An Upright Dad

Guest Blogger: Michael Vorhis, author of ARCHANGEL suspense thriller, OPEN DISTANCE adventure thriller & more to come

What the world needs more of, so social ‘scientists’ say, are more upright ‘Dads. And so I thought for a thousand hours on how to ensure my own family has one–a ‘Dad perhaps unpolished but still of dignity and posture–a ‘Dad that can be counted upon. I was sure everybody meant a fly pattern (what else, after all?), and laying awake a score of nights over a score of months I planned out the achievement to the finest detail. My goals were to accomplish all the following:

• End up with a crawdad pattern in my fly box.
• It had to be fishable at depth without a lot of weight.
• The thing had to SWIM UPRIGHT when retrieved in wet-fly style.
• It had to be SNAG RESISTANT so that I could scoot it along the bottom.
• Use natural materials to absorb minimal water–stay light, stay easily castable with a 5-weight.
• Its parts had to move fluidly in the water as if alive.
• It had to look more like a swimming crawdad than any “easy-to-tie” ‘dads I’d ever seen.
• Above all it had to take mere minutes and very few materials to tie.

Considering my tying speed, that last one meant it should take a pro about thirty seconds. And I’ve achieved every one of those goals. I think you’ll like it; here are the Upright ‘Dad tying steps:

Materials:
A. A streamer hook–actually I prefer a lightly curved shank similar to J.Stockard’s J2-430 Multi-Use Nymph hooks, because of the slight “keel” effect that shape provides. I use a hook about an inch long (I think it’s a #8) but you can make larger ‘dads…or smaller if your fingers can work that small. I choose a hook small enough for 9-inch trout to attack but big enough to interest large multi-pound trout and smallmouths. I very slightly increase the hook gap, but again that’s just me.
B. Deer or elk hair of the color you want the crawdad’s body to be. Make sure it’s hollow hair–the stuff from a bucktail is mostly not hollow and you want the float force. Elk is more durable than deer so mixing in some cow elk can help, and you can get a nice mottled look too by mixing hair of different colors. I like to use natural dark-stranded cow elk and shuffle in some black-dyed deer or elk.
C. A piece of monofilament line and a small split shot. I use shot that’s not shiny silver. For the size ‘dad I tie, the waters I fish and the amount of deer hair I use, a Size 1 (0.3 grams) is about right. You want just enough weight to “defeat” the float force of the deer/elk hair and let the thing not only sink but sink legs-down. You don’t need much, and depending on the hook size and hook wire and the stillness of the water you’re targeting, you might be able to get away with as little as 0.1 grams. Experiment and use instinct. The shot is more a factor in the fly swimming upright than it is a depth-producing measure; sinking lines are better for that.
D. Two saddle hackles of the color you want the claws and legs to be. Webby is better! Fine high quality rooster hackle barbs are too invisible–go for the cheap stuff.
E. Black thread.
That’s all you need. Oh, you’ll also want to use a rotating vise.

Tying Steps:
1. See Figure 1. Crimp the little split shot onto a piece of monofilament line. Ensure the thing isn’t likely to open throughout the fly’s life.

Figure 1 — 0.3 gram Split Shot

2. See Figure 2. Lay down a bed of thread on the hook shank to help keep the mono on top of the shank, and then wrap down the hook bend end of the monofilament on the “top” of the shank (that is, on what will become the underside of the fly when the hook is inverted).

Figure 2 — Tie Down Mono One End

3. See Figure 3a and Figure 3b. Clip the mono at the wrapped-down end and extend a bed of thread bend-ward on the hook shank to where the deer hair will be tied down. This thread bed provides some friction and helps keep the deer hair from spinning around the otherwise-slick hook shank. Now invert the vise jaws and hook, and immobilize them there if your vise allows. It’ time to tie upside down.

Figure 3a — Cut Mono

Figure 3b – Invert Hook & Lay Thread Base

4. See Figure 4. Achieve the crawdad body color you want by mixing deer and/or elk hair. It can be rough–need not be completely homogenous. Then stack the hair at the butt ends instead of at the tips, to even up the butt ends.

Figure 4 — Mixed Deer & Elk Hair

5. See Figure 5. Described for right-handed folk: Holding the deer/elk hair in the left hand, rest the aligned butts on the thread bed you’d laid down (rest them on the side of the shank nearest the hook barb), then tie down the hair as close to their butt ends as you can reasonably manage. Try to keep the hair all together, not spinning around the hook. The hair must be anchored all on the same side of hook shank–the inside of the bend–the side of the shank closest to the hook’s barb–the side of the shank the split shot is NOT tied to. Do your best to keep it together as a bundle, keeping it as parallel to (in-line with) the hook shank as you can, and crank it down tight. Then let the long strands flare out to the left past the hook’s bend as Figure 5 shows. Trim the short flared little stubs a bit if necessary, although the rough look is fine for this fly–the fish won’t grade you down a notch for it.

