Welcome to Intermediate Fly Tying

Part Twenty-two


Intermediate Fly Tying:


By Al Campbell

Last week we ventured into the world of parachute flies. This week we continue the progress with a new twist, extended bodies. Finally, we have a subject that will challenge most of the beginner tyers in the bunch.

Extended bodies require a type of coordination that only comes with practice. In fact, after 20 years of messing with these flies, I don't feel like I'm very coordinated when tying them. I need another hand and a few more fingers on each hand. But, after a few practice flies, I'm usually ready to tie a "production run" of flies. I always tie up at least a dozen of these at a time while I have my fingers in the mood.

Although the paradrake was designed to match any of the large mayflies that have extra long bodies, I use this pattern to imitate dragonflies. The photos in this weeks session are of the dragonfly adaptation of the paradrake. For those of you who live in areas with a lot of lakes and dragonflies, this is a killer pattern. That is the main reason I tie as many extended body flies as I do.

For those who will be adapting this pattern to the Hex or Drake hatches, you will need to shorten the body a bit and trim the size a little. You might want to match the color of the natural too. For those who want a great panfish or bass pattern, tie it the way I do, as a dragonfly imitation. As I've said many times, it's your fly, tie it to match what you want it to match.

The biggest secret to tying extended hair body patterns is thread control. It isn't nearly as hard as it seems to tie these patterns if you use good thread tension control. If you get the tension too tight, you'll have a flared mess. If you get it too light, the body won't have any sturdy form. This is going to take a few tries to get it right, so don't get discouraged too soon. Just remember it's better to use too little tension than too much.

Dragon Fly

Some of the local dragonflies in my area are yellow in coloration. I tie the yellow paradrake (maybe I should call it a paradragon?) to match those insects. I've watched bass jump a foot out of the water to grab a yellow dragonfly that hovered too low. I've also watched them clear the water to pounce on one of these extended body flies. Reason enough for me to keep tying them.

I mentioned flotation and hollow hair in the past. The hollow deer hair used in the tail and body of the paradrake provide a type of flotation that keeps this fly floating like a cork. Add the parachute style hackle, and you've got a fly that is virtually sink proof. Even after the fly has been chewed on by a few fish, it's still a productive pattern.

Let's see if you can tie it.

List of materials: Paradrake

Mustad 94898
  • Hook: Standard dry fly; Mustad 94840, Tiemco 100, Eagle Claw L059, Daiichi 1180. (Size 4 - Size 4-18 for mayflies). If you used a longer hook, it wouldn't really be an extended body fly, now would it?

  • Thread: 3/0 Gudebrod or equivalent, black or colored to match the tail and body.

  • Tail: Deer hair, an extension of the body, dyed to the color of the natural you want to imitate.

  • Body: Deer hair, same as the tail.

  • Wing: Calf tail or body hair (traditional), antron, other natural or synthetic hair, white is the most common color, but you could use any other color desired, including deer hair or elk hair.

  • Hackle: Quality pale blue dun and yellow grizzly or brown and grizzly neck or saddle hackle, webby parts removed and 1/8" of the remaining stem stripped of barbules. The barbule length of these hackles should be even with each other and about twice the hook gape.

    Tying steps:

  • 1. Create a post wing like you did in the parachute Adams. You'll want to make it long enough and thick enough to be proportional to the body.

  • 2. Select a patch of dyed deer or elk hair that's about two to three times the length of the hook shank.

    Comb out the under fur and even the tips of the hair in a hair stacker. Trim the bases of the hair flat and tie it to the hook behind the wing.

  • 3. Grab the tips of the hair and pull it back straight. Keep a firm grip on the hair as you gently wrap the thread toward the tip of the tail. Try to keep the thread wraps as even as possible to form a segmented look.

  • 4. Continue wrapping the thread to as close to the tips of the hair tail as you can get without losing your grip. Make four to six wraps of thread around the hair at the tip end before starting forward with the thread. This will bind the tail securely at the end without needing any heavy thread pressure that would cause the hair to flare.

