Fly Design for Predator Game Fish by Garrett Lesko
One of my lifelong dreams has been to fish for peacock bass in their natural habitat.
Unfortunately, that dream is further off than I would like, so I live vicariously through my clients who regularly fish for giant trevally, taimen, dorado, peacocks, and pike, among other species.
They want big durable flies that perform in a specific way depending on how they need or want to fish. I’ve tied articulated birds for GT’s that hunt sea birds in the Seychelles; dorado streamers that push water to get a predator’s attention; and 10-inch long rat flies for taimen.
It’s been a learning process creating durable flies that swim and function according to the needs of my clients, and the fish.
I test and swam my flies for accuracy of movement; stress-test hooks; and never scrimp on quality. Those willing to spend thousands of dollars on fly fishing trip do not want cheap flies to spoil the fish of a lifetime.
EP Andino Deceiver
Hook: Gamakatsu SC15-2H size 5/0
Eyes: Extra Large Pseudo Eyes
Tail: EP Fiber Tied in 6” in length and 4” folded back to veil the tail
Tail Wrap: 1/4” of Senyo’s Barred Predator Wrap
1st Body Veil: EP Fiber 3” in length and 3” folded back to veil the tail
Flash: Blend of Flashabou (3 colors used here)
2nd Body Veil: EP Fiber 2 1/2” in length and 2” folded back to veil the tail
Accents: Add here optional Grizzly Saddle feathers
Collar: Complementary or Contrasting EP Fiber 2” in length and
2” folded back to veil the tail
Wing: 10-20 Peacock Herls, curled like ribbon
Lateral Lines: Large Saltwater Lateral Scale
Head: Deer, Elk, or Moose Hair stacked
Step 1: Figure 8 pseudo eyes to bottom of the shank close to the eye of the hook. Add first clump of EP Fiber.
Step 2: Wrap the Predator Wrap around the tail to add barring to the fly
Step 3: Tie in the next clump of EP Fiber veiling around the tail and folding back the butts to continue veiling. Add wing of flash folding the butts back as well.
Step 4: Tie in the next clump of EP Fiber veiling around the tail and folding back the butts to continue veiling. Add as few or many long saddle hackles to add contrast and depth to the fly. (pictured here is four feathers)
Step 5: Tie in the next clump of EP Fiber veiling of the collar and folding
back the butts to continue veiling. Add lateral scale on either side of the fly folding back the butts. Tie in wing of peacock herl as well
Step 6: Stack deer hair on top and bottom of the hook to fill in the space between the pseudo eyes and collar, use lots of hair for a denser finish.
Step 7: Trim with a razor blade to create a bullet shape. The more you trim off the less air is trapped in the head.
The first consideration when tying your own predator flies is the hook. Similar to building a house, if you start with a faulty foundation, the rest of the work you do has an extremely low success rate. There are a few factors to look for when you want the best hook for large, predatory fish. First, there isn’t just one magical hook that you can use. Do you use only one type of hook for tying all your trout flies? When it comes to tying streamers and poppers I have a wide array of hooks that are used for different applications. They are composed of different diameters, shapes, quality, brands, and coatings.
Select a hook for its shape and purpose. ‘Shape’ and ‘style’ mean the same thing and there are a few different styles that I would focus on. The aberdeen bend gives you the most working shank for tying. My deer hair divers and birds are tied on this style of hook. I want the longer working room for stacking hair onto the shank.
Another hook I use a lot is the stinger hook. This can be found in the famous Gamakatsu B10S. It has a short shank and an up-turned hook point. The stinger shape is designed to help increase hookups. When tension is applied to the hook, the point is driven up and into the fish’s jaw, making them great hooks for fish with boney mouths. They work well on articulated flies. The stinger hook has a slightly better keel when they are weightless making them good for attaching weighted eyes to the bottom of the shank. Examples of this kind of fly are the ‘bottoms up’ or ‘season geezer.’
What I call the streamer hook, a cross between the aberdeen and stinger, is another useful hook for several applications. It has the stinger shape in the bend of the hook, but without the upturned point. This gives the tyer more working shank with a reduced chance of bending out for more reliable penetration. The drawback to this kind of hook is breakage.
There is a sharper angle in the hook bend which doesn’t allow it to naturally bend-out without compromising the hook’s strength. Even so, I now use this hook when tying clousers because of the better hook penetration and hold.
The final shape I want to mention is the short shank hook. This has become very popular with those who tie ‘gamechangers.’ Kona released a hook a couple years ago called the Big Game Hunter Hook. This hook is extremely short shanked, coming in at 3/4” (18mm), in the 6/0 size. But when you want great hooking power near the front of the fly, or you want to add a hook in the back of your fly, without adding much length, this is the hook of choice. The short shank hook is very strong and best suited for flies attacked at the head or eaten whole.
