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Question for Fly Tyers and Fly Flingers: Head or No Head?


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With the myriad choices of fly types, it's difficult for me to settle on what to tie. Since I have so little time to experiment with varying patterns to see what works best, I am relying on you for your experience and opinions. My question is this:


What has served you best, flies that have a distinct head and neck, like one that has a marabou jig type profile, or ones that have no neck, like a clouser?


Hope this doesn't start any arguments. Remember it's Christmas.



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Interesting question Matt, but the answer isn't as clear cut as you might think. It's like asking is a fly with eyes more effective than one without? Some will say yes, some will say it doesn't matter. What makes a clouser effective is its action in the water. What makes marabou jigs work is the flowing action of the marabou coupled with the action. I had good success with a number of bullet head flies this year, floating and weighted, such as the thunder creek series for minnow patterns and a bullet headed tarantula for top water. Yet, I also had a number of fish on clousers, sparkle minnows and craft fur minnows. So my personal list of smallmouth bass flies is divided more by depth in the water column than by neck or no neck. My llist looks like this: top water: Jude bug, tarantula, hard poppers and tarantulas. Subsurface: damsel muddler, craft fur-unweighted, and mini dahlburg divers. Bottom flies: clouser minnows, weighted craft fur minnows, crayfish and leech patterns. There are more, but these are the basics.

So what works best? Ask a 100 tiers and you'll have a 100 different answers. The best answer is to do some research and find out what the forage base is for the water you're going to fish and bring or tie flies accordingly. For instance, the Turtle River has creek chubs, so a black and white clouser with pink flashabou works quite well. Or if a river is loaded with crayfish or hellgrammites, use those patterns. So I know this isn't an A is a better choice than B, because both styles, in the right place at the right time, perfect.

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I've never heard the term "neck" regarding fly anatomy. What do you mean by this? Is it the same as a "collar?"


My advice is to do what I have always found enjoyable about this hobby--play around. With the ease of using Google Images, I'd search for fly patterns that imitate whatever forage you think will be the ticket. Look at the range of creations people have come up with. Find one that you like for whatever reason--maybe you personally like how it looks; maybe you think it will suit your local water conditions well. Get the list of materials and try to tie it. Then try again. Then again. It always takes me at least 3-4 tries on a pattern before I work out the initial kinks. Now take your fly or flies and get them in the water to watch them. Do you like how they look? Do you like how they move or don't move? And most importantly, did you catch a fish?!? If you didn't like something, you can change it the next time you tie that pattern. Or if the fish are giving you different signals, maybe you find a whole new pattern to tie, maybe imitating something else.


I should also add that this time of year in our region, "take your flies to the water" can mean the bathroom sink ;)

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Pig Boat


I guess the question shows how a fresh set of eyes gives a new perspective on things, A question like that never occured to me. In fact it took some time to figure it out. The Pig Boat here is an example of a fly with a neck.



Clouser-no neck.


Bass love both. You might think that trout being more sensitive to natural looks would prefer the "minnow" look of the Clouser. But then there are dragonfly nymphs and other forage with pronounced heads and necks.



A popular dragonfly nymph pattern shown below.


Carey Special


Hmmm... Where's the head?


What should you do? Every father has used this line in his "man to man" talk with his son,"You will know when the time comes."

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Guest rich mc

i think it matters more on the profile the fish sees. and in mikes example the pigboat works better with afish looking up and the clouser more of a down angle. but both will overlap and catch fish. rich mc

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Thanks for some great responses!


Makes me realize so much depends on natural forage, depth of presentation, still or moving water, water clarity, and more. I need to decide where I will be fishing, what the are eating, etc., then plan from there.

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matty, you've gotten some great advice above.


