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The final instar

By Oliver Edwards

Oliver Edwards divulges that his bringing together of beads and moulded, flexible leg parts has created the ultimate, realistic fishing Nymph

Reel and realistic: one of Oliver
Reel and realistic: one of Oliver
Entomological body parts: Heptagenid Nymph, Rhyacophila and Hydropsyche larva
Entomological body parts: Heptagenid Nymph, Rhyacophila and Hydropsyche larva

Heptagenid Nymph Mk2
: Size 16 Nymph.
Weight: 1.5 and/or 2mm tungsten beads (in singles, doubles or combinations).
Thread: Danvilles 17/0 ‘Spiderweb’.
Tails: Guinea fowl, dyed yellow.
Abdomen: J:son Real Skin, yellow, or pale yellow ‘Flexibody’.
Gills: Ostrich herl dyed pale yellow or yellowish olive.
Legs: J:son RNL N4 Yellow.
Head capsule top/wing buds: J:son wing material RWM N3.

Having traced the development of the gold-head in the May 2103 issue of the magazine, let’s bring the artificial nymph bang up to date, and this time it may (possibly!) be reaching its final instar. Also, this time the flag is most definitely raised on the imitative mast, and for once, the finger can’t be pointed at the French, or the Czechs, or the Italians, or the Poles.

Step forward the Swedes!

I’m talking here about something which might change things pretty dramatically in fly tying. Darrel Martin, no less, has stated as much, in fact his words concluded with “…forever.” This latest incarnation may never threaten the high office of the bead-head, but from what I’ve seen, and the little I’ve tested, I think that it may eventually become a bed-mate for some; time will tell.

Enter entomological body parts! (for nymphs in particular). These aren’t crude bits of shaped rubber. Far from it. These are accurately shaped and sized from the real nymph, in fact the dies may have been manufactured using a highly sophisticated, state-of-the-art, photo/laser etching process. The actual components are pressure-injection moulded from surgical soft latex, super flexible and durable. However, I must warn you: if you do decide to add them to your nymphs, don’t be surprised to find yourself being shadowed by ‘heavies’ from the Fly Dressers’ Guild! You may even lose sleep, plagued by that awful complaint, Fly Tyer’s Angst.

But, to be serious, I’m sure many readers will question if this really is fly tying, and is in fact yet another example of the skill-less, dumbed down, click here, instant gratification world which now suffocates us … and which I dislike intensely? Or, is it simply progress? I tied my first fly in 1956, so my roots are well anchored in the silk, fur and feather tradition. Naturally, this form of tying troubled me initially. It troubles me still, and I have moments when I shake my head and wonder if we could be entering another realm of fly tying altogether, and I’m not sure which side of the fence I’m comfortable on. I suppose it all boils down to one thing: how much ‘realism’ do you want to, or should you, put into the artificial you’re tying?

Tying ‘realistically’ has been with us for years, but the genuine realistics, the ones which take forever to finish, and maybe cost a small fortune, and live in frames for people to gawp at, are not under discussion here. These flies are as hard and brittle as sticks, and were never intended as fishing flies. But come a few rungs further down the ladder and we have flies which are knotted on to tippets, and do get wet, flies which many call ‘close copies’ or ‘fishing realistics’.

Here the tyer will feature those ‘bits’ which portray the creatures’ most significant features, the thing (or things) which immediately draws your eye on the natural. But most importantly, the tyer will strive to find a way of incorporating this detail in ‘tying time’. In short, the tyer eventually perfects the route whereby he can tie a dozen or so in a reasonable time. (I know there are people who struggle with Klinkhåmers time-wise, so don’t trap yourself with your thoughts here!) But where does all this detail end? Furthermore, are all those ‘significant features’ on the natural really necessary on the artificial. Why so much detail?

I recently posed the question to my old sparring partner, Malcolm Greenhalgh. His reply was, as you’d expect, succinct: “We should only be conning the fish with our patterns.” The implication being that we fly tyers should use our art and guile to present something to the fish which merely ‘suggests’ and no more. Malcolm then quoted his perfect example, a well-wetted Waterhen Bloa being unsurpassed as the ‘con’ for a bedraggled half drowned large dark olive dun. I nodded.

Malcolm had set me thinking, and I went back to our undisputed nymph fishing and nymph tying ground-breakers: GEM Skues and Frank Sawyer. Skues’ nymphs were in my opinion as near dammit to ‘cons’ as makes no difference, being little more than a collar hackled and tailed wet, using an ultra-short flue’ed soft hen hackle, with a rather pronounced dressed ‘on-the-round’ thorax; they would definitely pass Malcolm’s ‘con’ test.

Sawyer, on the other hand, was clearly into the ‘copying’ business; would anyone label his nymph’s as mere ‘suggestions’ or ‘cons’? Couldn’t his Pheasant Tail or Grey Goose Nymphs be firmly in the ‘imitative’ camp? Didn’t he, with his herl and thin transformer wire, capture the silhouette of an olive nymph almost to perfection as it ascended to transpose at the surface? Didn’t he quickly find out through his own observations – and then told us – that, when swimming, the legs of ‘agile darters,’ the olives (baetidae), were tucked tight up to their undersides, so legs were unnecessary on his artificial? Unfortunately, he never mentioned that those which fail to make it, and drift away, have their legs outstretched in repose, but that’s another story.