Next up for consideration is wire gauge. Based on my experience tying at shows, fishing, and research, hook gauge is under-rated with a vast majority of tiers. Hook gauge can play a major role in hooking vs. stinging a fish. As a general principle: the thicker the wire, the less hook-driving ability. And this also contributes to hook strength. When I’m chasing rockfish on the Oregon coast, I used the Kona BGH hook in a 2/0 for all my saltwater finesse gamechangers. These hooks are very thick for their size, but very strong. This wasn’t a problem until I wanted to use the same hooks for smallmouth bass gamechangers. I lost so many smallmouth bass using the same hooks. I could never drive the hook deep enough to where the fish would stay pinned. I learned the hard way, but hopefully you won’t have to.
It’s common practice for most hook manufacturers plate their predatory hooks with a coating, regardless if it’s designed for saltwater or not. Every manufacturer has their own proprietary alloy with which to plate their hooks. The most common platings are stainless steel, nickel, tin, zinc, or an alloy of the aforementioned metals. I’ll discuss the pros and cons of each and let you decide the best option for your application.
Stainless steel is the most expensive option, but it is the smoothest and strongest. This is a great hook plating when fish have sharp teeth and/or you are fishing saltwater, but not necessary when fish have pads or live in freshwater.
The next best material is tin or a tin/zinc alloy. Both give the hook a shiny, silver appearance. This plating is tough and easy to pick out when you have lots of different flies in your box. The price tag of the hook is better than stainless steel, and only lacks slightly in quality.
The final and most popular type of plating is black nickel. Most low-end and mid-range hooks use black nickel for a sleek, smooth look. However, black nickel has the highest chance of chipping and flaking when the hook shape is compromised. If you tie rough or plan to go after sailfish, billfish, sharks, dorado or tiger fish, you might want to step up your coating quality.
Pink Lady Andino Deceiver
Finally, I want to mention brands. I know there are a lot of brands out there and depending on your geographic location, some brands are more accessible than others.
Daiichi hooks are at the bottom of the list. Not because their hooks are bad, but because they are lacking in size, shape, and coating options. If Daiichi are the only hook your budget will allow, then go for it.
Kona or Tiemco hooks vary wildly in price, but their quality is comparable.
Ahrex or Gamakatsu are the hooks I use for 90% of my predatory flies. All my deer hair flies, and most of my poppers, are tied on Ahrex hooks; streamers are tied on the Gamakatsu hooks.
I use Kona hooks for some applications only because of their many unique and nowhere-else-to-be-found hook shapes.
All this is subjective of course. Many tiers swear by Partridge, Fulling Mill, and other hook manufacturers. As the creator, you have all the power to select the hooks that are best for you and your type of fishing. I always recommend that anglers do their own research and, if you get your flies tied by someone else, don’t forget to ask about what hooks they use or request a specific hook. One of my first clients did that with me. The lodge she went through trusted a specific hook and so I honored that request.
Fly Tying Materials and Weights
When considering which fly tying materials to use, the simple answer is to use a lot of synthetics, wherever you can. You have been misled if you’re still thinking of synthetics as stiff, sub-par materials. Newer materials have come a long way and many have awesome features not found in natural materials.
EP fibers or polypropylene make excellent tails. In the vise they look stiff and unmoving, but once wet, they flow extremely well and take a beating.
Faux bucktail or synthetic bucktail is great tailing material, not as a replacement to bucktail, but as a new material that can be used when bucktail cannot.
Craft fur is one my favorite materials for its flow, movement, and strength.
The best part of all synthetics is their lack of water absorption and water retention. With one false cast your fly is dry and flying way easier that a rabbit strip streamer.
When compared to natural materials, synthetics offer far more consistency and availability. If I want orange EP fiber, I can get it from any fly shop or online market, with no hassle. Now, if I wanted quality schlappen, that’s a different story. I could go to my local shop and pick through the packs, not finding the right lengths or shape, and then go online and gamble as to what the color shade and quality might be. Synthetics take out all the guesswork. Don’t get me wrong, I still love natural bucktail, but now that fly tying has become more popular and conventional, the good stuff is quickly snapped up by jig makers demanding high grade bucktail and other natural materials.
Stay away from natural materials that are fragile and absorb water, like rabbit hide or downy feathers. Schlappen saddles can be a great material to add contrast and extra movement, but be prepared to have those feathers ripped from the fly long before the fly is completely toast.
