Last week we discussed the basic platform an intruder is tied on. This week we'll get more in depth in tying technique and material and how to properly structure the prop for an intruder.
The intruder style of flies' goal is to achieve a large profile fly with minimal amounts of material that are structured in a way that allows your fly to cast easily, yet maintain a full and animated profile when submerged in current. This is usually achieved by some softer long fibers that are being propped up from behind by another material or materials to hold shape against the current. Today we will be going over those props and the combinations of materials that are commonly used.
To start well go over the basic design concept behind a "station". The station is what the grouping of materials is commonly referred to. The classic intruder is often a 2 station fly. It has a butt section with an elongated "tail" and a forward section separated by a tinsel body. This doesn't necessarily mean all intruders are 2 stations. An intruder can have a single station like a Hoh Bo Spey or it can have three or even four stations if you like. Your imagination is the only obstacle when it comes to intruders. Each of your station requires a prop. To get the most out of the natural structure of your materials it's usually best to have the shortest stiffest fibers as the base with progressively softer and longer material tied on top of it. If you have multiple stations the props should get progressively larger toward the front of the fly. This will help the fly form a teardrop shape in the water. Almost everything a steelhead eats while at sea is roughly teardrop shaped whether it's a fish, squid, or curled up shrimp. You can think of the teardrop shaped fly as a sort of attractor pattern for steelhead in much the same way as you would some big hairy dry fly for trout. It doesn't necessarily represent something specific, but roughly represents several different prey items and is open to the interpretation of the fish.
Your most basic of props is simply a dubbing or chenille ball with a saddle hackle feather wrapped up against it. The dubbing ball is a base that flares out the hackle fibers when they are tied in and pushed up against it. The hackle fiber really helps encourage the teardrop shape. The individual fibers or barbs running off the stem of the feather have a natural taper to them. This makes them stiffest at the base and softer towards the tips. The tips of the barbs bend and allow your longer materials tied over the top to flow back but the stiff base keeps everything from collapsing. The larger you want the fly to be in the water the more turns of hackle are used. The fibers are much like a forest. A single tree is easily blown over where a grove of trees can support each other in high wind. The more trees there are packed tightly together in an area the less likely it is that they will be blown over. The hackle fiber is the same way the more turns of hackle you use and the more barbs there are the fuller your fly will be in the water. This is a fine line however as it is possible to use too much material. Too much material in a fly will make your fly difficult sink and just as difficult to pull out of the water to re cast. It's a balancing act that is dictated by the depth of the water you intend to fish as well as individual casting ability. Experimentation and finding the right volume for your need is the best way to find out how much material is tied into your fly.
The next style of prop we will discuss is a fritz style chenille with a dubbing loop of fur in front of it. There are many different forms of fritz style chenille. For those who do not know chenille is essentially various short fibers twisted between two pieces of string to flare out in a 360 degree fashion. Kind of like a pipe cleaner with string instead of wire. There are shorter soft versions we described above that are more dubbing like but there are also other versions. Many incorporate short to medium fibers with quite a bit of stiffness. The fibers are usually made of Mylar and come in many different colors. These short stiff fibers tend to flare when the twisted string binding them is pulled on or wrapped. This makes them the perfect candidates for a prop. Some of my favorites are Estaz Opal, and Krystal Tinsel Chenille. Estaz opal is great for larger flies while the Krystal Tinsel Chenille being shorter makes it a good choice for more modest sized flies. I like three to four turns to start. It's important to sweep all the fibers back as you wrap to ensure they flare evenly rearward for ease of tying in materials over them. After I tie in my fritz chenille of choice I like to tie in some sort of hair in a dubbing loop. Hair is just like the barb on a hackle feather and has a natural taper and structure to it. Some of my favorites are Arctic Fox or American Opossum. They are on the shorter side making them perfect for props. Preparation of the hair is key for spinning. Before you cut it to length and put it in the loop comb out the under fur. Don't throw it away as fox and possum under fur make for some great dubbing.The under fur is usually exceptionally soft and can tend to tangled and create a mess when spun. It traps hair and can keep it from spinning evenly creating clumps. The clumps when wrapped in front will create bulk on certain sides of your fly causing it to track unevenly or even spin. When spinning hair an even spin is what we're looking for. When you cut your hair to length and put it in your loop you can use a bodkin to push the hair fibers around until they are spread evenly in the loop. If you're having trouble keeping the hair in the loop try some Wapsi Dubbing Wax on your loop. It's a high tack wax that will keep your materials from falling out. When you wrap your dubbing loop in front of the chenille make sure to stroke the fibers rearward for a cleaner finish and tie off of the dubbing loop.Water can help aid in this. You can even wet the hair in the loop and part it all to one side before wrapping. I prefer this method as the water compresses the hair allowing it to be not only neater tied but structurally stronger. Remember the forest analogy? This allows us to get the trunks of our trees to get as close together and therefore be more supportive and stronger. The line in the dubbing pictures can signify where the dubbing loop thread might go.
