Ad Code

Making Flies for Fly Fishing - Fly Fishing Basics


Fishing with a fly may be practised either with the natural fly, usually called “dipping,” or with the artificial fly; in which latter case the sport is called “fly-fishing,” or sometimes “whipping.”
Dipping requires a moderately long and stiff rod, of about twelve or thirteen feet. The line should not be above a yard in length from the end of the rod, but the reel should contain sufficient to play the fish if necessary. When the river is much overhung with bushes, it is a good plan to wind the line round the end of the top joint, leaving only a few inches dependent; and then, having thrust the rod through some small opening in the bushes, gradually to unwind the line by turning the rod in the hand, so as to drop the fly on the water in the most gentle manner.
In this insidious way large fish are often taken with any of the flies which are in season and found at the time on the banks of the river which is fished, especially if they are only just coming out, and the fish are not yet satiated with them. It is quite needless to give a list of the natural flies which are likely to prove serviceable to the fisherman, because he has only to look for those which at the time are tempting the fish, and then to endeavour to find them on the banks, and at once to try their powers.
In the case of chub, however, he will find grasshoppers and humble-bees more useful than any of the flies, and yet they are neither of them often seen upon the waters, and may be considered exceptional cases. The fish which will generally take the natural fly are grayling, trout, chub, and dace.


For this delightful sport, which captivates alike the sexagenarian and the schoolboy, rods and tackle of the finest quality are required. It is true, that a good workman will take fish even with a willow wand, but still he would do far better with a rod turned out by a good maker; and few young hands will be able to do much without a well-finished specimen of the art of rod-making.
The rod should be strong, yet fine, and either of dressed silk, or silk and hair mixed. The lower portion, called the foot-length, is of gut, generally occupying about five or six feet of it, to which one, two, or three flies are attached, the one at the end being called a stretcher, and the others droppers.

The fly-fisher should be able to make his own flies, as there is a great advantage in being able to “do for oneself;” and it may sometimes happen that he may be out of a particular fly when far away from “fly shops.”


Feathers of various kinds; hairs of various kinds; very fine sewing silk; gold and silver twist. Of the first, the young fly-fisher must provide himself with the feathers of the duck, cock, grouse, snipe, bittern, woodcock, partridge, landrail, starling, jay, golden plover, and peacock. Of the second, the fur from Tommy’s tail, from the skins of squirrels, moles, and water rats, camel’s hair, hare’s ear, fur from its neck, the yellow fur from the neck of the martin, mohairs of different shades, camlets, black horsehair, hog’s down dyed various colours. And with these, gimps, silks, and tinsel, a good pair of pliers, and a pair of fine-pointed scissors.

In making your fly, imitate as nearly as possible the natural fly you wish to represent; to do this properly, it will be well to dissect a natural fly, and to imitate its several parts, and then to reconstruct it with a reference to the whole. With a hook of the proper size, and a feather of the right colour, the fly-maker may now commence. His feather must be stripped down on each side, leaving just so much as will do for the wings at the fine end; a piece of fine gut, free from imperfection, and properly tested as to its strength; dubbing or hackle; and a piece of fine silk well waxed with shoemaker’s wax.

Let the essay be now made. Hold your hook in the left hand, wrap the silk round the bare hook two or three times, and put the finest end of the gut on the under side of the hook. If you are working for a tackle fly, begin at the band and work up to the head, after turning three or four times round the hook and gut; fasten on the tackle, and continue the winding of the silk until it reaches the end of the hook, then turn it back two or three times, to form the head. The dubbing must now be twisted round the silk, and wrapped upon the hook for nearly half the proposed length of the body; fasten it there by a single loop, that both hands may be at liberty to manage the tackle.

When sufficient of the feather is wound upon the hook, the remainder should be held under the thumb of the left hand, and the entangled fibres picked out with a needle. The silk and dubbing must now be twisted over the end of the tackle, until the body of the fly is of the length required, and then fastened. If gold or silver twist is used, the twist should be fastened to the lower end of the body before the dubbing is applied to the silk.

