Adventures in Fly Tying...
The Flatwing Shiner
Fly and Text by Joe Cornwall
Video Production by Jim Stuard
One of the hottest lures on the
market for big largemouth, striped bass, redfish, smallmouth, pike and
musky is the paddle-tail swim bait. Soft plastic baits that swim
with a serpentine motion like a real baitfish are all the rage.
While this may be a new development for the hardware crowd, fly
fishers have enjoyed patterns that exhibit this same seductive
swimming motion for decades. As early as the turn of the 20th
Century there were a few landlocked salmon flies sporting hackles tied
flat. Perhaps the most famous is the Nine-Three streamer.
Where these flies went wrong was in tying the hackle at the head like
a traditional streamer. The long wing easily fouled during the
cast so these flies were mostly used for trolling and enjoyed only a
regional popularity in New England.
Fast forward half a dozen
decades to the rocky coast of little Rhode Island. Ken Abrames,
an artist and a striper fanatic gets the idea to combine the swimming,
slow sinking topography of the flat streamer with the saltwater
pedigree of the Deceiver. The result was the Flatwing Streamer,
the best known of which is quite likely the Striper Razzle Dazzle.
You can explore Ken's patterns on his web page
I became interested in the
Flatwing Streamer after reading Ken's excellent book A Perfect
Fish: Illusions in Fly Tying (ISBN 1571881387, Frank Amato
Publications). The idea of using negative space to imitate
creatures thought too large for effective fly creation struck me like
a brick. It is so obvious I actually laughed out loud when I "got it."
Even more, I realized that stripers are stripers, whether they live in
the cold Cape Cod surf, in the gigantic impoundments of the Southeast,
or in the Ohio River! An efficient and wary sight predator, the
best presentation would definitely be a fly that swam like real
baitfish, was translucent like real baitfish, included a full spectrum
of colors like a real baitfish, and suggested the size of real
baitfish. The Flatwing Streamer was and instant success.
I've since taken just about every Midwestern game fish on the
Flatwing. This is a fly you need to carry if you're out to
challenge the big fish that live in the wide, open spaces of big
Hook: Gamakatsu SC15, Eagle Claw 253 or
similar short-shank tinned, nickel or stainless hook, size 2 to 3/0
Thread: Mono tying thread or a color of Flymaster + (210
denier) that matches the overall color scheme
Eye: Jungle Cock nail
Back: Minnow gray bucktail; very sparse and
about twice the hook's length. Top with 5 o 6 strands of peacock herl.
bucktail, very sparse and extending about one hook shank beyond the
Collar: Very sparse yellow bucktail.
To imitate emerald shiners use chartreuse bucktail.
Body: Silver Flashabou, silver or pearl tinsel or body braid
Pillow: White rabbit dubbing
Tail: Sparse white bucktail topped by one
white neck hackle tie in dull side up. Add one long white saddle
tied dull side down. Tie in two doubled strands of silver or
mirage Flashabou. Tie in one long pale yellow saddle hackle,
another doubled strand of flash, and then a final white saddle.
Ray Bondorew, a striper fly fishing legend and
author of Stripers and Streamers (ISBN 1-57188-072-0, Frank
Amato Publications), makes a concise argument for the use of a
short shanked hook. "I prefer using Eagle Claw model 254
1X short tinned steel hooks. This style hook has a large eye
which makes for easy leader attachment at night without a light.
Their 1X short shank gives them a wider gap when compared to
similar length standard size hook. This gives you more bite
when setting the hook." The short shank also minimizes
overall weight and concentrates it at the front of the hook,
promoting a slow vertical component to the flies swimming action.
After wrapping a solid thread base, tie in a
very sparse bunch of white bucktail. The stiff nature of the
bucktail will keep the saddle hackles from fouling under the hook
bend during the cast. Bind the butts of the bucktail down to
a point about two hook-eye lengths behind the eye.
Dub a small ball of white rabbit dubbing or a
similar soft material. Because the dubbing is used as a
construction foundation and is not a visible part of the fly you
can use whatever material you have handy that is soft and easily
dubbed. Wool yarn is a great substitute.
Add a neck hackle, I use a dry fly hackle in a
larger size, tied with the shiny side facing down. The natural
curve of the feather should work to hold up and oppose the
complimentary curve of the saddle hackles tied in during the
coming steps. The tenion between the hackle stems creates a
potential energy that is expressed on the retrieve as a
side-to-side swimming motion.
Tie in a white saddle hackle, shiny side up.
This hackle should be at least one third longer than the neck
hackle tied in above. After locking the saddle down, take a
single strand of silver or pearl Flashabou and cut it in half.
Then bend the two strands over the tying thread to tie in a total
of four strands that are locked. You can trim the Flashabou
to extend just beyond the tip of the tail when the fly is
Now add a second saddle hackle. This
hackle should be just a little longer and wider than the white
hackle tied in above. If you are imitating a shad, golden
shiner or immature carp use pale yellow. If your fly needs
to imitate an emerald shiver, use chartreuse. In the spring
pink can be a hot color, too!
Add another strand of doubled Flashabou.
The finished fly will have eight strands of flash, and sometimes
this might even be too much! Using a combination of silver
flash and Mirage flash is a fantastic combination for clear water
and bright days. Rainbow flash is good for stained water.
Finally tie in the last saddle. Again,
this hackle should be just a tad larger than the hackle you just
tied in. White is a good color, but you can use gray, pale
blue or pale green to get a slightly different effect. Try
to match the length and general color of the baitfish in your
Here I've used twisted silver Flashabou to
make a body. You can also use standard tinsel, pearl body
braid, or even tinsel chenille.
Invert the hook in the vise or rotate the
vise if it has that capability. Carefully tie in a sparse bunch of
white bucktail. You can also use polar bear, Fish Hair or a
similar synthetic, or arctic fox or fox tail. Try to keep
this bunch of hair on the bottom of the hook. It should be
about two times the hook length long.
Now tie in a very sparse bunch of yellow
bucktail. Sometimes under bright conditions using a mix of a
few pink hairs, a few yellow hairs, and a few light blue hairs is
even more effective The idea is to present the actual colors
of the hair plus the combined "virtual" colors created when
multiple colors are viewed simultaneously.
Tie on a sparse bunch of minnow gray or shad
gray bucktail. If you are imitating a skipjack, herring or
alewife use light blue bucktail. You only need to use about
15 or 20 hairs, make the collar SPARSE!
Add five or six strands of peacock herl to
imitate the dark back of the baitfish. Select and prepare
two Jungle Cock nails. If you don't have Jungle Cock you can
use holographic eyes and epoxy them to the sides of the thread
Tie in the Jungle Cock nails and tie a
small, neat thread head. Whip finish twice and coat the head
with head cement or Sally Hansen's Hard As Nails.
The finished fly, ready to fish. Use this
style of tying to imitate any baitfish three to seven inches long
And don't for one minute think that a 12" smallmouth will hesitate
to eat a 6" fly! This fly casts easily on 6, 7 and 8 weight
Till next time, tight lines and cool flows…