Fly Fishing: Is Your Fly Swimming Right Side Up?

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Tips on making sure your streamer swims right side up. Photo By Louis Cahill


Until about the last ten years, I gave very little thought with regard to how I tied my fly tying materials on the hook for my streamer patterns. Nor did I think about how those materials being tied on the hook would in turn, influence how the streamer would keel in the water during the retrieve. This especially was true with fly patterns of mine that I intended 100% to ride hook point up in the water, for example, many of my saltwater fly patterns. It turns out that I was very ignorant, all of those years, thinking as long as I tied my dumbbell eyes on the correct side of the hook, that the weight of the dumbbell eyes would always flip my fly right side up in the water. For those of you who are veteran fly tiers, you most certainly understand this is not at all a guarantee, and you’d quickly point out that the buoyancy of the materials being used in a fly pattern, should always be carefully tied in on the hook in the correct position. The reason for this, is because the side of the fly that holds the most buoyant materials, will almost always end up on top in the water, regardless of whether or not weighted dumbbell eyes were used.

When tying in the tail portion of your fly, that’s intended to ride hook point up, make sure you roll as much of the tail materials over to the hook point side before securely them to the hook. For materials that are going to be wrapped around the hook, it’s always a good idea to trim the bottom and top portion of the materials on each side of the hook. This will help ensure you have equal materials on each side of the hook, and it won’t effect the way the fly rides in the water. Lastly, make sure the wing (main portion of the body of your fly) is completely tied hook point side up. Look at the bonefish fly showcased in the header photograph of this post to see a proper example of a correctly tied fly pattern that’s intended to ride hook point up in the water.

In conclusion, never make the mistake, as a fly tier (especially with new patterns) of thinking you’re fly will always swim right side up in the water that you want it to. When possible, do some on the water testing, especially if you have an upcoming fly fishing adventure that you plan on using the flies during. There’s nothing worse than showing up at your fly fishing destination with a fly box full of flies that are not going to swim correctly in the water.

If you have any suggestions on this fly tying topic today, please drop us a comment. We’d love to hear your recommendations. 

Keep it Reel,

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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15 thoughts on “Fly Fishing: Is Your Fly Swimming Right Side Up?

  1. Great companion article to one Kelly Galloup had a few weeks ago. There is more to a good streamer pattern than twisting a combination of flowing and flashing material on a hook. It has to swim right, catch fish and hold up. It’s fly tying season, big time with the snow and temperatures we are having. People are bored and we are seeing a lot of posts of new untried patterns, lets see how many are still around in October. Another great post.

    • Greg,

      I love the words…..”We’re seeing a lot of posts of new untried patterns, lets see how many are still around in October” So true my friend. Thanks for chiming in today.


  2. Great topic man. When I first got started tying, I broke a lot of rues and it showed with flies that swam in circles and flies that fell apart. I don’t think beginners luck applies to tying. When it comes to tying flies, and wanting them to swim a certain way, or wanting the hook to be oriented a certain direction, you definitely have to think about the physics of the fly and the materials you’re tying onto the hook. Also, before you leave out on a trip with a new pattern that you plan on fishing with, try it out first. Throw it in your pool, neighborhood pond, etc. See what that fly does when it’s in the water first. Maybe you’ll want to make a few changes, or fix a mistake you made while at the vise. It’s better to figure things out then, because there ain’t a damn thing you can do about it when you’re on the water.

  3. This is a really good write up. I think the most important thing in fly tying is to understand the properties of the materials you are using. This should give you an idea of how it will move and ride in the water.

    As others have mentioned, give it a quick pre-swim. You really don’t need anything more than a kitchen/bathroom sink or the bath tub. Tie the fly on a piece of tippet and drag it from one end to the other. You will see really quickly how it rides.

    Another peeve of mine is a fly that is tied upside down on the hook just because it looks cool. Sure it looks cool until you decide to fish it, and it doesn’t ride how you thought… Rant over.

    Strong work here G&G

  4. Maybe another tip for tying the tail on a bonefishfly; tie it a little bit up the hookbend, just aiming the tail about 5 degrees up. This also aids when the fly is falling through the water columns

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  7. just tied a rich murphy steep hill pattern which uses a bendback 2/0 hook point on top. the pattern calls for polar bear or goat… so if i substitute synthetic will it not swim correctly? better usingbucktail which is shorter but buoyant?

  8. To simplify: If I want the hook shank to keel, that is, for the hook to ride point-up in the retrieve, I tie the bulk of the wing as a throat with possibly only a wee bit of material on the “top” of the hook. Material bulk, regardless of the material used, makes water resistance.

    If I add weight to such an upside-down fly for the purpose of helping it keel, I add it opposite the hook point and wrap forward for one-half the shank length. The weight at the front, (dumbbell eyes, or the slick new Fish Skull heads,) follows the line point on retrieve and won’t do much to keel the fly.

    Most of my streamers are lightly weighted, relative to their bulk, or not weighted at all. Once it sinks through the top of the water column, (I’m a trout fisherman,) I want the fly to swim and look alive – not sink like a rock. I’ll use a heavy line and-or weight the leader if I must to get it down.

    Many salt water flies are different, such as the crabs and Charlies that are designed to burrow into the sand “right now” and stir up a cloud when retrieved, but those special application flies in my mind aren’t streamers. The beautiful saltwater streamers that I’ve seen come out of the vises of Lenny Moffo and Bruce Chard aren’t over-weighted at all – and Bruce and Lenny tell me that those flies work.

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