How to bullet-proof classics and new streamers tied with fragile floss bodies, tinsels, and other delicate materials.
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| I like floss bodies. Lots of rich colors, it's shiny, it takes some skill to lay it down nicely, and it's classy. There are endless classic streamer patterns that call for floss in the bodies, and new ones emerge every day. The trouble is, for fishing flies, it's not real durable. The mylar tinsel that is commonly used for ribbing these days isn't much help. Often one or two fish will render the fly useless. You can improve the durability a tad by using metal tinsels, but often these are not easy to find and dull quickly once wet. What's more, the floss still becomes frayed very easily by the sharp teeth of trout, and seems to be a magnet for dirt.|
Epoxy over the floss and tinsel body with make a vast improvement. If you don't lose the fly, you'll find that eventually you just need to cut off the wing and use the old body to tie a new fly. The greatest damage comes in the form of scratches from teeth, and occasionally (but not very often) the epoxy will crack where it is very thin and has taken a lot of abuse (the fly hits a rock on a fast cast or gets wedged in the stream bottom). With the proper techniques, epoxy can can be used on classic-style streamers while maintaining and enhancing the look and effect.
Floss and epoxy both react to each in various ways and have characteristics that make it necessary to plan your fly design well ahead of time. I will illustrate some of these below, and all can be used in determining the necessary steps to create the look you want. This particular pattern is a somewhat complex design, but many of the principles involved will apply to simpler patterns, even bodies with just a single color of floss and rib, or no ribbing.
You need to decide what color will be under the floss. When wet, floss becomes somewhat translucent, and this shows up when epoxy is applied. For brighter colors, use white tying thread. You can customize the finished (epoxied) color of the floss by using different colors of tying thread underneath. Black will produce a very dark, almost black when used under most colors of floss. Other thread colors like red or olive produce other interesting effects with different colors of floss. Experiment with different combinations and keep notes.
The first thing to keep in mind is the body thickness. Epoxy will add bulk and a little weight to the body, so you want to tie it as thin as possible. Here I'm using Danville's Prewaxed 6/0. This thread can be untwisted to lay flat and very thin, much like floss. Notice in the first photo below that you can barely see the thread over the hook shank. Attach the thread to the hook behind where the head will be. Throughout the tying of the body, keep as much material out of the head area as possible to allow for tying in collars, throats, wings, etc. and minimize head size.
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| Not only does the body need to be thin, it needs to be as smooth as possible.|
Tie your tail in at the bend. If the material is long enough, lash it to the top of the shank almost all the way to the head area. A couple wraps before the head, trim the excess at an angle and cover the clipped ends so there is a short taper at the front of the body.
If, however, the material is too short for this, like the grizzly hen hackle here, lash the butt ends on top as far as the shortest fibers, then trim the rest flush. Leave about a thread's width of the clipped ends exposed and take one wrap just in front of them. We'll have to use something else to fill in the rest of the length.
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| For a filler material, I like to use white (or other appropriate color) poly yarn. It has the bulk which can be adjusted by adding or removing fibers, and has some "give" even under the thread to let you further smooth out the body. Cut a section of poly yarn a little longer than the hook, and gently comb out the fibers with a comb or dubbing needle. Separate a few strands about the thickness of the hook shank. Twist this and pull it tight... this will give you some idea of how thin it will compress. Err on the larger side, as often the poly yarn can be compressed thinner, and if not, a taper will form which may be acceptable if not excessive (rather than a reverse taper if the filler material is too thin). |
| Tie in the poly yarn right in front of the clipped ends of the tail, with two loose turns of the flattened thread, leaving about half an inch extending to the rear. Hold this up at an angle and slide the poly yarn forward through the thread wraps until the ends of the poly fibers are almost under them. Holding the yarn up at an angle helps gather all the fibers on top of the shank. You'll notice the fibers are no longer flush. This small uneven area will help fill in the area where the expose clipped ends of the tail material are.|
Twist the poly yarn a little to compress and round it out and hold it up at an angle as you warp a thin layer of the flattened thread forward over it to the front of the body. Do not overlap the the thread wraps. Just shy of the head, clip the excess at and angle, cover with the thread, then wrap back (thinly) toward the bend. Take care at the junction of the poly yarn and tail. Here the wrap should be a little gentler so the thread does not sneak down and shift the clipped materials out of place.
