Welcome to Expert Answers!

Thanks to all of you who have been submitting questions for Fly & Field and the Grandslam Shops to answer. We will try to answer as many of your questions as we receive them — so check in often.

If you have a question for the Experts, clickhere to submit it.

Question 1 – Bow and Arrow Cast
Question 2 – Stray Hackle Barbs
Question 3 – Single Strand Nylon Floss
Question 4 – Dying Deer Hair
Question 5 – Tying The Mouserat
Question 6 – Obtaining Dave Whitlock Flies
Question 7 – Clear Water Trout Tactics
Question 8 – The Gerbubble Bug
Question 9 – Rod Choice
Question 10 – Young Fly Fishers
Question 11 – Stray Hackle Barbs
Question 12 – Rod & Reel Choice, Family Lessons

Question #1

Simon Lusk of New Zealand asks:

Could you please describe the technically correct method for the bow andarrow cast? I have had difficulty with this cast for brown trout in a smallNew Zealand Stream that is surrounded by blackberry and trees.

Specifically, what kind of grip should be used, on what angle and quartershould the fly be drawnback, (should the fly be above the reel, below thereel, or beside it) and how do I prevent the splash that often occurs whenmy fly hits the water?

Thank you.

Davy Wotton replies:

Dear Simon:

Your question is a good one, though in all probability it is not a castoften used, as other casts would normally allow presentation of a fly atany angle required. In fact, if you know the techniques, a fly may be presentedat any position up, down, and across stream. In such cases no back castis utilized. Flow of the water and direction of rod and line control, utilizingthe movement of the water will enable the fly to be positioned. The determiningfactor is that you can do it without spooking the fish, and having the controlof the fly line to enable you to tighten onto a strike. Once mastered youreally can present a fly a good 60 feet plus away from you.

There are of course very many factors also to take into consideration whenfishing in close confinement of vegetation and over hanging plant growth.Primaries would be your rod length and your leader/tippet make up, yourposition also in relation to the target area, the former being particularlyimportant.

In such situations as you describe it may not be possible to float downa fly into position, so a very fast tight loop set up is required for quickaccurate turnover. I fish many such water systems, and you really can coordinatecorrect rod movement to achieve a high degree of accuracy in tight situations.You may only get one chance.

What you describe as a bow and arrow cast is just that. The rod is heldrigid while the fly is drawn down to flex the rod. When the fly is releasedthe energy is of course transmitted to propel the fly to the target.

I first saw this demonstrated some 20 years ago by an American bait castingchampion demonstrating casting tricks. This guy could really achieve highlevels of accuracy on targets.

To achieve the same degree of accuracy using a fly tackle set up is notso easy. The fly does not carry such a weight factor as a bait would. Ifyou intend to practice the bow and arrow cast do so with caution, you couldcause the tip of your rod to snap. I’ve seen it happen twice, particularlyif you make the draw down too close to the rod. The tip may be bent downtoo suddenly at an acute angle.

So far as your direct questions are concerned:

Grip? For the fly you make damn certain that after you release the fly thatthere is no chance of the hook point driving into your finger. With practiceyou will be able to hold the leader or even the fly line to achieve greaterdistance. Your grip on the rod handle initially must be firm with the linetrapped between your finger and the cork handle. If you coordinate the releaseof the fly with rod hand movement you can alter considerably the directionof delivery, speed of delivery, and tight or open loop control.

Fly Position above or below the reel? It really does not matter in my view.You can facilitate this cast with your rod hand and fly grip close or youcan do so with your arms well apart from your body. The length of fly linefrom rod tip to the held position is relative. With practice you can shoota fair amount of line. You must of course have slack line off the reel priorto the cast, below the right hand grip of the trapped fly line. Naturallythe degree of push and pull you apply at the two angles will dictate theinitial tension you will apply. This is in direct relation to the speedthat the fly will be released to its target.

This leads to your third question. Splash Down? You have basically two choices:to direct your fly at, or above the water. In your case I would suggestyou are directing your delivery at the water.

