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  • Designing Flies That Move Part 1: Pure Attraction.
  • Post author
    John Satkowski
  • fly fishingfly tyingstreamer fishing

Designing Flies That Move Part 1: Pure Attraction.

Flies that do the shimmy are all the rage right now.

A lot of this is due to all the new materials and hardware now available for fly tyers. Ranges of articulated shank systems and heaps of new synthetic materials that easily shed water are changing the way we tie flies.

Articulation used to be a term for wire and beads joining two hooks in order to do the S-curve movement in the water.

Modern innovations in fly tying materials give you the ability to step beyond purely mimicking the appearance of a prey item – you can mimic its movements as well.

Examples of these advancements include the Articulated Fish-Spine shanks, which taper and mimic a fleeing baitfish in the water, and the Shrimp & Cray Tail, which acts like a bill on a crankbait, adds weight, and makes the fly dig and dart with each strip of the line.

While doing research for this article, I found that a lot of people think there is too much movement in modern fly patterns. The traditional patterns everyone grew up fishing still work well, but compare it to looking at televisions back from the early 1950’s versus today’s high-definition models. These clunky, unreliable relics of the past are still viewed as vintage classics, but can’t really compete with the newer technology of today. I think flies can be viewed the same way – improving their function and durability makes them more efficient and work better in practical application.

Blasts from the past: Adding a modern touch to classic fly patterns.

As far as I’m concerned, you don’t necessarily need a hundred synthetic materials and three hooks on a pattern to make it work better. However, using some materials the fish haven’t seen before and making them move differently will certainly trigger strikes.

Weights & brakes on articulated fly patterns.

Weighting flies can be tricky. As a rule of thumb, I weight the front portion of a pattern and leave the back portion free of weight. With articulated flies this is especially important because the thrust of the weighted front hook decides the severity of the movement of the back hook.

Fly tying: How to hide your weight.

When tying articulated flies you also need to think about the “brakes.” Marabou is the most common braking material since it is cheap and easy to find. Putting brakes on articulated patterns is most easily described as this: tying a material that causes a pause at the end of the “S” curve.

When a strip of line is made, the weight on the front hook makes the fly surge forward and wiggle in the water column. If you use marabou as a tail on both hooks, the braking action is when the marabou, or whatever material you chose to use, pulses and comes to a rest. I like using marabou for brakes, but you can also use materials like hen feathers tied as fins on the sides of the fly. If you do tie hen feather fins, take care to tie them evenly on both sides so your fly doesn’t drift one way or the other.

There are a lot of times when a great utility streamer will go a long way.

I use these pure attractor patterns to locate fish and try and set up a pattern for the day. I usually carry a couple different attractor flies in my box with one or two types of movement.

Bar Fight.

Back Hook.

  • Hook: Gamakatsu B10S size 2-2/0.
  • Thread: 6/0 Unithread (flo. orange).
  • Tail: Small worm rattle (4mm) enclosed in gold mylar tubing and tied shut with thread and attached to hook, flo. Orange barred zonker strip, orange holographic flashabou.
  • Body: Orange marabou, palmered.
  • Collar: Orange craft fur in a dubbing loop.
  • Legs: Flo. Orange with black flake round rubber legs.

Front Hook.

  • Hook: Gamakatsu B10S size 2-2/0.
  • Thread: 6/0 Unithread (flo. orange).
  • Tail: Small worm rattle (4mm) enclosed in gold mylar tubing and tied shut with thread and attached to hook, flo. Orange barred zonker strip, orange holographic flashabou.
  • Body: Orange marabou, palmered followed by flo. Red marabou, palmered.
  • Collar: Orange craft fur in a dubbing loop followed by red craft fur followed by a mix of red craft fur and red ice dub.
  • Legs: Flo. Orange with black flake round rubber legs.
  • Weight: 0.25" lead wire, backward large conehead in the front.
  • Eyes: Fish-Skull Living Eyes, 15 mm, Fire.

The Bar Fight is a well-rounded streamer. It's effective in multiple sizes and the articulation and flowing materials will almost always trigger a few strikes.

The conehead on this fly is inverted and it may surprise you what happens as a result – the resistance of the water against the cupping action of the inverted conehead actually keeps the fly up in current instead of dropping to the bottom like normal conehead flies.

The Bar Fight works especially well in higher spring waters or in dirty water where the push and movement can help fish find the fly.

I came up with the idea for the Bar Fight one spring when the water was up a little bit and had some color. There were some bigger fish, but they seemed to not be able to see my normal patterns, including an articulated conehead fly that usually produced when the water is up and stained.

