Yes, I’ve been tying spey flies and I’m scared!

If you read my post Seasons Change, you’ll see that my fly tying year just ended on October 31. While I’ve tied a few trout flies since then, it’s a time to venture out and try other types of flies.

I’ve wanted to try tying spey flies for quite a while. There’s something elegant about the flowing lines and keel shaped topping of bronze mallard.

So, which one to start with? I finally decided on the Lady Caroline, an old classic. Here is my first attempt:

Lady Caroline |

But let me back up a little bit.

A few years ago, I wanted to get back and tie a few steelhead flies, but it had been a while since I’d tied them.  I was still tying simple hair-wing flies like the Green Butt Skunk.

Green Butt Skunk |

I had an opportunity to take a class at Creekside Flyfishing in 2003 entitled Favorite Steelhead Flies by John Shewey with the hopes of learning new fly tying techniques from a master. John taught the Skunk, Surgeon General, Brad’s Brat, Maxwell’s Purple Matuka, Red-Butt Hilton Spider, Golden Demon, Silver Demon, and his own Sheweys Spawning Purple. Quite a list right?

Sheweys Spawning Purple

Sheweys Spawning Purple |

It was a great class. Looking back, I now see the spey fly influence in the flies John was teaching.

That was about the time I purchased a book by John Shewey – Steelhead Flies. It’s a wonderful book full of information for the steelhead fly tyer, including chapters on materials, basic fly tying techniques, hairwing flies, featherwing flies, and you guessed it…spey flies. John provides step-by-step instructions of the basic techniques, which is exactly what I needed to begin. And it reinforced the techniques I learned in the Favorite Steelhead Flies class for all types of steelhead flies.

His book also introduced steelhead spey flies to me. I marveled at the beautiful flies. Especially those with a bronze mallard wing. Perhaps I should give them a try.

I saw that Rich Youngers at Creekside Flyflishing was offering another fly tying class. This time it was only spey flies. I was in! It was taught by Brad Burden, a great fly tyer in his own right. We tied spey versions of the Golden Demon (bronze mallard wing), Fire Ant Spey (feather wing), and a low-water Skunk (goose shoulder wing). While I wasn’t happy with the results of the Skunk, here are the two spey flies I tied:

Golden Demon 

Golden Demon |

Fire Ant Spey

Fire Ant Spey |

While I didn’t jump into spey fly tying with both feet, I wanted to learn more. That’s when I purchased John’s other book – Spey Flies & Dee Flies, Their History & Construction.

If you can get your hands on either or both of John’s books, I highly recommend them.

The last part of my spey fly story is very recent.

I joined the Central Oregon Fly Tying Guild as a way to learn more about tying classic Atlantic Salmon flies and spey flies. The Guild provides fly plates to the NW Fly Tying & Fly Fishing Expo for their benefit auction. Each member ties a fly to be mounted on a plate. This year, they decided to tie classic spey flies.

So I don’t have any more excuses, do I? My biggest problem was to decide which fly to start with. I was looking for a spey fly that wasn’t complex. But it did need to have bronze mallard as a wing. After looking at Sheweys Spey Flies & Dee Flies book, I settled on the classic Lady Caroline.

That’s when the fear started!

In the Burden spey fly tying class, I was lucky to mount the bronze mallard on the first try. It came out great! But what about the Lady Caroline? And then there was finding some heron substitute for the hackle.

OK, this must be what it’s like to be a beginning fly tyer.

Here were the questions I have as I tie the Lady Caroline:

  • How to tie a fly with blind eye hook? It’s old school…hooks didn’t used to have eyes. Eyes were created using silk gut tied on the front of the hook.
  • What feathers should I use for the heron substitute?
  • What is the proper hackle length?
  • How many wraps will I get with a specific feather?
  • Where should I tie in the 3 different tinsels…side, bottom, side? And in what order?
  • What spacing should I use to get the standard 5 turns for each tinsel?

Scary, right? Now you understand my dilemma.

Well, I tie a lot of flies…100 dozen last year. Not bad for me. But to tie that many, you need to crank them out. And tying a trout fly is much easier for me. My wife says it’s good for me to experience the feeling beginning fly tyers experience. Well, there is that.

I tried a blue eared pheasant feather, but it turns out the number of turns needed ended up with a bare stem for the final wrap. Here are a couple of pictures of the fly in progress. The first one shows three tinsels, a dubbed body, and blue eared pheasant hackle.

Lady Caroline |

This picture shows how short the blue-eared pheasant hackle was. Oops!

Lady Caroline |

Not good. I started over. Didn’t have another blue eared pheasant hackle long enough, so I opened up a package of goose flank dyed blue eared pheasant. Only found a couple of feathers long enough for my hook. It’s much more brittle, so I soaked the feather in water.

Then I read where even though it’s a substitute, it may not be the best. One property of a goose flank feather is the stem thickens quickly. Which means I may run into more problems with a thicker head. I used it anyway.

Well, here’s the finished fly again. Remember, it’s my first so be kind.

Lady Caroline |

And after a couple of tries, the bronze mallard wing turned out OK. See how it fits over the top of the fly? And the blind eye I tied in?

Lady Caroline |

I’ll fish this fly and hopefully catch a nice native steelhead.

A lot to learn…and more materials to buy.

I may need to go back to work or sell more flies in order to pay for this habit!

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  1. Very nice John. When are we ever gonna swing for steel together? The coast is starting to get hot. The John Day will start up soon. I’m going to the south coast soon and fish the Chetco, Elks, Pistol and Sixes as soon as soon as my sources say it’s good.

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