Guest Blogger: Michael Vorhis, author of ARCHANGEL suspense thriller, OPEN DISTANCE adventure thriller & more to come
Part 1 of this article promised four “tricks” and then laid the groundwork for a simple snag-resistant streamer based on the Daiichi 1770 “Swimming Nymph” hook. Steps 1 through 5 chose the hook, applied a unique float “bladder”in the right place, selected and affixed twin “underbelly” hair sections, and applied darker hair to represent the minnow’s back. Part 2 now takes that foundation and turns it into a great-looking minnow pattern.
As I said, for the back, I’ve even used grey yarn when I couldn’t find the hair color I wanted. A major problem with yarn is that its twist renders the strands too kinked for good streamer use. But here’s Trick #3: If you’re reduced to using knitting yarn, choose it well, then cut the length you need and unravel as best you can. Holding what you intend to use by both ends, pull until it’s straight and hold it in front of a hot hair dryer. Turn until all the fibers get toasty. (Wetting it first can help too.) The fibers should straighten out nicely, and then you can use them on your steamer. (I have little knowledge of the fine points of knitting yarn properties, but for color accent atop a streamer it seems to work well enough when the colors I want are not at hand. Just pay attention to whether the yarn you choose sinks or floats when water-logged–you need it to sink. Also look at its consistency to determine whether strands are likely to be lost in teeth and over time…no fashion-conscious trout would be caught dead chasing a balding minnow. If “Pseudo Hair” came in a medium grey I’d be all over it, but alas….)
Don’t worry if craft hair strands are still a bit disobedient; they can be “tamed” in a later step.
Here are the remaining steps:
6. Now you’re ready to make it look like a little fish. The light underbelly hair generally shouldn’t extend back under the tail; trim it at an angle to represent a fat little belly, and leave the darker top-hair a little longer to represent the tail and trim it to the desired length too. Once or twice I’ve borrowed a “thinning shears” from the family hair styling tools when no one was looking (don’t tell anybody), but careful random snips with a normal scissors work fine. Definitive cuts can resemble flat or v-shaped tails, as desired. Make it look natural. Figure 9 shows a mostly trimmed almost-finished streamer.
7. If you used craft hair or yarn, now it’s probably time to “tame” that stuff a bit. Unlike many saltwater fish species, freshwater minnows are usually slender creatures. You don’t want the hair to pop up high, or the head to look like a Mahi Mahi. Trick #4 is borrowed from salt water “Surf Candy” streamer patterns and the Popovic “Flex Fleye,” but those patterns use gobs of epoxy or UV resin to essentially turn the streamer into a plasticized plug. That would be far too rigid and too heavy to handle with a little 5-weight-or-lighter line. So I changed that a bit:
I put a small blob (quarter inch or so is all it takes) of Shoe Goo in a little jar or plastic receptacle. Shoe Goo is a polymer resin that remains flexible and that “cures” by virtue of solvents within it evaporating. I keep a tube in the freezer and it’s there and ready for years, without every hardening like tubes will eventually do if left out. Of the many “Household Goop” and “Automotive Goop” and other formulations of this kind of stuff, I find Shoe Goo far superior for almost anything I ever need it for.
But we don’t want to smear this thick stuff on our fly and then try to cast it! If you put a 1x volume of Shoe Goo in the mixing jar, put about 3x to 5x volume of Mineral Spirits, and mix with a toothpick. It will dissolve and thin the Shoe Goo nicely (even dried Shoe Goo can be dissolved in this way…very useful to know). The goal is to make it thin enough to “paint” onto your streamer’s head. If it gets quite thin, no worries, the needed consistency isn’t very precise. If you can spread it with a toothpick and it it’ll soak into the hair and yet it’s thicker than the mineral spirits would be alone, you’re there. I take it to a saliva-like viscosity.
With streamer still in the vise, grab the dark and light hair back near the body and tail and stroke/pull/hold it sleek and thin. (This is the only point where you’ll need to remember that the hook point is facing up…those Daiichi hooks are needle-sharp! Hence the “Needleback” name I’ve given to the pattern, and the band-aid on my left thumb.) With a toothpick or anything else, dip a glob or drop of thinned Shoe Goo and spread it on the hair that constitutes the top of the head. NO NEED TO GO ALL THE WAY UP THE BACK. A quarter inch to a half inch at most is all I coat. I use another few drops on the cheeks and chin of the streamer. It should soak in…with a little help from stroking with the toothpick. Top of head (from nose to eyes, maybe just a little past) and chin (to about the eyes) are the curves you need to tame.
