I’ve been tying small flies recently in my attempt to catch very picky, selective trout. You can read more about my dilemma in the post – What are the Fish Eating?

I enjoy a challenge and these particular fish continue to test my patience. I’ve used almost every fly in my fly boxes and none consistently make those fish rise. Occasionally the fish gods smile down on me and a fish rises to my fly.

My latest theory is the fish are keying on midges or midge emergers. Hence, the reason I’m tying small flies.

Tying Small Flies by Ed Engle

I remember several years ago stating “if I need any flies size 20 or smaller, I’ll buy them!” Well, I’m having to eat those words right now.

To be fair to myself, I tie a lot more flies these days than I did when I made that statement. Fly tying is like anything…if you want to get better, practice, practice, practice.

By tying all those flies, my technique has improved. I use less thread wraps, dubbing, and other materials to create fishy-looking flies. And I believe the technique improvements has been a significant reason for catching more trout.

What are the keys to tying small flies?

Most importantly, you have to be able to see what you are doing. Make sure you have the right magnification and it will help tremendously. And I can tell you, after a few years, you MUST buy newer glasses with higher magnification.

Do a little research to see what other fly tyers use to create those tiny fly patterns. I use Ed Engle’s book Tying Small Flies as a resource. I think you’ll be surprised how few materials actually go on the hook.

Here are a few tips for success:

  • Select hooks with oversized eyes like the Daiichi hook model 1100 and 1110 to allow easier threading of tippet. These are great sharp wide-gape hooks I try to use when tying small flies.
  • Use fine diameter thread. There are so many choices now. I use 8/0 or 70 denier thread for most of my fly tying, but select a 14/0 or 16/0 thread and you will be amazed at how many wraps can be applied to a small hook with very little bulk. But try to minimize the thread wraps anyway because you don’t need the extra ones.
  • Many bodies on small flies use thread which is normally about 60% of the total fly. It’s much simpler to create a thread body than trying to dub it.
  • One or two wraps of hackle is all you need for these tiny flies.
  • Use a little flash either with a bead or a short wing. It gets the fishes attention and emulates some aspects of the real bug swimming to the surface to hatch.
  • Start with a larger fly like a size 16, then move to an 18 and 20 after mastering the proportions. You’ll be surprised how this technique helps tying smaller flies.

Lastly, begin! Try to tie a few flies. Remember to use the same proportions as any other fly…don’t crowd the head. Practice will help.

Here are a few of the small flies I’ve tied recently.

Iris Caddis – Black #18 & 20

Iris Caddis - Black | www.johnkreft.com

Parachute Midge Emerger #22

Beta Midge | www.johnkreft.com

Mercury Midge #22

Miracle Midge Size 22

I need to get back to Ed’s book and find another fly pattern to tie and try on those picky fish.

Enjoy…go fish!

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  1. John – Lately I have shared your frustration with the occasional riser on a local Spring Creek. I seined the main flow in one instance and found a tiny,tiny midge pupa that would be almost impossible to imitate. So I picked up an old book called Fishing the Dry Fly as a living Insect. The author Leonard Wright Jr., used a small fluttering caddis while employing the sudden upstream inch technique after a down and across presentation to catch the occasional riser, really picky trout rising in slow water flats on New York’s Beaver Kill River. I am tying some up in sz 18, 20 – micro caddis and will give them a try and report back. You will probably never find a Fluttering Caddis tied in the original fashion in any fly shop these days. I also highly recommend this book. A ton of good techniques and flies that are still applicable today.

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