BC Flyfishers “simply tie” with guide flies

The BC Flyfishers (BCFF) chapter of IFFF just completed another innovative fly tying class. But unlike the previous two classes the chapter has offered, this one focused on very simple flies. Fly tying, after all, doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive, or arduous and time-consuming. And contrary to what some might think, the best flies are simple in design and less than perfectly imitative. These flies are often termed “guide flies”. Why, you may ask?

killer bugs

Frank Sawyer’s Killer Bug is an example of an extremely simple fly that was designed to catch greyling in English streams. The BCFF Guide Fly Tying class included a U.S. version of this fly, called the Utah Killer Bug.

In order to be effective, guides must be efficient. The rigs they tie for clients must work, and the flies used must catch fish for all clients, even for those with little to no fly fishing experience. While a guide can’t promise fish, repeated trips with poor results will mean less referrals and less income. As is said with any kind of business; no margin – no mission. So guide flies make for quick, inexpensive ties that catch fish. And the BC Flyfishers last tying class focused exclusively on these fly fishing marvels.

The Guide Flies fly tying class consisted of four weekly tying “chapters”, each taught by different tiers: John Trainor (BCFF board member and local angler), Tim Barrett (BCFF board member and NY State Guide), Joe Cambridge (Local angler and author), and Kevin Gilroy (Local angler and commercial tier). The classes ranged from a refresher on tying basics to tying simple nymphs, wets, streamers, and a few more involved dry flies. In addition to the lead fly tiers for each class, up to seven helpers – BCFF members with fly tying experience – were on hand to assist each participant with tying issues.

Week One, led by John Trainor, started with a refresher on tying basics that included starting the thread on the hook, pinch wraps, dubbing techniques, and whip finishing. Along with the basics was a primer on nymph guide flies. The featured fly for this class was the Frenchie. Derived from the Pheasant tail, The Frenchie is used in competition nymphing and is a great guide fly because it is fast to tie. It typically sports a hot spot and sometimes a collar, as shown below:


“The Frenchie”

Other patterns tied in the class were Walt’s Worm (a classic), Ackourey’s Nymph (Joe Ackourey is a PA guide), and the Utah killer Bug.

utah killer bug

The Utah Killer Bug

Week Two, led by Tim Barrett, featured some proven patterns that are fast to tie and are used not only by guides, but in competition fly fishing as well. Some are modified versions of flies that have been simplified so many can be tied in an hour’s time. The featured fly was Tim Barrett’s favorite, Tim’s Simpupa. This fly originally is tied with a soft hackle collar but for simplicity’s sake, the hackle can be substituted with a coarsely dubbed collar or peacock herl,  as shown below.


Tim’s Simpupa

Also included was another of Tim’s favorite fish-catcher’s – The Turd. The Turd imitates a variety of stoneflies or can be fished as an attractor. The pattern’s rubber legs seem to be a good trigger for fish.


The Turd. Tim Barrett likes to tie in a hot spot collar below the bead and use differently colored or finished beads, his favorite being black. The chenille body color can also be varied.

Tim also demonstrated tying Tim’s Carpet Fly, Doppelganger, and Glass-O–Wine – all great nymph patterns.

Week Three, led by local fly fishing legend Joe Cambridge, focused on tying soft hackle flies and one streamer pattern. Cambridge started his class with soft hackles, a favorite fly type of his, and in his opinion, very underrated. Cambridge was first introduced to soft hackles by an uncle while fly fishing in the UK. Like most people who first see these sparsely tied flies, Cambridge dismissed their effectiveness but brought some back with him to the states at his uncle’s urging. He stashed the tin of flies in his vest but never touched them until he encountered a fish-less day on a Catskill river. As Joe tells it, fish were rising everywhere and refusing EVERYTHING he threw at them. He then thought of his uncle’s soft hackles and figured “what do I have to lose.” The trout jumped these sparsely tied flies with abandon and he was sold forevermore on their effectiveness.

Soft hackles are simple but can be a bit more challenging to tie. They are generally nothing more than silk thread, dubbing in some cases, and hackle. And they can be fished in a variety of ways.

Joe’s last fly was a streamer that he considers absolutely deadly on his home water – the Finger Lakes trbis. The Fatal Attraction, shown below, is actually a Don Blanton pattern that originates on the West Coast.

fatal attraction

In the last class, Week Four, the class was introduced to some very fishy dry flies, courtesy of Kevin Gilroy, a commercial fly tier. From the classic Red Quill to Kelly Galloup’s Butch Caddis…


Galloup’s Butch Caddis (courtesy of slideinn.com)

…all of the patterns tied belong in every serious angler’s fly box. One featured fly, the Sparkle Dun, is similar to the famous Comparadun. This fly has had its share of success and can be tied in several variations to simulate different types of bugs.


The Sparkle Dun

So there you have it: take four weekly sessions of learning to tie guide flies, add 4 top-notch fly tying teachers, instructional material and videos, pre-made tying kits for each of 16 fly patterns, and spend 16 hours at the vise practicing, and what does one get? 19 happy fly tiers with a new perspective on fly tying; good fish-catching flies can be cheap, fast and easy to tie, AND effective…

fly tying

Happy Guide Fly graduates…


One Response to “BC Flyfishers “simply tie” with guide flies”

  1. Bob Stanton Says:

    Nice post, Bob. I’m guessing that the Killer Bug was inspiration for Walt’s Worm. Good thing the trout don’t know that the K.B. is a grayling fly, eh?

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