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Fly Fishing
Flies With Eyes

Strip Tease Damsel-Olive
By Phil Rowley

Hook:    Daiichi 1120, 1130 or 1150 #10-#12
Thread: MFC 8/0 or UTC 70, Olive
Tail:      Pine Squirrel or Mink Micro Zonker, Olive
Rib:       Fine Wire, chartreuse, copper or gold
Body:    UV2 Caddis/Nymph Dubbing, Olive
Legs:     Partridge
Head:    UV2 Caddis/Nymph Dubbing, Olive
Eyes:     Knotted Vernille (Plush Chenille), Olive, Black or Chartreuse

Tying Note:  Mono, bead chain or glass beads can be substituted for the Vernille eyes

Scatter a handful of flies onto a table in front of a group of curious onlookers and they naturally gravitate towards the most realistic looking patterns. Especially flies featuring a pair of eyes. It seems people are attracted to fly patterns that stare back at them.

Flies with eyes are a common on most streamer and baitfish patterns but they are also important feature on many nymph and pupa patterns. Dragon and damsel fly patterns are the most common eye recipient but eyes can also be added to stonefly and caddis pupa patterns. Naturally, the debate over whether a trout cares if a fly has eyes or not remains. I often add eyes to my nymph and pupa patterns, if they are worth imitating. 

When it comes to eyes there are lots of material choices. My current favorite eye materials for nymph and pupa patterns include mono, foam, bead chain, glass and vernille or plush chenille.

Mono eyes are probably the most popular choice. For years fly tyers used to make their own mono eyes. Now tiers have the choice of making their own or purchasing pre made mono eyes available in a range of sizes, from extra small to large.  Pre made mono eyes are also available in different colors including black and olive.  Permanent markers can be used to alter the color of lighter mono eyes. 

Making your own mono eyes is simple. Begin with a short one to three quarters of an inch length of 25-30 pound mono. Using a pair of hackle pliers or forceps, grasp the middle of the mono.  Hold one end of the mono next to an open flame from a candle or lighter. I prefer candles as the flame is cooler allowing greater control. Lighters are hard on my thumbs due to the knurled flint roller and heat buildup. As the end of the mono melts it bubbles back onto itself forming a small ball. Avoid turning the mono into a flaming ball. As the melted mono ball nears the hackle pliers or forceps withdraw it from the heat. Repeat this process for the other end of the mono to complete the eyes.

Although the mono eyes have cooled they are still soft. Dropping them onto a surface such as your tying bench often causes flat spots. To avoid flat spots drop the finished eyes into a small cup of water.  By the time the eyes reach the bottom they cool and remain round. I make my melted mono eyes in batches so I have enough for a number of flies. Different colored mono can be used to create attractive hot spots. Two of my favorite colors are chartreuse and red.

Foam bars and strips make realistic functional eyes. Foam comes in a variety of colors and has the added benefit of buoyancy. Buoyant eyes work well on both damsel and dragon nymphs. These creatures inhabit weed beds and other non-fly friendly structure, when prospecting weeds and woody debris a suspending fly is a welcome benefit. During a damsel emergence foam eyes help keep your fly up in the water column, on plane with the natural nymphs.

Foam bars, common to Booby patterns, are easily formed into buoyant dumbbells. Place a pin or needle in the jaws of your vise. Trim a short length of foam proportionate to the size of the fly.  Stab the foam onto the pin or needle. Attach 6/0 tying thread to the mid-section of foam bar crushing it in the process and forming two separate eyes. Whip finish and remove the tying thread. Slide the foam dumbbell off the pin or needle and round the edges of the foam eyes using a curved set of scissors. As with melted mono eyes, build foam bar eyes in batches. Some material companies also offer premade foam eyes in a range of sizes and colors.

A strip of two or three millimeter sheet foam can also be fashioned into a realistic set of eyes. Using a straight edge and a sharp blade cut a thin strip of foam from the sheet. I typically trim a width equal to the thickness of foam I am using. Figure eight the foam strip into position perpendicular to the hook shank. Regardless of the eye material choice two hook eye widths back from the hook eye is standard in most cases. Fold the foam back against the hook shank behind the foam strip to form one eye and secure in place. Repeat this process on the other side to complete the set of eyes. Trim the excess. Finished eye size depends upon the thickness of the foam and the size of the doubled portions.

Small bead chain makes durable eyes, particularly on damsel nymphs. I rarely use bead chain eyes on larger flies such as dragon nymphs due to their weight.

Bead chain eyes are attached to the hook shank using figure eight wraps. Once attached, place a series of horizontal thread wraps between the eyes and hook shank. After each wrap pull the thread directly forward or backward to constrict the figure eight wraps tight. A drop of superglue provides further reinforcement. Due to their weight Bead chain eyes cause the fly to track point up. Attach bead chain to the underside of the shank to ensure your flies ride point down. Bead chain eyes come in a number of colors including black and mottled schemes.

Glass beads also make attractive eyes as they are available in a variety of sizes and colors.  Perhaps their only failing is durability. Glass beads shatter should they strike a hard object.

Perhaps the best method to form glass bead eyes involves placing two glass beads on a short stalk of mono. Using an open flame melt each end of the mono stalk. Before the end of the stalk cools, press it against your thumb nail so it flattens like a pin head. The flattened mono stoppers keep the glass beads on the stalk. Double the mono stalk end to end so the glass beads are touching, bind the doubled assembly onto the shank, just behind the glass beads. Carefully pull on the glass beads so they are perpendicular to the shank. Divide and secure the eyes using figure eight wraps. Trim the excess mono behind the tie in point and add a drop of superglue to reinforce the tie in area, glass beads and flattened mono ends.

Vernille or plush chenille is an underrated eye material for nymphs and pupa. Using a two-inch length of vernille, form an overhand knot about one third of the way from one end. Tie a second overhand knot as close as possible to the first knot. Figure eight wrap the vernille onto the hook shank so the knots straddle the hook shank. Fold and tuck the tag ends of the vernille directly behind the overhand knots on each side of the shank forming a neat set of rounded eyes.  Secure the tag ends and remove the excess.
From my perspective, adding a pair of eyes provides two benefits. Eyes provide a proportional goalpost that helps maintain overall dimensions. The eyes and head on damsel nymphs or climber or ‘darner’ nymphs are their widest feature. Keeping the balance of the fly within the width of the head and eyes ensures balance and proportion. 

A good set of eyes also provides me with confidence, an important pattern trait. The, “Devil is in the details”, if I believe in what I am using I will move it with the necessary, pace, pauses and other retrieve nuances to be successful.

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