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Orange Shellback
By Robert Holder, Salt Lake City, Utah

The "Orange Shellback" is what you might call a generation-gap fly, which has been passed down from grandfather, to father, to son. Personally, I am not one of the family members to which this fly has been passed along. The "son" from this family (who re-hooked me back into fishing, introduced me to fly fishing, and taught me how to tie flies) passed it along to me. Since then it has become one of my favorite flies to use.

I am told the grandfather of this family was a very avid fly fisherman during his time. Since he lived near and managed one of the state fish hatcheries for 35 years before his retirement, he would pack his fly rod with him when working in the mountains re-stocking the lakes with fish. Tying flies wasn't his preference but he had several friends who tied flies and they started creating different fly patterns for the areas that he would back pack into. Naturally, introducing his son to the beloved sport of fly fishing the grandfather purchased fly tying supplies and started working with his son on the development of different fly patterns that have become their family secrets.

As the progression of the generation gap follows from father to son, the grandson that has passed this fly on to me, also followed in his grandfather and father's footsteps with the same love of the outdoors and the sport of fly fishing. As an outsider of this family, I am honored to have been given the chance to be taught a few of their family fly patterns. After speaking with my good friend about this story he has talked to his father and they have reluctantly given permission for me to share it with you.

Originally, many years ago this fly was tied with a red and yellow candy striped body. After several revisions to the fly pattern it finally evolved into the current version. Although the look of the fly is the same as the one shown to me, I have made some small personal changes to it as I have been tying it through the years. So these instructions reflect my alterations and materials that I use when tying it.

The recipe for the "Orange Shellback" is as follows:

Materials List: Orange Shellback

    Hook: Dry Fly Hook Size 12-16.

    Thread: 6/0 Black Pre-waxed Thread.

    Shellback: 4 Pieces of Peacock Herl. Peacock Herl is doubled over thread, tied in place to give 8 strands for shellback.

    Hackle: Grizzly, palmered and sized for the hook.

    Body: Enhancer Orange Dubbing or Orange Chenille.

    Head: 6/0 Black Thread.

Tying the Orange Shellback

    1. Start by wrapping the tying thread back to the bend of the hook.

    NOTE: On the original fly pattern the hook size was in the 8 to 10 range. Feeling that this size of bug was to large for the fishing in the areas I like to go to, I started tying this fly on the smaller hooks.

    2. The first thing is tie on the peacock herl for the shellback. Take four the strands of peacock herl and carefully bend around the tying thread as shown.

    NOTE: The original fly pattern called for two pieces of peacock herl doubled over the thread to give a total of four strands. To me the shell back looked more like a strip down the back so I doubled the amount of peacock herl to give the fly a little larger shellback or wing case.

    3. Pull the peacock herl tight against the tying thread and slide it against the hook.

    4. Secure the peacock herl by a few wraps of tying thread. Once in place you will have eight strands of peacock herl tied out the back of the hook. This will be trimmed, formed, and used as the shellback later.

    5. Prepare the grizzly hackle as shown and tie onto hook.

    6. Now it is time to tie on the body. Take a small clump of dubbing and form a small point in it and tie to the hook.

    NOTE: For those tiers out there who are shy about using dubbing, bright orange chenille could be used as a substitute. Matter of fact when I was first shown this fly it was tied this way. I have chosen to use dubbing instead of the chenille to give the fly a sheen sparkle look.

    7. Take the clump of dubbing in your fingers and twist it in a counter-clockwise direction forming a dubbing rope. Twisting the dubbing in this direction to form the dubbing rope will keep the rope tight as it is wrapped around the hook to form the body.

    8. Wrap the dubbing rope around the hook to form the body. Make sure to stop the body and remove excess material just before the eye of the hook to allow room to tie off remaining materials and to form the head of the fly.

    9. Wrap several turns of tying thread around the end of the body to secure the dubbed body in place. Now wrap the prepared grizzly hackle up the body. Just before making that final turn, strip away a bunch of hackle fibers leaving just the stem of the feather. Make the last turn of the grizzly hackle and tie off the hackle at the bare stem. Clip off the excess hackle. Doing this will keep unwanted hackle fibers from poking out the finished head and it will keep the head of the fly smaller too.

    10. Take a drop of head cement glue and place it on to the peacock herl at the butt of the fly. Doing this will strengthen the weak point of the shellback and keep the peacock herl from breaking as it is fished.

    11. Pull the peacock herl over the top of the fly, trying to span out the herl, forming a wide shellback on top of the fly. Secure the peacock herl in place.

    12. Trim off excess peacock herl and form a small head with the tying thread.

    13. Whip finish the fly head.

    14. Trim off the tying thread.

    15. Put a drop of cement on the fly's head.

    16. Finally this last step isn't completely necessary but I like to add a small drop of head cement to the shellback to harden and lock the peacock herl in place.

Here are several views of the completed "Orange Shellback."

As an alternative this fly can be tied with different colored bodies like brown, yellow, and olive. But through the testing of my friend's grandfather they have found that the orange seems to work the best and I haven't found any reason to change the body color.

There is no wrong way to fish this fly. It can be floated, sunk, or skirted just under the surface. It can be dead floated in a stream, lightly twitched across a still lake. Heck, my children even have used it attached to the fishing line with a bubble and a spin rod and dragged the fly across the water. Enjoy the fly and don't be afraid to experiment with it. ~ Robert Holder

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

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