Monday, April 26, 2021

Tying Tutorial: The Starburst

The concept of a "fly rod spinnerbait" is not new. I first saw the concept in the Deke Meyer's book, "Hot Bass Flies." I was intrigued, but I never pursued the idea. Flash forward to a few weeks ago, and I decided it was time to play with the concept. Falling into a rut is easy, and lately I found that I was only fishing balanced minnows when I was crappie fishing. There's not too much horribly wrong with that, because the balanced minnow is a serious fish-producer, but sometimes showing the fish something different can pay off. Multiple variations were attempted and tested, and this is the (most likely) final draft version I have started tying. The fly casts easily on a 4wt, keels well in the water, doesn't spin/roll, and has an appropriate sink rate for where I am fishing.  



-Hook: Firehole 321 Size 8
-Weight: 3mm tungsten bead
-Tail: ultra suede/Fly Suede strip
-Tail collar: marabou
-Underbody: Ice Dub
-Body: Laser Dub
-Head: 3mm Fish Mask

Flash Arm

-25lb mono makes up the "arm"
-Egg/Ball: McFly foam
-Flash: Orvis Sparkle Hair (or flash material of your choice)


-Size 6 DoIt Molds Wacky Jig Hook

To begin, slide the bead onto the hook and leave it loose. Tie in a 1.5" strip of Ultra Suede/Fly Suede, slightly tapered to a point at the rear, beginning right above the hook point. 

Next, position the bead just in front of the bump from the tail and criss-cross wraps of thread over the bead to hold it in place.

Tie in a clump of marabou (I like bugger marabou for this) on top and bottom of the hook so that it encircles the suede tail and extends back about halfway down the tail.

Loosely dub some Ice Dub (here, UV pearl) and wrap the dubbing noodle up to within a little over an eyelet of the hook eye.

Use a strip of Velcro or a dubbing brush and lightly pick out the dubbing. It should look slightly "frayed" like in the image below.

Tie in a small clump of Laser Dub to the top of the hook shank, extending forward over the hook eye. I use the "belly color" here, white. The length should be long enough to extend over most of the marabou when you fold the material back.

Tie in a contrasting clump of Laser Dub on the other side of the hook, the same length as the belly color. In this example, I used Lavender. Once it is tied in, whip finish behind the Laser Dub and cut your thread.

Push and/or brush the Laser Dub rearward. Slide the 3mm Fish Mask over the Laser Dub. It should fit snugly. 

Reattach your thread and make a thread dam between the mask and hook eye, holding the mask in place. Add 3mm eyes to your mask. You could fish this, as-is, for a killer small minnow pattern. 

To begin the "arm," take a 2" chunk of 25lb mono and melt one end to form a small ball. Clamp the mono in your vise leaving just enough space between the melted ball and your vise jaws to tie in the egg material. The melted ball will keep material from slipping off the piece of mono.

Tie in a small clump of McFly Foam to the top and bottom of the mono, whip finish in front of the material, and cut your thread. Feel free to play with egg color. A hot color should bleed through the flash nicely. I used a cream color on this example. 

To form the egg/ball, pull up on the top piece of McFly Foam and trim with your scissors. Repeat, pulling the bottom clump down and trimming the same length. The material will naturally form a ball/egg shape.

Reposition the mono in the vise jaws, allowing enough space to tie in the flash "shroud." Reattach your thread.

Create a dubbing loop and insert a small clump of flash. I like the Sparkle Hair because it's not overly stiff/rigid and has a lot of krinkle to it. Cut the flash to about an inch in length. Insert the 1" clump in the dubbing loop and carefully spread out the flash.

Spin your dubbing loop tool to lock the flash in the loop. Wrap the material forward to the vise jaws, trying not to trap too much flash material. Tie off the dubbing loop and trim away the excess. 

Stroke the flash to the right, over the egg, and advance your thread back towards the base of the egg. This will lock the flash in place and shroud it over the egg/ball. Whip finish and cut your thread.

In this view, you can see how the flash veils/shrouds over the egg. In the water, when you strip the fly, the flash will lay over the egg. On the pause, the flash will flare back out. This pulsating action of the flash over the egg really throws a lot of flash at the fish.

