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Conehead Combo
Text and photos by Peter Frailey

This fly has served me well for three seasons. It has become the staple early season fly for me and a few friends with whom I have shared it. The Combo represents a "combination" of patterns and creatures: leeches, nymphs, crawfish, streamers, buggers, and minnows, to name a few. The soft feathers of marabou and mallard, when combined with a conehead, allow this fly to sink fast and deep. I think this is a major factor in the Combo's success when the water is high and fast.

Off my vise the first night I tied the Conehead Combo came only two flies, which I gave to my brother, to fish in June of 2002 on the high and rough freestone Miller's River in central Massachusetts during our annual fishing trip. Those first two samples were tied in colors that are still my favorite Combo: olive marabou and light olive (i.e. olive with a bit of yellow) dyed mallard feathers.

My brother caught 18 rainbows that day, and I caught a dozen. We fished opposite sides of the river and walked downstream in tandem for the best of the morning. I was quite cognizant of the fact that he was picking up an extra fish here and there, but discussing patterns with him over the sound of the current was impossible.

When we finished the stretch, and he walked across the downstream bridge to within ear shot of me, I yelled to him, "whatdya catch 'em on?" I was pleased to see him point to the Conehead Combo in his hook-keeper. He had actually fished the fly the entire day! Ironically, after breaking down his rod and storing the well-used fly on his vest fly-patch, that first fly somehow got dislodged and lost as we walked through the woods to the car. I think he was disappointed, but I told him to keep the second one as a memento. I hope he still has it.

Materials: Conehead Combo

    In order of use:

    Hook: Streamer or nymph hook (2xl or longer), sizes 2-8.

    Thread #1: 3/0, color to match body.

    Weight: Conehead of appropriate size for hook.

    Tail and abdomen: One or two marabou feathers.

    Thorax: Marabou dubbing (from the butts of the above one or two feathers).

    Thread #2: 3/0, Same as thread #1 or switch to another color.

    Collar: Mallard feather.

Tying Instructions: Conehead Combo

    1. Choose a conehead and matching hook. The four coneheads pictured here are 5/32", 6/32", 7/32" and 8/32" in diameter. Hooks shown are Mustad 2xl size 8, Mustad 2xl size 6, Mustad 4xl size 4, and Mustad 3xl size 2. In the smaller two sizes I prefer a 2xl hook as this gives a larger gap relative to the shank length.

    2. Choose two marabou feathers and a mallard flank feather. I prefer the marabou with a stem, rather than the marabou bloods which look like little brushes.

    3. Tie in one marabou feather to create a tail like a woolly bugger. Lift the butt out of the way and bring the thread forward in several open turns, stopping short of the conehead by an amount equal to the length of the conehead.

    4. Twist the marabou stem to create a rope of marabou and wrap it forward to meet the tying thread. Tie down with multiple wraps. It is ideal if you can tie the stem down before it gets to thick. No need to be delicate. The marabou stem will need 6 or 8 wraps of thread to tie it down. Snip off any excess stem and save for step 8.

    5. Wrap the thread back to the tie in point and attach the second marabou feather, in the same way you tied in the first feather.

    6. Again, lift the butts and wrap the thread forward to the tie off point.

    7. Depending on the effect you want and the quality of the marabou, twist or don't twist the feather into a rope, and wrap the feather forward. Tie down the stem with as many thread wraps as it takes. This is not a neat operation, as there will be marabou all over the place. Snip off the excess stem and save for next step.

    8. Locate the saved marabou butt remnants. These will be used to create a dubbing loop and the dubbing will be wrapped and stuffed behind the conehead. I use the dubbing whirl shown.

    9. Create a dubbing loop with your thread. Hold the butt remnants on top of each other, and insert one side of feather fibers into the loop, as shown.

    10. Once the fibers are inside the loop, use scissors to cut the stem away from the fibers. This leaves only marabou fibers within the loop, all lying horizontal. (Tip: I have a zip lock bag filled with different colored marabou butts left over from tying woolly buggers. This provides a source for additional colors to create a contrasting thorax on the Conehead Combo, if desired.).

    11. Spin the dubbing loop until it looks like fuzzy chenille.

    12. Wrap the marabou dubbing behind the conehead. Tie off with a couple of whip knots, and snip off the thread.

    13. With your right hand, push the conehead toward the rear of the hook until you have 3mm or 4mm of bare shank in front of the conehead. If the marabou feathers were wrapped too far forward this may be difficult because of the thick marabou stem. Even when done properly, you may need to twist the conehead back and forth to get it to move rearward. Retie the thread (or switch to another color as I did here) and form a ramp of thread in front of the conehead. This locks the conehead into position and provides a base for the mallard collar.

    Warning: Be careful. Don't let your hand slip while pushing the conehead back. I hold the fly body with my left hand, so it will stop my right hand should it slip. Another idea might be to place a cork over the hook point during step 13.

    14. Tie in the mallard feather. I tip-tie the feather. Others will prefer to tie in by the butt. Use whatever works for you.

    15. Create a collar with the mallard feather by wrapping it around the shank. With my left hand I stroke the feather fibers rearward during each wrap. Tie off the feather after 3 wraps and snip off the surplus. Don't worry if it looks messier than what is shown here. Often you will find that your feather barbs will angle in every direction. We'll fix that in the next step.

    16. Here's where all the sloppiness of the errant mallard feathers will start to look good. With your left hand, pull the fibers rearward, training them against the swept-back shape of the conehead. Wrap over the base of the barbs with tying thread to create the head. All the feather barbs will now have a sleek attitude, angled rearward. Finish with two 3-wrap whip knots and coat the head with cement. ~ Peter

About Peter Frailey:

After spending his childhood as an avid warmwater fisherman, he was coaxed back into the sport by his older son, who wanted to attend a local United Fly Tyers meeting. Now, fly-fishing and fly-tying are year-round activities. During the three cold seasons he fishes for trout in the streams and rivers of Eastern and Central Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire, with occasional trips into Vermont and Maine. But he still enjoys lazy days as a warmwater fly-fisher, float-tubing during the summer months on local farm ponds near his home in Eastern Massachusetts, where he lives with his wife and three children. For other interesting flies and stories visit Peter's website:

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

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