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Tan Mistress
Fly and Photos by Richard A. Lewis

The "Tan Mistress" is based roughly on a well-known bonefish flats pattern named the "Mini-Puff." The "Puff" is where the inspiration for including the angled hackle wing came from. The rest of the pattern's features are a means to an end in order to catch a variety of saltwater surf zone species. The requirements for a fly used along the Pacific coast's beaches can be narrowed down to a fairly simple list: the fly should look somewhat like a Mole Crab, Ghost Shrimp or Sand Worm. These types of flies also require some weight to help keep them down on the bottom where they are most effectively fished - therefore the heavy "Clouser Minnow" style eyes on the "Tan Mistress." Adding the color orange to surf flies is another well-known key ingredient, as the Pacific Mole Crab carries a pronounced sack of bright orange eggs on its underside. The fish often home in on those eggs. Of course, a high quality, corrosion resistant hook is essential to solid hook-ups and longevity on a saltwater fly. Lastly, durability is an issue when dragging flies through coarse sand troughs and fighting toothy fishes. With the above outlined features in mind, I developed a fly that I thought would fit the bill.

I sent the first batch of these new flies to a friend in Northern California and asked him to test them for me. Lee sent back a glowing report and found the as-yet-unnamed "Tan Mistress" to have equaled or bettered his "go to" flies for catching Barred Surf Perch. A great start!

I finally took this new fly down to the beach here in So Cal and tried it for myself. I was promptly rewarded with a hefty 21 inch long Corbina - the "Ghost of the Surf", along with a brace of respectable sized Yellow Fin Croakers. Now that makes three species caught on the "Tan Mistress" in two test sessions, in two locations hundreds of miles apart. That is the versatility I was hoping to achieve. The fly that I personally fished passed the durability test with flying colors. That fly is unscathed and ready to fish another time. I have a good feeling that this pattern will catch Bonefish and other species too. Give it a whirl on your favorite fish no matter where it swims.

Materials Tan Mistress:

    Hook: Gamakatsu SL45 Bonefish, Black Finish.- Sizes 10, 8. 6 or-4 (Size6# Shown).

    Fly Body Yarn: UNI-Stretch-Orange.

    Eyes: Spirit River "Real Eyes Plus" - Chartreuse, 5/32.

    Thread: Flymaster No Wax 6/0-Orange.

    Ribbing: Cascade Crest "Ice Yarn"-Tan.

    Coating: Loon Outdoor Products "UV Knot Sense".

    Wing: Cree Rooster Neck Hackles - Matching Left/Right Pair.

    Adhesive & Head Cement: Zap-A-Gap CA Super Thin.

    Alternative coatings: Z-Poxy 5-Minute Epoxy, Loon Hard Head-Clear.

    Special Tools/Safety Equipment Used For This Project:

  • Vise: Rotary Tying vise, such as the Dyna-King "Barracuda Indexer." Rotary vises make working with polymer coatings a breeze.

  • Automatic bobbin, such as the Ekich Bobbin. This tool will provide superior control of yarn, or thread.

  • UV Curing Lamp/UV Flashlight/UV Pocket light.

    Alternative: The Sun (mandates daytime tying session).

  • Orange UV Filtering Goggles (UV Light can damage vision).

    Note: All of these materials and tools are available from major fly shops, or from on-line sources. UV filtering Goggles can be purchased from a safety equipment supplier or see your Optometrist.

Tying Instructions: Tan Mistress

    1. Mount the SL45 Bonefish hook securely in the vise.

    2. Start the UNI-Stretch yarn behind the eye, leaving enough space in front of the yarn for two wraps. Advance the yarn five (5) tight wraps along the hook shank. Moisten that last wrap with a small spot of Zap-A-Gap Super Thin adhesive and allow it to set.

    3. Attach the Real Eyes Plus to the top of the hook shank using a figure eight winding pattern. Make a medium sized build-up of yarn between the eyes and then take two or more tight wraps around the base of the eyes like you are winding hackle around a parachute post. This method tightens the crossed yarns at the hook/eye intersection and locks the eyes securely in place. Finish with a locking hitch directly behind the eyes as shown.