Put the jig hook in the vise. I use the DoIt hook because the shank weight is really light, the hook is relatively cheap, and I like the vertical hook eye. Feel free to experiment with other shank materials. Attach your thread just behind the hook point. 

Attach the minnow portion using a short piece of 20lb mono and tight thread wraps. Try to keep the hook eye of the minnow as close to the shank of the jig hook as possible.

Trim the butts of the mono, whip finish, and apply a generous coat of head cement to the thread wraps. For security, if you wanted to extend the mono butts farther up the shank and cover with more thread, I don't think that would hurt anything. Thus far, I have had no issues with this coming loose on crappies.

The mono arm with the flash and egg should be trimmed to about 7/8-1" in length. Tie the arm in by the butt on the angled portion of the jig hook behind the hook eye. Use tight wraps and position the mono in line with the hook eye. I use several thread wraps between the mono arm and hook eye to help push the arm outward. 

If you need the arm to angle more, lightly bend the mono with your finger. I like to add a slight bend in the mono arm near the flash portion, also. Remove the jig hook from the vise and trim the hook point off as close to the minnow portion as possible. I like to add cement to all exposed thread wraps. The Starburst is ready to fish. 

Tying the minnow portion tightly to the jig shank allows the hook to pivot and flex when a fish is hooked, but is rigid enough to keep the minnow in position where it needs to be while being fished. Having the weight only in the minnow portion keels the fly nicely. I like to fish the Starburst in short bursts and strips, making the flash pulsate as much as possible. Strikes on the Starburst have been very hard, and the fly has hooked fish very well. The Firehole 321 (or any heavy curved hook) seems to really pin fish well. Thus far, I have only tied/fished this pattern in this small size, but larger sizes should be productive for larger species like bass. This is a unique pattern to tie and very fun to fish. Tie up a few and let me hear how they do for you!

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Tying Tutorial: One More Balanced Minnow

What happens when you mash up a balanced minnow with a Myakka Minnow and a Surf Candy? Well...this. A few years ago, I played around with a similar version of this pattern that was more or less unweighted. The fly caught some fish, but I didn't fish the fly as much as some of the balanced patterns I had in my boxes. Finally, curiosity got the better of me and I did a balanced version of the fly. The clear, heavy inspiration for this pattern is a Surf Candy, a popular and highly durable/effective saltwater pattern. Another is Steve Gibson's Myakka Minnow, a popular panfish and bass fly in Florida. The end result is a very durable, very flashy small minnow pattern with the added attraction of an internal glass rattle.


-Hook: Hanak 400 size 8
-Thread: 6/0 (color of your choice, it won't be visible) and mono thread
-Weed Guard (optional): 25lb mono
-Weight: 3.5mm tungsten bead on a sewing pin
-Belly: Ripple Ice Fiber
-Rattle: 3mm glass rattle
-Back: Ripple Ice Fiber
-Eyes: 3D or flat eyes of your choice
-Finish: thick UV resin of your choice

1) I begin with the weed guard, which is optional. I fish these patterns for crappies, mostly, and like to be able to drag and drop them into brush and cover. This guard is by no means 100% effective, but I rarely snag and lose them. Tie the short piece of 25lb mono to the inside of the hook with the 6/0 thread, the side facing the point, and wrap thread right up to the hook eye. Adding a few wraps between the mono and the eye seems to help hold it in place. Trim the mono so the tip of it narrowly misses the hook point when pressed down.

2) Next, put the tungsten bead on the pin and tie that onto the back of the hook shank, also with the 6/0 thread. I use the non-mono thread for this portion because there's less thread bulk. The pin should extend past the bend in the jig hook roughly two beads in length. Now switch over to the mono thread.

3) Grab a clump of Ripple Ice you wish to use for the belly, based on the color combo you chose for the fly. In this case, I am using Silver Holographic. Tie the clump in near the pointy end of the pin and wrap forward to the front of the pin with open wraps. The fibers should extend well forward of the pin. Tying the belly material in before the rattle gives the rattle a better, more stable, place to "sit."


4) Place the 3mm glass rattle on top of the Ripple Ice and secure with mono thread wraps. Use tight wraps and be sure to keep the rattle centered on the hook. If the rattle has a pointy end, it sits nicely up against the bead.