Later that day back at the fly tying vise, I accidentally slid a conehead on backwards and it sparked my interest to see what it would actually do in the water. It turns out, the fly doesn’t really have any different action, but the water flowing in and out of the cone keeps the fly riding nicely in the current. It also pushes more water when you strip it, increasing the odds of tempting the bigger fish.

The first color scheme I tied the Bar Fight in was firetiger, but all white and what I call the "fireball" color scheme work well too. I ended up adding a hidden rattle in the tail so every time the tail does a little shimmy the rattle starts calling fish. I usually don’t think rattles make a huge difference, but in dirty water anything that helps the fish find your fly is a good idea.

Make some noise! How to tie loud flies for esox fishing.

So far the Bar Fight has caught various species of trout, smallmouth and largemouth bass, northern pike, white bass, burbot, salmon, and even a carp.

    Insidious.

    Back Hook.

    • Hook: Mustad R75S-9674 size 4-2.
    • Thread: 6/0 Unithread (black).
    • Tail: Black marabou flanked with red holographic flashabou and a small pinch of Senyo Shaggy dubbing on each side (tan), dark brown magnum rabbit strip.
    • Body: UV ice dub (red) in a dubbing loop and brushed out.
    • Collar: Senyo Shaggy dub (tan) and brown wool on top and rust colored Senyo laser yarn on the bottom.
    • Legs: Black silicon rubber legs with red flecks.

    Front Hook.

    • Tail: Black marabou flanked with red holographic flashabou and a small pinch of Senyo Shaggy dubbing on each side (tan), dark brown magnum rabbit strip.
    • Body: UV ice dub (red) in a dubbing loop and brushed out.
    • Collar: Senyo Shaggy dub (tan) and brown wool under black Senyo laser yarn on top and rust colored Senyo laser yarn on the bottom.
    • Legs: Black silicon rubber legs with red flecks.
    • Head: Fish-Skull Baitfish Head (dark gray)
    • Eyes: Fish-Skull Living Eyes (Fire color), sized to match Baitfish Head.
    • Connecting Wire/beads: Beadalon .46 mm (black), small red Czech beads.

    When you talk about movement in fly patterns, this pattern has it going on. The Insidious is a fly built for maximum attention grabbing.

    Early spring and summer can be a disastrous time to be on the water due to the weather. I have been out more than a couple times when a cold heavy rain has pounded the banks of my favorite fishing spot.

    Since you're already there ready to fish, use a fly like the Insidious to grab the attention of the fish when poor conditions inhibit normal patterns. There are times when a fly with all the bells and whistles will come through for you.

    I originally tied it for smallmouth bass, but it could be applicable to a lot of different areas and species.

    When I come up with patterns, a lot of the time I don’t really have anything in mind to imitate. You could say a lot of my streamers are just attractor patterns. I like the idea that if you develop an overall effective pattern and give it different color schemes, it can then become different creatures.

    The power of suggestion: 3 key elements of streamer fly design.

    The Insidious is very much like that, tie this fly in all white it can be a baitfish imitation. If you tie it in browns, oranges, or tans, it could easily be a fleeing crayfish. When I start thinking about tying, I think design first, movement second, and color third.

      Sled Dog.

      Back Hook.

      • Hook: Gamakatsu B10S 2-1/0.
      • Thread: 6/0 Unithread (white).
      • Tail: 4-6 Chinese saddles (white) with several strands of silver holographic flashabou cascading over entire tail.
      • Body: UV Polar Chenille (silver) under white bucktail on bottom and chartreuse bucktail on top.
      • Collar: White mallard flank under clumps of chartreuse arctic fox hair on top and white arctic fox on the bottom.

      Front Hook.

      • Hook: 60 or 90-degree bend hook with wide gap space, size to match back hook.
      • Thread: 6/0 Unithread (white).
      • Body: UV Polar Chenille (silver) under white bucktail on bottom and chartreuse bucktail on top.
      • Collar: White mallard flank under clumps of chartreuse arctic fox hair on top and white arctic fox on the bottom.
      • Flash: Silver holographic flashabou.
      • Head: Fish-Skull Baitfish Head, color to match hooks and materials.
      • Eyes: Fish-Skull Living Eyes.
      • Adhesive: Krazy glue.
      • Connecting Wire/beads: Beadalon .46mm (black), red Czech beads (small-medium).

      The Sled Dog has a jig-type action and is highly responsive when the fly is even twitched.

      I like to always carry a couple all-condition flies for normal conditions and as summer months' work horses, and the Sled Dog fits right in that category.

      The Sled Dog has a Fish-Skull Baitfish Head so you can control how high or low the fly rides just by adjusting the size of the hooks and Baitfish Head. I really like tying on jig hooks because they impart the nice jigging action and keep the hook point up away from the snags on the bottom of the river.