The line through the dubbing pictures signifies where the dubbing loop thread might go.
The last method of propping is I think my favorite; Jerry French's composite loop. I've often heard "It's just a dubbing loop". The composite loop differs from a standard dubbing loop in my mind and here is why I think so. A standard dubbing loop is usually just one or two materials tied in over something else. A composite loop combines the two. Instead of one material being wrapped in over another they are put in the same loop and combined to create a single thing. It is multiple materials blended and combined in a way that achieves your desired effect in the fly. In this case a prop. A blend of materials is layered in a way that mimics the natural structure of a hair or hackle. The natural taper of fibers is often nonexistent in synthetic fibers so they must be blended in a way that achieves this. Short stiff material is combined with progressively longer and softer materials. Ideally your composite loop should be shaped like a trapezoid. The shortest stiffest materials are placed in the top and the longest softest fibers towards the bottom of the composite loop. Dubbing is often sparsely layered in to act as a sort of Velcro to help hold everything together. I like to lay down a short layer of ice dub or angora goat first.
Over that I put the shortest stiffest materials. I like Senyo's Barred Predator Wrap and Baitfish Emulator Flash, as well as Flat Diamond Braid. Flat Diamond Braid is typically used as a body material but I've found when cut into short strips and combed out it spins a mean composite loop.
The next layer is slightly longer and softer. Opposum, arctic fox, or Angel Hair are great choices. As far as angel hair goes, the pearlescent colors I particularly like because they seem to have more stiffness to them than the standard metallic colors. The metallic colors are nice for accenting as well as wiggle but are more similar to Flashabou and not as suitable for this application.
Another material that's fun and functional in composite loops is feather fibers. Short stiff barbs cut from a feather stem and placed in the composite loop are a great structural and visual addition. Lady Amherst Tail, Turkey Tail Fibers, Ring Neck Pheasant Tail Fibers, or even portions of stiff wing feathers are excellent choices for this. From here another short layer of dubbing is added over the top to sandwich everything together. From here it is placed in the loop.
If you have trouble placing it in the loop a Petit Jean Magic tool is an excellent aid. Picking through a composite loop so it spins evenly is just as, if not more important than with hair. Once spun parting it with water is essential. With longer hair over a fritz chenille it's easier to stroke the fibers back since they are longer. With a composite loop since we have the short base prop water is key in ensuring that all the fibers lay back with no short ones facing forward. From here comb it out and free all the feet fibers from each other.
A Hareline Ultimate Dubbing Brush is great for this. And there you have it a composite loop prop. Of course that just my preferred blend. Within the structural guidelines of short and stiff to long and soft you can use any materials you like. Don't let my recipe obstruct your imagination. If you think a material might fit the bill give it a try!
There you have it the prop behind the wiggle. We discussed the chassis last week and now we’ve covered the framework. As always I hope you have found this to not only be an enjoyable read but informative as well and if you have any question we are just a phone call away at 503-622-4607 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check back with us next week as we’ll be getting into the wiggle factor; the long fibers.