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The Madam X
By Skip Morris

Not long after the Madam X made its debut in Doug Swisher's videotape, "Tying Attractor Flies," I happened to be standing in a trout stream with a friend who began raving about the deadliness of this peculiar new dry fly. "The fly shop's out of it again," he said, as if to validate his account. Still uncertain I was properly impressed, he added, "They just can't keep it in stock!"

Few flies burst onto the scene with such bravado. I was impressed...but, it seemed, so was everyone else. Everyone still seems impressed with the Madam X.

Just who created the Madam X I'm not sure. Doug Swisher probably developed the fly, and is usually given credit for it, but in his video he never plainly says so.

He does say that he was "almost afraid" to tell anyone about the Madam X for quite a while. It is an alarming trout fly, with its crisscrossed ribs, thick tail, and gangly cross of legs. He finally did tell because the Madam X kept catching trout. Doug says that he usually fishes it along stream banks and back under overhanging grasses and cut banks. He fishes it either dead drift or with twitches. When a trout takes a Madam X, he says, the result is "usually explosive." Its long springy legs may be what sets the Madam X apart from other attractor dry flies; Doug says that because of those legs, the fly "vibrates."

There is nothing particularly delicate or graceful about the Madam X; it has more the coarse bulk of a bass bug than the intricate lightness of most trout flies. Doug completely eradicates any possible resemblance to a normal dry fly by tying it on really big hooks. He explains his choice of hook on the videotape: "Fish like a big bite, not a small bite," he says.

Madam X variations
Variations: on the left, a Madam X with an all-floss body (and the yellow legs Skip often substitutes for the standard white); on the right, an orange version with a saddle hackle palmered up the body.

Most popular fly patterns spawn a seemingly endless procession of variations—who hasn't seen a dozen versions of the Woolly Bugger? In general, this is a form of flattery; without question, it signals a fly's popularity. Some of the fly-pattern books in my collection describe Madam Xs with bodies of a solid layer of thread or floss over the deer hair, instead of the original spiraled thread-crosses up a deer-hair body. Others list orange thread as an option to replace the standard yellow. I've even seen a pattern with a brown hackle palmered up the body. My own touch is to use yellow rubber-strand legs in place of the standard white.

I'll show you how to tie the Madam X as I tie it, my personal style, though this fly's form largely dictates the method of its tying.

Materials for The Madam X:

    Hook: Light wire, 2X or 3X long, sizes 8 and 6.

    Thread: Yellow 3/0.

    Body and Tail: Natural deer hair (or elk).

    Wing and Head: Natural deer hair (but I prefer elk hair, because it makes a tougher head).

    Legs: Round white rubber-strand.

Tying Instructions:

Step 1

    1. Start the thread at the hook's bend; then wind it tightly up two thirds of the hook's shank. Comb and stack a small bunch of deer (or elk) hair. Bind the hair by its butts at the two-thirds-up-the-shank point. The hairs' tips should extend beyond the rear of the shank a distance roughly equal to the hook's gape.

    Step 2

    2. Trim the butts closely. Hold the hair down around the shank as you wind the thread down the hair in tight open spirals to the bend. At the bend, add two turns; then spiral the thread back up to the front of the hair. Take a few tight thread-turns at the front of the body to lock the spiraled turns in place. The hair-body should now have a pattern of thread-Xs along it.

    Step 3

    3. Comb and stack another small bunch of deer (I use elk) for the head and wing. Hold the hair so that its tips are even with the tips of the tail; then cut the hair's butts straight across about 1/4 inch beyond the hook's eye.

    Step 4

    4. Bind the hair, by its butts, from the eye back to the front of the body. The tips of the hair should point forward, over the hook's eye. Try to keep the hair entirely atop the hook's shank as you bind it on.

    Step 5

    5. With the thread hanging at the front of the body, stroke the wing-hair up, and then pull it back and down. Bind the hair in place with a few tight thread-turns. You now have a wing and a sort of half bullet-head, both atop the hook. Ideally, the wing's tips should be even with the tail's tips.

    Step 6

    6. Bind a short length of rubber-strand along each side of the thread collar with tight thread-turns at the rear of the head. Draw back the legs and whip finish the thread just in front of them. (Doug prefers to whip finish the thread at the hook's eye, in front of the bullet head.) Trim the thread.

    Step 7

    7. Trim the legs long—for example, when the rear legs are pressed back against the sides of the fly, they should reach to the tips of the tail, or even slightly beyond. Add head cement to the whip finish. ~ Skip Morris

Credits: The Madam X is an excerpt from Skip Morris' book, Morris on Tying Flies. Skip has taken his favorite patterns and updated them with new materials and techniques. An excellent book, published by Frank Amato Publications.

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

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