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The Waterboatman
By Dale Beamish

A soft summer breeze greeted me lakeside. It was supplying a gentle ripple to the water. Ideal fishing conditions. I unpacked my gear and sat down to survey the area. There were no noticeable hatches or action on the surface. One inlet however seemed active with rise forms. The start of a Caddis hatch. The fish were mimicking the frantic behavior. I attached my favorite Caddis Pupa and cast to the side of the action. Working the area changing patterns several times brought no success. But the water was still alive with action. It was then that I noticed something scurrying in the water.

A Waterboatman!

Frantically searching my fly boxes brought no relief. I had none. It was a painful lesson learned. The Waterboatman patterns now have reserved locations in my lake boxes. At times they will be your aces in the hole.

Materials for Waterboatman:

    Hook: Mustad Signature R72 Size 10, 12, 14.

    Thread: UTC Cream 70.

    Abdomen: 1mm Foam Strip (Tan or Cream).

    Thorax: Lead Wire and Cream Raffia strip, Cardboard shape (Optional).

    Rear Legs: Stripped and shaped Pheasant feathers.

    Center Legs: Japanese Nymph Legs or Stripped Pheasant feathers.

    Front Legs: Japanese Nymph Legs or Stripped Pheasant feathers.

    Shell Back: Raffia Strips/Mottled Thin Skin.

    Eyes: Melted Mono.

    Head Capsule: Latex Strip.

    Color: Prismacolor Markers PM -172 Light Umber and PM-158 French Grey.

    Varnish and Coatings: Soft Body and your favorite varnish.

Most available patterns for these insects are trying to imitate their unique behavior while moving in the water. While the Waterboatman are known for this paddling behavior there is also another important aspect to the species that is seldom imitated. They draw air from the surface and a lot of their time in the water is spent hanging from the surface or diving to the bottom after prey.

It is this often-overlooked behavior I will attempt to imitate with my pattern.

When tying any realistic pattern it is best to prepare all your materials beforehand. This reduces the time required to construct these patterns. You may also take the time to prepare enough material for several flies at once.

Materials Preparation for the Waterboatman:

1: Cut the Shell Back material and a piece of cardboard to the shape shown. Basically a short fat cigar shape.

2: Cut a " strip from a 1mm foam sheet for your abdomen.

3: Prepare two Pheasant feathers as shown for the rear legs. When you are satisfied with their shape dip the stems only in Soft Body to reinforce the quills.

4a: Strip and prepare 4 Pheasant feathers or Japanese Nymph Legs for the remaining center and front legs.

4b: Strip two Pheasant feathers or Japanese Nymph Legs for the center legs. You may also strip and shape two Pheasant feathers for the front "scoop" legs common to this species. Again when you are satisfied with these dip them in Soft Body to reinforce the quills.

5: Finally unravel a 3" length of Raffia and cut 3 - 4 thin strips for your thorax material.

Instructions for the Waterboatman:

step 1

    1. Attach your thread and apply a layer to the hook shank. This will prevent any material slippage in future steps. Return your thread to the rear of the hook and let hang.

    Step 2

    2. Apply a thin layer of "Crazy Glue" to the front section of your hook. Take care the glue does not run into the eye. Wrap your lead wire on the front thorax section as shown in the photo and allow drying for several seconds.

    Step 3

    3. Now using needle nosed pliers flatten the lead wraps as much as possible. You are trying to achieve the final shape of the pattern. These lead wraps may be trimmed using nail clippers to a more pleasing shape if needed.

    Step 4

    4. Tie in a length of Raffia and wrap over the lead wraps, covering them all. Tie off any excess. The goal here is not to build up the thorax. We are only trying to cover the lead wraps.

    Step 5

    5. Return your thread to the rear of the hook and tie in the Shell back material. (Mottled Thin Skin or Raffia depending on species imitated and choice).

    Step 6

    6. Attach your foam strip just ahead of the Shell Back and decide which side will be wound down next to the hook shank. Advance your thread to the front of the hook.

