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Adventures in Fly Tying... July 2007

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 Striper Moon

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 water. 


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.

Belly:: White bucktail, very sparse and extending about one hook shank beyond the barb

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.

Windows Media Video  QuickTime Video 



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 complete.

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 waters.

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 head.

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 rods.

Till next time, tight lines and cool flows…

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