To make a winged fly, the same method must be observed in tying on the hook; then take the feather which is to form the wings, and place it even on the upper side of the shank, with the roots pointing towards the bend of the hook; fasten the feathers, by winding the silk over it, and cut the root end close with a pair of scissors, and divide the wings as equally as possible with a needle, passing the silk two or three times between them, to make them stand in a proper position; bring the silk down the shank of the hook the proposed length of the body, and fasten it, then apply the dubbing to the silk, and twist it towards the wings; fasten in the hackle for legs, and wind it neatly under the wings, so as to hide the ends of the cut fibres: the silk must be fastened above the wings—be careful of this.

It would be impossible for us, nor would it be very useful to the young fly-fisher, to give him directions for making every kind of fly. We may, however, throw out a few hints concerning the making of most of the flies in common use, and of the materials employed.
Green drake

1. The green drake or May fly.

This is one of the most killing trout flies, but it is seldom in the water for a longer period than three weeks. The time of its appearance varies in different rivers, but it generally rises about the last week in May, and continues for about three weeks. The wings are made of the light feathers of a grey drake, dyed a pale yellow-green colour, by being boiled for a minute or two in a decoction of green vitriol. The body is formed of amber-coloured mohair or silk ribbon, with dark green silk; the head of peacock’s harl, and the tail of three long hairs taken from a sable muff.

2. The black gnat.

The body of this fly is made of black ostrich harl, and the wings of a pale starling’s feather; it must be dressed short and thick. It is in use from the end of April till the end of May, and is a good killer when the water is low.

3. Hare’s ear.

The wings are made from the feather of a starling’s wing, the body from the fur of the hare’s ear, the legs of a ginger cock’s hackle.

4. Cock tail.

Wings of the light feather from a snipe’s wing, the body of yellow mohair.

5. Whirling dun.

Wings of a snipe’s feather, body of blue fur wrapped with yellow silk, and a blue cock’s hackle for legs; the tail of two hairs from a coloured muff.

6. Grey drake.

Wings of a dark grey feather of the mallard, the body of white silk, striped with dark silk, the head of a peacock’s harl, and the tail of three hairs from a sable muff.

7. Cowdung fly.

The wings of the feather of a landrail, the body of yellow camlet, mixed with a little brown bear-fur, and a ginger hackle for legs; the wings should be dressed flat.

8. Bee fly.

The body of thread of various colours, arranged in stripes of the following order:—black, white, light yellow, white, black, white; the legs of a black hackle; the wings from the feathers of a blue pigeon’s wing: the body must be dressed thick.

9. Red palmer.

The body of dark-red mohair, ribbed with gold twist, and wrapped with a red cock’s hackle.

10. Peacock palmer.

The body of a peacock’s harl, wrapped with a dusky-red cock’s hackle.

11. Kingdom fly.

Wings of a woodcock’s feather, the body of white silk, striped with green, and the legs of a red cock’s hackle.

12. White gnat.

The wings of a small white feather, the body of white silk, and the legs of a red cock’s hackle.

13. Blue dun.

The wings of a starling’s feather, the body of blue fur from a water rat, mixed with a little lemon-colour mohair; the tail is forked, and should be made of two fibres from the feather used for the wing.

14. Red ant.

The wings of a light starling’s feather, the body of peacock’s harl made thick at the tail, and a ginger hackle for legs.

15. Gold spinner.

Wings of a starling’s feather, body of orange silk, ribbed with gold twist, and the legs of a red hackle.

16. Great white moth.

Wings of a feather from the wing of a white owl, the body of white cotton, and a white cock’s hackle wrapped round the body.

17. Governor.

Wings of a woodcock’s feather, the body of a peacock’s harl, tied with orange silk.

18. March brown.

Wings of the dark mottled feather from the tail of a partridge, the body of fur from a hare’s ear, well mixed with a little yellow worsted, and a grizzled cock’s hackle for legs.

19. Stone fly.

Wings of a dusky-blue cock’s hackle, or a mottled feather from a hen pheasant, the body of dark-brown and yellow camlet mixed, and a grizzled hackle for legs; the wings should be flat.

20. Black silver palmer.

The body of black ostrich harl, ribbed with silver twist, and wrapped with black cock’s hackle.

21. Willow fly.

The wings of dark grizzled cock’s hackle, the body of blue squirrel’s fur, mixed with yellow mohair.

