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Adventures in Fly Tying... January 2008

Ed Materne's Pigtails - A Striper Fly
Fly and Text by Joe Cornwall
Video Production by Jim Stuard


The sport of fly fishing has a history and tradition that is centuries old.  The earliest references to the sport date back more than a millennium.  The first book on fly fishing was written more than half a millennium ago.  The American tradition begins not long after the birth of the country itself.  But the earliest saltwater patterns, such as Tom Loving's hackle bass fly, made their debut only eight decades ago.  And the saltwater tradition as we see it today is a mere babe at five or six decades.  In that time almost no other sport has advanced as quickly.  Yet even at its genesis there were patterns that had the necessary magic to find a continuing place in a contemporary angler's fly book. 

The "Golden Age" of saltwater fly fishing is a post World War II story.  At the very beginning of this chapter in our sport there stood a cadre of giants.  Men whose names ring loudly today explored the very concept of a fly rod's place in the salt. Gentlemen like Joe Brooks, Harold Gibbs, and Ed Materne.  From 1945 until 1960 they pioneered new opportunity and proved that some species, fish like the striped bass and the bluefish, were viable opponents on a wisp of feathers and a nine foot piece of split cane.  The Pigtails is a fly from that era.

Named in honor of his daughter, the Materne Pigtails is a fly that was nearly lost to antiquity.  This unique pattern offers a balanced mix of attractor and imitator.  Its unique build, with olive under yellow under white, seems almost inverted.  In fact, if you reverse the order of the colors you'll arrive at a "new" pattern that many on the New England coast will swear is an absolute necessity - Ray's Fly!  But the inverted coloring, when topped with the necessary peacock, provides a greater imitative factor that may be appreciated at first glance.  The yellow and olive are a great imitation of the flash of color radiated by the ubiquitous Atlantic Silversides, an important baitfish. That same combination works for smelt, shiners and alewives.  Or maybe it just works - and for no particular reason.  Only the fish really know!

This is a fly you should tie and carry.  Svelte, sparse and translucent, the simple bucktail isn't as popular today as it once was.  That in itself might be an advantage; the fish haven't seen this one before!  Barring newness, the simple bucktail streamer is a fish-catching machine because it suggests life.  It's worth knowing and practicing the techniques needed to properly construct this fly.  And it's worth knowing how to fish it.  This is a pattern that will serve you as well on the trout stream as it did the masters on the rocky shores of Rhode Island, it's birthplace. 


Hook: Gamakatsu SC15 or Eagle Claw N253 or similar
Thread: 6/0,140 denier black

Body: Flat silver tinsel

Ribbing: Oval silver tinsel

Wing: Equal parts olive (or green), then yellow, then white bucktail tied sparse. Top with 6 peacock herls

Throat:  Red hackle fibers tied as a beard

Eyes: Jungle cock nails

Windows Media Video  QuickTime Video 



The Pigtails is a very elegant bucktail streamer, one that teaches us much about proportion and body.  Tie it slim and tie it well, it's a fly that will work on everything from stripers to smallmouth, trout to walleye.  Use good thread control and remember that most of the bulky material will be tied on the forward 1/4 of the hook shank. 
Tie on the oval silver tinsel rib.  You can use just flat tinsel, or use a holographic tinsel if you'd like. The traditional way of tying the bucktail is with a flat tinsel body ribbed by an oval tinsel ribbing.  It's important that the ribbing be tied on the full length of the hook to make a smooth underbody and base for the flat tinsel.
Return the tying thread to the tie-in point at the front of the hook and tie in the flat tinsel.  In this tie we'll use two layers of tinsel to ensure a smooth body.  It is very important that you have a smooth thread underbody.  It might even be a good idea to put a bit of head cement on the thread before wrapping the tinsel if you want a really tough body.
Wrap the flat tinsel back to the tie-in point of the oval rib and then carefully wrap back to the thread.  It's important that the tinsel wraps be touching and not overlapping to ensure that smooth body.
It's traditional to apply four to six wraps of ribbing.

The body complete. I love the look of a flat tinsel body with an oval tinsel ribbing.  For a different effect try using gold oval tinsel over silver flat tinsel - or maybe gold flat with an oval silver.  These effects are subtle but fun to play with!

Sparse is a word you must keep in mind when tying a bucktail.  Use half the material you think you should.  Even better, count out the number of bucktail hairs as you place them into a hair stacker to get an idea of how much to use.  I like about 15 to 25 bucktail hairs per color depending on hook size.  Use good thread control to prevent an overly large head and crowding the hook eye.

Add the yellow on top of the olive.  It's a good idea to add a drop of head cement on stacked bucktail wings.  It will make the fly that much tougher.  If you want a bit more flash in the fly you can add two pieces of pearl Mirage Flashabou at this stage.

Add the white bucktail on top of the yellow.

Finally add six to eight peacock herls.  I like the peacock to be just a tad longer than the bucktail wing so I get a nice tapered effect when the fly is wet.  The fly is perfectly fishable at this point and you can whip finish the head if you'd like.

To dress up the fly just a bit more I like to add a red hackle beard.  The beard should reach back to the barb of the hook - just a bit longer than what would be traditional on a wet fly.  A jungle cock nail add the finishing touch.  If you don't have jungle cock you can substitute with a black tip of a pheasant "church window" feather or use a guinea fowl hackle.

Whip finish and lacquer the thread.  It's time to go fishing!

Till next time, tight lines and defrosted flows…

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