To start tying some your predator flies, get yourself a good selection of quality bucktail, deer hair, and EP fiber. With these materials you can tie a bunch of flies that work great, and cast better.
Weighting a fly can be just as tricky as material selection. I have a solution for you that makes it less complicated. Using heavy lead or brass eyes has been the standard if you want flies to sink well. This is the standard for a reason, it works. Andino deceivers are a perfect example of this. I still use heavy eyes for those. For my other flies, I recommend using weightless flies and external worm weights. This creates a modular system for weighting flies. Bullet weights or worm weights come in many sizes to fit any situation. Tungsten is a good option because it is nontoxic and, if for some reason you’re in an area where lead is banned, tungsten would still be allowed. Remember, regulations and laws change even after you book a trip, so don’t be caught with your pants down.
Firetiger Andino Deceiver
Profile, Size and Color
Profile, size, and color are just as important as the hook and materials. Now that we have the foundation of the hook and the walls of the materials, what is our house going to look like?
Profile is critical and perhaps the most important aspect to predator flies. Mimic the forage food your fish are targeting and you can’t go wrong. Identify the shape. For instance, shad are flat and tall; chub minnows are tubular; rats are fluffy; crayfish are flat and wide. Get as close to the natural forage food as you can using photos off the internet or from books. There are lots of great resources, most non-fishing related, to draw your inspiration. Perhaps through your research you will find other potential food sources targeted by your species. Taimen like lenok; dorado like sabalo; GT and peacock eat anything they want; and I like a good rib-eye steak. Give the fish what they want and don’t be afraid to try something outside the status quo. All this will help you narrow down the profile you want.
The other option is to hire a tier who has done the research for you and have them tie a matching profile for you.
After profile comes size. Size is a consideration for casting but also matching the size of the natural bait. Small fish can still tackle large flies and visa-versa. Don’t restrict yourself to thinking big fish only eat big flies. A two pound peacock bass can eat a 10 inch fly.
Using synthetics means you can customize your flies on the water with something as simple as a pair of scissors. Fly is too long, wide, or tall? Trim it down and you lose nothing, unlike what happens when you attempt to trim natural materials. I had a client in Brazil that couldn’t get a peacock to commit to eating. After scaling down a seven-inch fly to a four-inches, with a pair of scissors, he was able to get the fish to commit. The four-inch fly better matched the bait of choice.
I’ll go out on a limb here and say color is the least important factor for predator flies. If you are conditioned to fishing for trout, salmon and steelhead, this may take a little rethinking. For predator flies, stick to two shades: light and dark. I love having lots of options in my box when I go to my local waters, but if you want to tie for an upcoming trip, keep things simple. Black is the go-to dark color; great for tanic or muddy water, and low light. Light colors such as chartreuse and orange are great choices for bright days and bright water. When I tie client flies I usually have six color options for people to choose from, but I often keep it very simple. One group of anglers I tied for wanted only black and white poppers. They worked great and kept my fly tying simple. I do know guys who swear by colors. Steelhead guys swear by green or pink; some dorado guys love blue or yellow. Just have a few staples in the box and a few fun ones to see what happens.
Various Bulkhead Deceivers.
Given everything we have discussed, how do you put it all together, and keep it together? Durability is key when going after toothy, exotic predatory fish. You can skip this part of the article if you think spending $10-$15 on a fly from a global manufacturer that lasts only one fish is a good deal. But if you are like me, and tying on a new fly after every fish is not your idea of fun, then read on.
Here are a few tips I give anyone who wants to tie stronger flies.
Super glue is your friend. Used it in moderation, it will hold a fly together when it should have given up six fish ago.
GSP or gel spun polymer thread is the toughest around. I like 100-200 denier for all flies that see teeth. 200 denier GSP is so strong you can’t cut it with regular scissors.
Fold-over your material to lock them into place. This applies mostly to hackle stems and synthetic fibers. This will prevent your materials from getting pulled out when a fish is giving you violent head shakes.
Finally, if you use UV resin, please bake it. Consider using either a UV tank or set your flies outside to soak in the sun’s rays. A UV tank is a box with loads of UV lights and reflective material. Both methods will cure the resin 100%. A high watt light in your home will only get you to 80-90% cure. Thirty minutes in the tank or outside gets it the rest of the way.
I could have gone on for many more pages, geeking out about hooks, materials, profile, color, durability, and even more, but this will get you started in the right direction.
Now get out there and tie flies for your next trip or use this article to ask the right questions and find a capable tier for your next trip, no matter where or how exotic it is.
- written by Garrett Lesko