The Needleback Minnow – Part 2

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.

Figure-9 Nearly Trimmed to Shape

Figure-9 Nearly Trimmed to Shape

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.

Figure-10 Simple Finished Streamer of Fishair

Figure-10 Simple Finished Streamer of Fishair

Figure-11 Finished Streamer of Pseudo & Craft Hair

Figure-11 Finished Streamer of Pseudo & Craft Hair

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.

A Variation

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.

Figure-12 Positioning a Yolk Sack Loop

Figure-12 Positioning a Yolk Sack Loop

Figure-13 Alevin Stage Streamer

Figure-13 Alevin Stage Streamer

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.

Figure-14 Gang of Three

Figure-14 Gang of Three

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.

Figure-15 Trout Fry

Figure-15 Trout Fry

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.

Figure-16 Smaller Hook Sizes

Figure-16 Smaller Hook Sizes

I predict this hook will come to be a standard streamer hook in short order.

4 thoughts on “The Needleback Minnow – Part 2

  1. Joe Duca

    Michael, or should I say Leonardo! Awesome looking pattern you’ve put together, no, engineered! You used that deer hair underbody like a cdc bubble wing case. Good choice of hook too. I first saw those hooks after 9/11 at a Bass pro shop while visiting friends in Georgia. We were campaigning our dogs in PA and continued south. Anyway they were made by Mustard at that time. My first thought was bendback! I like the daiichi 1870 also but not for that purpose, not enough room to tie on a wing, although I heard they ride point up or down or what ever so I haven’t used it, yet.
    You mentioned textile – shop mottled brown fur. Is that something you can get at a craft or hobby store, sewing shop? Is the streamer in fig. 11 made from that stuff in fig.7 or did you mark it up. The barred pseudo hair pales in comparison.
    So I take it you have not fished it yet, but I’m confident you’ll succeed. Thanks for the tip on shoe goo thining and storage. I could be wrong but an article in Fly Tyer by Art Sheck used thinned goo with acetone to tye a small streamer with a flattened hackle head. I tried it using nail polish remover but the goo just blobbed up. Nice pattern and idea in lieu of buying Softex or similar products. Now on line I read not all mineral spirits are the same. What kind did you use?
    I told you if you succeed in developing this mysterious food item that turned out to be a minnow I’d share a black & tan with you. That just got upped to a 12 pack!
    By the way, try as I may I never harvested a faux fur bearing mammal this past hunting season. But I did manage a few woodies. Besides the flank feathers I enjoyed a wonderful cacciatore in the style of my Sicilian nonna over a steaming pool of polenta, sporting rings of pecorino romano. Mmmm! 😋
    So I leave you with this toast, cinquecento anni mio amico, cinquecento anni…

    Reply
    1. Michael Vorhis

      Hi Joe,
      You’re right that what differences this streamer design enjoys over other streamers is based on “engineering.” This “Needleback” (well I’ve gotta call it something and this was a name my unfortunate thumb chose) can in fact assume the look and shape of almost any existing streamer, which means it’s applicable to everybody’s favorite swimming critter imitation. It differs mainly in its snag resistance and how it knows which way is up. The deerhair underbody is nothing more than a very weak “float bladder” and its effectiveness is related not only to the amount of deer hair but to its height above the hook shank. So you can fine-tune how effective it is. If it’s visible, no worries—trout aren’t going to wonder or care what it is.

      So the whole point of the design is to have a level portion of shank on which to tie while still putting the hook point up and asking it to stay up in use.

      That mottled brown faux fur was actually a quarter-yard of textile I got from Joann Fabrics. Should last me about 200 years, so for something like four bucks I found it a price I could tolerate. No, I didn’t apply a marker to it (although markers are great for that sort of thing, if a bit tedious sometimes). In truth it is kinda coarse and doesn’t like to lie limp while tying, but once wet it seems to be supple enough. It is nice as a dark back-of-baitfish “accent” laid onto the top of other made-for-tying fibers too—just a few strands can make for a nice effect. (I haven’t tried barred PseudoHair although I have used marker on unbarred.)

      Mineral Spirits: I have a two-gallon tin from ome Depot! It works on Shoe Goo, more or less, although how thin you want it can be a matter of opinion. I also sometimes just skip the Shoe Goo step and rely on water to soften faux fur fibers so I can shape them and let them dry in the general shape I want. Still trying it both ways.

      A big thumbs up on the Black & Tan! Sounds like a plan to me, and will no doubt steady my hands ad improve the flies that come from my vise. : )

      You’re throwing Italiano at me, Paisano…how did you know this descendant of Tedeschi spent a year and a half south of Roma and learned a bit of la lingua? Have I been dropping ciao’s everywhere in my articles without realizing it? Do my emphatic hand gestures come through in the writing? Let me know before cinquecento anni goes by…. : )

      And regarding whether I’ve fished the Needleback yet: Yes I have–some some of its personalities anyway–and sometime in June after I get a second chance to give it a whirl in the wake of the spring rainbow/steelhead spawn, I will write a follow-up article about it. Don’t want to spoil the plot, but…well, let’s just say that from what I learned so far, I can’t wait to tie it on again.

      Would love to hear you’ve put those old Mustads to similar use and what your own results may be!

      – Mike

      Reply
    2. Mike Cline

      Joe,

      Somewhat coincidentally, I just submitted a post to Kate based on Art Scheck’s “Featherhead” technique in the 2005 issue of Fly Tyer. Very useful for these types of baitfish patterns.

      Reply
      1. Joe Duca

        Hey Mike how you doing? Yeah that was a good article. I miss Scheck’s writing, I think he was the editor at that time then did their saltwater mag. They use to publish a Warm Water edition addition also. The good old days.Scheck also tied a dry fly that used spun deer hair as hackle. One bunch spun tips forward, a second spun tips back. Then they were pushed together and secured at the appropriate position on the shank. The tail and body were tied on to whatever you wanted to imitate. I guess it was successful because some time later The Fly Shop offered it for sale. Dave Whitlock demonstrated that technique in an article on spinning deer hair, he tied spiders like that.
        Yes I can see how it would be useful. Just look at all the mega streamers being tied today. It really effects the movement and swimming action of the fly. Take a look at Andreas Anderson’s Deliveryman. It takes a long time to tie (I think the video is over 30 minutes long with him explaining) but it has phenomenal movement when stripped. That’s one deliveryman that doesn’t have to ring twice!
        I look forward to your post. Thanks Mike.

        Reply

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