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| Continue with the thin layer of thread toward the bend, and stop near the hook point. From here to the bend is where we'll tie in the floss. Not all floss is created equal-- some are easier to use than others. This depends on what it's made of, and how it's made. You may find a particular kind of floss easier to use than others, and this may be different than what someone else prefers. Experiment with different brands and types to find what works best for you. For a smooth, thin body, the easiest floss to use in my experience is made of Rayon, like Danville's 4-strand floss (from which you would use just one of the four strands), or that found on small spools like those you get in a dispenser. This floss is pretty close to silk in sheen, and the fibers are easily separated which allows you to flatten it and wrap it thin and smooth, like we've been doing for the thread. Surprisingly, genuine silk floss like Pearsall's is also easy to use, as long as you take care not to fray it. However, unless you don't mind spending the money, genuine floss is best left to display flies or those that you won't be applying epoxy over (silk floss is beautiful and should be left as is to show it off).|
Uni-Floss made of Acetate is very difficult to use to produce a thin, smooth body. However, it is widely available and economical, and many tiers like this brand, so that's what I'll use here to show that even this can still be used. This is a very durable floss and the colors are rich. The problem with it is that the individual fibers are not just twisted or parallel, they are interwoven. The material also tends to "catch" on itself. This makes it difficult to separate the fibers to flatten out the strand. Here's how you can still use this with good results. Cut a section of the floss long enough to cover a little more than twice the shank. This will be determined by trial and error, but for a guide, for this size 6 fly, cut an 8-inch section of floss. Now carefully divide the strand in half so you have two sections of floss 8-inches long, but half the width. This may be aggravating the first couple times you try it, but it does get you familiar with how the floss strand is made up. Often the strand will tend to divide somewhat naturally into two strands. As you work slowly from one end to the other, you'll notice filaments wanting to go to one side or the other... carefully move these to their desired side. Exercise patience and work slowly. If you pull the strands apart too fast, the filaments will catch on themselves and knot up, rendering the floss beyond help and useless.
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| To get the floss to wrap smooth and thin, you need to be able to untwist the filaments so they lay next to each other when applied around the hook shank... it is the overlapping of the filaments that creates bulk. Separating these filaments is much easier with only have the number to work with.|
Take one of the half-strands of floss and lash it to the top of the shank on the next turn of thread. Carefully pull the floss back so the end almost goes underneath the thread wrap. You'll notice the filaments gather to the top of the shank, but lay side by side rather than twisted and overlapping. This makes for a nearly imperceptible tie-in area. Take another tight turn of the thread to secure the floss. Hold the floss up at an angle and continue wrapping the thread thinly to the bend. Twist and manipulate the floss as necessary to keep the filaments parallel and maintain its flatness along the entire tie-in area. We'll work on the rest of the floss strand later.
| For ribbing, I want to create a thin zig-zag pattern (or criss-cross on top and bottom). Regular tinsel would be be too thick for this, so I'll use a couple strands of Flashabou. Pink would fit in nicely with my color scheme. Lash a strand to each side with one thread wrap. To do this, bring the thread up on the near side, lay one strand against the shank, continue over the top of the hook, lay the other strand against the far side, and complete the turn of thread. Immediately take another turn of thread in front of last. Continue in thin, touching turns all the way up the shank to the front of the body. Tie a couple half-hitches or a three-turn whip finish knot and clip the white thread. Attach black 6/0 thread to the hook in the head area and wrap smoothly back to the white. What are we doing this for?|
| To illustrate the difference of effect in a light versus a dark underbody, as well as special effects that can be achieved, we'll create a dark foundation at the front of the body that kind of fades into the light foundation. You'll see the effects of this when the epoxy has been applied.|
Let the black thread unwind to flatten it, then wrap it smoothly over the white for about 1/4 of the body length. Now gradually increase the distance between the turns of thread as you wind back, letting the thread twist again to become thinner. Continue 3/4 of the way back, then reverse and create X's on the side as you cross each wrap, the gap between turns gradually getting smaller. When you get to the solid black area, let the thread flatten, then continue to just in front of the body area.
