Better Mayflies Made Simple
Our editor traveled to Colorado and returned home with a whole new perspective on how to tie realistic adult mayfly imitations. Here’s what he learned.
by David Klausmeyer

Every September, the leading members of the fly-fishing industry gather in Denver, Colorado, to attend a three-day event called Fly Fishing Retailer. This annual show, which is sponsored by the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, is the sport’s trade fair. It’s the place where manufacturers go to debut new products, meet fly-shop owners, and compare notes about the health of the fly-fishing business. I attend the show with an eye peeled for new tools and materials that will help us tie better fish-catching flies.

ImageSweden’s Claes Johansson created the detached body pins and sheet wing material. Claes demonstrated his products at the 2009 Fly Fishing Retailer show in Denver. Yes, creative people are still inventing new ways to tie fish-catching flies!

I look forward to Fly Fishing Retailer, partly because I am able to see old friends such as Andy and Lily Renzetti. The Renzetti company, of course, is best known for its rotary fly-tying vises, but it also offers a variety of other fly-tying tools and accessories, as well as rod-building equipment. Andy could not attend this year’s show due to a temporary illness, but Lily and a small crew of folks where there displaying vises and other tying tools. As Lily and I got reacquainted, I noticed that the table at the front of the Renzetti booth was littered with lovely mayfly imitations replete with dainty, curved abdomens and realistic wings. A gentleman stood behind the table, quietly tying a fly.

“This is Claes Johansson,” Lily said. “He’s from Sweden, and we’ve decided to import a couple of his products into the United States.”

Claes and I shook hands, and then he returned to 
his tying.

While I say Claes was tying a fly, that’s not exactly accurate. Rather than a hook, there was an unusually shaped piece of wire in his vise. Claes was busy folding a thin piece of closed-cell foam against the sides of the wire, and wrapping his thread over the foam. Every couple of minutes, he removed a perfectly formed extended mayfly abdomen from the end of the wire.

After about 15 minutes of making bodies, Claes replaced the bent wire, which he called a detached body pin, with a hook. He started the thread on the hook and tied on an abdomen with three or four loose wraps. Next—and here’s the really cool part—he pulled a thread extending from the front of the abdomen, and the butt end of the body and tails cocked up into the curved shape of a real mayfly dun. Claes then pulled the spooled thread tight to lock the curved abdomen to the hook. Brilliant!

Claes next showed me a sheet of thin transparent material that contained the printed shapes of mayfly wings—dozens of wings. He roughly clipped out a wing, colored one side with a permanent marker, and placed it in a wing burner. He then lit a lighter and melted the edges of the wing. He repeated these steps to form another wing. Claes tied the wings to the top of the hook and completed making the fly. Done

Discovering New Products
A few days after returning home from the show, I examined the sample products Lily was kind enough to give to me. I also read the notes I took while watching Claes tie flies. The tools and materials seemed straightforward and simple to use, so I started tying. As often happens when learning to use a new fly-tying tool or material, the first couple of patterns were challenging to construct. I soon got the hang of using the detached body pins, and my results starting improving. After an hour or two, I had a small squadron of winged mayfly imitations lined up on my workbench. This was great! The next day, I called Lily to learn more about how the Renzettis met Claes and decided to carry his unique line of products. “We met Claes Johansson through one of our European distributors,” Lily said. “We’ve been doing business with these folks for many years. They knew that we were discontinuing our own line of wing burners, and suggested that we talk with Claes and see what he was working on. Our friends thought he had some unique products, and that it might develop into a good 
working association.

“We asked Claes to send us samples of the tools and materials he was working on, and I said that we would check them out and go from there. Well, the package arrived, and Andy got very excited about the sheet wing material. Claes also included his detached body pins and wing burners, and Andy also got excited about these. He felt that tiers would love them; they’re innovative, different, and make more realistic flies.”

How long did it take for you to decide to add these items to your product line?

ImageRenzetti, known for its fine rotary vises, rod-building products, and accessories, is importing these detached body pins into the United States. Each package contains three pins of different sizes.

“What we initially received were prototypes that reflected Claes’s ideas and what he was working on. This was sometime this past April or May, and he had already done a lot of work on the wing material; what he sent was something like the fifth version. Even after we received it, he continued to make the material even finer and with no glare. I told him it was all very nice and that we might be interested in carrying his products. Then he sent us some more flies, and we could see that this was something we really wanted to do. So, we asked Claes to come to the Fly Fishing Retailer show; this was really the only way to demonstrate the products, and the reaction from the dealers was overwhelming.”

You say that you were planning to discontinue your line of wing burners, but you have decided to carry Claes’s burners, right?

