In the middle of summer, fish, especially trout,
frequently concentrate on tiny morsels. These small
insects, often referred to as the Fisherman's Curse,
tend to try the patience of even the most diligent of
fly tyer. Here are some useful tips for taking the
sweat out of tying small.
First, inspect your hands and fingers. If the skin the
rough, the thread will constantly get caught up and fray
on the cracks and rough edges. This can be avoided by
smoothing off the rough edges with some emery paper and
treating the skin with some good moisturizing hand cream
about 30 minutes before you start.
If you have trouble with your eyesight, the best thing
you can do is make certain you have enough light. This
is far more important than magnification, although a
magnifying system of some sort can be useful. The
better the lighting where you are tying, however, the
more detail you will be able to see and the better the
proportions will be for each pattern. And, as we all
know, the three most important aspects of fly tying
are proportion, proportion and proportion.
When tying very small patterns (sizes 22 to 32) it is
important to scale everything accordingly. This calls
for very fine thread. 8/0 simply won't cut it on a
size 28. There are now threads advertised on the market
as being sizes 11/0 to 17/0. While I'm not certain of
the accuracy of the designations, these threads are
fine, very fine, and refreshingly strong. I also
recommend that you use a bobbin with a ceramic tube
or ceramic insert. This will help to prevent the
fine thread from fraying.
Similarly, all materials must be scaled down accordingly.
After all, the ribbing we use on a size 12 Gold Ribbed
Hare's Ear will be totally unsuitable for its size 24
equivalent. Even dubbing must be much finer. And don't
bother trying to weight your nymphs. Lead wire generally
is not fine enough for size 26 hooks. Hackles small
enough for tiny flies are tough to come by and usually
very expensive. However, you can often make do by
roughing up your dubbing a little to form a hackle
or a wing. On the other hand, some materials, such
as CDC and very fine deer hair (such as that found
on the mask), are fine enough for tying small.
In keeping with my sobriquet that "simpler is better,"
at least in fly tying, keep your patterns simple. You
won't need to add eyes to a size 26 pattern. You may
add wings or hackle, but generally not both. Concentrate
only on the principal characteristics, such as sizes,
shape and colour or any unusual trait, such as unusually
long tails. The smaller the pattern, the more proportional
errors are magnified: while 1mm error in a 25 mm nymph
is hardly significant, a 1 mm error in a 3 mm nymph is
huge. And don't forget the knot you use to tie on your
fly. It becomes, by definition, a part of the pattern,
and must be tied as small and neat as possible.
Hook selection for tiny flies is critical. You constantly
face the challenge of getting the right shank length while
maximizing hook gape. Since there are no industry
standard hook designations, the tyer is reduced to
measuring shanks to get the correct size hook for
the pattern in question. Consider using "wide gape"
or "short Shank" style hooks (which are effectively
the same designations.) What you get is more hook
gape for hook shank length than in "normal" style
hooks. Hooks that are slightly kirbed or offset,
while causing some tying challenges, often improve
hook sets and seem to stay in a fish's mouth longer.
Fine wire is critical as well. This is especially
important for dry flies.
Not all patterns can be scaled down to size 28. Strip
leeches, for instance, are out. You would need strips
cut from tanned field mouse skin for the wing. However,
you can tie tiny wet flies using a small clump of fine
fibre for the wing. Rabbit fur will suffice, or even CDC.
Fishing Tips For the Small Stuff
Fish these patterns in the surface film, although you
can sink them to imitate nymphs. Fish take them for
midges and other tiny insects. Usually, colour and
size seem more important than shape/outline. Don't
forget to use the finest possible tippet and smallest
When presenting tiny patterns, do everything in slow
motion - including setting the hook. Indeed, just
gently tighten up your line and ease the hook into
the fish. Anything else will probably cause you to
quickly part company with your quarry. Some anglers
gently offset the hook point a little to improve the
hook-up percentage. Whatever you do, don't horse
the fish. Just gently apply pressure, especially
from the side, and ease it to the net. Make it do
its fighting in your net. Don't want to play it
too long, however, as you will exhaust the
fish - often fatally. Just use your common sense
to achieve a balance. ~ SS
We thank the
Canadian Fly Fisher for re-print permission!