Let it dry. It tames the hair nicely and establishes the thin shape of the leading edge. It’ll hold the streamer to a sleek head profile, and as we all know, how the head is held, so the body follows. It’ll add so little weight you won’t notice, it shouldn’t affect the color, and it’ll allow the hair of the body and tail to move. If it’s a thin enough mixture then it’s a little like applying thick hairspray, but it should last the life of the fly.
The Shoe Goo trick is useful for unruly fibers. Hareline “Pseudo Hair” and other similar ultra-fine fiber products usually need no such taming; these fibers should stay in place and flow as the streamer moves.
8. Once it’s dry to the touch, bring out the eyes…because for every streamer, the eyes have it (sorry, couldn’t resist). I use simple 4mm eyes with white backgrounds, since per most photos, little trout and salmon fry and minnows seem to have eyes with white sclera…but yellow backgrounds can look good too. I epoxy them on either side…glue them right to the hair…and let them set. I keep the eyes close to the snout–my own preference. See two different finished streamers, each using different kinds of hair, in Figures 10 and 11.
I haven’t tested the Needleback on trout IQ yet, but I did read a few stream biology reports on the baitfish species in my favorite waters and tried to rough in the approximate colors. These streamers seem unlikely to fail as long as the right colors are used and the right size is tied…although trout may not read the same scientific journals as did I.
The first opportunity I’ll get to try them out will be in January, when my river opens after the fall salmon run. Alevin-stage patterns work well after spawning runs, so I’ve also tied up some Needleback Minnows with loops of orange yarn to imitate yolk sacks. Figures 12 and 13 illustrate how to position such yolk sack yarn loops and how the result should look.
There’s no question but that my ties could be neater, cleaner, better. And these are still a little bigger than I want. But they’re durable and I think they should do their job. Figure 14 shows three different versions I threw together using different materials, side-by-side so that comparisons can be made.
Imitating Specific Species
Most streams have dace and other small “minnows” in the population. They are no strangers to large trout. Thankfully they can all be imitated by this pattern; the color options using different fibers and markers is limitless. Immature fish in particular have a way of matching the colors of the stones and gravel in their stream–white underbelly hair and grey back and spots can imitate fry living in streams with black/grey/whitish bottoms, while beige underbelly hair and brownish back and spots can resemble those in streams with warmer colors.
And by all accounts, trout are also cannibals, in that they’ll take their own fry readily, especially if an individual seems easily catchable. Fish have their own “body language” and one can tell if another is alert and ready to evade or not. We don’t know this language (well I don’t anyway) and so our streamers are likely to look like some oblivious doofus poking along just asking to be eaten. This particular ignorance can work out very well for us. Figure 15 shows a trout fry imitation I tied, imitating a small one in a tan-bottom stream by using three different shades of fake hair– Hareline “Pseudo Hair” cream for the underbelly, “Pseudo Hair” tan for the sides, and a ginger-colored product that seems roughly identical to “Pseudo Hair” for the back. (Brown “Pseudo Hair” would have worked even better, but it hadn’t arrived yet! It’s beautiful stuff, as is the olive.) I then used a dark brown permanent marker to make blurry barred markings down the sides, and I finished with a pair of yellow eyes. I’m hoping it works very well a month or so after the late spring trout spawning season.
One more clear advantage (if you’ll pardon the pun) to this pattern is that it’s effectively hollow! So light goes through it to the extent the materials you use allow. It makes for a translucent quality that nicely mimics the semi-transparent nature of baby fish.
All in all, the Needleback Minnow is a very easy and inexpensive streamer to tie—once you know the colors of the species you want to imitate, you can add a handful to your arsenal in relatively short order. And the Needleback should hold up, and swim belly-down, and resist hang-ups yet still hang up on trout lips with ease. Plus, unlike many streamers, I think it happens to look very much like a little fish. Again, experiment with colors until you get something your predators will want to eat. My theory is that you can’t go wrong with a light underbelly and darker basic natural colors for the back. Don’t forget the magic a marker can add.
Considering how great these Daiichi 1770 “Swimming Nymph” hooks prove to be for snag-resistant streamers, I bought more in sizes 8, 10, 12 and 14. Now that they’re physically in hand, it’s clear that those sizes will make nice streamers too, to imitate diminutive species and younger alevin stage trout fry, and for little creeks where minnows are much smaller. Even size 14 is quite doable…and would take almost no time and no material at all. Figure 16 illustrates.
I predict this hook will come to be a standard streamer hook in short order.