5) Grab another clump of Ripple Ice Fiber in your "back" color, typically a darker contrasting color. Here, I am using Bronze Peacock. Tie it down on the inside of the hook, also extending forward of the bead/pin. The tricky part is working around the weed guard and hook eye. I like to spread the Ripple Ice into two clumps and pull them around the guard and hook eye, then tie them down. Continue to monitor the position of the rattle, because it can try to shift on you as you add materials.

6) Pull the belly color of Ripple Ice rearward, tenting it over the rattle evenly, and secure it with a loose wrap or two. This is your chance to manipulate the Ripple Ice and spread it evenly over the rattle before tying it down securely. Once you are satisfied with the distribution of the flash, tie it down securely.

7) Repeat the process with the back color of Ripple Ice. Again, I like to spread it into two clumps and pull it around the guard and hook eye. Lightly secure with a wrap or two, check the distribution over the top of the fly, then tightly secure it. At this point, you can whip finish and cut the mono thread. 

8) Tack the eyes in place with CA gel (super) glue. In this case, I used 4mm size 3D eyes in a hot orange color. On this size fly, the 4mm eyes position nicely below the hook eye.

9) Once the eyes are set, coat the fly from the thread wraps to the front of the pin in the thick UV resin of your choice. Spread the resin evenly and be sure to cover all sides. Cure the resin thoroughly. When possible, I even sit mine outside in direct sunlight for a few minutes just to be sure the resin is cured. If you wish, you can also top-coat with Sally Hansen's Hard as Nails or a product like Hard as Hull. Trim the Ripple Ice to your desired length. I tend to angle the cut to trim the belly fibers slightly shorter.

This fly, with its streamlined shape and design, gets down quickly considering the relatively light weight. Color combinations abound with Ripple Ice Fiber. If you balance test the fly out of the water, hanging from mono, it will sit slightly tail-down. However, in the water it hangs horizontally, and that's where it matters. During cold months, fishing a balanced minnow under an indicator is deadly on crappies. The fly can be cast to structure or holding areas and simply dead-sticked, hanging in front of the fish's face. This pattern pairs nicely with the small size DriftRite indicator.  

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Tying Tutorial: A Balanced Minnow

Over the past several weeks, numerous requests have been made for a tutorial on the balanced minnow pattern I have been fishing over the past few months and sharing online. After several months of testing and tweaking, here's the version I have ultimately settled on. When I started testing with this pattern, I had a very specific need to meet: a balanced baitfish pattern with detail that I could suspend under an indicator for selective or lethargic fish. For years, I attempted to make near-neutral buoyancy patterns for cold water crappies and bass, wanting to put the fly in front of fish faces and hang it there to promote eats. I failed. A lot. Ultimately, I came to a realization that I was going about it all wrong. Weight the fly instead, balance it, and suspend it under an indicator a la the old jig and bobber technique that has fooled fish for eons. It's an easier way to present the fly, and depth control is also much easier. Balanced flies were new to me before my Utah trips over the past two years, so I have the Fly Fish Food boys to thank for my introduction to balanced flies. I have, to this point, denied giving this pattern a name. In my opinion it's basically a balanced Baby Fat minnow with a few minor tweaks. Enough for a new pattern name? Ehh, not so sure. What it's called doesn't matter at all to me, all I care about is that it works. 


Hook - Hanak 400 size 8
Weight - 3.5mm tungsten bead on a pin for balance
Thread - 70den UTC or anything similar you like/prefer
Tail - strip of Cohen's Fly Suede and marabou
Underbody - Ice Dub 
Body - streamer dubbing like Bruiser Blend or Laser Dub
Head - 4mm Fish Mask 

1) Begin by sliding the bead onto the pin. I use Darice fabric pins for balanced patterns. The bead should rest under the hook eye, and be sure to leave some space to tie in materials in front of the bead, as shown below. The bead color doesn't matter, it should never be visible.

2) Cut a strip of Fly Suede with scissors or a guillotine-style paper cutter (that's what I use). The piece should be about 1.5" long and taper slightly narrower towards a point.

3) Tie the strip onto the belly side of the hook (will ride point-up) with the narrower end of the tail pointing back. The tail will look a bit long, and that's perfect. The strip of Fly Suede will wriggle and undulate very easily in the water when wet, and the material stays fairly buoyant in the water so the tail won't sag. It's also nearly indestructible. 