And what about Sawyer’s only flirtation with the chironomid pupa, his Bow-Tie Buzzer. Wasn’t he struck by their white breathing filaments, how they drew one's eye? And didn’t he come up with a most ingenious and novel way to capture this?

So wasn’t Frank Sawyer quite unconsciously and instinctively an ‘imitative’ fly tyer? You could be unkind and say he had it relatively easy, since his stamping grounds were the chalkstreams, where the ‘olives’ reign supreme, to the extent that apart from the freshwater shrimp, he only found it necessary to consider the nymphs of the various olives. His patterns may not be exactly what today we would call ‘close-copies,’ but I firmly believe they were too close to class as ‘suggesting’ anything other than what he intended – and the fish knew! But, you may say, his nymphs contain little detail. They didn’t need to. Their accurate silhouette (and accurate sizing) said it all, and they were perfect for copying the nymph in that particular mode of behaviour.

But there are countless examples of past tyers getting quite close to the real thing. The great Dick Walker springs to mind immediately; he recognised the importance of the fulsome body gills of the ‘Greendrake’ Mayfly nymph, then devised a very simple and effective way of producing them. His pattern soon became a ‘standard’. So maybe the ‘con’ has not been so well observed down the years by some of our better known nymph tyers. The mater­­ials we have today just beg the tyer to strive for realism. Take that old bogey, body translucence. It’s one example of something which eluded tyers of the distant past. Now, it’s easy; the various plastic films take care of that. We have all those fabrics and yarns, soft synthetics, and wire of every imaginable colour; chenilles which defy description, round rubber in many colours down to almost as fine as hair. Today, we even commonly use a material which flows – epoxy – and build up the coloured translucent shellback of Gammarus shrimp patterns. Wonderful! And so it goes on. It’s endless. All these are OK. We can even use heat to bend and fashion shapes. That’s still OK – you made it with your own hands, we’re with you all the way, even if we can’t/don’t want to do it ourselves.

In short, doesn’t everyone strive to tie convincing patterns, to get that bit more edge? And isn’t it even more important when tying sub-surface patterns? Where fish no longer have the problems encountered at the surface, all that ‘window’ and refraction nonsense, where now the artificial is in the fish’s domain, eyeball to eyeball!

So, what do we think about these pre-formed, soft, super-flexible, perfectly-shaped legs – in sets of six – all ready to go? Is this an aid too far? Is this now just too extreme, too much engineering and technology? There is no hint of ‘con’ here; the nymph pattern which walks on these legs is without doubt ‘in-your-face’ true-to-life realism – to the human eye that is – and furthermore, from what I’ve seen so far, the fish aren’t conned either. They think such flies are, quite simply, food.

At first sight you may be rather sniffy, even swear you’ll never use such things. But beware! There is a problem, for me anyway, and a big one – temptation. You can’t simply try these leg-sets, then put them down and forget them. They are very highly addictive. Furthermore, they are already showing early signs of being contagious.

My first introduction to them was at the November 2010 BFFI show at Stoke. A large bear of a guy was demonstrating them. Many of you who attended will remember him. Some time during the show he passed me a bag of bits, saying “Please, you try…”  Inside were lovely, pre-formed, soft, flexible leg-sets for Heptagenid and Stonefly Nymphs. Also included were rows of ‘peel-off’ head-capsules/wing-buds. I’d never seen such things before. I was intrigued. We’ll call these the Mk1 parts.

In January 2011, I tied up a few Heptagenid Nymphs and added these legs. I couldn’t believe the time I saved, and they looked better than anything I could have previously tied in thrice the time. I looked at my old kinking tweezers, and thought: you’re history!

In no time I had knocked out five flies, pushed them into my nymph box and forgot about them. Then, sometime in mid-May I knotted one on for its first swim. It only took a few casts, the line drew positively, and I tightened into a brown of 10in. I got pangs of guilt – bait fishing?

My records for 2011 tell me that I only used this new (Mk1) Nymph six times (guilt?), but on every occasion it scored. One day, I landed two within a few casts of one another, both stonking wild trout of 11/4 and 13/4lb.

Then, late in 2012, an advert in this magazine caught my eye. It showed many very good looking close-copy flies: winged adults, nymphs and larvae. A few weeks later a package arrived – with Swedish stamps attached. What I found inside, I have to say, brought on yet more guilt pangs. These leg-sets – we’ll call these Mk2 parts – for Heptagenid and Stonefly Nymphs, plus leg-sets for two ‘free-living’ caddis larva (Rhyacophila and Hydropsyche) – are quite simply stunning.

The Heptagenid legs have perfectly shaped ovoid femurs, and they’re dorso ventrally flattened, too! Each leg has a thin tibia, perfectly cranked to the femur (which can never ever wash straight). They’re yielding, and very flexible. To the human eye they are a clone of the real thing.

