Saturday, October 22, 2011

Step by step: Oliver Edwards heptagenid nymph variant - Part 1 of 2

I made a promise earlier in the season that I would post step by step tying instructions for the stoneclinger nymph that I use. It is basically a variant of Oliver Edwards' much lauded heptagenid pattern; maybe a bit easier to tie in some ways, but I have found it to be equally effective. Make no mistake though, this is not a five minute job. It's quite a tricky tie and although I'm not the fastest tyer I admit, one of these typically takes me around half an hour to forty minutes......including a few false starts, plenty of cursing, maybe a cup of coffee to keep me awake.
Of course, I knew all the above before embarking upon this exercise today; but still, it's that long since I did any tying that I had forgotten just how much practice counts when it comes to tying speed, neatness and proportion. I found this a bit of a challenge after months away from the vice and I apologise if my rustiness shows in both tying the pattern and taking decent photos of the stages. So what follows definitely ain't pretty, but hopefully it will illustrate the method well enough.

Owing to the interminable length of the process, I'll split it into two separate posts and punctuate with a brief discussion on the merits of the nymph, and when and where it works best. Hope you find something of use!

Materials List.
My materials differ slightly from Oliver's original version. This is partly due to simplification, partly a reflection of what I had to hand when I first tied this fly, and partly because I prefer one or two of the substitutions aesthetically. Of course, you are free to use whatever you wish to achieve the colouration and appearance you desire. This pattern is all about profile, or general impression of size and shape (GISS), and the slightly unusual construction method allows us to achieve the wide-headed, flat-bodied profile of the heptagenid nymph like no other pattern I am aware of.

Hook: Partridge K14ST in sizes 14 and 16 
Thread: Griffiths' sheer, dark brown
Thorax cover: mottled oak Thin Skin 
Thorax 'crossbar': short length of 20lb maxima nylon
Tails: pheasant tail dyed picric 
Ballast: fine copper wire
Rib and legs: Spanflex - medium ginger 
Dubbing: Masterclass - blend of shades #6 and #11
Wingbuds: grouse marginal covert

You will also need a hot tip cauteriser, plenty of thin, flexible head cement (I use floo gloo), some fine pliers or tweezers, and a thicker head cement such as 'hard as nails'.

 1. Sitting comfortably? Right, brace yourself. Vice the hook and run on your thread. Catch in three pheasant tail fibres on top of the shank and tie tie them down to the start of the hook bend. You want to be aiming to get the tails about the same length as the body - quite long in other words. 
*Remember that all the images below can be enlarged if you click on them, to get a closer view of what's going on*

2. Using the thread, split the tails equally so that they are nicely splayed, and drop a tiny dab of cement at their roots to help keep them there and strengthen the weak points slightly (Edwards uses badger hair which is far more robust,  bot not quite prominent enough in my view. Tied in this way, the pheasant tail is durable enough, I've found).

3. OE uses raffene for the thorax cover, but I like the mottled, shiny finish of the thin skin. Cut off a strip of width to suit the hook size. This is a #14 hook and the strip is approx 4-5mm wide. Now you need to cut it to a taper so that it can be tied in easily and doesn't crease or distort when it is folded back over the head later on. A bit of practice makes judging the proportions a bit easier.

4. Tie this in facing forward over the eye of the hook. Take tare to secure it so it doesn't want to spin around the shank, and make sure it is tied down right up to the back of the eye so that when it is pulled back later on, there isn't any unwanted hook shank showing.

5. Now take a short length of strong nylon line - about 20lb BS is ok - and tie it down figure of eight style to the top of the hook shank a short distance behind the eye. This is the 'crossbar' around which the wide, flattened head of the nymph will be formed. Don't tie it down too tight just yet, as it may need a tweak to centre it after the next step.

6. Now we need to 'heat ball' the ends of the nylon. Cut away both ends until just a mm or so longer than required, and then offer up either your hot tip or a cigarette lighter (I find the former gives better control, although you need fresh batteries in for it to be hot enough), and hold close enough to the end of the nylon to melt and form a blob. Repeat at the other end until the crossbar width looks correct, then centre on the shank using tweezers, before tying down firmly with additional thread wraps.

7. Tie in your rib material. OE uses a combination of ostrich herl and spanflex twisted together to form the abdomen - it gives a 'feathery' appearance which is intended to mimic the natural nymph's lateral abdominal gills . I have never been a fan of this method and prefer to use a more conventional dubbing and rib arrangement, or occasionally just a narrow strip of clear flexibody. I'm using spanflex here; you can use what the hell you like. This step is rendered slightly irrelevant by the fact that later on, the bloody thing breaks anyway! 

8. I now build up a nice taper to the full length of the fly, using the tying thread.

9. Catch in some fine copper wire. The above tapering of the thread acts as a base upon which to wind the wire. I think in recent years, OE has used flat lead to form the ballast of the fly, although I recall in the earlier edition of 'Flytyer's Masterclass', he advocated the use of copper wire. Either way, one of the important properties of both the lead and the copper is that they are malleable so that when wound on, they can subsequently be flattened quite easily with pliers. We wouldn't be able to do this if we just used the thread.

10. I find it easiest to just wind the copper on direct from the spool. Try to keep a neat taper, although don't worry too much if it looks a dog's breakfast (as does mine): careful dubbing later on will hide a multitude of sins! What we are trying to do here is build up a carrot-shaped taper from head to tail, which also needs to be regularly flattened out as the build-up progresses. Wind some on, flatten with tweezers/pliers and then carry on until it looks about the right profile. Now give it an all over covering of head cement.

11. In profile. Note the flattening.

Right, that's enough for now. Go and get yourself a brew and we'll reconvene in part 2.


Peter said...

Hi Matt
I for one am extremely grateful for the time and effort you have put in producing this SBS pattern.I am finding it easy to follow [ON-SCREEN]and look forward to tying one up at the bench. I have no doubt that like yourself it will prove a challenge for me also. From a very grateful follower. regards

Matthew Eastham said...

My pleasure Peter. To be honest, it's been nice to get back to the vice after a long time away. There are easier patterns to bed back in with, but I've enjoyed doing this. Hope it proves useful for you!