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Tying The Catskill Style Light Cahill
By Ron Brown, Montana

I learned to tie this style of flies while I was in New Jersey in the mid 60's. Having come back from Vietnam and being stationed in New Jersey I started fly fishing again with a new friend I met at the new station. We started by fishing local New Jersey streams. But I had read an article in Outdoor Life about fishing the Beaverkill and wanted to go up and try it. So I checked out a sleeping bag from special service and headed up to the Catskills. What started with one trip turned into going every weekend throughout the season and even after it was over. I would go up and sleep in my car and fish one or another of the great rivers up there. I got to stopping into a few of the fly shops and talking to the people. I found them all to be great people but for some reason Harry Darbee and I just got along. I was not married and I loved to fish and tie flies. I spent many a night talking to Harry and watching him tie. Even slept on the shop floor a time or two. I also learned a lot from his great wife, Elsie. To tell the truth I probably learned the most from her.

But I also got to watch the Dette's and Art Flick and a few others tie quite a bit. This went on for about 5 years until I got married and moved back out west. Yep I married a Long Island gal. Now she is a Montana Momma and you couldn't get her to move out of this state with a crowbar. She was just back there visiting her folks and when she got back she said "I sure wouldn't want to live there again." My daughter who went with her said it even louder than my wife did.

That is how I learned to tie this style of flies. I must say it was some of the best times of my life. Lots of great people and it set me on my life's course as a guide and fly tier out here. I still have many keepsakes from those times. I have flies tied by the Harry and Elsie, the Dettes and from Art Flick also. I talked him out of a couple after watching him tie for an hour or so. I still remember talking to Marry Dette a few times and I am always glad to read that she is doing well. Don't even know if she remembers me but I remember her. 40 years was a long time ago. I think that they took pity on a poor GI who didn't have much more than about $20.00 in his pocket at any one time. But I am glad they did. It gives me great pleasure to remember those nights watching Harry tie and to toast to him now and then. For those that knew him you will understand what I mean. It was along time ago, almost a life time. But I still have them in my heart and the tying in my soul. The good part is that you always remember the good things in life and they always seem put pleasure in your heart and a smile on your face.

I will try and explain how I was taught to tie the Catskill Style of flies. I have changed a couple of things over the years but I will do this as I was taught except for one small thing and that is putting on the tail before the wing. I find it easier for me to tie on the tail first. But I was taught to tie the wing on first. This will be the only thing that is different from the way I was taught. I should also say that I do a few things differently now days as I have found somethings that either speed the tying time up or will improve on the outcome of the fly. But, like I said I am sticking to the old way here.

Materials: Catskill Style Light Cahill

    Hook: Mustad #94833 size #12.

    Thread: White 5/0 Silk.

    Tails: Herbert Ginger Spade Hackle.

    Wing: Wood duck flank feather.

    Body Material: Buff Colored Beaver fur.

    Hackle: Whiting Ginger Silver grade Hackle.

Tying Instructions: Catskill Style Light Cahill

1. Place your hook in the vise. Cut about a foot of thread off the spool of white silk thread. Pull it through the wax. I do this by placing the thread between my thumb and the wax and just pulling it with my thumb putting a little pressure on it. That will get enough wax on it for the fly.

Now start your thread on the hook making sure that it is started back from the eye about where the wing will be tied in. This will leave room behind the eye of the hook for the leader to be tied on to the hook. (Most people do not do this anymore but if tying the "Real Style" of Catskill flies I believe that you have to tie these flies as I am describing. Most people put a head on these flies now and it is not correct to do so. I have flies tied by most of the best tiers of the Catskill style and none of them have a head on them and all have a space left behind the eye of the fly. This is as I was taught.)

Wrap the thread back to a point just above the barb of the hook. Put a half hitch in the thread and put a cloths pin on the thread to hold it in place. (Remember we are tying these as I was taught and I was not taught to tie with a bobbin.) Take your spade hackle and trim off the webby part toward the bottom of the feather. Now grasp about a 1/3 of an inch of the fibers in your left fingers and pull down just a little so they are straight to the side. Now grasp them tightly and pull the feather with your right hand, not the fibers with your left hand. (This is if you are right handed, just switch it if left handed.) By doing this the tips of the fibers will be even in your left fingers. If you pull the fibers with your left hand the tips will never be even.

Now that you have your tail fibers ready to put on the hook I switch them to my right hand and move them to the hook. By using the over all length of the hook you will have your tail length. Just lay the tail fibers on the hook and you can see how long the hook is on the Tail Fibers and that is were you will tie them in. Move to the rear of the hook, hold the tail fibers on top of the shank with your left hand and take your cloths pin off the thread. Grasp the thread and take 3 wraps around the tail fibers and between your fingers. The Tail fibers should now stay in place on top of the hook. Now take one wrap of thread under the tail fibers. This will splay them just a small amount and help the fly to set correctly. With about 4 or so wraps move the thread up to an area 1/3 of the hook shanks length behind the eye. Take a half hitch around the hook and place the cloths pin on the thread again. (When you take the wrap under the tail do not pull too hard here. If you do the tail will spread to much and become a mess.)