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| Now for the floss. Starting near the loose end of the floss strand, use a clean dubbing needle to comb out the filaments. Take your time and work gradually further up the floss strand to the hook, taking the weave out of the strand. The more you work at this the better the results will be. The good news is that for epoxied bodies, you don't have to do this very much... just enough that you can get a very thin, flat wrap. With rayon floss, none of this is necessary. But if you only have acetate (Uni-Floss), it necessary for the best results. |
| When the filaments are mostly separated, pinch the floss near the hook and gently stroke the strand all the way to the end. You'll see the filaments aligning and the strand flattening out. Without fail, a few filaments will refuse to align peacefully. Repeat the pinch/stroke a few more times until you get as many filaments aligned as possible.|
Take a half turn around the hook with the floss and repeat the pinch/stroke. You should get a flat, yet solid strand. Hold the floss near the hook and continue with the wrap, overlapping a little less than half of the previous wrap. On each turn repeat the pinch stroke and hold the floss as close to the hook as possible to keep the floss filaments from separating too far apart. Continue all the way up to the tying thread, then tie off on the bottom of the hook shank with three tight turns of thread and clip the excess floss.
| To create the zig-zag effect, spiral one of the Flashabou strands up the shank. Unwrap one of the thread turns holding in the floss, maintain the tension (so you don't lose the floss) and take two turns to tie down the Flashabou. Now wrap the other strand in the opposite direction, taking care to form the pattern on the side... the strands should form an X directly on top and bottom. Tie down at the head area with two tight turns of thread.|
Tie off the black thread with a three turn whip finish. Clip the thread and apply a drop of cement. Obviously, a body like this will not last long when fished. The floss will fray and the Flashabou ribbing will be easily severed by sharp trout or steelhead teeth. The epoxy will take care of that.
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| Typically, you can epoxy four or five bodies effectively with one batch of epoxy, so tie these all ahead of time. After applying the epoxy to this many many, it starts to set up enough that it becomes too thick to soak into the floss evenly, and is less fluid so bumps and an uneven finish may result.|
I need a few Llamas, so I'll tie the bodies for four of these to epoxy with the demonstration fly. The Llama has a red floss body and gold rib. To make it more durable and still maintain the look, I'll apply epoxy over. This will also substitute the lead wire that is usually used, and create the cigar-shaped body the pattern calls for.
It's best to use a longer setting epoxy for this application. Five-minute epoxy will allow for just one or two flies, and as soon as it's fished (or sooner) the epoxy will yellow. I like to use Devcon 2-Ton epoxy. This is found in most hardware stores or departments, has a 30-minute setting time, and produces consistent results with allowance for minor errors in getting equal amounts of resin and hardener. In addition, the plunger-type applicator is convenient. There are many people who do not have good success with this brand. If you find this is the case, try others until you find a brand with a set-up time that works well for you on a consistent basis.
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| In case you're not familiar with epoxy, here's a brief primer. By set-up time, I mean the time it takes for the epoxy to harden. Five-minute epoxy sets up in five minute. The 2-ton in about 30 minutes. Beyond this time, the epoxy has hardened enough that it can no longer be manipulated or applied. It takes an additional amount of time, usually 12-24 hours for the epoxy to cure... when it is as hard as it's going to get and can be handled. The epoxy should not be touched until it has cured, or you could misshape it or mar the surface irreversibly.|
Epoxy has two parts, the resin and the hardener. Dish out equal amounts of these into a plastic cup, on a piece of aluminum foil, or other smooth surface. I like to use 4-mil plastic window covering that comes in a large roll. I cut this into small squares. One roll will last you a very long time and is economical.
The two parts need to be mixed. Do this slowly, making figure-eight movements and circles without lifting the stirrer. To stir, plastic coffee stirrers are good, or you can use a toothpick. A toothpick may give you more bubbles in the epoxy, but this is what I use most of the time... I kind of like a few bubbles in my epoxied streamer bodies for an additional flashy effect. As you mix, you may see the epoxy marble. Continue stirring slowly until the marble look is gone, which indicates it's mixed thoroughly, but remember you only have a few minutes to apply the epoxy.