You may wish to put this into practice. Go out with a friend to some opengrass area. Have your friend walk behind you holding onto the end of theleader/tippet say 10 to 15 yards to start with. You stand still with yourfly rod held pointing either to the left, right or overhead. Tell your friendto now take a firm hold on the leader/tippet. You now start to draw thefly line back until tension starts to flex your rod. At a point which isnot extreme to the bend in the rod tell your friend to release the leader.Naturally the spring tension in your rod will propel the fly line forward.Now do the same again but this time push your rod hand forward. You shouldnow be able to increase the line speed.

Your bow and arrow cast is basically just that, except of course you doit by yourself. Your direction or rod position would be dictated by yourtarget area and available space to place the fly. If for example your targetarea is tucked under overhanging vegetation then your trajectory must beangled low, so you would have your rod held low to the more parallel position.If your target is between say a small open space with vegetation to theleft and right, then your rod would be held in a more direct alignment withthe target area, from a low to a high position.

One final point, do you pull against or with the rod spine? I have doneit both ways.


Question #2

Michael Zuch asks:

I have been tying for about a year and consider myself an advanced beginner.My flies are starting to look at least satisfactory to me. One persistentproblem I have is that, no matter how carefully I finish the head of a hackledfly, a few fibers invariably are left sticking out over or under the hookeye. It doesn’t take more than one to make threading the fly onto the tippetdifficult, especially for small flies. Any tips on how to keep all of thehackle barbs out of the way would be greatly appreciated.

Davy Wotton replies:

Dear Michael:

Many thanks for your question.

First a good tip for you on removing excess material from your hook eye.Use a regular sewing fine point needle, not your dubbing needle. Stick theeye of the needle in a cork then heat the needle tip with a lighter so itbecomes red hot. Now place it in the eye of the fly. It will of course burnout all fibre, leaving a clean eye to thread your tippet.

The direct answer is this. It does take practice to achieve absolute neatnessand perfection tying flies. Winding hackles does also require attentionto detail in initial preparation and tying procedure. Without actually watchingyou, it would be difficult in one way to help you other than say this:

When you tie off a dry fly hackle keep the hackle at a position directlyup or down and maintain the thread tension for at least 3 turns as you windbehind the hackle stem before you cut off the excess stem. Before you takethe final turns to complete a neat head make certain that any odd fibressticking out are removed.

For a wet fly generally the hackle is inclined rearward during the windingof the winding process, again thus at the termination of the hackle wind,the initial securing threads should maintain a tension on the hackle stemwhile excess is cut away, then by using the left hand fingers the fibresare held away from the thread so as again a neat head is forward, withouttrapping fibres out of place.


Question #3

Tadasi Osada of Japan Asks:

Dear Mr. Dave Whitlock,

Watching your video and reading your article in “Fly Patterns Of UmpquaFeather Merchants”, it seems to me you recommend SSNF for many kindsof bass bugs, though my poor English ability can’t quite catch your explanationsin the video. Our local fly shops in Japan have no idea about SSNF. (Some of myfishing friends in America say the thread what you mean is Single StrandWaxed Nylon Fross Thread. One of them reviewed your video, and he said youdon’t use SSNF. He says it’s true that you tie bass bugs with Single StrandWaxed Nylon Fross Thread.) I would be appriciate you, if you taught me whichthread you actually recommend.

Thank you very much.

P.S. Your WVB has helped us (Japan Fly Fishers where I belong to) for years.It was 1979 or 1980 that Bob Cunningham sent me WVB for the first time.Japan Fly Fishers has translated WVB Handbook in our language and publishedit since 1990. The book has an article about my trials and errors with WVB.

Tadashi Osada

Dave Whitlock Replies:

Dear Tadashi,

I’m so glad to hear that you are enjoying the Fly & Field web page.It’s also great to know that the Whitlock Vibert Box is being used therein Japan…and that it has helped.

To anwer your question about the thread I use for tying my bass bugs…the SSNF stands for Single Strand Nylon Floss and yes it is waxed. The threadthat I use is made by the Danville Thread Co. A good distributor here inthe US is Wapsi Fly, Inc. You can have your favorite fly shop contact themif they are interested.

I hope that helps and the best to you.