4) Tie in two small clumps of marabou, one to each side of the hook, that extends slightly beyond halfway down the Fly Suede tail. I like the fluffy marabou stripped from bugger marabou for this, but any marabou you have will work.

5) Loosely dub a thick rope of Ice Dub, UV Pearl here, for an underbody. Be sure to wrap all the way to the bead. It helps at this point to use a few cross wraps of thread over the bead to hold it firmly in place.

6) Use a brush or piece of Velcro and pick out the Ice Dub a bit. It should look a little ragged and frayed. If there are any long fibers that bother you, simply pluck them out, but they won't hurt anything. Advance your thread to in front of the bead.

7) Rip-stack a small clump of streamer dubbing, here white Laser Dub, and tie it in facing forward on the belly side of the pin. It should be long enough to extend back just past the hook bend when you pull it back to the rear of the fly. Trim any butts near the bead. 

8) At this point, you can get as creative as you want. Color combos are nearly limitless, from solid colors to custom mixes and hot spots. This is also the most difficult part of this fly and a part you need to develop a "feel" for, how much dubbing you can use. There's limited real estate under a 4mm Fish Mask, and you need to be able to get the mask over the dubbing. Also, leave a little space on the front of the pin for more thread. For this demo, I used a pale blue for the "back" with neon chartreuse hot spots on the cheeks/sides. All of the streamer dub should be similar in length. If anything, you can have the top/back color be a tad longer but it should be virtually identical. Whip finish behind the dubbing and cut the thread.

9) The mask will need to be slightly modified to accommodate the jig hook eye. If your Fish Masks are the newer versions made from softer material, a sharp pair of scissors can be used to notch them. If they are the older, harder plastic, use a heat source like a cautery tool or a heated bodkin to melt the notch in. If you try to cut the harder plastic masks, they tend to break. 

10) Stroke the dubbing back and test fit the Fish Mask. When you're sure it fits, remove it and put a drop of gel CA glue on the inside of the mask and slide it back on. Reattach the thread to the front of the pin to form a thread dam in front of the mask.

11) The easiest way to finish the thread dam is to apply some liquid CA glue to the thread, make a few wraps, then cut it after a few seconds for the glue to dry. If you get too much thread on the tiny pin in front, you can have issues with the thread slipping off. Now you can use a brush and brush the fibers back and around the hook point.

12) Another chance to get creative! Add markings if you wish using markers of your choice. I use black Sharpies for barring and a fine point red Sharpie for a gill slit behind the mask. Totally not required, but if you want to add more detail, this is the chance to do it.

13) Add 3D eyes to the Fish Mask, I secure them with a drop of gel CA. I also apply a liberal dose of Sally Hansen's Hard as Nails to the thread and front of the mask, then hang the fly vertically while the Hansen's dries. It's an extra level of protection for the thread and helps make the fly extremely durable.

Once you dive in with this pattern, you'll see how much you can change and tweak colors for different effects. The Fly Suede takes marker really well, so you can add color to it if you want. Change the underbody color of Ice Dub to something bright for a bleed-through effect or hot spot. Color combos on the streamer dubbing are practically never ending. Use a bright thread for the thread dam for a hot spot. Match your local baitfish or tie something bold and hot to get the fish's attention. It's all up to you and your imagination. 

When the fly gets wet, the combination of the streamer dubbing over the picked-out Ice Dub gives a really translucent look. My biggest concern in first tying the pattern was how durable the pin assembly would be after several eats. Thus far, in over 3 months of testing, I have had one bent pin/head, and that was more due to me being too forceful removing the fly from a fish.

When it comes to fishing the fly, I have found that this size fly/bead is perfect for a size small Thingamabobber. It's just enough weight to slightly "squat" the indicator, which is perfect for picking up subtle takes on cold weather fish. I fish this pattern for crappies in Ohio, mostly, with a lot of bonus bass taking it as by-catch. The key with crappies is getting the fly to the right depth. In cold water, they tend not to chase as much. That's where this presentation is deadly, because you can fine-tune depth and hang the fly right in their face. The pattern is versatile, though. Casting and stripping it traditionally is productive when fish are more aggressive. I also like to tight line this pattern with no indicator to bounce bottom in moving water.