      Fly tying: Why is my baitfish pattern swimming wrong?

      When I sat down to tie the Sled Dog I wanted a fly that would be easy to cast but had a good profile and would have the potential to draw strikes from bigger fish. I recently started using more arctic fox in my flies and I just love the material. It moves and breathes well and has a fuller look than some other furs.

      This is a great streamer to use in the earlier parts of the season and you can easily tie a variant of this fly by substituting the long saddles on the back for a rabbit strip. The pike tend to pick up the rabbit strip a little more because of the difference in movement but both tails work very well.

      You can also tie this fly in smaller sizes for all trout species, and the Baitfish Head and jig hook will keep this fly moving and bouncing off timber and rocks.

        Damage Plan.

        Back Hook.

        • Hook: Gamakatsu B10S size 2-2/0.
        • Thread: 6/0 Unithread (dark brown).
        • Tail: Two black curly tails and collar of red holographic flashabou tied on a piece of 30 lb. Mason hard mono with a ball burnt on the end with a lighter and secured to hook with thread, over is a brown marabou covering and a barred rust colored zonker strip.
        • Body: UV ice dub (red) in a dubbing loop and brushed out.
        • Collar: Coyote fur clump tied bullet style.

        Front Hook.

        • Tail: Brown marabou with red holographic flashabou and a barred rust colored zonker strip.
        • Body: UV red ice dub in a dubbing loop and brushed out.
        • Collar: Rust, brown, and black Senyo laser yarn blended together and brushed well.
        • Legs: Craw color silicon rubber leg strips.
        • Head: Fish-Skull Fish-Mask, size to match hook.
        • Eyes: Fish-Skull Living Eyes, size to match Fish-Mask.
        • Weight: .25 lead wire.
        • Connecting Wire/beads: Beadalon .46mm (black), small red Czech beads.

        The Damage Plan has become one of my favorite flies to tie and fish.

        There are always three versions of this fly in my box: a floating slider head version, a shallow to medium-depth suspending version with a Fish-Mask, and a deep version with a Baitfish Head or Sculpin Helmet.

        This allows me to be able to find the fish with my fly at any depth. You never know when a school of baitfish could blow up and start running to the surface to avoid being lunch.

        I discovered this lesson the hard way when I forgot to throw some popper flies in my fly box one evening trip; a school of shad had pushed unusually far up river and the smallmouth were having a field day shooting through the schools and picking them off. The fish were breaking surface all over a deep pocket next to a sand flat. I needed a fly that floated, had a baitfish wiggle, and would make some kind of surface disturbance. I had no topwater flies to throw at the fish and the takes would have been breathtaking.

        That night I tied a topwater version of the Damage Plan and luckily the next day the same topwater action was occurring. I tied on the floating Damage Plan and the first cast a nice football-shaped bronzeback absolutely inhaled the fly.

        From that point on, I've made sure I can cover the entire water column with at least a couple different actions and movements to tempt fish.

        In my ongoing obsession with making flies have good movement in the water, I started to think about how a lot of conventional fishermen will use jigs with twister tails in rivers for smallmouth, largemouth, and walleye. Pike will even go after bigger twister tails on a jig or tipped from the end of a spoon lure.

        I started wondering how I could incorporate that element into a streamer to trigger bigger fish. I put a piece of heavy mono in my vise and tied on a twister tail and hid the mono stem with marabou and a rabbit strip. The Damage Plan was born and put up some nice fish on its first outing.

        You can actually swing the Damage Plan too and a lot of hits come when the fly is just sitting in the current with the tail wiggling.

        Keep an eye out for Designing Flies That Move Part 2, coming soon!

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          About John Satkowski:

          John Satkowski resides in Toledo, Ohio, where he fishes for all fish that swim in the rivers and lakes of southeastern Michigan and northwest Ohio. An artist, fly tying demonstrator, and fly tying instructor, John shares his love of fly tying and fishing as often as he can. For the last fifteen years, he has focused on unlocking the secrets of smallmouth bass, carp, trout, and northern pike on the fly, chasing after them in the rivers and lakes of the Wolverine state and the glory waters of Montana. John is also an accomplished realistic tyer and always tries to add a little realistic flair to his patterns. John’s patterns often use creative fly materials and unconventional tying styles. Check out his bio and commercial fly patterns at Rainy's Flies. You can get a hold of John by visiting the River Raisin Fly Company page on Facebook or through email at RiverRaisinFlyCompany13@gmail.com.

          • Post author
            John Satkowski
          • fly fishingfly tyingstreamer fishing

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