Designed by Trevor Shpelely
Hook: Mustad R72 #6-#12
Thread: Brown or Tan 8/0
Tail: Stillwater Solutions Strung or Long Marabou-Burnt Orange
Hackle: Brown Tri Lobal Hackle, palmered
Body: Uni Mylar, Copper P or Peacock/Orange (Orange side out)
Bead: Black or Gold Tungsten Bead on a straight pin secured to hook shank.
Tying Note: This pattern can be tied in a host of color combinations, simply vary the tail, body and hackle combinations.
Hanging or suspending flies beneath a strike indicator is nothing new nowadays. The catatonic presentation technique is a staple in just about every stillwater fly fishers arsenal. Beginning with chironomid pupa and larva patterns just about every stillwater prey item can be suggested beneath an indicator. The method has become increasingly popular for leech patterns, early spring and late fall in particular.
During fall of 2007 I had the pleasure of participating in B.C. Outdoors Back Roads tour through Salmon Arm, Vernon, Kelowna and Penticton. At Vernon Toyota I crossed paths once again with interior stillwater addict Trevor Shpelely affectionately known as 'Swamp Donkey' to Internet forum travellers. Trevor and I like most fly fishers swapped tales and strategies during the course of my visit. He mentioned a series of balanced flies he had been working with that immediately drew my attention.
Inspired by American fly fisher Jerry McBride’s horizontal innovations from the Inland Empire fly club in Spokane Trevor began experimenting with his own collection of balanced flies intended to suspend horizontally beneath an indicator using a Non Slip or Duncan Loop knot. A reasonable surface chop animates both indicator and fly. Loop knots enhance this motion adding an important element of seduction. From a practical perspective balanced flies make sense as they represent the horizontal posture of many stillwater food sources. Traditional flies patterns dangled beneath an indicator do not always present well and under exacting conditions can be rejected. Trevor recounted a number of instances were switching to a balanced fly unlocked the mystery, including non indicator presentations. During a recent Roche Lake trip Trevor recalled a day when allowing his balanced leech to settle into the marl and then pitching up into the trout’s window view proved to be the difference. Foraging trout seeing his leech pop into view sped over and slammed it as it settled back to the bottom.
Tying horizontally balanced flies is no more difficult than any other fly pattern. The trick is in getting the fly to hang in a horizontal manner. The key lies in extending the hook shank and applying a weight in front of the hook to obtain balance. Shank extension is simple. A common straight pin with a large pinhead loaded with a brass or tungsten bead. Be sure to slide the narrow taper of the bead toward the pinhead. Trim the pin so it is about 1/8 of an inch shorter than the hook shank. Woolly Bugger and leech patterns featuring long marabou tails use half shank length pins to avoid building up bulk when tying in the tail and body materials. Depending upon the pattern fine wire hooks may be necessary to ensure that the combined hook shank and pin shaft areas does not bulk up the fly. As balanced flies fly ride point up remember to use down eye hooks so the fly can be knotted onto the tippet. As an added bonus balanced flies are practically snag free.
Once loaded, lash the pin onto the hook shank so it extends approximately ¼ inch past the hook eye. Whip finish or half hitch the thread and remove the completed chassis from the vise. Most use short shank hooks as the pin and bead add length to the finished product, 1 or 2 extra long hooks are ideal. Take a length of monofilament and feed it through the hook eye. Hold the tag ends together forming a loop and let the fly foundation hang to determine balance. Trevor uses a snap clip tied to a length of mono as a quick and simple balance tool. If the fly noses down reduce the pin length in front of the eye or the bead weight, if the hook tips toward the bend lengthen the pin or increase the nose weight. Adjusting the weight is the preferred option. It may take a few attempts to get the balance right. Providing the basis specifications do not change the initial balance experiments on the prototype should carry through future patterns. Each pattern style and size varies so a degree of experimentation is required with the initial fly to ensure proper balance is achieved. With a little experience under the belt tiers soon get a feel for proper balance. When using long marabou type tails wet balanced flies appear to hang with a slight tail down posture. Once submerged however the fly levels out. Once balanced secure the thread wraps with Fisherman’s Glue for added security.
Tungsten beads are the preferred choice as their increased mass allows for short shank extensions. Brass beads weigh less than tungsten and the pin length in front of the eye must be longer to compensate and level the fly. If the pattern allows, lead wire or lead wire substitute can be added to the pin area directly behind the bead. Providing this process does not obscure the eye or affect the overall profile of the fly. There are instances where the weight is too much and fly pitches down. Try reducing the bead size or perhaps opt for brass instead of tungsten.
With the foundation complete there are a few considerations to complete the remainder of the fly. After securing the tying thread onto the shank run it forward to the rear of the bead. Build up a small thread dam and lock the bead tight against the pinhead. Avoid excessive bulk whenever possible especially near the hook eye area. On some pattern styles such as Woolly Buggers it is easy to obscure the eye if one is not paying attention.
Although popular for leech imitations just about any food source can be suggested using balanced flies. Essentially any prey item that moves or suspends in a horizontal manner. Scuds, damsel fly nymphs, chironomid larva and mayfly nymphs are ideal candidates. Some of these pattern types often include wing cases in their design balanced flies need to beware of excessive bulk in the thorax area to ensure the wingcase does not interfere with the hooking ability of the finished fly. Tiers such as Jerry McBride opt to ignore the wingcase choosing to tie in the round so the fish sees the same view of the fly from any angle.
1) Select a straight pin with a head large enough to ensure that a tungsten bead does not slide over. Trim the tip end of the straight pin so it is approximately 1/8th of an inch shorter than the hook shank. Cover the hook shank with tying thread to form a firm thread base. Slide the tungsten bead onto the pin forward to the pinhead. Secure the straight pin in place along the top of the hook shank so the pinhead and bead protrude roughly ¼ of an inch past the hook eye. Be careful not to cut the tying thread on the trimmed end of the pin. Whip finish and remove the hook from the vise.
2) Thread a length of monofilament through the hook eye. Grasp both ends of the monofilament and allow the fly to hang to determine if it is balanced correctly. If the fly is not balanced adjust the bead weight or pin extension distance in front of the hook eye. Once this initial step is complete and the fly is balanced make note of the pin position and weight for future flies. This step is typically done once per fly style and size. Once the hook is balanced and tuned coat the thread wraps with Fisherman’s Glue.
3) Placed the balanced hook into the jaws of the vise and reattach the tying thread. Build a small thread dam at the rear of the tungsten bead to lock it in place against the pinhead. Secure in a shank length tuft of marabou fibres for the tail just back from the trimmed end of the straight pin to avoid excessive bulk.
4) Tie in a length of Tri-Lobal Hackle just slightly forward of the base of the tail. Secure in the Mylar or Flashabou body material.
5) Take the body material and place the first complete wrap directly behind the Tri-Lobal hackle. Continue winding the body material forward to the rear of the bead taking care not to obscure the hook eye. Tie off and trim the excess body material.
6) Palmer the Tri-Lobal hackle forward over the body using open turns to the rear of the bead. As with the body material be careful not to block and obscure the hook eye. Tie off the Tri-Lobal Hackle and remove the excess.
7) Build a neat head at the rear of the bead. Whip finish and apply head cement