Thursday, February 2nd, 2023
Thursday, February 2nd, 2023

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4 simple unzipped flies for trout and smallmouth

By Vic Attardo
Contributing Writer


Not degrading the beauty of many classic and modern patterns, but I think that a lot of flies we tie and use these days are just too complicated.


In an effort to create something memorable and artistic, many fly patterns have gotten away from the bottom line, or what is wholly necessary to catch fish. Again, this is not a put-down but I have another goal.


For my fly-tying I stick to the basic elements of mimicry – that is, size, shape, color and the added value of inherent movement. I break down flies to their necessary features and let the story roll from there. So, with many of the complex, artistic patterns, I unzip these flies, removing the extraneous and emphasizing the vital.


For example, many modern crayfish flies are ridiculously overwrought. It seems that every feather known to a pheasant has been split and fastened to a fly hook to create crayfish claws. On the contrary, I find these mimicries mostly gratuitous.

Tar’s Little Crayfish    

I’ve been tying a crayfish for stream trout, smallmouths and panfish for decades and it’s a game winner when crayfish are out and about, and a lot easier to tie than most.


My unzipped fly consists of four readily available materials and it takes about 10 minutes to fashion. The marabou tail of the fly imitates the movement of the claws. On this fly, the head is the tail and the tail are the claws.


Tail: Barred orange marabou with strands of gold Krystal flash.


Body: Burnt orange dubbing, tied thickish.       


Eye: Seared monofilament, shaped like a dumbbell. Tied behind the hook eye and thread head (optional).


Shell back: Peacock herl, five strands tied as a long wing case and over the mono eye stalk.


Legs: Brown partridge or grouse.


Thread: Fluorescent orange; mature crayfish eggs are orange under the tail so here the head/tail is orange.


Both the marabou tail with its stubby, thin Krystal Flash, and the partridge legs tied under the shellback, give this fly inherent movement. Even at rest it will wiggle and that’s good enough to emulate claws. I tie this fly in sizes 8 and 6. Sometimes I add a red plastic bead at the head for flash and appeal.

Tar’s Damsel Fly

Damsel and dragonfly nymphs are a favored prey item for many fish. It must be terrible, if you’re one of these nymphs, to have the tables turned on you. There you are crawling along, king of the insect walk, the lion of the jumbled stream bottom taking the sheep and the goats of the substrate world, when all of a sudden some trout with its pugnacious jaws swims in and scoops you up.


The Damsel fly is a prospecting fly; I fish it mostly down-and-across fly and it’s taken hard.


The unzipped pattern uses six common materials, and I can get away with four on this 10-minute tie – seven minutes if I omit the scorched eyes. Sizes 12 and 10.


Tail: Tuft of bared olive marabou with short stubby stands of rainbow Krystal flash.


Body: Medium olive antron-infused dubbing, tied slender. Pick out the dubbing to imitate legs.


Wingcase: Olive Swiss straw tied flat over thorax.


Eyes: Monofilament snippet burned at the tips (optional).


Legs: Brown partridge or grouse tied at the collar (optional).


Thread head: Olive or black.


You may notice that in many of these flies I’m using a barred marabou, which is simply a single color streaked with black lines. It is readily available in fly and some craft shops. My favorites are olive, chartreuse and orange.

Tar’s Heavy Metal Minnow

When it’s time for a narrow-body streamer in thin water, I pull out the Heavy Metal Minnow. This fly is as flashy as a tinseled Christmas tree: its main ingredient is metallic chenille, sort of tinsel on a chord.


Metallic chenille is as easy to apply as any chenille. Simply wrap around the shank, thicker in the front, by overlapping, than in the tail, giving the fly a minnow look.


The HMM takes four materials total with a couple of color variants for the fish’s pleasure. I tie it on a streamer hook, size 12, 8 and 6, also adding a red plastic bead or a tungsten bead head.


Tail: Tuft of dun or medium gray marabou, length depending on fly size; add rainbow and blood red Krystal Flash in tail.


Hackle: Palmered grizzle.


Body: Silver or gold tinsel chenille.


Throat: Tuft of red Krystal Flash.


Thread head: Preferably red.


During the spring, summer and early fall, I use a silver body HMM, but come colder temps in mid-fall and through the winter, when some streams gets an olive algae tint, I go to a gold chenille body with an olive marabou tail and, of course, the grizzled hackle.


One way to make all HMMs better is to use red thread for a glossy red head.

Tar’s Olive Flash

This is the greatest little bluegill and redbreast fly I use, though a yellow and black Improved McGinity is a wonder, as well.


The magic of this fly is not only in the fly but in the action you impart. With no tail, it has no inherent movement, and you don’t want any tail on this fly the panfish can nip at. Instead, keep this fly in near-constant motion. Strip it three or four short pulls, let it pause for a half-breath which causes it to “float toward the bottom.” Then resume short stripping and your fish will be on.


This unzipped fly only uses three materials while one, the ribbing, is optional and fragile. Size 12. Works for trout, too.


Tail: None.


Body: Light to medium-dark olive chenille, both metallic and standard chenille (make many different).


Ribbing: One strand of rainbow Krystal Flash, palmered beneath the hackle.


Hackle: Palmered grizzle, later trimmed close to the chenille body.


Thread head: Olive, black or red.


All four unzipped flies can be tied weightless or weighted. I like the unweighted versions for small streams or places with little current; the weighted versions with non-toxic wire help bulk up the bodies. If you want a dropper fly with the nymphs, go unweighted.

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