Tips For Tying Big Flies
Fish-Skull Fish-Mask streamer with Living Eyes.
Why do I love tying and fishing big streamers?
The other day I was watching an episode of "The Office" and in it Michael Scott said, "What is better: a medium amount of good pizza or all you can eat of pretty good pizza?"
As weird as it sounds, that got me thinking about fly fishing and the reason why I fish and tie big streamers. With big streamers, you may not always catch fish, but the fish you do catch and the memories will be epic.
Growing up in Southern California I was always fishing for largemouth bass. Before I stated fly fishing, I was throwing big lures, plugs, swimbaits, etc. for bass with my baitcasting rod. Throwing an 8-inch lure was a common thing for me as well as at time throwing a big 12-inch plus rainbow trout plastic swimbait. So when I started tying flies I always thought why not tie big flies like the lures I was used to throwing. To me this made sense, but at that time a lot of people looked at me strangely.
If you enjoy tying and fishing big streamers, the following are some things I'd recommend you keep in mind.
Pike flies and Double Deceivers.
The fish I like to catch generally have lots of sharp teeth like to destroy flies. Therefore, durability is number one on my list. Learning to tie in a way that protects your thread and tie in points is critical when tying big flies.
One of my favorite techniques is reverse tying or hollow tying. This is basically tying the material in front of the hook eye and pushing it back and tying a thread dam in front. This helps to achieve two things. One is you get a big profile with out the bulk which helps you to throw the fly all day. Two it helps to cover and protect the thread as well as the tie in points. This is very important when fishing for toothy fish like musky and pike. I know the fly is not bombproof, but it will last longer and you can catch multiple fish on one fly, which is important because if you have tied big flies you know they can be time consuming. You can use practically any material when using the reverse tying technique.
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My favorite material is bucktail. I reverse tie bucktail all the time on big or little flies. Its pretty durable and has good movement. not all bucktail is created equal. Take your time and open the package when buying your bucktail. When I do tying shows that’s a question I get asked a lot. I won’t tell you what type I like, so you can figure out what type of bucktail is best for you. I believe all types of bucktail have its place in tying. Most synthetics are a great material to reverse tie as well. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try different or off-the-wall materials.
A couple fairly new materials I have been tying with as of late are Fish-Skull Faux Bucktail and Chocklett’s Body Tubing. The Faux Bucktail is synthetic and therefore has different properties than natural bucktail, including the technique for flairing the Faux Bucktail. Chocklett’s Body Tubing is perfect for propping the material up to achieve the profile you want because it is light and will hold its shape thus forcing the Faux Bucktail to flair. Body Tubing essentially is an alternative technique for reverse tying, and allows you to achieve the same effect with less material. The Faux Bucktail has really good movement as well. It can also be used in many other patterns and techniques from tiny flies to big streamers. The Body Tubing also makes nice heads that help to push water.
Big heavy thread is another material that’s important. I use 210 denier on all my big patterns. It's versatile enough to do pretty much any technique you would need for a big fly. You can spin hair, reverse tie and do dubbing loops with ease. I tend to use a lot of thread when reverse tying because I don’t want the materials slipping or moving around on me, and it doesn’t build up too big of a head. You can superglue or use a UV resin on thread wraps or tie in points as well.
Topwater Finesse Fly Fishing for Bass
Hooks and shanks are probably the most important in durability. I use big heavy spinnerbait hooks and Fish-Skull Big Game Shanks. This allows you to land the fish fairly quick which is crucial for pike and musky survival rates. They don’t bend too often and keep a sharp point and are easy to sharpen if needed.
2. Easy to Cast
White Arctic Fox Game Changer with Fish-Skull Articulated Shanks and Living Eyes.
Big flies don’t have to be heavy. Choose materials that are light and don’t absorb a lot or water or will quickly shed water on the back cast. Synthetic materials are good to use for this. They are light and durable and don’t absorb much water if any at all. Body Tubing also helps you tie lighter and tougher flies that are easy to cast because it cuts down the amount of material you need by creating an illusion of bulk through the hollow fly effect.
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Some natural materials may seem like a good idea but when you use them on a big fly and try to fish it you may regret it due to how much water it absorbs. One material I really like is Icelandic sheep hair. This material has great movement in the water and is pretty durable as well. I would say it’s like marabou on steroids. The only problem is that is absorbs a lot of water and can be like casting a wet sock. So, to get by that I use it in very sparse amounts. I also use it for flies I want to fish deeper in the water column because it absorbs and holds water.
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Rabbit zonkers are another natural material that has amazing movement in the water but gets heavy when wet. One way around this is to make dubbing loops with the hair by using a magic tool. This will give you the movement without the hide that holds the water and weight. Try it on collars and other things. I don’t weight my flies that often. I let the material and fly line get it down when I need it.
Articulated Sparkle Minnow tied with Fish-Skull Fish-Spines and topped off with a Baitfish Head.
Movement is key when getting those picky fish to eat. Materials that move and breathe in the water are best. My favorite material, bucktail, really moves in the water. I like to use stiffer materials to help hold the shape I am going for and tie in the more flowing and moving materials around the bucktail. Bucktail both moves and holds its shape, a lot of times I will use bucktail for the shape and put craft fur or Icelandic sheep around it for movement. Long saddle hackles are great for movement and add some length. Just be careful of the short strikes.
Raccoon Game Changer tied with Articulated Shanks and Living Eyes.
Articulated flies have awesome action in the water. I like to pause when stripping the fly let it fall and ball up. This lets the materials do their work. Sometimes this will get an eat from a picky fish. I try to avoid delicate materials like marabou and others like it on big flies. They have great movement, but one fish can destroy your fly. They are many materials that will give you the movement of marabou and will be a lot more durable on big flies.
In closing, tie what you want to tie. Use the materials you want to use. It's always fun to try new tying techniques and use new materials. The most important thing when tying flies is to have fun and use your imagination. One thing is to always tie for the fish and don’t worry about what anyone thinks of your flies. Fish don’t care if your fly is "cool." If your fly resembles something they are used to eating they will eat it.
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About Mike Evans:
Mike was born in Orange County California. He started fishing at a very young age. Growing up Mike fished for largemouth bass all the time as well as the ocean. Mike started to fly fish and tie flies at the age of 18. He bought a fly tying kit at Kmart and learned on his own. A year later he moved to Utah and his tying continued. Fly fishing and tying has become a passion and way of life for him like a lot of other people. Mike likes to fish for musky, pike, large and smallmouth bass as well as big trout. Mike likes to tie and fish big streamers. He does tie small custom orders through his Instagram account @fishn311. Mike volunteers for the Salt Lake City chapter of Project Healing Waters. He ties monthly and guides on the fishing trips.
Comments on this post (5)
Hello. I see the gorilla glue in the photo. Is that what you use to attach the eyes to the bucktail?
— David Benjamin
I really appreciate that you road tested these flies. There are many big fly patterns that sell fishermen, but not fish – or they are completely impractical chuck-and-duck monsters that will make your hand/wrist numb by the 4th hour of the day.
— Tyler Laurenti
Roil waters means streamers for big fish and the weather is usually not that great either. You need a passion for it. Let the dry fly purist think their all that. I’l take streamers any day. Thanks for the info.
Good job My SON.
— Brigham Evans
Great tips. Thank you.
— William E Bland