Add Some Fish Appeal To Those Old Flies!

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A recycled Bugger

By Justin Pickett

We all have one…..The box full of rejects, misfits, oddballs, freaks…. deplorables.

These are the flies that have been bought by you. Given to you. Found by you. Or, likely, tied by your own hands… possibly in a bourbon-fueled rage the night before a trip while listening to some OCMS. Or maybe that’s just me… As I scanned through one of these very fly boxes one day, I wondered if there were any flies that might be salvaged, and, if there were, how might they be resurrected? I was looking at dozens upon dozens of flies that weren’t being used. Hooks that were being wasted. Some of them were surely defunct and irredeemable, but I knew I could modify many of them enough to make them fly patch worthy. And, as it turns out, there are several ways to turn an old, dull looking pattern into something new-ish, and might even put some fish in your net!

  1. “Pop” Your Collar – This is a simple modification you can make to most nymphs (beaded or non-beaded), and even some dry flies. For collars, you can add some pizazz by simply tying in a “hot” collar with some fluorescent orange, pink, or red thread. You can add dubbing in a contrasting color, or maybe some CDC or partridge feather to add some movement. The same can be done to small streamers as well. I’ll often tie in a hot spot on the nose of my clousers and woolly buggers, especially when I know I’ll be fishing off-colored water. The same applies to the thorax. Switch up the dubbing. Hackle some feathers. Experiment! Just make sure to keep the correct profile and proportions as you add material. You’ll likely need to remove the existing material to be sure things don’t get too portly. I can’t tell you how many flies I’ve done this to, and it can really make a big difference in the appearance of a fly.
  2. Show Some Leg – Another thing that I’ll do to a “boring” fly is add some legs. This is another quick and easy way to add some attention getting features to an otherwise uninteresting fly. On beaded nymphs, I’ll tie in the legs just behind the bead and add a small pinch of dubbing to help keep the legs separated. I tie legs into dries quite a bit as well. Mostly on terrestrial-type flies, and typically only because the original legs were chewed off by ravenous trout. This gives you a plethora of color and material options while providing some wiggly deliciousness.
  3. Light It Up – This is super easy and a great way to add some dimension to a fly. Many nymphs are finished with an epoxy back before they hit the bins. For those that aren’t, adding one takes five seconds. Grab the UV epoxy of your preference and add a dollop to the top of the thorax to create a little flashback. You can even toss in a little piece of flashabou to give it a little more shimmer. A few seconds with a UV torch and boom! You don’t have to be limited to the thorax of nymphs though. You can cover the entire fly with epoxy to make a super streamline fly that will cut through the water column. Use it to build new heads and add eyes to streamers. Or you can just use it to reinforce the fly itself. I’ll often add some hard UV goo at the bottom of my jig flies in order to protect the material and increase the life of the fly. As for the amazingly annoying fly buzzing around my laptop…..He just got a judo chop to the face!
  4. Be Articulate – Are you uninspired by your box of woolly buggers? Well, a woolly bugger is a great starting platform for making an articulated streamer! Just tie one into a larger hook with some wire and finish that bad boy off with some dumbbells, big feathers and some fluff and you’ll be on your way to becoming the next streamer freak in your neighborhood. You can accomplish this with just about any unweighted streamer, and it’s possible to accomplish this with some smaller beaded streamers. But the fun doesn’t even stop there! You wanna get real crazy and catch some weird looks from your fishing pals? If you have an unweighted, articulated streamer just lying around collecting dust, go get that sucker and tie that thing into some kind of double articulated craziness and go dinosaur hunting! It’s a ton of fun experimenting with this!
  5. Color By Numbers – Painting the beads of your nymphs is just another easy trick that I’ll do from time to time. Sure, you can buy a pack of twenty colored beads for seven bucks, or you could buy a couple cans of spray paint and paint beads for days. For painting beads on the fly, use a small paint brush and spray a good amount of paint on something disposable (i.e. paper plate, cardboard) so you don’t poison your precious flies with chlorofluorocarbons. Go with a more subtle, natural color tone, or go bling with some platinum, chartreuse, or neon pink. I know of a few anglers that will use paint to indicate how heavily a nymph is tied. If they don’t want to paint the entire bead, they just add a dot of paint on the top of the bead so it can be easily identified while in the fly box.

It’s a lot of fun to experiment with patterns while sitting at the tying bench, but it can be equally as fun to search through a pile of unwanted flies and create ways to make them better, or at least more attractive. Plus, there are those feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment that come along with bringing a fly “back to life” and catching some fish on an otherwise undesirable pattern. On top of all that, it’s super easy and the possibilities are infinite. You just might create your next go-to fly! Now go dig through that old, zombie-filled fly box and take it with you the next time you head for the vise!

Justin Pickett
Gink & Gasoline
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2 thoughts on “Add Some Fish Appeal To Those Old Flies!

  1. The fly in the picture, recycled bugger, is a work of art and I’m sure it also catches fish.
    I am not a fly fisherman, just a fisherman who has learned to tie flies (sort a) to teach Haitian friends how to earn a little money. I have spin cast my flies under a bobber to see if they will catch fish. I have learned a lot about fly tying online and gained more interest in fly fishing. I really appreciate articles like yours that give many tips. I like your idea of color coding your flies to know the weight. I have wondered in the past if I have wrapped lead on a fly many times before. Thank you and I love the picture and I have a lot of dogs.


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