The killer flies of a Kool Kat
Innovative fly-tier Jonny King blends synthetic and natural materials to create some of the best saltwater patterns we’ve seen.

by Henry Cowen

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Looking at new flies and learning about new tying techniques always recharges my addiction to saltwater fly fishing and tying. Through a mutual friend, I met a moderately young (42-year-old) tier named Jonny King. Jonny was twisting up some very cool-looking patterns for catching striped bass. Best of all, once I found out he was a native New Yorker and lifelong Yankees and Mets fan, I knew there might be something really special about this guy. What sets King’s flies apart from many others is his ability for mixing natural materials—hackles, rabbit strips, and bucktail—with synthetic materials such as Angel Hair, Slinky Fibre, SF Flash Blend, Tuffleye, and Sili Skin. Blending natural and synthetic ingredients makes his patterns some of the most important new fly designs I have seen in quite some time. These are world-class saltwater flies!

 
Bluefish, fluke, and bonito can wreak havoc on beautifully tied saltwater patterns in the Northeast. Synthetic materials give King’s flies durability when fishing for these toothy critters and allow him to create baitfish imitations that have more realistic shapes. Whether he is tying a narrow silverside or wide-bodied bunker, synthetics make it easier to re-create the correct profiles of these baitfish. This differs from many saltwater flies of the past that were designed to be more impressionistic rather than realistic. Using impressionistic flies isn’t bad; it’s just that King wants to match the saltwater hatch. Yet, by also using natural materials, Jonny adds movement in the middle or rear sections of his patterns, which is so important when trying to elicit strikes from game fish. This combination of durability, shape, and movement makes King’s flies some of the most effective patterns I have fished with in a long time.

Kool Kat Jonny King
Jonny King was born and raised in Manhattan. Today, he makes his living as an attorney. Jonny is also an accomplished jazz musician, and has played professionally around the world. This Kool Kat is an artist and has a powerful sense of imagination.

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 Kinky Muddler
The Kinky Muddler is tied with half natural and half synthetic materials: The tail is tented saddle hackles, and the head is Kinky Fiber Flash Blend trimmed like deer hair. This fly has a dense head and  sparse tail that flutters like the tail of a real baitfish. King said, “The purpose of tenting the saddles is to create a fuller, rounder body profile and to maximize movement.”

 Tie the Kinky Muddler to imitate mackerel, mullet, and generic amber-looking baitfish. This is one of Jonny’s newest patterns, and it will be fished extensively during the 2008 season in the Northeast. Knowledgeable anglers are already begging him to tie this pattern in a mullet version for use on tarpon and snook in the Florida Keys.

Hook: Varivas 990s, Mustad Signature C68SS, or a similar short-shank hook, size 1/0 or 2/0.
Thread: White 3/0 (280 denier).
Tail: Bucktail under pairs of tented saddles hackles in progressively darker colors.
Head and midbody: Kinky Fiber Flash Blend tied on the top and bottom of the hook shank and trimmed to shape.
Eyes: Prismatic dome eyes coated with Plastidip, Softex, or a similar material.

 

King started fly fishing and tying as a teenager. He is self-taught, but regards authors Doug Swisher and Carl Richards, as well as Dick Talleur, among his tutors. He credits the books written by legendary salmon-fly tier Paul Jorgenson as his biggest inspiration for getting into fly tying, and he eventually tied all the classic trout flies. Although a saltwater junkie today, King is still a dyed-in-the-wool Delaware River trout bum, and its picky fish remain near and dear to his heart.

King credits several other prominent tiers with giving him early inspiration. “It started with René Harrop,” he said. “The beauty, delicacy, and balance of his mayfly imitations are second to none. I also credit Bob Quigley as a huge influence on me. The sheer creativity and practicality of his unusual emergers is still the basis of what I tie to fish on the Delaware River.”

In 1988, when King moved to Boston, his fly fishing took a new direction when he was introduced to the briny waters at the mouth of the Merrimack River. Since then, his travels have taken him to saltwater flats around the world, but he always comes home to fish the spring and fall migrations of striped bass in the Northeast; this is the fishery that truly inspires his creations.

When asked which saltwater angler has played the biggest role in helping shape his style of tying, he said without hesitation, “Kenny Abrames. Abrames’s style reminds me that striper patterns can be both effective and aesthetically beautiful, and to experiment with the full color spectrum. New Jersey tier Steve Farrar and his magnificent flash-blending techniques showed us all how to use synthetic materials to sculpt practical but aesthetically pleasing flies. Finally, and most important, Bob Popovics also influenced my tying: His brilliant flies span the gamut of both natural and synthetic materials. His 3D Baitfish and Spread Fly were revelations to me. When I stumbled onto his Hollow Fleye and Bucktail Deceiver, I was blown away!”

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Bucktail Deceiver Squid
King’s Bucktail Deceiver Squid uses the Bucktail Deceiver technique of tying. This fly is denser at the head than the Hollow Squid, which allows the saddle-hackle tentacles to swim better. A marabou collar wrapped behind the hook eye gives the fly constant motion in the water. This pattern features large painted eyes on Guinea fowl feathers. King uses this pattern when the stripers are busting squid on the surface, or when he is fishing more stained water and wants to keep the fly a little higher in the water column.

Hook: Tiemco 911S, Mustad S74S or a similar long-shank hook, size 2/0.
Thread: White 3/0 (280 denier).
Tentacles: Saddle hackles tied around a ball of dubbing.
Cheeks and eyes: Guinea fowl feathers painted with white and black EZ Shape Sparkle Body.
Body: Four or five dense layers of bucktail, and two marabou feathers wrapped behind the hook eye.
Note: The head extension is a piece of 80-pound-test monofilament. Tie this fly in colors to match the squid in your local waters.
 

King’s flies are not only beautiful, but they are also extremely well thought out. He is very conscious of color transition from the top to the bottom of a pattern. He doesn’t like the typical dark-over-light shading, and on a fly like his Hybrid Bunker, you will rarely see a line defining contrasting colors. When asked why this is so important in his designs, Jonny said, “I do not like stark color contrast or clashing and outlandish colors. I prefer to use transitional colors when going from the top to the bottom of a fly. Using pastels toward a pattern’s white belly just looks more natural.”

I believe this is what makes Jonny King’s flies so effective. It’s not just their profiles or natural appearance, but the combi- nation of silhouette, movement, and color blending that gives each of his patterns the all-in-one package needed to seduce fish into striking. Tie his flies and you will catch fish!

Henry Cowen is a leading authority on catching fresh- and saltwater striped bass. Originally from New York, Henry moved south several years ago.
 

 
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