Better Flies Made Easy
by Skip Morris

Discover a common material for making great fish-catching flies.

It’s a simple method: wind a strip of latex sheeting up a hook shank in overlapping wraps to create a fly with a translucent, chewy, and convincingly tapered and segmented body. And it's a good technique—usually attributed to tier Raleigh Boaze Jr.—but not a new one.
I first saw it in Poul Jorgensen's book, Modern Fly Dressings for the Practical Angler, which was published in 1976. Back then, the latex sheeting we used was made for constructing dental dams, the elastic-over-frame reservoirs dentists clamp around teeth under heavy repair. While dental-dam latex still appears on a few fly-shop racks, it does possess a foggy, creamy, slightly translucent color. Today, we have materials that work just as well and come in a variety of excellent colors and several widths. Scud Back, Stretch Flex, and Flexibody are common examples.

You can imitate a lot of insects with latex-bodied flies: cranefly larvae, water boatmen, mayfly nymphs, and others. Caddisfly and chironomid larvae and pupae are especially good subjects for flies with rubbery abdomen. Caddis larvae and pupae have relatively thick, translucent, tapered bodies with subtle segmentation. Midges in rivers are typically too small to imitate with materials such as Stretch Flex; size 22 or 20 are their average sizes. Lake midges, which are usually called chironomids, are much larger, and size 12 patterns are common. Chironomids are segmented, translucent, and thick enough to imitate with flies that feature these bodies.

The Material and the Flies
One of the great benefits of Stretch Flex, Scud Back, and similar materials is that they streeetch. When you wrap the material up the hook shank, you can adjust the tension to decrease or increase the width of the body segments. How many tiers wish they could vary the thickness of yarn, chenille, or floss?

The examples we’ll tie are the Latex Caddis Larva, which I’ll make using Scud Back rather than dental-dam latex, and my own Gummy Worm, an imitation of a chironomid pupa. The Latex Caddis Larva was one of the first flies tied with a flexible-strip body, and it is still a very effective pattern. My Gummy Worm has a little surprise in how the flexible strip is secured to the hook, but otherwise it is similar to the Latex Caddis Larva.
I sometimes fish the Gummy Worm deep and slowly with a slow-sinking line, but I usually use a floating line, long leader, and strike indicator. This is a deadly lake-fishing method. I’ve never fished the Gummy Worm in streams, because it’s so impractical to tie on the tiny hooks required for imitating river midges; however, it’s just the right size for fishing lakes. Lately, I’ve been tying the Gummy Worm with a clear strip of material wound over colored Flashabou. This method definitely heightens the impression of a translucent shuck.

Building a nice flexible-strip body isn’t difficult, but a few pointers will make the job easier and the results neater. First, you’ll need a smooth foundation to build a smooth body.

If you wrap lead wire on the hook before tying the fly, be sure to taper the ends of the wire base with dubbing, floss, or yarn. Second, it’s a mistake to wrap one of these materials using either too little or too much tension. If you use too little tension, the body might unwind and lose its shape; if you use too much, the material might slip out from under the thread holding it to the hook. Third, the more narrowly you overlap the wraps, the thicker will be the resulting body. And finally, by varying both the tension and overlapping, you can vary the thickness and shape of the body.

Study the nymphs, caddis larvae, and chironomids in pattern books and fly-shop bins; you’ll find a lot of flies are tied with Scud Back and similar materials. These flies almost always look great and they catch fish. Learn to use these simple materials, and you’ll tie lots of flies that catch fish, too.

Skip Morris is a talented tier who lives in Washington State. Skip is also the author of several excellent fly-tying and fishing books, and has appeared on several highly regarded DVDs.

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