyse, and admittedly, it would have been nice to learn that the author was Sir Bicep the Potent.) Regardless, some time later, in 1653, Isaak Walton wrote The Compleat Angler and is credited for describing 60 fly patterns, although it took till the 5th edition and work of his student, Charles Cotton, for the book to mention it. (It is unfortunate for our cause that Walton, once an Ironmonger, became a drapery salesman.) Next thing you know, some Spaniard steals worms from China and European fly fishermen began tipping their macho horsehair lines with silk leaders until World War II and the advent of nylon. Meanwhile, back in the late 1800s, British nobles and gentlemen, who were always rather particular, having recently discovered the dry-fly, decided that they despised any fly that wasn't a floating insect replica. Stodgy owners of English fishing waters actually banned nymphs – from the boudoir and the stream. Eventually, many socially unacceptable non-dry fly fishermen immigrated to America and brought along their fly fishing techniques. Another 100 years pass and, waiting around for D-Day, the GIs successfully trolled for sweet young things and bad old trout with silk and nylon until the stuffy nymph and Yank-despising Englishmen reluctantly delved into actual romance and fished wet flies.

While conventional Brits considered "wet flies" to mean a bladder failure, it actually describes any non-floating fly that is not a streamer or nymph. "Streamers" are feather or bucktail winged patterns that represent fish, while "nymphs" represent – no, not that – the aquatic stage of insects. As the GIs knew, both warm and cold water species eat aquatic insects frequently and in great numbers. Trout can be ridiculously selective, and with almost religious zealotry, today's nymph fishermen insist that a pattern must closely match the predominant insect species in the water being fished. (Which is sort of silly, since many dubbed nymphs look like a dust bunny or hairball.) On the other hand, while precise replication may be helpful for cold streams with selective or over-fished rainbows, warm water species are much less discriminating. Consequently, it is foolish for any angler not to have generic wet flies or nymphs available in a bass/panfish fly fishing arsenal.

A difficulty with tying many trout nymph patterns is their size. Other than large stones, hexes and dragonflies (the T-Rex of nymphs), patterns can call for sizes in the 18 to mid-20s, with tiny hooks that are barely visible to the naked eye and unforgiving of any masculine meat hook tying approach. Many patterns also call for advanced tying techniques like weaving (don't go there) or dubbing uncooperative materials or attaching difficult components to achieve adequate resemblance to the nymph de jour. Fortunately, warm water fish are not so particular and they roam a pond like grocery aisles with one thought in mind – "It's all good." More importantly, panfish and bass do not require microscopic flies and a more macho size 14 is as small as need be tied, more likely a husky 10 -12. The really good news is that the larger the fly, the more room for tying error.

Admittedly, while dressing a fly with remnants of dead things may seem virile, chenille makes tying much easier. As opposed to dubbing loose fur, chenille comes in long strips, ready to apply, and is very forgiving. Chenille was created in the 1830s and at the turn of the 20th century was one of the most popular materials for soft feminine bedspreads and in the 50s was incorporated into fluffy carpets. One saving grace is that, for many decades, chenille was mostly seen encasing a metal stem for pipe cleaners. Then, in the 1970s, the Wapsi Company set up headquarters in Mountain Home, Arkansas (by the famous White River full of man-sized browns) and began manufacturing a line of fly tying materials, including chenille, plus a tight nap chenille they called "ultra". Next came flashy products such as "crystal chenille" and "estaz," adding more movement and flash to the basic chenille product. Today, hundreds of varieties of chenille are sold by a multitude of manufacturers, in fabric stores (shudder) and fly shops, and each one can have some use in fly tying.

In selecting a chenille fly, the first consideration might be color. Chenille is available in a wide spectrum and, while it may be tempting for some to tie a fuchsia and pink striped pattern, the better option is to stick with something more likely to be owned by a male, and to be found on creatures usually in the water. Chenille is the principal ingredient of Woolly Buggers and Woolly Worms, which are addressed in Part V of this series. Nymphs appear in many colors, sometimes variegated, usually tending toward warmer hues of browns, reds and yellow/tans. Streamers should be fish colored and wet flies can be anything the tyer's imagination and common sense tells him is buggish.

Weight is another option. Wet flies are meant to be fished below the surface, and how far below is a factor of fly weight versus resistance/buoyancy of the leader/tippet. Many tyers prefer to put a metal bead on the head of the fly (tungsten has a nice sound to it) which makes the fly fall head first. Or better yet, or underwrap the fly with practically illegal lead wire.

Then use it to catch big fish with names like bass or crappie.

JITTERBEE (by Randy Leonpacher)

    Hook: Size 8-10, Dai-Riki #305 or equivalent.

    Thread: Flat waxed nylon or 6/0.

    Tail: Black silicone skirt material.

    Head: Gold metal bead.

    Body: Chenille in contrasting colors.

1. Put bead on hook and thread it to the hook eye.

2. Wrap hook shank with thread to form base for other materials.

3. Take two short pieces of silicone skirt and hold them flat sides together. Slide them over the hook shank and wrap with thread leaving a tag end slightly shorter than the hook shank. Using this tie-in method, when you release the silicone it should flare to a "V" shape. If it doesn't, do a couple of figure 8 wraps over the skirt pieces to separate the tail.

4. Tie in two contrasting colors of chenille and move thread to behind the bead.

5. Hold the two pieces of chenille together and wrap clockwise to the bead and tie down. Cut off excess chenille.

6. Whip finish smoothly behind the bead.

7. Pull back the chenille to allow you to put a drop of Hard As Nails on the whip finished thread.

Chenille yarn consists of short lengths of spun yarn or filament that are held together by two ends of highly twisted fine strong yarn. The short lengths are called the pile and the highly twisted yarns are called the core. Chenille yarn can be made from many different types of fibers and yarns. Most common are cotton, viscose (rayon), acrylic, and polypropylene (olefin). ~ Bob

About Bob:

Robert Lamar Boese has fly fished for five decades. He is an environmental negotiator, attorney and educator who has provided environmental legal services for more than thirty-three years including active duty with the U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Justice. He is a well known fly tyer with several unique patterns to his credit. He has developed and authored federal and state regulatory programs encompassing a broad spectrum of environmental disciplines, has litigated environmental matters at all levels of the federal and state court systems, and is a qualified expert for testimony in environmental law. He has authored over 60 published text chapters, comments or articles on environmental matters, is a member of the Colorado, District of Columbia and Louisiana Bar Associations, and is a certified mediator. In addition to his legal practice, Mr. Boese has been a high school teacher, an associate professor of Environmental Law and Public Health, has authored numerous fiction and sports publications, and is a softball coach and nationally certified volleyball referee. He is the president of the Acadiana Fly Rodders in Lafayette, Louisiana and editor of Acadiana on the Fly. He has been married for thirty years and is the father of two fly fishing girls (25 and 21). For additional information contact: Boese Environmental Law, 103 Riviera Court, Broussard, LA 70518 or call 337.856.7890 or email

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