  • 5. Gently wrap the thread forward toward the wing, keeping the thread wraps even with the wraps you made toward the tail. If you wrap the thread evenly, your thread should form a series of X's on the top and bottom of the tail. Since this is fairly difficult at first, you may have to back up a couple of times and re-space the wraps to get them right. Too much thread pressure will cause the hair to flare and create a lumpy and uneven tail.

  • 6. When you've finished ribbing the tail with thread, it should look something like this. You can straighten the tail and even the thread a little if the thread wraps aren't too tight or uneven.

  • 7. Apply a liberal coat of cement to the body. Be extra careful to coat the entire thread wraps on the top, bottom and sides. This will strengthen the tail and stiffen it enough to handle the stress of catching fish.

  • 8. Apply a coat of cement to the thread base of the wing too. Allow the cement to dry for a few minutes before you continue.

  • 9. After the cement has dried, attach the hackle stems to the base of the wing. You left these hackle stems 1/8 inch long instead of 1/16 inch to allow enough stem to thoroughly attach the stem to both the wing base and the hook. Your hackles should now be extending above the wing, curvature facing out.

  • 10. Dub a thorax similar in color to the body. Be sure to leave plenty of room for the head of the fly.

  • 11. Wrap the first hackle down the wing base, keeping the curvature of the hackle facing downward. This will angle the tips of the barbules downward, causing the fly to ride slightly higher in the surface film than it would if you wrapped the hackle up then down the wing base. Tie off the hackle with a couple of thread wraps, trim and secure with a half hitch.

  • 12. Wrap the second hackle down the wing base, tie off, trim and secure it as you did with the first hackle.

  • 13. Build a head, whip finish and cement the head. A drop of head cement to the top of the wing base should help hold the hackle in place and strengthen the wing.

  • 14. Your finished fly should look like this.

    Experiment a little with other colors and different hackle. Dragonflies come in a variety of colors, so yours should too. Try tying a few smaller mayfly patterns with these methods too.

    As I've said several times, my goal is not to teach you specific fly patterns with specific colors and materials. My goal is to teach you methods that will be usable in many fly patterns. You can find pattern books almost anywhere, but few of them teach the methods rather than the patterns. I hope you're learning methods that will reach across the pattern boundaries to many other flies as well.

    An example of what I'm talking about would be parachute flies. If you can tie a parachute Adams, you can tie a parachute Royal Wulff or maybe a parachute Blue Dun. If you can tie a parachute extended body fly, you surely could tie a thorax hackled, extended body fly as well. If you can place hair wings on a Royal Wulff, what's to prevent you from placing the same wings on an Adams?

    Innovation and experimentation are the keys to new fly development. They are the keys to localized patterns. If you learn the methods and apply them to other types of flies, you can adapt to any type of water and any conditions that are thrown at you. If you learn the methods, you can pick up any pattern book and tie any fly in that book. The key is the methods.

    That's why you'll see me stress that you learn how to do specific types of flies rather than specific patterns. That's why I stress that this is your fly and you can tie it any way you need to. All you need to do is learn the methods used in a type of fly and apply those methods to any other fly that is similar in type or design.

    We've come a long way since this series started. We've got a long way to go still. I thank those of you who have joined me this far in the series and invite you to continue with me as we together explore new methods and new techniques in fly tying. If you think about what we've already covered (nymphs, dries) and consider where we have yet to go (wet flies, bass flies, streamers, hair bugs, saltwater, salmon), you'll get an idea of how big this project is and will be.

    For those who have e-mailed questions, I hope I've answered them to your satisfaction. For those who have sent comments and compliments, I thank you. Not only are these your flies to determine how you want to tie them, this is your series as well as mine. I welcome your suggestions and requests for certain techniques you wish to see covered.

    See ya next week - Remember, I'm always happy to answer your questions, feel free to email me. ~ Al Campbell

    Be sure to read Al's Product Review on Mustad Hooks in Product Review!

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