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Adventures in Fly Tying... The First Episode

Tying The Simple Shad
Fly and Text by Joe Cornwall
Video Production by Jim Stuard

The Simple Shad is a key pattern for both the winter fishery on the Ohio River and for general use throughout the season. The gizzard shad is a prolific and important baitfish in all the larger rivers and impoundments of the Southeast. Additionally, there are many other species of baitfish that share the gizzard shad's wide profile, making this a highly adaptable fly.  To catch more fish you’ve got to be prepared to understand and effectively imitate all those silvery gamefish snacks. This becomes especially important under high visibility conditions.

Several years ago Dave Whitlock found himself stymied by the aggressive and ultra-selective landlocked striped bass he’d been chasing on a clear Arkansas lake. Stripers can be every bit as selective as the most educated brown trout, especially towards the size and silhouette of abundant baitfish. Not one to give up easily, Dave created a group of patterns known as the Whitlock Sheep Shad series. The Whitlock Sheep Shad series , consists of the Waker Shad, a deer hair floating fly, the Swimming Shad and the Deep Sheep Shad.

I can tell you from personal experience that the Whitlock Sheep Shad, especially the Swimmer Shad, is an awesome pattern. It has a wonderfully realistic profile both in the hand and in the water. And when retrieved its combination of soft materials and use of negative space to create volume produces a fantastic swimming motion. The Whitlock Sheep Shad is one heck of a fly pattern!

There is one problem, however. The Sheep Shad is a difficult fly to tie. It takes me about 20 minutes to put one together. It’s a real heartbreaker to leave a fly you’ve invested that kind of time into in a tree, log or rock jam. And because my fly casting chops aren’t quite as refined as Mr. Whitlock’s (whose are?), I found myself leaving entirely too many of them behind. I had to find a better way.

Enter the Simple Shad. This fly retains much of the realism and swimming action of Mr. Whitlock’s masterpiece, but is much easier to tie. Once you get the tricks and technique down, you’ll be able tie the Simple Shad in 5 or 10 minutes. If you plan on heading to the Ohio River to chase stripers, wipers and white bass, or if you’re on the way to any of the big lakes or impoundments for largemouth, this is a “must have” pattern. Try it for fussy trout and smallmouth bass, too!


Hook – Gamakatsu SC15, or equivalent stainless or nickel-plated short-shank hook.
Size 4 to 2/0
Thread – White 8/0 (70 denier) or clear mono
Pillow – Red Antron yarn or dubbing
Underbody – Pearl Krystal Flash
Belly – White Icelandic Sheep
Wing – Minnow Gray over white Icelandic sheep
Topping – Peacock herl
Lateral Line – Holographic medium tinsel or a two strands of silver Krystal Flash
Cheek – Mallard flank

Windows Media Video  QuickTime Video 



Mount the hook in the vise and start your thread just behind the eye. Here I’m using a size 1/0 Gamakatsu hook. With this pattern it is very important to practice good thread control, as the entire fly will be tied on the front half of the short shank hook.

Wrap the thread back to the halfway point of the shank and tie in a short length of bright red Antron yarn. The yarn will form the “pillow” of the fly, a term I learned from Ken Abrames’ work with flat wing streamers. Wrap two or three turns of red yarn to form a bump in the middle of the hook shank.

Clip out 15 strands or so of pearl Krystal Flash for the underbody. Tie the Krystal Flash to the top of the hook at its midpoint. Half the material should extend over the eye and the other half should flow to the rear of the hook. The red pillow will prop the material up so that it flows up and away from the hook shank.  Take the Krystal Flash material that is jutting over the eye and bring it under the shank. Wrap the thread back towards the tail of the fly to lock in the material, making a “V” shaped underbody for the fly. It is the springy nature of the Krystal Flash that will support the soft Icelandic sheep and give this fly its form and swimming action.

You should now have just slightly more than 1/8 inch of hook shank to work with. The rest of the fly will be tied in this space. Don’t crowd the hook eye and don’t use any more thread than is necessary. I like to use a little bit of CA superglue between steps to hold everything in place and reinforce the fly. This is especially true if you’re using slick mono for a tying thread.

Icelandic sheep is a wonderful material but a lot of tiers have problems using it. The trick is to stack the hair so that you don’t use as much and you get a better “flow” of material in the pattern. Use a short bristle stiff brush to comb out the material before you use it.  Cut and stack enough material to make the belly and the wing. Rotate your vise (or invert the hook) and tie in the belly with three tight wraps. Rotate the hook and tie in the back with three tight wraps. Don’t use too much thread! Keep the amount of material somewhat sparse so the Krystal Flash can shine through the sheep fur.

Cut half a much minnow gray sheep as white sheep that you used for the upper wing. Tie this in over the white wing and belly to form the darker upper flank of the shad imitation. At this point I like to wet the tying thread with a bit of CA glue and make two or three wraps backwards over the material to lock everything in place. Remember to use good thread control.

Cut a strip of medium holographic silver tinsel and measure it so it is as long as the sheep wing plus ½ inch. Tie the lateral line in with two wraps of thread so it extends in front of the hook, then fold the excess back. Take two more wraps of thread to lock the tinsel in place. Repeat on the far side of the hook.

Select four thick peacock herl strands and break off the thin tips. Measure them so they are just a bit shorter than the Icelandic sheep wing. Tie in the four herls on top of the sheep to form the dark back of the minnow.

Select two nicely marked mallard flank feathers and measure them so they are no more than one half the length of the finished fly. Strip the excess barbs from the bottom of each feather, matching them to each other for length and shape. Tie on on each side of the fly as a cheek to make the head and upper body of the shad.

Wet the tying thread with a bit of CA glue and make three or four wraps backwards towards the material to lock all materials in and glue the thread in place. By using Zap-a-Gap or CA superglue you’ll make a tough fly that won’t need the bulk of multiple half-hitches or a whip finish.

Apply a drop of Goop or Gorilla Glue with a toothpick to the mallard flank just behind the thread head. Stick a black-on-silver or black-on-chartreuse holographic eye to each side of the fly just behind the thread head. The eye is a critical strike trigger for this pattern. Just like a good wrestler or football player watches his opponent’s belt buckle for clues about where his target will move, gamefish will focus on the dark spot of the shad’s eye. Select an eye that is, proportionally, just a little larger than life. This will help exaggerate this characteristic.

Till next time, tight lines and clear flows…