“That’s right. Wing burners have been around for years, and these are very nice. There are four sizes of burners. These wing burners match the sizes of the wings on the plastic film sheets.”

You have high hopes that these products will be accepted by fly tiers, don’t you?

“Well, I’ll use you as an example, David. You told Claes that you really don’t use wing burners, and then I saw you act like a little kid—this is just how Andy reacted—when you saw his flies and how he uses his tools and materials. When I saw how Andy reacted, I said, ‘What’s the big deal?’ And then I saw how you reacted, so I knew we were on to something. Yes, I think tiers will be very interested in these new items.” 

Options for Incurable Do-it-Yourselfers
While I believe you’d enjoy using Renzetti’s new detached body pins, printed wings, and wing burners, let me point out that you can follow the tying methods described in this article without using these products. These other options will especially appeal to inventive fly tiers and incurable do-it-yourselfers.

Each package of detached body pins contains three tools of different sizes; you select the correct pin to match the fly you wish to tie. A detached body pin acts as a mandrel on which you build the abdomen of the fly. You could, however, use a heavy bodkin or darning needle in place of a detached body pin as the mandrel; tiers have been using this method for years. The difference, as you will see in the tying instructions, is that Claes leaves a length of thread hanging through the center of the abdomen; the detached body pin makes this easier to do. After removing the completed abdomen pin, he pulls this thread to force the tapered body to curve upward into the shape of a real mayfly. If you work very carefully with a bodkin or darning needle, you could leave a long tag of thread hanging backward from the tip while building the foam abdomen.

Also, rather than using the new printed wing material, you can use wing burners with any type of material you wish, such as cellophane or hen feathers. Or, you can construct the fly using another type of wing material altogether, such as feather slips, cul de canard, or hair. An inventive tier could even match a foam abdomen with a Compara-dun wing and thorax.

Assembling the Components

I’ve broken the accompanying tying sequence into several parts. First, we’ll see how to set up the detached body pin and start the thread. This is simple and straightforward, but do pay attention to how you start the thread; you must begin on the part of the detached body pin above the jaws of the vise. Next, we’ll build a foam abdomen. It’s rather easy to make an abdomen suitable for imitating juicy drakes or large mayflies such as March browns, but you’ll quickly get the hang of the procedure and start making smaller abdomens. I can now comfortably make foam abdomens for tying size 14 mayflies, but Claes can work even smaller.

Third, we’ll burn the wings. While I’m including this as a separate set of instructions for tying one fly, you may wish to spend an evening just making wings. It’s a very simple procedure, but tackling one step at a time—making several abdomens, burning a bunch of wings, and then tying the flies—will prevent cluttering your tying bench.

Finally, we’ll tie the fly. Although the finished fly is quite beautiful and somewhat complicated looking, assembling all the components is remarkably easy. Maybe that’s the best way to think about tying this fly: You will first make and then assemble the component parts.

I continually run into tiers who say there’s nothing really new in the world of fly tying. They are wrong! Andy and Lily Renzetti quickly saw the potential in the detached body pins and wing-making materials, and decided to add them to their line of fine products. I am left wondering what new items they’ll have at next year’s Fly Fishing Retailer show.

David Klausmeyer is the editor of this magazine. David was the recipient of the first Golden Hook Award, which is given by the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum to recognize an individual for their contributions to fly-tying education. Look for Renzetti detached body pins, sheet wing material, and wing burners at your local Renzetti dealer. You can also learn more about these products at And finally, at the time of this writing, Claes Johansson is adding photos of flies and complete instructions for using his detached body pins and other products to his Web site. To learn more, go to


ImageJohansson Dun
: Your choice of short-shank or regular dry-fly hooks. Select sizes to
 match the flies you wish to tie.
Thread: 8/0 (70 denier) or 6/0 (140 denier) in your choice of color.
Tail: Microfibbets or feather fibers.
Abdomen: 1- or 2-millimeter-thick closed-cell foam in your choice of color.
: Renzetti Mayfly Wings.
: Your favorite brand of dry-fly dubbing in your choice of color.
Hackle: Dry-fly hackle in your choice of color.
Note: That’s a pretty generic recipe, isn’t it? Other than the Renzetti Mayfly
 Wings, you probably already have all of the materials necessary to tie this fly. And even with respect to the wings, you can substitute with your favorite
 style of mayfly wings. But check out the last fly-tying photos; it’s obvious
 that this is a pretty specialpattern. This fly isn’t about using a battery of new
 ingredients; it’s about how we apply the materials to the hook.


