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Adventures in Fly Tying... May 2009

The Black-Nosed Dace
Fly and Text by Joe Cornwall
Video Production by Jim Stuard


First published in 1949, in 1953 Art Flick revised his groundbreaking book and re-titled it Art Flick's New Streamside Guide To Naturals and Their Imitations.  The book was subsequently revised again in 1969, and the tenth printing, released in April 1974, became one of the most important books in my angling library and one of the most influential of my apprenticeship in this great sport of fly fishing.  It was the first book I'd ever read that helped me to make that connection between the time of the year, the bug on the water and the scientific concepts of genus and species.  I recall with wonder the first real hatch I ever experienced. It was on a small, probably nameless, creek in southwestern New Hampshire where I was spending a weekend with a friend.  There were trout in that creek and there were small blue/gray bugs floating on its bubbling, pocketed surface.  I was delighted to realized the little blue/gray bugs I saw every April had a name - Quill Gordon - and that Art Flick's book had accurately clued me into both the timing of the emergence and the right fly to use.

The one fly in that book that left the most lasting impression, however, was the Black-Nosed Dace.  Imagine my surprise when it became clear the "matching the hatch" included more than just mayflies.  I didn't live near a trout stream at the time, most of my fishing took place on warmwater ponds and rivers.  Because of Flick and the Black-Nosed Dace, I paid attention to the minnows, insects and crustaceans of my local waters.  Those lessons made me a better fisherman and helped fill the family freezer on a regular basis.

Flick said; "It has been my expressed purpose to correlate artificials with naturals, so the same idea will be carried out with relation to bucktails."  He goes on to explain " A good imitation of the Black-Nosed Dace is very simple to tie.  Having had such good luck with it, I find it hard to understand why it is not used more by fishermen. A local fisherman of my acquaintance consistently kills large fish with this lure."

"Possibly its simplicity does not appeal to the eye of the fisherman, even though it does to trout.  I would suggest that those of you who enjoy this kind of fishing make up a couple, or have them made by your fly-tyer.  I do not think you will be without them after giving them a fair trial." 

Back then, as now, I was firmly in the camp of "bucktail fishermen".  Streamers and bucktails took, and continue to take, most of my fish.  In the 1970's those catches included yellow and white perch, largemouth bass, calico bass, and, along the coast, sea-run trout, tailor bluefish and harbor pollack.  The Black-Nosed Dace, as Flick promised, became a regular producer in sweet water and brackish.  Since those days this has become my favorite "trout" streamer and it's use is reserved for my days on the stream in pursuit of spotted beauty.


Hook: 4XL to 6XL streamer hook of your choice - a turned down eye is traditional. Size 4 to 10.
Thread: 8/0, 70 denier, black

Body: Flat silver or gold tinsel ribbed with oval silver or gold tinsel

Tail: Short tuft of red yarn

Wing: Tied in three bunches, with the middle bunch just slightly shorter that the one above and the one below.  From the bottom of the wing; polar bear or a white/cream substitute, black bear or black bucktail, topped by brown bucktail or brown bear.

Windows Media Video  QuickTime Video 



The tail of the Black-Nosed Dace, like the tail on the Wooly Worm, which is another traditional pattern I continue to carry, is a nub of red yarn.  I like to separate the yarn to get the right size bundle for the size tail.  Tie the tail  on right behind the eye.

Bind the tail down along the length of the hook shank to make a smooth, firm underbody for the tinsel.  When I tie flies for pike or pollack, both of which will shred a fly quickly, I soaked the yarn underbody with head cement before wrapping the tinsel.  This makes the fly practically indestructible.  This step isn't necessary for most trout and panfish applications, though.
Note the length of the tail.  I like to tie it in longer and trim it as the fly is tied so I get a nice, clean and consistent presentation.  Make certain to tie in the oval tinsel rib the same way you tie in the yarn tail - along the whole of the length of the body. This keeps the tinsel underbody smooth.  The pattern as specified by Flick uses just flat silver tinsel.  I like the oval rib over the flat body and see no harm to tying the pattern that way.  Further, I like gold tinsel.   You can even use a gold rib over a silver flat tinsel body for a different effect.
Tie in the flat tinsel.  Here I'm using metal tinsel.  Be careful to fold the tinsel for the first turn to prevent a bump.  Also, leave enough room behind the ribbing tinsel to take a turn or two of the flat tinsel. This makes the ribbing transition smoother and prevents the oval ribbing from slipping off the back of the bend and ruining the fly.
Wrap a smooth body with touching, not over-lapping, turns of tinsel.  Keep a steadly light pressure to ensure a smooth application.
After tying off the flat tinsel, start wrapping the ribbing tinsel.  Traditionalist will want to use 5 to 7 wraps of ribbing.  A bit more for more sparkle, a bit less for a more subdued presentation.
Note here that I've cut the tail flush with the bend of the hook.  The tinsel body in now completely tied in and secured.
Flick says of the wing of this fly; "Polar-bear hair is recommended in preference to white bucktail for two reasons. After being in the water, the hair of a polar bear much more closely resembles the natural appearance of a minnow than the flat white of a bucktail.  And, too, in my opinion, fine polar-bear hair has a more lifelike action than bucktail."  Polar bear is available if you find a pre-1974 source. My stash came from an old bear rug.  There are many good, modern synthetic substitutes for polar bear.
Even the synthetics are tough to tie in.  Use small bunches, practice careful thread control, and add a drop of head cement.  Polar bear and synthetics don't compress and are slippery.
Trim a nice taper so you get a good shape to the head.

Add a second bunch of hair. This time use black-bear or skunk to imitate the lateral line of the baitfish.  From Flick "I like the white and brown hair to extend about the same distance from the head, and the black just a bit shorter."

Add the final bunch of brown bucktail to form the back of the minnow.  For those of you fishing smallmouth streams and not trout streams, try the "brown" section of dyed olive bucktail to make this into an imitation of a baby bass.

The finished fly is simple, elegant and incredibly productive.


Tight lines and clear waters...

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