Welcome to Intermediate Fly Tying

Part Fifty



Intermediate Fly Tying:

Part 50 - PMS (Poor Man's Spey)

Poor Man's Spey

By Al Campbell


One of my goals when I started this series was to keep the costs of the patterns I show you to a minimum. In some cases, the costs can't be kept too low because the materials needed for the flies just cost a lot. For instance, dry fly hackle costs a lot no matter how you look at it, and I can't prevent that. However, you haven't seen me lock you into a situation where you must buy a specific type of foam or unusual feather that costs a bundle.

I haven't tried to keep the costs down to benefit me. I have some fairly expensive materials that you won't buy easily, but what good would that do you? As we venture into the world of salmon flies, it would be easy to show patterns that use blue heron feathers or authentic jungle cock cheeks. I won't do that to you; it wouldn't promote your interest in the flies.

This pattern is called a poor man's spey because it only uses common materials you can find easily at a low price. Some of the classic salmon fly folks will probably cringe at the thought of using something other than authentic materials for something as sacred as a salmon fly, but the idea here is to learn how to do it, not how expensive it can be. You can learn how to perform the techniques with less expensive or less exotic materials; then if you wish, you can bust the bank for the traditional stuff. It's your choice.

Spey flies have a living, breathing motion in the water that's unmatched by any other type of fly. Traditional spey hackle is fairly difficult to find and usually costs quite a bit compared to other tying materials. Some of the substitute materials (schlappen for example) are just about as expensive as the originals, but they are easier to find.

If you're fairly handy with bleach and dyes, you can create some pretty good substitutions yourself. Upland game birds like pheasants and grouse have some great feathers that can be bleached or dyed and used in substitution for the rare feathers called for in some patterns. Common feathers like mallard flank and guinea can be dyed to do a terrific job of replacing a rare feather. All you need is some dye, some bleach and something like vinegar or boric acid to help the colors set properly. I didn't even bother dying the feathers I'll be using today. You can see the techniques without the dye, and this color works well on the local fish.

If you spend some time in craft stores and visiting with your friends who do a lot of bird hunting, you'll probably wind up with a lot of suitable materials to create as many spey type flies as you want. What you need to look for is long, fibrous feathers that will breathe and sway in the water with the slightest twitch of the rod tip or the tiniest pull of the current.

Landlocked folks like me might be tempted to pass up spey flies. After all, they are for salmon, right? Right, but they catch bass, large trout, pike and an occasional carp. One of my favorite springtime walleye flies is a purple colored spey fly tied exactly like the fly I'll show you today. The only difference between that fly and the one you are about to tie is the fact that I dye all of the hackles purple before I tie with them. I also use the brown version a lot, and the fish seem to like it, so I won't quit.

OK, I know there's bound to be a few out there yelling "heresy" by now. If I go on much longer, I'm bound to be excommunicated from the holy church of the salmon fly, so let's just tie the fly and learn a technique or two.

List of materials: PMS

  • Hook: Classic salmon fly hook. Mustad 80500BL or equivalent. Sizes 2 to 6.

  • Thread: Black or bright colored, 3/0.

  • Body: Fluorescent pink flat waxed nylon. (You can use any bright color you want.)

  • Rib: Red copper wire. (Other colors of wire or tinsel can be used.)

  • Flash: Flashabou, crystal flash or holographic flash added to attract attention. (None used here.)

  • Hackle: Body - soft, cheap, long saddle or neck hackle, any color you want. Front - long feather from the flank of a ringneck pheasant, dyed to the same color as the body hackle if desired. (Traditionally, spey hackles or schlappen are used here for both hackles.

  • Wing : Two to four hackle tips, the most webby ones you have, same color as the hackle.

  • Tying steps:

  • 1. Start the flat waxed nylon and use it as thread to tie down the tinsel. Try to keep the thread wraps smooth.

  • 2. Wrap the tinsel forward to cover the whole body. Again, try to keep the wraps smooth.

  • 3. Use the nylon to tie in the ribbing wire as shown. Keep the thread wraps as smooth as possible, this is part of the body.

  • 4. Wrap the nylon forward to form a smooth body as shown. If you want a thicker body, make another pass with the nylon. When you have the body you want, whip finish the nylon and trim.

  • 5.Start the black thread and tie in a webby hackle feather, curvature down and back, to palmer wrap the body with.

  • 6. Wrap the hackle back toward the bend of the hook the same way you would for a wooly bugger.

  • 7. Tie off the hackle and rib it to the body with the wire as shown.

  • 8. As soon as you have the wire tied off, trim the tip of the hackle feather and the wire.

  • 9. Marry your wing materials together, (curvature in), and tie them in as a wing. If you need to refresh your memory on this method, review streamer flies in this series.

  • 10. Select a large flank feather from the breast of a pheasant to use as a spey hackle or substitute for schlappen. If you wish to use schlappen or spey hackles, that's ok.

  • 11. Fold the fibers of the feather against the grain of the feather and tie it in at the tip as shown.

  • 12. Use your free hand to pull the fibers of the feather back as you wrap it.

  • 13. When you finish wrapping the feather, tie it off and hold the fibers back as you wrap over the front part of the hackle to create that swept look you want. Once you have the look you want, build a nice head, whip finish, trim the thread and cement the head.

  • 14. Your finished fly should look similar to this.

    Experiment with different colors and feathers. Try to be as creative as you can. Play with dyes and bleaches to find some new colors. Or, if you wish, bust the bank and buy some spey hackle or schlappen to tie them the original way. It's all your choice. That's what tying your own is all about.

    Until next week my friends, practice and have fun. See ya next week - Remember, I'm always happy to answer your questions, feel free to email me. ~ Al Campbell

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