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Advanced Fly Tying:
Al's Diver

By Al Campbell

Larry Dahlberg is a fly tying legend who deserves more credit than he gets. If you look at any diving bass bug, you'll probably see a collar on the back of the hair head that makes the fly dive. It doesn't matter who designed or tied that particular pattern, the collar will still be part of the fly. That diving collar is what I believe is Larry's most significant contribution to the bass fly fishing world. Larry is the guy who designed that little collar that makes Dahlberg Divers dive.

I have tied and fished hundreds of bass flies that have that collar. Bass seem to love flies that dive, so adding a collar makes sense if you want your fly to dive. However, I hate tying and trimming that collar. In fact, I hate it so much that most of the time when I'm tying a fly for my own personal use, I trim to the front of the collar and either ignore the stuff behind it or just whack the hair into a rough shape with scissors. If I'm tying for someone else, I trim the fly the way it's supposed to be trimmed, but I mumble a lot in the process. It's my own personal hang-up.

If you followed my intermediate fly tying series, you probably noticed a foam headed fly called a "wiggle frog." It uses an odd-shaped Mustad hook and a foam lip to make it dive. Actually, I was convinced it was the foam lip that made the fly dive until one day when the lip on one of my frogs got destroyed by a small northern pike. I used scissors and trimmed the lip back almost to the hook eye and decided to fish the fly as a popper rather than walk all the way back to the car for another fly. To my amazement, the fly dove when I tugged on the line. In fact, I think it dove better than it did with a full lip, but it didn't have that characteristic side-to-side wiggle anymore. It caught bass at least as well as the full lipped fly did, maybe better.

That got me thinking. What if I used the same hook and tied a hair head on my fly? Would the fly dive without that collar I hate to tie? What if I tied my sculpin fly on that hook? Would it dive without the aid of a heavy bead or sinking line? I had to try it.

I rushed home, tied a few rough samples of my sculpin fly on that hook, trimmed them and let the cement dry as I drove back to the lake. First cast hooked a small bass. In fact, I caught more bass in one hour with those flies than I had in four hours with my foam creation. I had a secret fly, but I wasn't ready to share it with anyone. I was a little selfish, and I wanted to enjoy my secret while others wondered what my secret was. It was my little secret until last summer when I went fishing with a friend who, even though he swore he would keep my secret, told a bunch of people about my fly.

Fortunately my so-called friend doesn't tie flies, so he couldn't duplicate my secret pattern, but he told so many people about the fly that they started bugging me for the pattern. Right here and now, I'm giving in. If they want the pattern, they better read this article, or they can just go without. After all, they can always tie their diving flies with a collar if they want to.

Al's Diver dives due to the shape of the hook and the fact that the eye of the hook points out and up. When you pull on the line, the angle of the hook eye forces the nose of the fly downward. If you keep pulling, the fly keeps diving. When you stop pulling, the hair head causes the fly to float back to the surface. Simple enough, and bass have a hard time resisting the temptation this fly offers.

I'll tell you another little secret. When walleyes are close to the bank in the spring, they will dive on this diver. So will big predatory trout and northern pike. I haven't tried it on anything else, but I'll bet anything that eats small fish or frogs will eat this fly. Maybe I'll get a chance to try it out on catfish this summer. If Mustad made that hook in a stainless version, I'd bet on a few saltwater fish as well.

I suppose that's enough talk. If you want to know any more about how this fly performs, you'll just have to tie some up and try them yourself.

Al's Diver - List of Materials

  • Hook: Mustad 37160 size 2 to 3/0. (I'm using a 1/0 hook.)

  • Thread: Kevlar or GSP (gel spun polyethylene). I'm using 10lb test Berkley Fireline (GSP) here.

  • Tail/Body: Any material you'd use on a standard hair-head diver fly. I'm using stacked pheasant feathers on this fly.

  • Head: Deer, elk, antelope, caribou or any other HOLLOW HAIR, spun and trimmed. I'm using two colors of coarse mule deer hair on this fly.

  • Head Cement: Good solvent-based cement that penetrates deep and forms a tough flexible bond.