2. Your thread should be at the wing tie-in point. Take a Wood duck flank feather and remove the sides of the feather that are not even with the tip or middle of the feather. (Some people will tie two flies with one feather. I was taught to tie one fly with one feather. It saves time. I will tie two with one feather if I am short on feathers or have a lot of time) The feather will look as the one in the picture. To get your wing length hold the fibers up to the side of the hook. The wing length should be just about twice the hook gape. So by holding the clumped up fibers to the side of the hook you should be able to see the tie in point and then move the clump to the top of the hook to be tied in at a point 1/3 of the hook shank behind the eye of the hook.(This is the point were your thread should be when you tie it off from doing the tail.) Now still bunching the fibers in a clump in my left finger tips. Place this clump on top of the shank and remove the cloths pin from the thread. Pinching the fibers on top of the hook shank take 4 tight wraps of thread around the wing fibers. Now move your fingers toward the rear of the hook still holding the fibers on top of the shank. Take a few more wraps around the fibers in that same area. This should be plenty of wraps to hold the wing in place. Now lift up the butts of the feather and cut it off. Making sure to cut it at an angle, down and back toward the tail. This will help with the taper of the body of your fly.

Move the thread just behind your wing.

3. Now lift the wing up and take several wraps of thread in front of and right at the base of the wing. This will stand the wing up straight as it should be.

Now split the feather into two equal bunches. Do a figure 8 wrap between them and then take two to three wraps around the base of each wing. This will "Post" each wing and help it to keep it's shape and position on the fly.

Move the thread to the rear of the hook to a point just above the barb. Half hitch and place the cloths pin on the thread.

4. Select a small amount of Buff colored beaver and lay it on your thigh. Now pull it into a longish noodle and roll it with the palm of your hand on your thigh. You will get a fine point to one end. Take that point and take a wrap of thread around it. Now just twist that noodle of beaver around your tying thread to form a body. This should be real fine. It will take a bit to get the hang of this but it will work if you give it a chance. After taking several wraps around the thread with the beaver now wrap beaver wrapped thread around the shank forming the body moving up the hook shank as you wrap it. Just remove the extra beaver and take a wrap or two around the hook shank and half hitch the thread and place the clothes pin on it.

5. Now we will tie in the hackle. Select two Ginger hackles for the hook size that you will need. The fibers should be about one and one half times that gape of the hook. Place the two hackles together one on top of the other.

Curve side to curve side. Such as this "))" While holding both in your left hand by the middle of the hackle strip the butts of the webbing and fluff. Make sure to pull just a few more fibers off the part of the hackle stem that will go against the hook. This will keep you from having hackle fibers sticking out all over the place.

With the shinny side facing you the part of the feather with the few less fibers will be on the up side after being tied in. Now lay the hackle on the hook as in the picture and tie them to the shank of the hook. Remember not to get to close to the hooks eye. Leave some room up there. I take two wraps of thread in front of the wing and two behind the wing. Then back in front of the wing with one wrap. Cut the butts of the hackle off in front of the wing, again making sure to leave some room up front. The hackle should have the shinny side out toward you. Grasp the top hackle with your hackle pliers and take two wraps behind the wing and two in front of the wing. Catch it with the thread with two wraps on top of the hook. Take the second hackle with you hackle pliers and take one wrap between the two previous wraps, weaving the hackle as you wrap it around the hook shank. Now, one wrap between the two wraps in front of the wing and a half wrap to the top and catch it with the thread with two wraps of thread. Trim the hackle tips off. Take two to three wraps of thread right here and and whip-finish with 4 wraps of thread. Cut the thread and you have your fly finished.

There are a few things to explain here. One is that every time I place the cloths pin on the thread I will spin it to get the twist out of the thread. This helps in not building up bulk with your thread as it will lay flat. Do the same before finishing off the head. It takes but a second but will make for a much better looking fly.

Do not take too many wraps of thread. Less is always better. Most new tiers use way to much thread. They think if two wraps is good ten must be great. Dosen't work that way.

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I always put a drop of head cement on the head of the fly as I was taught to do. The wax on the thread will act as a glue making the body and the fly hold together much better. I always use waxed thread on my Dries, Nymphs and Wet flies.

I should add here. When you get good at these flies you should be able to do one every 2 1/2 to 3 minutes. That is about normal for good tier. That is with everything laid out and ready to go.

I hope this has helped some of you see how these patterns use to be tied. I understand that some may do it differently but like I have said this is how I was taught to do these flies. I will send two of my hackle gauges to JC and LadyFisher so that they might be able to put them on the site in real life size so that people might be able to see what they look like. The ones that Harry gave me are to well used to be of much good for copying. Plus I would never trust them in the mail. I have two gauges that I will send to them. One is the Dette's and the other is the Du Bois hackle gauge. I do not believe that either has been made in many years. (See below!)

I wish you all the best in tying of these great flies. They are a joy to use and a bigger joy to tie. They have such a great history behind them and will always be remembered by people that love Fly Tying and Fly Fishing. ~ Ron Brown, Montana

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Publisher's Note: To preserve the gauges shown here, print them out and have them laminated!


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


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