    Step 7

    7. Using a toothpick or Bodkin apply a thin layer of "Crazy Glue" to the inside of the foam strip. Wrap quickly as the glue will dry fast on the foam strip. Overlap the wraps by 50% and wrap to achieve 4 - 5 segments. Wrap loosely building the final shape of the finished pattern's abdomen up to the lead wire wraps. Tie off and trim the remainder of the foam strip.

    Step 8

    8. Now quickly flatten the foam strips slightly using needle nosed pliers. The "Crazy Glue" will dry quickly and hold the flattened shape. Remember we are after a flattened, short, fat cigar shape. Tie off your thread.

    Step 9

    9. Apply a coat of Varnish to the entire foundation, top and bottom. Allow everything to dry completely and we are ready to proceed to the first stage of color.

    Step 10

    10. Most species I have encountered are a tan/cream on the bottom with a golden brown top. For this pattern I have used Prismacolor PM -172 Light Umber for the top and PM-158 French Grey for the bottom.

    Step 11

    11. After you are satisfied with the color re-attach your thread. Tie in a length of Raffia and let it hang to the rear. At midpoint tie in one of the rear shaped legs for each side. While the natural holds them backwards, angling them with the curvature forward will help the action of the fly when complete.

    Step 12

    12. Wrap the Raffia strip forward covering any thread bindings. Moistening the Raffia strip before wrapping will result in a very pliable material easily manipulated into shape. Wrap just forward of the rear legs and tie off on top. Trim your strip.

    Step 13

    13. Attach another Raffia strip on top and then tie in your center legs along the bottom of the thorax. When the center legs have been firmly secured wrap the moistened Raffia again to cover any remaining lead wraps and the thread bindings. Tie off your Raffia strip on top and trim any excess.

    Step 14

    14. Now advance your thread to the hook eye and using a pinch and wrap technique attach the latex strip you will use as your head capsule covering. Allow this to hang forward over the eye and trim and tie down any excess left hanging over the thorax.

    Step 15

    15. Using either a tea candle or lighter light the end of a length of Mono and when it begins to "ball up," blow out the flame and touch the melted end to your first eye location. Remove quickly. Repeat for the opposite side. If you make a mistake don't worry. Allow the Mono to cool and carefully remove the eye with your fingernail. With practice this technique will provide you with some very convincing realistic eyes! When satisfied with your eyes, coat them in a thin layer of varnish to seal.

    Step 16

    16. Tie in a final Raffia strip on top of the thorax and tie in the front legs. When the front legs are tied in secure wrap the moistened Raffia strip forward to the rear of the head, tie off and trim any excess.

    Step 17

    17. Pull the Latex Head Capsule towards the rear over the eyes and tie down forming the head. Trim any excess.

    Step 18

    18. Pull the Shell Back forward stretching it slightly to fit over the abdomen and thorax shape and tie down behind the head. Tie off and trim closely any excess material. Whip finish at this point using any thread layers to hide any trimmed Shell Back material. Cut your thread apply some final color and you are finished tying your Waterboatman.

    Step 19

    19. Using a tea candle as a heat source heat either your Bodkin or as I do fine tweezers for only 3 - 5 seconds and heat kink your center and front legs to a more realistic shape. It is best to experiment on old quills or Nymph Legs to ensure you do not end up burning off a leg. While the pattern will still fish as well with one burnt nevertheless can be a frustrating experience after going through all the steps needed to tie these patterns.

    20. Apply a coat of varnish to the head and back and you have just completed the Waterboatman.

If you should need more help with tying steps, feel free to contact me at: ~ Dale Beamish

About Dale:

My name is Dale Beamish, I reside in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. In the foothills of the Rocky Mountains along the banks of a World Class fishery, the Bow River.

My fly tying passion was first kindled in the summer of 1974. My brother had returned home with a tying kit courtesy of a local Boy Scout Chapter. After several attempts it lay collecting dust. It contained scraps of thread and feathers. Nothing more. For me however it was a treasure chest full of adventure and possibilities! It was an introduction to the Art of Fly Tying and for me, the start of an endless pursuit for perfection in my fly tying.

Although I still hold a love for all forms of Fly Tying, Realistic Fly Tying has continued to trap my attention since those early days.

If I may be of any further help feel free to contact me, I look forward to hearing from you.
Web Site:

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

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