Described for left-handers: Become right-handed and then follow the description above.

Figure 5 — Tie Down Hollow Hair

6. See Figure 6. If you haven’t already done so, snip off a couple of saddle feather tips which will be the crawdad’s claws. They’ll start at the hook-bend side of the split shot and hang out past the hook bend. Size them as long as you want; I like them to extend about an inch past the hook bend so they’ll flow bu still fit in my fly box, although I’ve done no length studies on what fish think. Also, it’s important to clip off two or three barbs on each side of the feather stem down at the butt end of the stem, else it will be difficult to tie them in place. Just set them aside for now.

Figure 6 — Feather-Tip Claws

7. See Figure 7. The claws are set aside; use the rest of one of the saddle feathers for the crawdad’s legs. Leave the fuzzy, webby barbs down near the stem’s butt-end on the stem–the schlappeniest of schlappen! …those “barbs” make the best crawdad legs. Tie the thick butt-end of the saddle feather in just to the hook-eye side of where the deer/elk hair is tied in.

Figure 7 — Tie In Leg Hackle

8. See Figure 8. Wrap the fuzzy leg hackle as densely as you can back to almost the split shot, and tie it off very well because the thick saddle stem can come undone against even several turns of thread; a half hitch or two can help here before you let the bobbin hang slack. Don’t take the wraps right up to the split shot, as you need a little room to mount the claws. Leave your thread right there.

Figure 8 — Wrap Leg Hackle

9. See Figure 9. Stick the butt end of one claw in, onto the hook shank between the leg hackle and the split shot. Wrap it on there, trying to have the claw feather extend back past the hook bend but angled a little “out” laterally if you can–the claws will together resemble the wings of a swept-wing aircraft, although very very swept, as if the crawdad is signaling a football goal…although I have no knowledge of crawdads playing any kind of organized sport beyond the ever-popular ‘keep from being eaten’ game. If you can also make the claw feather lay “flat” (that is, perpendicular to the plane of the hook bend), that’s fine, but feather stems don’t always cooperate so don’t worry all that much about total flatness. Invert the vise jaws and hook so that the hook point is now down, and tie in the other claw. They’ll move nicely in the water and should look something like Figure 9.

Figure 9 — Tie In Claw Feathers

10. See Figure 10. Believe it or not, you’re almost done. Leaving the vise jaws and hook in the traditional “hook point down” tying posture, tie down the other end of the monofilament. Take note of where the split shot’s split is first, and turn it away from the hook shank, just to be sure it won’t come open against the hook shank.

Figure 10 — Tie Down Mono

11. See Figure 11. Cut off the monofilament’s final trailing end. Wind the thread down to, or almost to, the eye.

Figure 11 — Cut Mono & Lay Thread Base

12. See Figure 12. Invert the vise jaws so the hook is riding point-up again; time to make a ‘dad body. Go back with your left hand and grab all the deer/elk hair, gathering it together into a single bundle. If you get a bunch of hackle barbs with it, pay them no mind. You may have to grab the claw feathers and pull them down out of the way with something first, but if so clip them together with a very gentle and lightweight hackle plier because you don’t want to break their stems letting a heavy object hang on them. A piece of masking tape might do it–anything to make them sag down out of your way. Stroke the bundle of deer/elk hard in a smooth easy arc all the way back to the hook eye, all on the same side of the hook shank–the side opposite the split shot. Tie it all down together just before the hook eye, not letting it spin on the thread-base youd laid there, and then crank it down so that the loose ends flare. Stroke those loose ends all down to the split-shot side of the hook shank as best you can and wrap thread until they stay protruding in that direction. Finish off with the black thread and apply your head cement.

Figure 12 — Draw Hair To Tail

13. See Figure 13. Trim any wild hackle sticking out here and there on the sides and top–also any deer/elk hair that wouldn’t behave. Feel free to keep it looking a bit full-bodied by not trimming side hackle quite flush. It’s going to look rough, but that’s intentional because so do crawdads. Then short-trim the deer hair stubs below the hook eye so they loosely resemble the crawdad’s tail flap. Finally, trim the hackle legs as you see fit–I like to leave them a little longish but still short enough to be legs. It’s fine to trim their tips off, because that webby stuff we used for the leg hackle will still move very well in the water.

Figure 13 — Trim To Suit

Even my shaky hands can finish this fly quickly and without trouble, so you can do it with eyes closed. The Upright ‘Dad will swim belly-to-bottom and back-to-sky with the hook point upward because there’s float force on one side of the hook shank and weight on the other…and there’s enough physical distance between them (which is why I suspend split shot below the shank rather than winding lead wire onto it–the distance is more important than the amount of weight). The upward hook point helps it resist snags…although if there are branches or barbed wire down there it won’t save you from that.

Fish it anyway you like, but I’ve never dead-drifted it or let it sit on the bottom. It’s envisioned to swim–to strip in little ~6-inch strips, somewhere between rapidly and slowly. I like to make it travel about a yard every 15 to 20 seconds in deliberate but not frantic strips–like about a 50% duty cycle, to borrow a term from electronics–because that’s how I think crawdads move.

