*** EDIT – Since writing the below, I took my own advice and spent even MORE time on tying a pair of BEASTS, attempting to build a matching pair of BEAST Mullets… I kinda almost sorta maybe think I’m nearly there and may attempt an SBS of sorts in the near future.. added some pics of the latest pair to the bottom of the page ***
I think like most, I tend to go on fly tying binges with certain patterns or materials or styles or species focus… It can be a both positive and negative habit for your tying…
On a positive side, you tend to get better at certain techniques/patterns because of the obsession with it, which can only improve your skills, and you actually end up tying decent patterns you are happy with … sometimes that takes tying it a dozen times, sometimes it takes tying 15 dozen times…
On the negative side, well getting too zoned in and focused on one thing can put the blinkers on, and you can’t see the trees for the bushes… and then you descend into a spiral of despair when you can’t get your shit together on a certain pattern or style.
When you tying small simple patterns, this isn’t the end of the world as you haven’t invested upwards of 30 minutes into a single pattern so don’t quite so defeated when you fuck it up… But when you’ve spent an hour or so on a big technical pattern you’ve been obsessing about and it all falls apart in the end it can be a serious kick in the shins/balls/ass/teeth.
But back to the positives, in my own tying at least, these kicks to the nether bits delivered by my Vice, have taught me to slow down, and redo things as soon as I’m not happy with them. I’m not tying stream side during a hatch thats about to end, there isn’t any rush actually, so if I’m gonna go through all the time and effort ( and money thrown in ) then rather take your time and get shit right throughout. This may sound like Flytying 101 to most of you, but I’m not an inherently patient person, and prefer to bang my noggin against something a few times, progressively harder before I realize that perhaps ducking is a good idea?
I was very kindly gifted a copy of Bob Popovic‘s amazing new book, Fleye Design, the follow up to Bob’s brilliant first Book Pop Fleyes, by my good buddy Platon at Christmas, and spent a while delving into this brilliant book, learning a ton about bucktail tying in particular. Something in which my skills were certainly lacking…
At the time we had a looming Providence trip coming up , so I put a fair bit of time into incorporating Bucktail into some patterns we took out there, and ended up doing very well on. Specifically we had good success on big patterns, that drew attention from big fish.
Fast forward a couple months, and Whippet Wednesday tying sessions in Warwick’s Garage, we were spinning up a few Mighty Ugandans, but soon stumbled onto Bob’s BEAST Hollow Fleye and well to be honest, the blinkers have been on ever since.. flat out obsession, and I’ve not tied anything else … the BEAST is basically a supersized version of Bob’s Hollow Fleye, using a mono extension onto which he ties multiple Hollow/Reverse ties of Bucktail. This extension is then tied onto the hook, and the pattern continues from there with more hollow ties through to the front of the fly.
First off we realized that the quality of bucktail we had, was no where near sufficient for these extended body monstrosities… It was also a convenient excuse for our pathetic first attempts turning out pretty kak.. I started searching for answers… following guys like Andrew Warshawer ( @andrewscustomflies ) I was in awe of these incredible massive flies, and had to get them right…
We managed to source an order of bucktails from the good old US of A which we managed to somehow get through customs without a full body cavity search, and thought to ourselves ” Haha, now we have the right materials, let the BEASTING begin!!”… Ha fucking Ha indeed… Despite having the best materials on hand, attempts still looked like shit… the proportion, spread, beauty, weightless mass of the flies Bob and Andrew and other were punching out were a far cry from the first attempts coming off our Vices.
But searching for satisfaction, figuring shit out, learning and getting it right somewhere in the future is what fishing, and in turn fly tying is about for most of us, and as soon as you dial back your need for instant gratification, and accept you need to learn some shit, slowly and carefully, there is a faint glimmer of hope on the horizon.
Along with Bob’s book, his most recent video, on Steve Farrar’s Youtube channel has been invaluable in getting from A to B to C… by no means anywhere near Z yet, but the journey has been a fun one, if a little heavy of materials, cigarettes, whiskey, beer and frustration.
A couple things learnt along the way, which might be of some use to others wanting to attempt these… basically let me bang my head a couple dozen times so you don’t have to:
- Watch the video, and read the book if you can. Bob’s insights in both are invaluable… this is his invention after all..This post is by no means an SBS, if thats what you were looking for! There are so many little bits and pieces in how this fly is built/tied.. like tying on the mono extension, how to go about prepping it etc. Go see the master himself in the video link above…
- Materials – Obviously having the best quality bucktail you can does help, but I think learning about the different types of fibers, and how they work, and where they work in the pattern ( and other patterns ) is even more important. Again, read the book.. Its also worth steaming your bucktails a bit.This little trick learnt from Whippet regular Andreas the Purveyor of Materials definitely ups the level of your Bucktails by plumping them out.