Getting Started

1. Select the appropriate-size detached body pin for the fly you wish to tie. I’m using the smallest pin in the accompanying photos; I find it sufficient for making everything from dainty size 14s to large drake imitations. I would use the larger pins for making abdomens for grasshopper and big stonefly patterns.

2. Mount the pin in the vise as shown. Place the pin well into the jaws so the vise gets a good grip on the tool.

3. Now we’ll start tying the fly. Pay attention to this first step! Start the thread on the piece of wire extending above the vise. As you’ll see later, this is important.

4. Next, wrap the thread on the end of the pin. This is the initial setup. Follow these steps exactly, and you’ll do fine.





Making the
 Extended Abdomen

1. Tie on your favorite tailing material. For smaller flies, such as the type Claes Johansson showed me in Denver, you can use Microfibbets. I’m tying a larger pattern, however, and am using fibers from a feather from a Whiting Farms Tailing Pack. Secure the fibers using two or three firm wraps of thread.

2. Lay a thin strip of foam across the base of the tail. (You may position the foam on either the top or bottom of the pin.) Fold the foam forward and make two or three wraps of thread to create the first body segment.

3. Gently spread the pieces of foam apart, and make a spiral-wrap up the pin. (Here we’re looking at the pin from the bottom.)

4. Fold and gently pull the foam forward. Make two or three wraps of thread to create the second body segment.

5. Okay, let’s do it again. Spread the pieces of foam apart, spiral-wrap the thread up the pin, and . . .

6. Fold and lightly stretch the pieces of foam forward, and make two or three wraps of thread to create another body segment.

7. Continue working down the pin toward the vise, making more body segments. After creating the last segment, whip-finish the thread on the foam. Clip the working thread (the piece hanging below the abdomen) and the thread leading to the pin above the vise (the length above the abdomen).

8. Grasp the abdomen tightly between your thumb and index finger. Wiggle the abdomen to loosen it from the pin. Slide the completed abdomen from the pin. Gently roll the abdomen under your finger on top of your workbench to round off the edges of the foam. You may use the abdomen just as it comes from the pin, or you may pull the thread trailing from between the two pieces of foam to curve the abdomen as seen in the photograph. Pretty cool, huh? Renzetti, known for its fine rotary vises, rod-building products, and accessories, is importing these detached body pins into the United States. Each package contains three pins of different sizes.


Burning the wings
(and more)
1. Here’s a sample of Renzetti’s new printed wing material. It comes in two pieces. One sheet has the printed mayfly wing, and the other sheet (in back) is plain. Each package has enough wings to make at least several dozen flies.

2. Let’s make a wing. First, color the inside of the printed wing with permanent marker to match the color of a real mayfly wing; if you’re tying a spinner, leave the wing clear. Next, place the wing in the wing burner. (You can see the brown ink from the marker on the excess material extending on the sides of the burner.

3. Clip some of the excess sheet material. You’ll want to use a lighter for burning the wing. (A match creates a messy residue.)

4. Quickly touch the flame around the edges of the wing burner to shape the wing.

5. Here’s our finished wing. The two sheets of
plastic melt together, creating an air pocket that will help keep the fly just under the surface if it sinks; when this happens, the patternmakes for a splendid imitation of a swamped cripple. You may now make a second wing.

6. Let’s prepare one more piece of material before we complete tying the fly. Strip the excess fluffy fibers from the base of a dry-fly hackle. Strip a few extra fibers from the side of the feather that will lie against the fly when you wrap the feather over the thorax. Okay, now we’ll finish the fly.


Completing the fly
1. Place a hook in the vise. Wrap a layer of thread on the hook shank. Tie the abdomen to the hook. I also like to tie down the two tag pieces of thread extending from the abdomen.

2. Wrap the thread up the hook, securing the tag ends of foam along the sides of the shank. Clip the excess foam and the tag ends of thread. Wrap the thread back to the abdomen and tie on the hackle; note that I’m leaving a small space between the front of the abdomen and the base of the feather.

3. Tie on the wings. Lock the wings in place with firm wraps of thread.

4. Clip the excess wing material. Our mayfly is coming together nicely.

5. Wrap the thread down the hook to the abdomen. Spin dubbing on the thread. Make one wrap of dubbing behind the hackle, and continue wrapping the dubbing up the hook to form the thorax of the fly; be sure to make a single figure-eight wrap of dubbing between the wings.

6. Spiral-wrap the hackle over the thorax. Tie off and clip the excess feather tip.

7. Whip-finish and clip the thread. I suppose we could say the fly is done, but let’s go one step further.

8. Add a dash of color to the abdomen using a permanent marker. The fish might not notice, but the added touch sure will impress any prying eyes that peek inside your fly box.




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