Folks tie flies for all kinds of reasons- as art (salmon flies in shadow boxes), as jewelry (earrings and necklaces), to sell, for therapy (as in Wounded Warriors, for example), as a social activity (a fly club having a tying night), to show off expertise and/or great design, or just to relax. All these are good, valid reasons to tie flies. If your reason for tying is included in this list, you may as well stop reading right here.
The original reasons flies got tied was more pragmatic. Artificial flies were used to catch fish. It’s the only reason I tie flies. If you’re in this group, please keep reading!
In order for a fly to be an effective fish-catcher, it should have the following characteristics –
-it should look good in the water;
-it should be easy to cast;
-it should not spin while flying through the air*;
-it should hold up to repeated maulings from at least several fish**;
-it should be made from inexpensive, easily-obtained materials; and
-it should be easy to tie.
*surface flies like poppers and gurglers spin while being cast. I don’t like it, but I’ve never found one that doesn’t.
**some fish, like puffers, bluefish, ladyfish, and Spanish mackerel, just destroy flies. I have a special wire fly for the last three on that list. Puffers are just a nuisance, even though I think there’s no such thing as a bad fish.
My premise here is that the fish don’t really care how elaborate the fly is. A properly presented five-minute tie looks as good to them as does an elaborate creation that took an hour. If you guide, your fisherman is likely to take that elaborate creation and fling it into the bushes on the third cast, too. Guides generally don’t have time to make flies that take an hour.
Feathers are the bane of the five-minute fly. While no other material can do what hackle feathers can do, picking and matching hackle feather for wings, and getting them tied in without them spinning, can take 30 minutes all by itself. I still make flies with feathers, but not often. There are too many other good options.
What are the materials the tyer of five-minute flies uses? This boy uses bucktail, calftail, Arctic fox, rabbit fur strips, craft fur, wig hair, marabou, rubber hackle in all its forms, Estaz and similar products, chenille, craft foam, cheap Indian neck hackle, and Flashabou or similar products. Of course you need hooks (the ones I use most are the Mustad 3407 #4 and Gamakatsu SC-15 #2 and #1), thread, lead eyes, bead chain eyes, and plastic eyes. I’ve used Sally Hansen Hard as Nails as head cement for at least 30 years.
The key to making five-minute flies is to make at least six of the same pattern, one after another. Making 12 is even better. The first one will be the worst, as you work out the proportions and techniques you need. By doing this, you save lots of time from shuffling materials, and you have an inventory of effective flies. Nothing is worse than losing the hot pattern and not having an immediate replacement!
A word about weedguards- they will slow down your fly production. Adding a double-pronged weedguard to your flies will take your fly output from 12 an hour to six or seven an hour. If you fish around mangroves, or docks, or oysters, or any kind of submerged vegetation, take the time to put the weedguard on. It will make a huge difference in your on-the-water success.
Let’s look at a few five-minute flies for saltwater. Bass fishermen will find this information useful, too.
Clouser Minnow. Art Scheck, who I have tremendous respect for and who, at the time, was the editor of Saltwater Fly Fishing magazine, once told me I didn’t tie the Clouser Minnow properly. To which I responded, “The fish don’t seem to care.”
After tying in the lead eye, I tie light and dark colored bucktail (assuming two colors) onto the other side of the shank. I do not wind the light-colored hair down with thread to the hook bend. I simply tie it in behind the eye. Just make sure there’s a good thread base under where the hair goes in.
Simple Bendback. A wonderful fly for spooky, shallow water fish. Take a #4 Mustad 3407 and slightly bend it a little behind the hook eye. Tie in a length of Estaz at the hook bend, wind it up to where the hook is bent and tie it off. Tie in a small clump of bucktail the extends past the hook point. Finish the fly. This is a fly I rarely put a weedguard on.
Bunny Leech. This is such a versatile fly, effective on everything. Tie a strip of rabbit fur in at the bend of the hook as a tail. Tie a second strip in at a right angle to the shank, and Palmer it like you would a hackle feather. Boom! Instant fly. Feel free to tie on a lead eye first if needed. And see the Gurgler, below.
Redfish Worm. A great redfish and black drum pattern. Tie a lead eye on a hook, tie in a clump of Arctic fox fur as a tail, and wrap Estaz up to the eye. Any color works as long as it’s black.
The Slider. Tim Borski’s Slider is a beautiful, effective, and well-known bonefish fly. I looked at one Tim sent me, and thought, “No way I’m doing that. How can I easily make something similar?” After the eye (lead, bead chain, or plastic, depending on desired sink rate) is tied in, wrap the thread to the hook bend and tie in a clump of craft fur, a length of Estaz, and a webby hackle feather. Wrap the thread up to the lead eye, then wrap the Estaz to the same place. Tie off the Estaz. Palmer the hackle feather through the Estaz to the same place and tie it off. Tie in the weedguard and finish the fly. Don’t forget to stripe the tail with a Sharpie.
I haven’t thrown it at a bonefish (unfortunately), but redfish, seatrout, and snook take it well.
The Gurgler. The late Jack Gartside did us all a favor when he came up with this fly. Use a long-shank hook, like the Mustad 34011.
First, cut a strip of craft foam off the sheet, 1/4 inch or slightly more. Taper one end to a near point, then put it aside. Wrap the thread to the bend of the hook. Tie in a piece of calftail (whatever you want, really. Calftail seldom fouls, though), then a length of Estaz. Finally, tie in that point you made on the strip of foam, which should be extending out past the tail.
Wrap the thread about 3/4 way up the hook. Wrap the Estaz to the same place and tie it off. Fold the foam over to the same spot and tie it down, but don’t cut it.
The foam now extends out past the eye of the hook. Double it back on itself, so that the extension is just past the hook eye. Lash it down at the same place where the other wraps (Estaz and first layer of foam) are. Cut the loose end of foam off between the wraps and the hook bend, and taper the end for the next fly. Then wrap the thread to just behind the hook eye and finish the fly.
I make my bass flies with this foam, too, only I make a bunny leech with the foam strip, same technique. Bass LOVE the fly.
Wool Crab. OK, so these take a little more than five minutes. Tie a lead eye on a hook, tie in several sili-legs as a tail. Tie in four pieces of rug yarn at right angles to the hook. Finish the fly, then trim to shape. I’ve never thrown these to permit (not too many in central Florida) but redfish and black drum will pick this up when it’s just lying there.
Craft Fur Minnow. These take a little more than five minutes, too. I usually use a white thread for these. Tie in two or three clumps of craft fur on top of the hook shank, starting about half back to the tail and working forward. After finishing the head, put the fly on a flat surface and brush it out. You can make an eye spot with a Sharpie, or use Zap-a-dap to glue a 3-D eye on, which takes it out of the five-minute realm.
If you make all these flies, you have fish, shrimp, and crab imitations and can cover the (shallow) water column, from bottom to surface. I’d say you’re ready to go catch some fish.