But I don’t know if other methods might not work well too, and the optimal retrieve probably varies by species as well. I know it draws savage hits–and I know from stupidity…let’s call it experience…that 6x tippet may not always be enough.

Its weakness is that it can get rattier with use because trout teeth can cut a deer hair strand or two. But first, you have plenty more strands, so just nip off any flagging ends and cast again…and second, that’s a pretty nice problem to have. I suppose yo could try to add a step like covering the deer/elk hair with thin-skin, or varnishing or resin-coating it on top, but that all adds weight and I want mine to keep on swimming upright, and I want to achieve that using as few deer/elk hair strands as possible to keep the absorbed water weight down. So on my ties I leave the deer/elk hair exposed.

You can tie these in jet black, browns, bluish charcoal greys, olives, umbers and oranges…depending on the state of the crawdads in the season you’re fishing them. The only odd part of the tie is in managing the deer/elk hair, but after about one try you can do it quickly…even I can. If a deer hair strand breaks, trim it flush back at the hook eye, but leave it attached up at the head; it’ll look like an antenna. If you have three of them, still leave them–fish don’t know how many feelers a crawdad has.

This crawdad looks gnarly, almost sloppy…and so do real ones. This one does everything I need it to do. It’s easy to tie and cast, easy to keep from losing, swims in lifelike manner, won’t go belly-up, and it’s reliable—unshaven, yes, but still truly an Upright ‘Dad. Now I can proudly say that in my life I’ve had two.

7 thoughts on “An Upright Dad

  1. Joe Dellaria

    Hi Mike,

    Great idea for the mono and split shot!

    Is the elk hair durable? I would have thought it would get cut by the trout’s teeth.

    All the best,
    Joe

    Reply
    1. Michael Vorhis

      I apologize for the tardiness Joe; my new-to-fly-fishing 14-year-old daughter and I were pitting our collective wits against wild trout in a trophy barbless stream up north. (She did better than I.)

      Regarding elk hair durability on this fly, I can’t hazard a guess how many trout one of these will last on average. Smallmouth bass are somewhat less hard on it, tooth-wise. It has had success drawing good strikes and I’ve lost a few to fish of unknown breed (because the tippets I tend to use haven’t been enough). My experience with this is going to grow more with time, as I don’t use it unless other flies seem wrong for the water and unless I suspect the ready availability of crawdads. But suffice it to say it is most definitely imitating a crawdad.

      I don’t much care if the elk hair has a life span–a couple of strands getting cut won’t affect how this swims or looks. In one case I stuck some of them back down with tiny dabs of head cement later.

      One could also “shellac” the elk hair down in the tying process like a shell, but I try to keep it as buoyant as possible. But yes, I may end up doing most of mine that way…we’ll see.

      – Mike

      Reply
    1. Michael Vorhis

      Sorry for the delay in answering, James; I was “up north” on my annual camping trip in trout country. No, what I said was that it’s “gotta tie quickly”…and that if a pro can tie a given pattern in 30 seconds, then I can probably do it “quickly” by my own definition…which means maybe 20 to 30 minutes.

      About all I can tie in 30 seconds is laying a dozen turns down on a hook shaft….

      Reply
  2. Mary S. Kuss

    Sorry I’ve been delinquent lately in keeping tabs on the JS blog. Too busy fishing and gardening, I guess. When I saw the notice for “An Upright Dad,” I thought it was some syrupy Father’s Day item and shame on me I didn’t bother to read it. But no, rather that title was a clever play on words. In any event, nice pattern, Mike. A guide-fly sort of approach to the crayfish problem. I like it. BTW, I swear that JS had my crayfish article long before yours appeared. I think I am detecting a theme here. It’s always good to have choices…..

    Reply
    1. Michael Vorhis

      Hi Mary, thanks for reading. I don’t know how clever the title was, but I’d say the posting timing was very well done; kudos to Kate, James and Paul for that.

      I believe you on your having penned your Clouser crayfish article long before; the lead time between submission and publication is all too familiar (as is the time between inception and completion of an article…that’s typcally a stretch as well).

      I played around with a crawdad idea that looked more like that Clouser awhile back. But it didn’t work out, as stupidly I used water-holding materials and also the end result was a bit chunky and didn’t stay so upright because of it. So my vision evolved toward a longer whispier approach.

      As for crawdad themes, I agree, and what could be better? I was mesmerized by the critters as a small boy (given that we could find their holes in the open field on our bottom-land farm, and the creek was full of them). I take great pride in my humble self deciding on an article topic that has proven to be endorsed by The Great Mary S. Kuss! I like your write-up very much, and will add some of the ways you fish the Clouser to my own repertoire with the Upright.

      I keep thinking of the old, “There’s a LOBSTER loose!” routine. : )

      – Mike

      Reply

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