My 2 cents........profile and movement are everything. Now, that movement may be derived from the materials used in the fly or it may come from your retrieval but you've got to make that fly come to life. If you can make your fly even closely resemble a crayfish in profile and are able to "hop" it across the bottom like only his favorite food will do, the smallie will almost have to hit it, he's wired to do that because it's such a high source of nutrition for him. He doesn't even realize that's why he wants it but evolution has wired that into his brain. If you can make a minnow-like fly flutter and act like it's distressed or injured, he's got to hit it, again he's wired to feed on any easy meal that requires little expenditure of energy to obtain it. That's just the way life has evolved. Now go get em' !

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I have some loose categories of types of flies that like to have with me when I'm smallmouth fishing so I'm able to give the fish a variety of presentations. The actual patterns that I use within the categories change depending upon what I have been tying.


One category is heavy weighted flies (often olive colored) that can be hopped or dragged on the stream bottom. Hairy Fodders, Fuzzy Bugs, Meat Whistles, and crawfish patterns probably look like crawfish or sculpins to the bass. You need both subtle colors and bright colors depending upon the water clarity. Another category is minnow flies. I carry weighted sinking patterns like clouser minnows along with unweighted minnow patterns like Murdich Minnows for fishing high and low in the water column. I like to have a least a couple of flies that have lots of flash because sometimes the flash triggers the fish. A third category is surface flies. I have some loud surface flies like hard poppers or block heads, along with more subtle surface flies like tarantulas. The fourth category is nymphs, which are smaller flies that are dead drifted. Clouser swimming nymphs, small wooly buggers, and other nymph patterns often work well when larger flies don't.

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First of all, I'd like to say that there were a lot of good advices previously posted and I agreed with most of them. We fly fishmen probably had read the same flyfishing books/magazines and listen to the same experts. We all were told that the fly should immitate the natural foods of the fish as close as possible; especially in terms of profiles (shapes), colors, and movements.


Then I walked in a Cabela's today and saw rows of cranks baits, spinner baits, stick baits and etc. It occured to me that a lot of these lures donot resemble any natural foods of fish at all. For example: a crank bait painted into a crayfish pattern, a spinner bait/swim jig that suppose to imitate a bluegill, or a senko stickbait that supposely be a shad. And they all would catch fish at certain time and place and quite affective.


And then, there were also many lures that really trying hard to immitate the natural foods such as crank bait that molded/painted into many different baitfish shapes/colors or soft plastic baits that shaped into baitfish, crayfish, worms, mouse and so on. Some even in corporated sound (rattle) and scents into the lures. Which bring up another point that I'd like to point out is that the sounds and scents aspects of the natural foods had not have much emphasize in fly fishing, especially the scents part.


Now back to the question of a fly with a neck of no neck. Does it really matter? To me, it is such a minor difference. As I had said, a fish would take a crankbait that painted into a crayfish or a spinner bait/swim jig in bluegill colors; and you alreadly knew that these lures donot resemble the shapes of what they were suppose to imitate .


In flyfishing, we have super flies like the Woolly Bugger, the Muddler, the Clouser, the Adam and so on. They are super, because they are so effective in catching fish. A part of their effectiveness is that they look like many different natural foods to the fish, not just one thing.


So my answer to that question is "No". It does not matter if the fly has a neck or not. The fly doesn't have to be exact imitation, near enough is good enough. And there are a lot of flies out there that are in this "near enough is good enough" category. But, it doesn't mean that I'll not try my best to imitate and make it as pretty as possible.


Final point, an ugly fly will also catch fish. :D

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Royal Coachman


That brings us to this very effective 130 year old pattern which never dies and has been rendered in wet, dry, nymph, streamer, and jig versions even though it resembles nothing in the water. Howell Raines tells us that one of the Orvis elders refused to call it a fly because it did not look like an insect.

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A friend told me I tie the most effective ugly flies he has ever fished. I didn't know quite how to take that, so I just took it as a compliment and said thanks.


John, I too have a friend that ties the most Gawd awful ugly flies that you have ever seen but because he is such an excellent fisherman, he consistently outfishes me.

(But my flies are prettier-Ha)

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