Recycled Plastic Fly Bodies and Hopper Legs
By Richard A. Lewis

This fly tying project has a lot going for it. Firstly-it is very simple. Simple is good! Among the rewards and benefits of this project are:
    1) being able to recycle a common plastic for use as a fly tying material.

    2) learning a tactile skill

    3) exploring the properties of polymers

    4) creating unique and robust fly tying components with your own two hands that you simply can not purchase in a fly shop etc.

Furthermore, what I like best about this project's methodology is that it allows a tyer to work on his or her fly tying hobby just about anywhere you happen to be: even at your workplace or when you are having lunch or dinner. How does that sound? Let me explain how this is done.

So just what am I talking about? You can easily create furled fly bodies and hopper legs by using a common packaging material: cello-wrap! Think "toothpicks" and those clear cello-wrap sheaths that you find them packaged in. You can find these at most any café or restaurant. However, the challenge is to find them with the right type of plastic wrapper. If the plastic wrapper is old, crinkly and brittle it just won't work. You'll want to find fresh cello-wrapped toothpicks with a sheath that will easily stretch-form. This becomes a fun game unto itself just finding the correct kinds of toothpicks. This project is a fun, fly-tying related lunchtime activity for me. In fact, I find my best toothpicks at the company cafeteria and fast food eateries.

Follow these simple steps to hand make your very own lightweight, buoyant, furled, fly bodies and hopper legs.

Step 1 - Carefully slide the toothpick to one end of the wrapper and extract it from the sheath without crumpling the plastic material. You do not want to create nicks, creases and flaws in the thin material. Put the toothpick aside for later use.

Step 2 - Firmly grasp the ends of the wrapper between the thumb and fingers of each hand. Pull slowly, smoothly and deliberately on the wrapper until it is taught. Further continue to apply tension until you feel the plastic wrapper give and stretch. If it tears or snaps in two; you are either being rough, or the cello-wrap is too brittle or not fresh enough. Try again using a better technique (a learned skill) and or another batch of toothpicks (try another café). As the wrapper stretches, it becomes thinner and flatter as pictured above.

The wrapper is originally 3 1/2 inches long. When carefully and completely stretched-out flat, the wrapper can be coaxed into a ribbon which has a length of 14 inches! With practice you will find the elastic limit of the stretch-formed plastic and be able to routinely make these ribbons with minimal breakage.

Step 3 - Next we will draw the flat ribbon into a filament. Grasp the ribbon in one hand and wedge it into the clinched fingers of the opposite hand as shown above. Slowly apply firm pressure and "draw" the ribbon down into a strand, which we will call a "yarn."

There is friction created by the filament drawing operation; therefore some heat is generated. So be gentle on your hands and gradually continue to draw-form the ribbon along its length until you have drawn it into a very thin solid yarn. It becomes strong and can withstand a good solid pull at this point. This takes some practice. Devise a grasping and drawing technique that works for you with minimum discomfort and good results.

Once completed, you will have stretched and drawn a 3 ˝" two-ply plastic sheet into a 17.5 inch long yarn. Now that is 500% elongation; a demonstration of an amazing property of the particular plastic alloy used in making toothpick wrappers. Science and fly tying merge!

Step 4 - Fold the yarn in half. Grasp both ends with the fingers of one hand.

Step 5 - Insert a finger into the formed loop and twist the loop in a circular, clockwise motion. Wind it up tight. On a full-length yarn, I like to put a minimum of thirty (30) twists into the loop. Apply tension as you twist.

When the loop is twisted it will look something like the yarn pictured above. Don't let go of it your loop just yet! Keep your finger in the loop and maintain tension to preserve the twists.

Step 6 - While preventing your loop from unwinding, slip your finger out of the end of the loop. Now fold the twisted yarn in half once more. This time it will want to furl upon itself due to the stored energy within the yarn.

Step 7 - Help the furling process along by twisting the yarn counterclockwise while pinching both ends together. Twist it up tight all along its length. Once twisted, smoothed, stretched and compacted, the furled yarn, which is technically a twisted filament yarn, will stay combined all on its own. With the method perfected-it takes but two minutes to furl a wrapper into a damsel fly body.

I find that these plastic furled yarns are very stable and will keep their shape for weeks on end. I make these when taking lunch breaks, talking on the phone and while gazing out the office window wishing I were tying or fishing. You get the idea. Once you have the technique mastered, you'll want to have a supply of these furled yarns on your tying bench.

The hopper's leg pictured above was made by bending the furled yarn and freezing the joints with CA adhesive. A drop of Epoxy (Loon UV Knot Sense in my example) can be added to thicken the upper portion of the leg for a more realistic hopper leg imitation.

These furled plastic yarns are buoyant, and are easily colored using felt tipped markers. The furled yarns can be fashioned into damsel bodies, hopper legs and probably a few other fly parts too. CA adhesive (Zap-A-Gap) adheres well to this recycled plastic, and allows the yarns to be formed and shaped with ease.

There you have it. A method to recycle your way to more interesting, cost effective flies while entertaining your buddies at lunch. Have fun! ~ Rich Lewis

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