    Take the fly out of the vise temporarily. Inspect and adjust the Real Eyes Plus as need to be lined up perfectly straight on the hook. Apply a small drop of Zap-A-Gap with a bodkin to the criss-crossed yarn on the top of the fly. Add another small droplet on the bottom side wraps to lock down the dumbbell eyes permanently. Re-mount the fly in the vise while the adhesive sets.

    4. Now advance the UNI-Stretch all the way back towards the hook bend. Terminate the yarn two wraps beyond the hook barb. Wrap the yarn forward about eight (8) turns & build a substantial bulb-shaped egg sack with the UNI-Stretch as shown above. Wind the yarn tightly so that it will not slip and unfurl. Keep the forward edge of the yarn "bulb" abrupt. Once the bulb is shaped, wind the yarn forward in a tight open spiral.

    Pass the yarn under the eyes and continue forward towards the hook eye. Terminate the yarn by filling the two-wrap space that was left open behind the eye (see next photo). Hold the yarn out from the hook with low tension and place a single small droplet of Zap-A-Gap (apply with bobbin) to the front yarn wrap. Wait 10 seconds and trim the yarn close to the hook. Press the wetted yarn ends down onto the hook shank and hold them down until they stay put.

    5. Apply a thin coat of UV Knot Sense to the yarn Bulb using a bodkin and allow time for this coating to thoroughly soak into the yarn body. Apply enough UV Knot Sense to fully coat the yarn bulb. Rotate fly in the vise to insure full and even coverage. Do not put any coating on the yarn ahead of the yarn egg sack. Keep that area dry. This clear liquid coating will not gel until exposed to strong UV lighting-so take your time.

    Wearing UV Filtering goggles, activate (harden) the UV Knot Sense liquid using a UV Cure Lamp at the bench. Cure time varies with the power of the available UV light source. Rotate the fly while exposing it to the UV light to insure complete irradiation of UV polymer. Typical cure time is less than one minute. Note: For example, a 6-Watt UV flash lamp cures Knot Sense in 5 seconds.

    Optional Cure processes:

    A) Hold the uncured, coated fly with a pair of forceps and rotate the fly in direct sunlight outdoors until cured - approximately 30-60 seconds.

    B) Coat with 5-minute epoxy and control the shape by hand as it cures and gels.

    6. Apply a small amount of UV Knot Sense in between the eyes on the top of the hook. This will become the bottom of the fly when fished and the extra coating in this area will impart abrasion resistance to the yarn wraps. Repeat the cure steps above.

    7. Start the FlyMaster 6/0 thread immediately behind the eyes.

    8. For a fly tied on a size #6 hook, cut a 3-inch long piece of Ice Yarn from the master coil. Use a slightly longer yarn if tying on a larger hook etc. Carefully and gently untwist the two main yarns and split them apart. You now have two separate Ice Yarn elements (strands). Each individual yarn strand is made from a multitude of ultra-thin Mylar flash filaments. Keep the two yarn strands intact and minimize any further unraveling of these two yarns at this point in the construction of the "Tan Mistress."

    9. Tie-in a single Ice Yarn strand right behind the eyes. Bind the Ice Yarn down on top of and parallel to the hook using the Flymaster thread. Secure the yarn by wrapping it tightly along the hook shank with touching, smooth wraps of the Flymaster thread. Force the Ice Yarn up against the front edge of the coated yarn bulb. Take a few tight wraps there to lock it in place. Reverse the thread-wrap direction and advance the thread forward. Direct the thread under the eyes, and secure the thread just in front of the eyes with a half hitch in the position shown above. Move your bobbin into a bobbin rest if using a rotary vise.

    10. Twist the Ice Yarn & compress the strand tightly. Twist it down as thinly as possible without putting kinks in it. Wrap the tightened Ice Yarn strand forward in tight touching wraps to form a segmented body.