22. Yellow palmer.

The wings of white hackle, dyed yellow, the body of yellow silk.

23. Black palmer.

The body of black ostrich’s harl, wrapped with a black cock’s hackle.

24. Black palmer ribbed with gold.

The body of peacock’s harl, wrapped with a black cock’s hackle, and ribbed with gold twist.

25. Marlow Buzz or Cock-a-Boundhu.

This is one of the most killing flies known, and should never be off the line during the trout[119] season. The body of peacock’s harl, ribbed with gold twist, and a dark-red cock’s hackle over all.

26. The Grouse Hackle.

This is also a very killing fly, especially late in the evening, during June, July, and August. Body of brown fur, ribbed with gold twist, and a grouse hackle over all; hook No. 10.

The foregoing list comprises twenty-six of the most killing flies; and the following are the months in which they will be found to kill best.

February, red cowdung fly, blue dun; March, brown; April, black gnat, stone fly, gravel or spider fly, the green tail, brown, blue dun; May, green drake, grey drake, oak fly, hazel fly, little iron blue and yellow sally; June, hare’s ear, cock tail, whirling dun, marlow buzz, bee fly, kingdom fly, white gnat, blue gnat, blue dun, governor, fern fly; gold spinner; July, red ant, red spinner, yellow dun, coachman, fern fly; August, whirling blue, red spinner, pale yellow dun; September, willow fly, silver twisted blue, whirling blue.

It would of course be impossible, in a work of this description, to give a list of all the artificial flies used by experienced fishermen, but the above are a few of the most killing. For bleak, dace, roach, chub, &c. a piece of a maggot, or a small piece of white leather, should be placed at the end of the hook.

Having thus given the “order of flies,” natural and artificial, we may imagine the young fly-fisher, with rod in hand, proportionate to his strength and the breadth of the stream, ready to throw his fly; but let his rod and running tackle be in good order, and the idea of the coachman’s whip out of his mind. He is not to flog the water, but to tickle it. The novice should teach himself to handle the line, by beginning with it alone, (i. e. without flies or hook,) trying a short length first, and lengthening it gradually. In using the rod, it should be drawn vigorously back, though without a jerk, and thrown forward again when the line has reached its full extent behind. Take care in doing this, that the fly be not whipped off. When tolerably expert, put on one fly, and try awhile with that, adopting two or three when able to use them properly.

In fly-fishing keep as far from the water as possible, especially if fishing for trout. Let only the flies touch the water, and keep moving them gently and slowly on the surface. When a fish rises, let not a moment elapse before you strike, and do it sharply.

When you have two flies on your line, you must try to throw your line so that the bottom fly shall reach the water first; it must be done always as lightly as possible, so that it may resemble a natural fly settling upon the water. You must suffer the line to float gently down the stream, at the same time working it towards you.

The best time for angling with the fly is when there is a gentle breeze upon the water; south and west winds are to be preferred, when the water has been disturbed by heavy rains and is just resuming its natural colour, or when the day is dull and cloudy. The best[120] time, morning and evening. In cold weather the fish bite deeper, and you should then let the fly sink a little. Take care to have the wind in your back, and the sun in your face, if possible.

When you see a rise, throw your fly about half a yard above the fish’s nose, and let it fall down with the stream; watch it narrowly, and strike as the fish rises, giving him an “infinite little moment” to taste. When you have hooked, play your fish carefully, keeping up his head and running him down the stream, at the same time steering him towards you. If you see a fish rise at a natural fly, throw your bait a little before him, so that he may take it as “one of the number.”

To know what flies the fish are most likely to take, observe what natural flies are about the water, or on the grass, trees, or bushes in the vicinity of the river; and take that fly which is the most in abundance, either natural or artificial at your discretion.

Such are a few practical particulars concerning angling and fly-fishing, sufficient to enable any young angler to begin. For more abundant information we refer him to Mr. Stoddart and Mr. Stewart, for fly-fishing, Mr. Cholmondeley Pennell for pike-fishing, “Hewitt Wheatley” for grayling fishing, and Mr. Francis Francis for the various modes of bottom fishing.

Excerpt from the book:
With more than Six Hundred Illustrations

Ad Code