Thanks for your question,

Dave Whitlock

Question #4

Gary Schmitz asks:

This is my first visit to your site. How interesting andnice that you would be prepared to answer questions for visitors. It’s much apprecitated. Now for the question. I have some deer hide that I would like to dye the hair reds, greens, yellows, oranges, etc. I have tried RIT fabricdyes but the color does not seem to take. Can you give me somehelp on what dyes and procedures to use. Thanks Much!!I’m sure I will be back to this site again.

Dave Whitlock Replies:

Hello Gary,

Maybe I can help you with your deer hair dying problem. I also use RITdye, and this is the process: First soak the hair in warm soapy water forabout 2 hours. Depending on the amount of hair to dye, mix up 1/2 to a fullpackage of RIT into 1-3 quarts of water and bring to a boil then cool to 180degrees and maintain that approx. temp. Add the deer hair and stir every 3-4minutes. As the deer hair starts to take on color, add 1 cup of vinegar foreach quart of water. Stir until you attain the color you want and then rinsein cold water.

I hope this improves your successes!

Warm regards,

Dave Whitlock

Question #5

Earl Ruppel asks:

I know how to spin deer hair bodies, but how is a Mouserat tied, leavingthe ends of the deer hair on top of the hook but trimmed hair on the bottomof the hook shank?

Dave Whitlock Replies:

Dear Earl,

So glad you’re interested in tying the mouserat. It’s one of myfavorites. That fly is tied with a technique that I developed called”stacking and flaring”. First apply white or pale colored hair to the bellyof mouse and flare it. Then, directly over that hair flare dark colored hairfor the back by stacking on top and just catching the buff ends of each bunchso only the tips flare up. Advance forward and repeat this 3 or 4 times tocomplete the mouse body and head. Be sure to tightly pack each belly/backstack of hair against the first bunch so the mouse will have a tight body ofcompacted hair. Trim the belly hair close so the hook point and gape can bewell exposed for best hooking.

Best of luck and warm regards…..Dave Whitlock

Question #6

James Morris writes:

Greetings from Glenview, Illinois Mr. Whitlock.

My name is James Morris, I’m sixteen years old, and I’ve been addicted to fishing since I was three years old. I started to flyfish four years ago, and now I’ve managed to spend thousands of dollars on fishing and tying equiptment.

I just wanted to say that I really appreciate the fly recipies that you have been publishing in the experts corner of the tying bench. The ultra suede craw is an ingenious pattern, and I’ve found it to be a killer on all species of fish.

I’d really appreciate it if you could send me some patterns or a means of obtaining some of your patterns.

Thanks and good fishing,

James Morris

Dave Whitlock Replies:

Hi James,

Sounds like you’ve found a sport you can love for life, and I can’t think of a better one!

Glad you like the ultrasuede crayfish…I’ve really had some outstanding fishing with that fly. If you’d like to purchase some flies that I have tied personally, send your address and request to Dave Whitlock, PO Box 319, Midway, Arkansas (AR) 72651 and I’ll send you a list.

Keep up the enthusiasm and help spread that to other flyfishers.

Warm regards,


Question #7

Greg Drake writes:

I am interested in serious cold water tactics for large troutin rivers. I employ large very slow, and very deep tactics withlarge nymphs and small jigs(1/64 and 1/32 ounce). Can yousuggest any other techniques which may work in the ultraclear water in my area? Also i use only 2 pound test line inthe heavily hit waters. Any suggestions would be helpful. Thankyou.

Dave Whitlock Replies:

Dear Greg,

With your clear water situation, You may want to try flyfishing at night. Large trout aren’t as deep at that time, so you can even sometimes catchthem on surface flies. My favorite patterns are sculpin, crayfish and miceand I use a 15 lb test leader.

Good Luck……………Dave Whitlock

Question #8

Mike Kinney writes:

Dear Dave,

One bug that’s been bothering me is the Gerbubble Bug. I am having a hard time trying to figure out how to tie this with deer hair. My question is this: how does one get the soft hackle or marabou into this pattern without cutting it off while trimming the deer hair?

Any suggestions???