For additional effects, before mixing, you can add a drop of dye or paint to tint it, or a pinch of extra fine glitter.
To apply the epoxy to the fly, use your stirrer to place a large drop in the middle of the body. Work this carefully over the floss, taking care to avoid the tail, and keep it to a minimum near the head. When the whole body has been covered, remove excess by wiping the stirrer clean on the epoxy container or piece of plastic, then hold the fly in one position as the epoxy sags. Use the stirrer to remove the sag, wipe it clean, and repeat. You want just enough epoxy on the floss that you get a smooth even coat and there are no bare spots.
Hand rotate the fly to smooth out the layer of epoxy, ensuring there are no sags from excess epoxy, then place the fly in a rotary. These can be purchased or made from from rotisserie motors. Let them rotate for at least an hour. Then leave them to cure in a dust free space for a day or overnight before finishing the fly.
If you don't have a rotary turner, you can do just a couple of flies at a time and place them in clothespins by the hook bend. These will need babysat for the thirty minutes it takes for the epoxy to set up, turning them every couple minutes so the epoxy does not sag to one side. Once the epoxy has set up, leave the flies overnight to cure.
| Here's how the demo fly turned out. Notice the difference in shade from front to back. This is the effect of the dark foundation near the head versus the light foundation near the tail. You can see the individual wraps of the black thread. If you want a smoother dark-to-light effect you could also use markers or pastels to color the white thread.|
Despite the small bumps that were visible before the epoxy was applied, the body is now glass smooth.
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Below you can see the details of the effects. The black thread is clearly visible under the floss. This can be useful in creating scaled effects and designs. Where the floss is over the white thread, you can see how the body glows like a jewel. Even though there is a layer of epoxy, the red color is magnified and "carried" to produce this effect. This effect is most notable on lighter floss colors like yellow, orange, red, and light shades of others. Notice where the Flashabou was tied in. A metallic underbody creates an even brighter body. Metallics are also "carried" by the epoxy layer... notice how it looks like the ribbing is over the epoxy, although it is actually underneath.
| On the other side of the spectrum, some colors do not fill out the epoxy layer. Dull, dark colors like black, brown, and olive remain within, yet become solid and a very rich tone is achieved. This effect, when used with metallic ribbing, creates a thin, richly-colored body with a ribbing that looks like it's "floating" just above it... a very 3-dimensional effect. Keep all these effects in mind when designing your own streamer bodies.|
| Now to finish the fly. Reattach the thread and wrap back to the front of the body. For this pattern, fold a purple saddle hackle and tie it in by the tip on the underside of the shank. Clip the excess.|
| Take three or four turns of the hackle, stroking the fibers back. Tie off and clip the excess.|
| Clip a bundle of squirrel tail hair, carefully maintaining the alignment of the natural barring. Tie this in on top with four or five tight turns of thread, the tips extending just beyond the tail. Clip the butt ends at an angle, or stagger-clip, then apply a large drop of thin cement. Give the cement a moment to soak in... this will help secure the slippery squirrel tail hairs. |
Let the thread untwist and flatten, then wrap over the remaining clipped ends and build up a smooth tapered head. Whip finish and clip the thread. Coat the wraps with cement.
And there you have it... a fancy, beautiful steelhead fly that should last through many fish. If this fly is not lost, a new wing can be tied in next season if necessary. To me, it is better to have three or four of these to carry, than a dozen or so less durable, less fancy ones.
| So how did my Llamas turn out? Well, they're all dressed up and ready to go. Notice the colors in the bodies. This is not an intentional fade like we did above... these bodies all have white thread underneath red floss. The color difference you see below is the effect of the light making the body glow. The more light that hits the epoxied floss, the brighter it glows. If you pick these up (and as they move in the water) you'll see the brighter glowing portion shift up and down along the body. A suggestion of life, attractive to fish? You can bet on it!|