So I tied a few Heptagenid Nymphs with these Mk2 legs. I had the nymph all ready, tails in, abdomen nicely tapered and gilled, thorax dubbed, and head capsule tied in ready for flipping over. At this stage it had the appeal of a fry pattern before you add the eyes, i.e. it looked OK, but dead. I then offered these Mk2 leg sets to the underside. Oh, my God! Just a few turns of ‘Spiderweb’ and the thing came alive! I daren’t use it … I’ll be put in the stocks!

Well I did use it, two actually.

Now, I don’t tell fishing ‘porkies’, but this, I admit, does sound more than a bit dodgy. It was November 8 last year. As you’re well aware the entire year had been a disaster with continuous high water. On this day, the level was + 0.35m (14in) and still too high, with a bank-to-bank strong push. In more normal times I would have hung on a day or two to let it drop further, but a terrible forecast and bad ‘cabin fever’ forced my hand. Fortunately, it was clear. Unfortunately, it was rising slowly.

Just one spot (the only slack) offered a slight chance. It was a large willow with a seam off its outer edge, but because of the half gale in my face it meant getting well out into the stream and fishing back to my own bank. Getting out was tricky, and I shouldn’t have attempted it. This was a day for fishing hard on the bottom really, but it was windy. Spiders were made up, so what the hell, I stuck with them, tying the Heptagenid Mk2 on the point. (It had two 1.5mm tungsten beads buried in the thorax). Third cast, throwing as much slack upstream as I could, then tracking round, the cast almost fished out, just on the point of swing, when wham! The rod was bucking nicely: a grayling, not big, but a fish, definitely a bonus on this day. It took the new Mk2 Nymph.

I’ll not bore you further. But all up I had 14 chances on that short day (11am-2-30pm window). Ten came to hand, four came off. Of the ten, eight took this Mk2 Heptagenid Nymph. More floods and rubbish weather have prevented further trials before this piece was sent off. I particularly want to give the Free-living Caddis Larvae a swim as they look sensational. Their abdomens look as though you could squeeze juice out of them! Hopefully the fish will find them to their liking. Roll on the start of the new season, and some decent levels!

When tying using these ‘body parts,’ I am mostly interested in the leg-sets, particularly for those nymphs with large, distinct, and difficult-to-make legs. The ones I’ve tried for years to master (and achieved only mediocre results). Further, this may seem like ‘Air-fix’ tying by some. However, you still have to know your way around a fly vice. There are still plenty of other parts of the nymph to put together correctly; and you still have to get those proportions right … and correct abdomen tapers. You also have to ensure you’ve got the legs central – in line – on the horizontal, so watch out here for thread torque!

Well, I’ve spilt the beans. Look at the pictures, click onto the website, hit the ‘Add to Basket’ button, and then make your own minds up …

Me? I’m leaving the country.

J:son Sweden website: www.jsonsweden.com


Tying notes
• There is no need for dubbing.
• When using the J:son Real Skin (latex) cut a slightly tapering strip with a tying-in quick taper tag. Stretch to control width when wrapping on, make each wrap slightly overlap previous wrap. Cover beads also, and finish/tie-off/trim, at rear of head-capsule.
• Apply thin coat of non-solvent head cement such as ‘Fly-Tite’ just before wrapping on the ostrich herl gills (i.e. when tacky).
• Trim away gills top and bottom, trim sides to approx 2mm.
• J:son legs are mounted on the underside (where they should be!) When positioning the leg-set, ensure that the thread is positioned ready, in line with the back edge of the rear pair of legs,
• Offer up the leg-set in tweezers and position so that the front edge of the front pair is lined up with the back of the head capsule. You can also position the legs slightly further forward, so that the front pair of legs spring from the rear of the head capsule – as they often appear in life!).
• Catch in with one (or two consecutive) thread wraps, starting with the rear tag, then between each pair of legs, then the front tag (hard up to the front edge of the front pair).
• The tags at front and rear are then neatly trimmed away (but not too close) – stretch slightly when trimming.
• J:son Head Capsule Top/ Wing buds. This is ultra thin, printed, plastic/poly like material. I prefer the N3 size as this gives the tyer better positioning of the wing buds – in my opinion! (But actually N4 Wing Buds should go with N4 legs)
• This material is very flimsy; however there is lots of un-printed material on the same sheet, so to stiffen the head-capsule/wing-buds it is better if you first cut around the printed component, leaving a small margin for final burning. Then cut off and fold an un-printed piece of the same size. Tint the underside of the printed piece, then stack all three layers together, accurately position in the burner tweezers and lick around with a lighter flame. The melted edges will 'weld' all three layers together.
• Lightly apply Superglue to top of head capsule before flipping over and tying down in the ‘neck’. Make a fold to correctly position wing-bud then press down to glue to fix.
• You will need the relevant wing burner/tweezers for N3 and/or N4.
• For the head capsule foundation ... experiment!!
• For colouring ... experiment!

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