Mike Kinney

Dave Whitlock Replies:

Dear Mike,

For the Gerbubble Bug, trim the head shape first and then pull the wings forward and down the right and left sides of the head and then tie the hackle tips at the hook eye.

Good luck,

Dave Whitlock

Question #9

Alan Stern writes:

Dear Dave:

If you HAD to pick one–what would be your choice for an all-around fly rod, line combo? I just got a 5 weight, 7 foot Orvis outfit, which is great for packing in to small back woods streams. I fished it opening day (New York) on the Kinderhook at a spot which was about 15 feet wide and, although I caught several fish, I really felt it was too small to throw my line where I wanted it. I found myself going back to an old Shakespeare 8 foot rod with 7 weight line and although that also caught fish and threw the line further, it was also a lot more tiring to use. What do you think?

Alan Stern

Dave Whitlock Replies:

Dear Alan,

My favorite for a general purpose rod is a 6 weight, 8 1/2 foot rod with a weight-forward line. It’s not the best rod for EVERY situation, but will usually work in the majority of fresh water fishing.

Warm regards,

Dave Whitlock.

Question #10

Marc Billet writes:

Dear Dave,

As a flycaster and teacher what programs are available for young children and teensgers’ to promote and educate flyfishing for our future generations?

Dave Whitlock Replies:

Dear Marc,

Check with the FFF (Federation of Fly Fishers) in Bozeman, MT. They have been working with children’s programs for several years. They may also be able to refer you to others.

PO Box 1595
Bozeman, MT 59771

Teaching our young flyfishing is a very important task….good luck.

Dave Whitlock

Question #11

James Fairfield writes:

A related question to ‘Stray Hackle Barbs’. How does one avoid trapping hackle when tying off and again whip finishing a parachute fly?

Dave Whitlock replies:

Dear James,

To prevent stray hackles in my tie offs, I use my thumb and first two fingers and starting at the hook eye, just pull all the hackles back toward the fly and away from the hook eye. You can then hold all stray material back out of the way while you finish off the fly.

Yours for flyfishing,

Dave Whitlock

Question #12

Paul Koulouris writes:

I would like to begin my son and daughter in flyfishing with a Christmas gift of a rod and reel. I would appreaciate your suggestions…..Would family lessons be a good idea? I live in N.W. Vermont.

Dave Whitlock replies:

Dear Paul,

This is what I usually suggest, as a good, general purpose first rod: A 6 wt, 8 1/2 ft, graphite, two-piece, medium-fast action rod.. Team this with a medium size, single-action fly reel with 50-100 yards of Dacron backing, and a weight-forward floating flyline with a 7 1/2 to 10 ft knotless, tapered leader and you have a great start for anyone. I’d suggest you go to a fly shop or fly fishing catalog to purchase this to insure good quality and to get the experienced help you’ll need when starting out.

I always say, when getting started in fly fishing, figure out what you can spend and then spend 1/3 on tackle and 2/3 on instruction, because no matter how good the equipment, it the technique is not good, the equipment won’t help much. Fly fishing is similar to golf in the sense that there are techniques that must be learned to become a good caster and it is much easier, at first, if you have someone showing and explaining to you. That’s not to say that you cannot learn from tapes and books, it just speeds up the process if you can attend a flyfishing school. There are probably several in your area. Check with you fly shops, Federation of Fly Fishing or Trout Unlimited clubs or flyfishing magazines.

If you are interested in to Arkansas, my wife, Emily, and I have just opened a flyfishing school here where we live. We have a wonderful spring-fed pond and the White, Norfork and North Fork rivers. These are all trout rivers, and the White system has produced several world record brown trout. My new edition of the LL Bean Fly Fishing Handbook just came out last week and it covers all the basics for you. We also have an introduction to fly fishing video.

If you are interested in information about any of the above, just drop me a line:

PO Box 319, Midway, Arkansas (AR) 72651

I’d like to say that introducing fly fishing to your children is a wonderful gift that they can enjoy throughout their lives, and a great way to teach them about the wonders of nature and why it’s so important for us to take care of it.

Yours for flyfishing,

Dave Whitlock