  • Tying steps:

    Tying steps: 1. Start the thread on the hook. A drop of super glue or strong head cement is a good idea to prevent thread slipping. GSP is slick and slips easily, so secure the thread well.

    2. Select and stack your tail/body feathers. Here I'm using four pheasant saddle feathers per side for bulk, color and markings. The longest and least marked feathers go to the middle with progressively shorter and better-marked feathers to the outside. It produces a colorful body with a certain sheen that fish like, and breathes well in the water.

    3. Attach one set of feathers to the far side of the hook (curvature inward) as shown. Notice where the feathers are tied on the hook. This is important. You must leave enough room for a large head that follows some of the curvature of the hook if you want your fly to dive properly.

    4. Attach the other set of feathers to the near side of the hook (curvature inward). This is the body or tail of your fly. It can be other materials too, including synthetics, marabou, hackle feathers, etc.

    5. Clean the under-fur and short hairs out of a bunch of deer hair, even the tips in a stacker and measure for length. You want the hair to cover most of the shortest body feather.

    6. Spin the first bunch of hair fully. (NOTE: If this is beyond your capabilities or you don't understand what I mean, go back and follow the intermediate series, especially the patterns that have hair spinning and stacking in them. This is an advanced series and I assume that you are capable of beginner and intermediate procedures when I write this text. The full explanation of these procedures is in the Intermediate Series starting with Al's Hopper and continuing through all the hair head bass flies.)

    7. Stack a small bunch of dark olive deer hair on top of the spun hair as shown. (See note in step 6.)

    8. Pack the hair back with a hair packer or your fingers. Make sure that it is firmly packed. (See note in step 6.)

    9. Continue spinning (and stacking if desired) and packing bunches of hair until you have a full, firm head.

    10. When you have a full, firm head of hair, whip finish the head. Since GSP is very slick, I whip finish twice and cinch the knot very tight to prevent slipping.

    11. Remove the fly from the vise and roughly trim the top and bottom of the head with scissors to create a reference point for razor trimming.

    12. Trim the top of the head with a razor blade first. The head should taper away from a shallow ridge down the center of the head as shown.

    13. Next, trim the bottom of the head close to the hook. From the side your head should now look like this.

    14. Next, trim the sides of the head with scissors to create an arrowhead shape as shown.

    15. When you get the head fully trimmed to shape, squeeze it flat with your thumb and fingers as shown.

    16. From the top your fly should now look like this. If it looks right, and no further trimming is required, cement the head and knot very well with strong, penetrating head cement. Soak the hair fairly well so the head will retain its shape after rough use.

    17. From the front, the head should be flat and wide like this.

    18. From the side, your finished fly should look like this.

    Stacking additional colors of hair on the top of the head can create interesting results.

    This fly uses tan antelope hair for the head with a stack of olive deer hair. The tail and body are a mix of pheasant feathers and the wide, webby feathers on the edges of a Conranch saddle. Other hackle producers trim these feathers, but they are very useful for bass and saltwater flies.

    This fly uses different feathers from a pheasant saddle. It also has an additional stack of olive deer hair on the head.

    This fly has a yellow and chartreuse marabou body with a few strands of peacock herl on top. Some thin flashabou has been added to the sides for attraction (you can use anything flashy for this). The head is white antelope hair that I lightly dyed chartreuse, with the standard olive stack of deer hair. (Please note that white antelope hair is white at the tips, but tan on the bottom half of each hair. In this case, the tip half of the hairs is chartreuse and the bottom half of the hairs is tan with a subtle hint of charteuse.

    Two additional stacks of chartreuse deer hair were added as the head was tied.

    This fly has a body/tail of Conranch schlappen and sharptail grouse feathers. Schlappen is another nice added feature of the untrimmed Conranch saddles. The head is alternating bunches of white and tan antelope hair with a stack of tan deer hair in the traditional place. (If you look closely, you can see where the hair naturally shifts from white to tan.)

    Are you ready to try a diver that dives for a different reason? Do you have the vision required to discover new ways to make flies do what you want them to do? If you have that vision, and if you've learned the skills, there's nothing that can keep you from creating the next generation of great bass catching flies.

    See ya next month - Remember, I'm always happy to answer your questions, feel free to email me. ~ Al Campbell

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