- Thread use – This is one I’m still trying to figure out.. Regular thread vs Mono.. Bob and Andrew both use Mono tying thread for their BEASTS… I have tried both, and will continue to try both till I get them right. Having not tied with mono for a couple years, it takes some getting used to again.. but its stretch/spring definitely does help with getting the bucktail to do what you want… sometimes..
- Mono/Fluoro Extension – I believe Bob ties on 60lb hard Fluoro. We didn’t have any on hand so started tying on 80lb mono, then tried 100lb mono. I struggled with it because its just too soft, and difficult to tie on, keep straight etc… so I then stepped up to tying on 130lb Hard Fluor which was what I had on hand, and found it a big help. Its probably overkill, so will pick up some 60lb and 80lb for future ties.Apparently in the US you can by pre straightened sections of hard fluor… ha, lucky them! Fear not though as you can straighten some yourself.I ended up wrapping a couple meters around a 12mm spanner – just loop through the circle end, and round the open end and then tie off. Drop the whole thing into a pot of boiling water for a minute or so, then remove and stick into Ice water for a few minutes.Then you just cut the ends, and you’ll end up with a bunch of 6 to 10 inch sections, nice and straight.
- Go light on your materials! For us this has been the biggest battle… I find it really tough to go “Less is More” as you are wanting your final fly to be a beast BEAST.. But on this fly, less really is more.. the whole idea of this pattern is an enormous fly, with huge profile, but that still be very light and easy to cast.The first few I tied had probably 5 or more times the material in them they should. Not only is this a waste of materials, but makes the whole pattern virtually impossible to cast due to its bulk and weight and wind resistance. So, go light as light on materials as you can.
- Taper – This is incredibly important, and what I believe is a huge key to the overall beauty of this pattern. You want your bucktail to create a natural taper throughout the tying process.
- Finished Tied Fly vs Finished Fly Ready to Fish – This is NOT a pretty fly when you tying it… it will look like a poorly groomed punk who just stuck his finger in a plug socket, and his tongue on a 9 Volt battery. This is the next most difficult thing to try not do, and that is make the fly “pretty” while you are tying it.The hollow Fleye technique makes use of “Thread Dams” infront of the tie in point on each clump of bucktail to control the angle of the bucktail.What you want is a gradual taper from rear through to the head of the fly, getting progressively “steeper”.. this means that while you are tying, and getting towards the last 2/3rds of the tie ins, the angle of your thread dams and bucktail might look a bit ridiculous. Try not flatten them down with thread too much, even though you might want to. Once you are finished with your tying, you are going to run the pattern under a tap, and the fibers will, if you’ve done everything properly, lie back in a beautiful fishy profile. Hang the fly up and let it dry.Once dry, it should look a little less unruly… But even if it is still a bit Albert Einstein looking, get it wet again, and put it in a pool and test swim it because as impressive as these look out the water, in the water is where it counts, and what looks like an ungroomed brat out the water can often end up being spectacular once you stick it in the drink.
- Stroke the fibers… and then stroke some more. This pattern requires more fibre stroking, tweaking, pulling, stroking again than any other fly I’ve ever tried to tie. Seriously, treat her well and keep using your fingers to spread, stroke, tweak, straighten the fibers whilst tying, and after the flies been completed. Most of the ones I’m actually happy with that I’ve tied have only gotten to that point a week after I’ve tied them because I’ve spent so much bloody time stroking the damn things.
- Go slow – at each tie in point, take your time to try make sure your bucktail is evenly distributed around the shank so that when you push the fibers back, they are even. Once pushed back, spend the time making sure they are even again before locking them in place with the thread dam and a touch of glue.
So I am still a bloody long way off being happy with what my BEASTS look like! I think its the kind of pattern that is gonna take a long time for me to feel like ” I got it”.. but I am getting happier with each one I tie, and learning a new trick/technique with each version I tie.Hopefully after a dozen more, they’ll be versions I’ll be happy with, and proud to stick into the flybox, and ultimately tie on to throw at big fish.
And hopefully if you do feel the urge to try tie a few of these, and I hope you do cause they fun as hell, the notes above my prevent you from banging your head as often as I have. Hell, sometimes its pretty fun to tie outside your comfort zone, and tie flies that are bigger than a lot of the fish you and your buddies sometimes fish for!
The following are attempts of mine over the last couple weeks… Not quite on the level, or even in the same room as Messers Popovic or Warshawer yet, but its a start…
*** And a couple images of the latest pair of BEAST Mullet ***