The call of the smallmouth bass has reached my ears and every year the overstock of the smallie boxes begins with the pitter patter of the spring rains. I love to catch opportunistic smallies on the surface with popping bugs made of balsa, hair and foam but I've really been drawn to the streamers that make my smallmouth box.
I love to probe the muddied waters we have here in Ohio with big streamers, they just work. The topwater bite is great but it's just not always "ON". For some reason wool just doesn't show up in a lot of patterns, is it not popular? For some reason aside from a few Galloup patterns and a warmwater tyer named Ward Bean I never see it. It soaks water and provides a big fleshy head but absorbs water to become neutrally buoyant, that's like perfect streamer application... Maybe I just like the look and don't own a sink-tip line? I tied a similar to Ward's "Woolhead Minnow" series fly with a few of my favorite materials in all white.
Either way here's the vidja:
The outdoorsman in us loves to get his hands dirty, he has the know-how and knack for producing in all types of conditions. The outdoorsman in me doesn't have much money so he takes free stuff whenever he can. There is something to be said from not only making your own flies and catching fish but also from creating the materials and processing it yourself. It just makes the finished product personal, even more so than you may think.
-A quick story:
While visiting a good friend in southern Ohio, lounging on the couch and catching up on things, a glint crosses his eyes and he says "Rob, I shot a doe this morning"
"Wow, it's only 9 and you're back in pajamas and sipping coffee already." says me. Half thinking he's joking.
"Perfect shot right from my back porch this morning, let's check her out, she's in the garage."
Perfect this is, and as excited I was about toasting with my friend over another meat-filled freezer taken from his backyard, I was already visualizing a bass gulping a popper on a May morning. I asked to see if he had any plans for the hide, he said no, so I proceeded to notch out a belly hair patch (for spinning) and also took the tail (clouser city). If you hunt and have never connected the dots with fly fishing, READ ON, I'm going to show how to salt cure a deer pelt for your tying pleasures.
This is so easy I can barely justify writing an article about it.
This is actually very simple when your curing for fly tying purposes, you don't need much in terms of performance from the actual hide. So I don't go through much trouble to create a perfect hide, just one that fits the bill for tying. Basically the finished hide will be stiff and not stink. Those are really my only two requirements. Here's how to make that happen the easiest way I know.
Where to cut the hair patches from:
Where you actually cut the hair from depends on your tastes in tying. If you're looking for longer fibers needed for clouser style patterns then the tail can't be beat. If you want to spin your deer hair to create buggy bodies for bass poppers, muddler minnows, and divers then the belly and rump/backfur will give you what you're looking for. Once you get the feel for good spinning type hair you'll be able to run your fingers through the fur to grab the chunks you like and skip sections you don't.
Quick Tip: One easy test for me to determine how well the hair will spin is to press my thumbnail down into a small clump of fur. This mimics what the hair will flare like under thread tension. If the hair has the springy factor I want I'll grab that fur for my collection. The belly hair flares very nicely and also due to it's white color, it takes on various dyes much easier. The whole belly white patch serves well in tying bass bugs.
I've only just began dying for fly tying but I would call my first attempts a mild success so I'll mention how to perform this as well. I bought a "carpet dye" to do the coloring with. You should be able to find this in the store near the cleaning supplies/mops/dusters/bleach etc. I like the carpet dye due to it's potency and the extra bulk it adds to the hair.
First heat a small stainless steel pot to a boil and allow it to cool slightly to just very hot. Next, mix in some a few tablespoons of salt into the mixture and then the dye.
Then, grab the selected white hair patch and place it hair side down into the still very hot water. In order to get a good dye you'll have to work the hair to allow the dye to saturate down to the roots.
Allow the hair to sit in the pot for at least an hour, this is where the magic happens.
The heat not only aids in dying the patch but also causes the hair to plump up to fly shop spinning quality. I found this out completely by accident; just following the instructions for the carpet dye.
Grab a blow dryer and comb through the hair while drying it with the blow dryer until dry (the hide will stay plump and wet for much longer, hit it with more salt if needed)
Hopefully this helps you out in your winter tying. I know this is the time of year most deer hides are being thrown out, if you don't hunt yourself nudge up to a few hunters and see if you can save a bundle on processing your own spinning deer hair patches and tails.
Don't limit the experiment to only deer, squirrel and rabbit strips can also fill the hair drawer. I'm going to be experimenting with zonker and crosscut strips when I get a chance. If you know of a good way to get a good flexible zonker'd rabbit hide let me hear about it in the comments. I want to up my slumpbuster count the cheap way if at all possible.
Adding a thick combed out dubbing body to your streamers is a must for smallmouth, predatory trout or even those big toothed critters (pike). I fish for a lot of pike when I have a chance to visit my local stream and I'm always using 4-5 inch streamer bodies. I've found a small tool very helpful in getting my patterns to pike chompable morsels and also retain some durability, it's a dubbing spinner. I had one that came with my tying kit, it just sucked to use.
So I dug through my garage and frankensteined a suitable replacement that did the job for absolutely no cost. It's made from a sink strainer, paperclip and super glue.
Here's how to make your own if you have the need.
Whether I'm fishing a lake or stream, bass fishing or searching for trout, I always keep a few woolly buggers in my box. They're just a flat out versatile pattern. You drift them, bounce them, make them lunge and bump at various depths, or even jig them. The woolly bugger nearly always has a spot in the lineup during any weather or water conditions.
The one I tied below has a little longer tail and a beaded head. I like to add a little more weight to my smallmouth buggers and I leave my trout buggers lighter to drift a little longer during the warmer months. There are many ways to dress this pattern up to meet your needs. Lots of tiers talk about proportions for tying flies and the bugger is one that I haven't messed up to bad. The significance is in the action of maribou in the water, not so much the proportion on this fly. For this reason many beginning tiers find success with this pattern and stick to it. I'm still a novice tier but the woolly bugger has remained more constant than not in my tying skill building.
Heres a simple and effective way to finish your flies versus using the actual whip finish tool.
During the smallmouth post spawn period while the water temperatures are down or fishing a cool creek I love to utilize terrestrials. One of my most visual and yet effective terrestrials has been the black foam beetle. I set-up the presentation by placing the beetle near tall grass or overhanging vegetation to give the appearance of "Oh crap I fell in the water" where hopefully a smallie is waiting and thinking "Heck yeah another beetle fell in the water!" For the beginner stock up with 3 or 4 to keep in your warm water box this June.
The caddis fly exists in streams of moderate to excellent quality and find themselves in the mouths of bass as well as cold water trout alike; that's why this is one of the essential flies to replicate in your flybox. During the soon to come spring the bass will enter into one of their most increased feeding frenzies of the year and this caddisfly will hopefully fool your pre-spawning bass into taking a nibble. And... It's a pretty easy fly to make and replicate for beginning tiers like myself.
Robbie is the creator of WF and loves to spend time in the outdoors chasing steelhead, upland birds, and the beauty of nature.