    Butt the last yarn wrap against the back of the eyes and pass the tightened yarn across and between the eyes on the underside of the hook as shown (see detailed close-up photo above). Throw in a half hitch to secure the Ice Yarn tightly with the 6/0 thread just in front of the eyes.

    11. Use a bodkin and very carefully and gently tease out the individual fibers from the twisted yarn. These slivers of Mylar are very fragile and you must take care in preserving the integrity of these filaments. It helps to un-twist the yarn and then start splitting the yarn apart from the open end first. Then gradually work your way down to the base of the yarn. I advise against using a comb or rake to perform this step.

    Tip: Pick out any loose or broken filaments from the yarn and save those for adding to your favorite dubbing fur later!

    12. Once the yarn is splayed apart and flattened, bind it down tightly all the way forward to the hook eye with the thread. Lock it down with a tight half hitch or two. Make sure that the yarn is indeed secured right up against the eye of the hook.

    13. Fold the splayed-out yarn backwards towards the hook point and bind it down with the thread. Stop just in front of the eyes. Lock it down with another half hitch.

    14. Select and prepare two barred neck hackles as shown. The feather-portion of these hackles is approximately 1- inches long not counting the stems. Try to select matching left hand and right hand feathers of similar shape.

    15. Invert the fly in your vise and tie-in the hackles. Locate and secure a hackle on each side of the fly and insure that the tips are matched to the same length. The shiny, bold colored side of the feathers should face to the outside of the fly! The stem is placed in front of the hourglass eyes. The hackles should arch upwards past the hook point. Keep the hackles from twisting as you secure them. The hackles need to sit broadside.

    Tip: Flattening the hackle stem using a pair of pliers will help to keep the feather from twisting sideways as it is being placed and secured. Another hackle placement technique is to take several light wraps of thread around the stem and then draw the hackle down into the thread wraps (see photo detail). Add a tiny drop of adhesive to the wraps. Trim the stems close to the wraps. Build a smooth thread head and bury the stems.

    16. Finish off the thread head close to the hook eye. Tie-off the thread (or bond it down) and trim the thread. Add a small amount of Zap-A-Gap to the thread head and allow it to soak in and set. Note: Use a bodkin to apply the adhesive, as a drop from the bottle is too large. Make small adjustments to the wing if required as the adhesive sets. Apply another light coat of Zap-A-Gap to insure that there is a slight gloss on the thread wraps. Don't allow the adhesive to wick into the hackles, or flood the hook eye.

    17. Finished fly.

Fishing Tips:

For fishing the surf, use a sinking line. I like to cast a moderately weighted shooting head system (200-400 grains) with an integrated running line using Saltwater rated fly rods ranging from 6 wt to 9 wt (depending on the surf and current conditions). Use a straight 3X to 1X fluorocarbon tippet no longer than 4-5 feet in length. Cast out beyond a breaking wave. Count down and allow the line and fly to sink to the bottom. Retrieve the fly in fast foot-long strips and keep the slack out of the line by pointing the rod at the fly. It helps to keep in touch with the fly by placing the tip of the rod under the surface of the water during the retrieve. Continue the retrieve right up to your position, as the fish in the surf can often hit your fly very close-in: sometimes in ankle deep water!

For fishing bays and estuaries, fish the "Tan Mistress" on a floating line and a long tippet. Using a 10-foot floating, clear poly leader will help to turn over a long thin tippet. A leader system of 18-20 feet is oftentimes used in skinny water situations.

For those fishing Bonefish or other flats fish species, use your normal tactics and gear with the "Tan Mistress" used in place of your "Gotcha" or "Crazy Charlie" etc. You can also tie the "Mistress" with lighter bead chain eyes to prevent the splashdown from spooking those shy flats fishes. Up-size the "Tan Mistress" to a size #2 for tarpon. Experiment with various color schemes, as the Ice Yarn and UNI-Stretch are both available in a rainbow of colors. ~ Richard A. Lewis


For more great flies, check out: Beginning Fly Tying, Intermediate Fly Tying and Advanced Fly Tying.


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