Fly-Tying 101, Part III: Three basic patterns

Editor's note: This article is the third in a three-part series.

As flies go, the red-and-white Lefty's deceiverlike pattern I had tied one recent evening sure wouldn't have won any awards.

It wasn't very pretty to look at and the proportions were all wrong. But the next day, I tied it onto the end of my leader's tippet nevertheless.

To my great amazement, several casts later a solid white bass (or sand bass as we call them here in Texas) ignored the fly's artistic shortcomings and thumped it good anyway.

Before releasing the sandy to fight another day, I admired the fish's plump frame with the satisfaction that only a flyfisherman who ties his own flies can know.

If you're ready to venture into the world of thread wraps, bucktails, dry-fly hackles, whip finishes and Krystal Flash, here are three easy-to-tie patterns that will help you get started.

The first two, Al Troth's elk-hair caddis and the widely used pheasant-tail nymph, are among trout fishing's best patterns. The third, Bob Clouser's incredible all-around fly, the Clouser minnow, can help you catch anything from trout to tarpon.

Elk-hair caddis


  • Hook: Standard dry-fly model, size Nos. 10 to 20

  • Thread: Tan 6/0

  • Body: Tan rabbit dubbing

  • Rib: Fine gold or brass wire

  • Hackle: Ginger or brown

  • Wing: Tan elk hair

Tying instructions:

  • Tie in the wire at the back end of the hook.

  • Dub the body forward and tie off.

  • Tie the hackle in behind the hook's eye; wrap it over the dubbed body towards the back of the hook with several spiral turns (palmering).

  • Tie off the hackle with several wraps of wire.

  • Wrap the wire forward through the hackle and tie off at the fly's head.

  • Tie in the elk hair for the wing, leaving some sloping ahead towards the hook's eye.

  • After cinching the elk hair down with several tight thread wraps to cause it to flair, use a razor blade to cut the hair just in front of the wraps (near the hook's eye) to form a squared head.

  • Whip finish.

  • Apply head cement.

Pheasant-tail nymph


  • Hook: Standard nymph hook in 1X or 2X length, size Nos. 10 to 18

  • Thread: Brown 6/0

  • Body: Pheasant-tail fibers

  • Rib: Fine copper wire

  • Tail: Pheasant-tail fibers

  • Wingcase: Pheasant-tail fibers

  • Thorax: Peacock herl

  • Legs: Pheasant-tail fibers

Tying instructions:

  • Tie in the wire above the hook's point and wrap the thread back over the wire, stopping just beyond the hook's barb.

  • Select three fibers from a pheasant tail and tie them in above the hook's barb as the fly's tail. Secure with several thread wraps.

  • Wind the thread forward over the pheasant tail fibers to the mid-point of the hook.

  • From the hook's mid-point, wrap the free ends of the pheasant tail fibers backwards to the tied in wire.

  • Use the wire to secure the pheasant tail fibers to the hook. Cut away any remaining pheasant tail fibers.

  • Wrap the wire forward as ribbing material.

  • Use the thread to tie off the wire ribbing at the hook's midpoint. Note: The remaining wire can be wrapped forward to add more weight to the fly if so desired.

  • Tie in several pheasant tail fibers at the midpoint of the hook. These will serve as the wingcase.

  • At the hook's midpoint, also tie in one peacock herl, which will serve as the fly's thorax.

  • Wrap the peacock herl forward to just behind the hook's eye and secure with the tying thread. Cut away the excess peacock herl.

  • Fold the pheasant tail fibers forward (over the wrapped peacock herl) and secure with thread wraps just behind the hook's eye to form the wingcase. Cut away the excess pheasant tail fibers.

  • Just behind the hook's eye, tie in three pheasant tail fibers on each side of the fly to form the nymph's legs. Cut away the excess pheasant tail fibers in front of your thread wraps.

  • Whip finish.

  • Apply head cement.

Clouser minnow


  • Hook: Standard saltwater model, size Nos. 4 to 3/0.

  • Thread: White 3/0

  • Weight: Dumbbell eyes, painted red with black pupils.

  • Belly: White bucktail.

  • Wing: Chartreuse bucktail, under which is tied Krystal Flash or Flashabou.

    Note: Other colors and combinations of bucktail (orange/white, orange/black, orange/brown, green/chartreuse, olive/white, purple/white, blue/white, gray/white, pink/white, pink/purple, etc.) can be used for the belly and the wing.

Tying instructions:

  • Lay a base of tying thread along the hook's shank, then wrap back to approximately 1/3 of the hook shank's length behind the hook's eye.

  • At that point, attach the barbell eyes to the top of the hook shank. Use a number of figure eight wraps over, under, around, in front of, and behind the barbell eyes to secure. Add a drop or two of superglue to these thread wraps and let dry.

  • Turn the fly upside down in the vise and lay another layer of thread wraps down to nearly opposite of the hook's point.

  • For the belly, cut a small, sparse amount of white bucktail with a tapered cut. Tie in and secure along the hook's shank with thread wraps back to just behind the barbell eyes.

  • Lay the excess bucktail over and between the barbell eyes, securing with thread wraps in front of the eyes.

  • In front of the eyes and on top of the white bucktail, tie in several strands of Krystal Flash or Flashabou.

  • For the wing, cut a small, sparse amount of chartreuse bucktail with a tapered cut. Tie in and secure with thread wraps in front of the barbell eyes.

  • Wrap the thread forward and make a tapered thread head just behind the hook's eye.

  • Whip finish.

  • Coat the head and thread wraps (over the bucktail) with a couple of coats of hard nail polish.

There you have it — three useful, easy-to-tie fly patterns to help you get started.

But once you begin tying flies — and actually catch a few fish on your own patterns — something tells me that these certainly aren't the last patterns that you'll ever tie!

Sources: ESPNOutdoors.com files; Mustad Web site (www.mustad.no); Federation of Fly Fisher's website (www.fedflyfishers.org); "Fly Tying Made Clear and Simple" by Skip Morris; and "The Art of Fly Tying" by John Van Vliet.