Making Magic

Combine two of Gary LaFontaine’s best fly-tying techniques to create flies that will cast a spell on the trout.
by Al & Gretchen Beatty

Fly-fishing is a fun sport that is rewarding to share with friends. It is especially gratifying to tell a friend about a really great on-the-water experience. These experiences are especially good moments to recount with a competitive friend.

You know how the conversation goes. “Hi, George. The fishing yesterday was great! We caught more than forty really nice trout.”

And you know what George’s first question will be: “What did you catch them on?”

Now, our friend George couldn’t care less what we used; he only hopes that he can use the knowledge against us so he can enjoy a similar story of his own at some time in the future.

When you are asked what fly you were using, what do you say? For us, the answer is not a pattern, but a tying technique that George (or you) you can use to make just about any fly more attractive to the fish. Did that statement get your attention? It should!

Yes, some of you believe we are blowing smoke, and that’s okay: you can just move on to the next article. For the rest of you, though, we’re going to share a technique the late Gary LaFontaine called “double magic” and its closely related method (and product) called Touch Dubbing.


The Authors Learn a New Trick—or Two
The double magic concept first came to our attention while working with Gary on a series of videotapes chronicling the flies he developed later in his life. During one of our taping sessions, he asked fellow commercial fly tier Paul Stimpson to show us the method called double magic. Ever the sharp-minded individual, it didn’t take Gary very long to see that we had never heard of double magic or Touch Dubbing—at least not the way he completed the process.

“Didn’t you read about it in my books?” he asked us with mocked indignity. We admitted we had seen the words in Trout Flies: Proven Patterns, but didn’t really understand what they meant.

Videotaping immediately stopped while Gary verbally escorted us to his “fly-tying classroom.” (Gary was largely incapacitated from ALS at this point in his life.) What we learned from him, with Paul Stimpson’s help, was a major turning point in our fly tying and fishing. If you’re not using these techniques, we think they will come as a revelation to you, and the fish in your area will wish you never read this article.

We’ll use three of our favorite flies to show how Gary applied dubbing to thread, and sometimes used dubbing in combination with other materials, to change standard patterns into a real fish-producing flies. The first pattern will illustrate not only tying a great fly, but also how the touch-dubbing process becomes the initial step in the double magic technique.


Learn Touch Dubbing First
Before we get into the double magic process, it is important to understand how to correctly use LaFontaine’s
Quick Fingers Touch Dubbing. We touch-dubbed for many years before meeting Gary, and even though his technique looked similar to what we used, he produced different results, which are a very important part of double magic. We’ll take a close look at the method, but be warned: study both the accompanying instructions as well as the photos very carefully or you might miss the important nuances.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to combine two new ideas to tie a fly; it takes only a couple of fly tiers. We’re fairly sure more than one of you will think of combining touch dubbing with double magic before we reach the last tying exercise; in this case we’ve mixed the two ideas in a dry fly. We have found over the last several years that the fish like the double magic concept on surface flies as much as they find it attractive down in the water column, and we also get to share with you a dry fly design that is very easy to change to fit just about any fishing situation. Here we present it as an attractor pattern designed for one of our favorite Central Idaho rivers, and we think it will be a good base pattern that you can alter to fit your local fishing needs.


Al and Gretchen Beatty are two leading fly tiers who live in Idaho. They are the authors of one of the first volumes in the Fly Tyer library of fly-tying books. Their book, LaFontaine’s Legacy (The Lyons Press), shares the final patterns of the great Gary LaFontaine.

What Is Touch Dubbing?
Touch Dubbing is a product of fly-tying great Gary LaFontaine. Although Gary passed away several years ago, you can still
purchase packages of Touch Dubbing from an online fly-tying supply company called The Book Mailer. (Go to to see the entire line of Gary LaFontaine Private Label products.)

You can also make your own dubbing to use with Gary’s touch-dubbing technique. The simplest method is you chop up a small clump of Antron dubbing using scissors. Cut the dubbing into very short, ¼-inch-long fibers. Fully blend the chopped fibers with your fingers or in a coffee blender. The fine fibers easily adhere to thread covered with tacky dubbing wax.



Learn to Touch-Dub with the TD Soft Hackle
Standard dry fly or wet fly hook, sizes 22 to 8.
Gray 8/0 (70 denier).
Rear body:
Gray Quick Fingers Touch Dubbing or a substitute.
Front body:
Peacock herl.
Grizzly or partridge.
Gray Touch Dubbing.

Image1. Apply a thread base that extends three eye widths back on the hook shank and to a position directly opposite the point. Clip the tag end of the thread. Be cautious not to crowd the hook eye; you’ll need the space in front of the thread base to apply the hackle and the head.

2. Select a tube of sticky dubbing wax. Turn the wax up enough so it barely peeks over the top of the tube; we often see tiers crank it up too far and end up with clumps of wax on the thread.

3. With the tube adjusted properly, you can smear just the right amount of tacky wax on the thread.

4.  Lightly touch the dubbing to the waxed thread. The tacky thread grabs only as much dubbing as it can hold.

5. When the wax is evenly applied to the thread, the application of dubbing spreads evenly over the length of the strand. We’re at a critical point in the process. DO NOT twist the fibers into a noodle around the thread; leave them untouched just as they are in this picture.

6. Start wrapping the thread around the hook. After each turn, use your forefinger and thumb to gently brush the fibers back before making the next wrap around the hook.

7. The method we’re using to apply the dubbing creates a buggy-looking abdomen. This segment of the body becomes very translucent when wet and seems to attract the fish.

8. Tie several pieces of peacock herl to the hook to form the front part of the body.

9. Fold back the fibers on a soft hackle. Tie the tip of the feather to the hook and wrap a wet fly–style collar. Tie off and trim the excess.

10.  Apply more dubbing to the thread and wrap the head of the fly. For illustration purposes, we used the same color of dubbing on the head as we used on the back part of the body because it shows up better in the photograph. For fishing, however, we would have used black or dark brown instead of the lighter color. Whip-finish and clip the thread.


Combine Two Materials to Tie the Guides’ Prince Nymph
2X-long nymph hook, sizes 18 to 6.
Black 6/0 (70 denier).
Bead head:
Gold bead.
Brown Antron yarn.
Flat gold tinsel.
White Antron yarn.
Peacock herl and Quick Fingers Touch Dubbing or a substitute.

Image1. Slip a bead onto the hook, and place the hook in the vise. Start the thread tight behind the hook eye, and wrap a short thread base. Whip-finish and clip the thread. Apply a drop of superglue to the thread base. Slip the bead into place.

2. Start the thread behind the bead. Wrap the thread to the end of the hook shank and back to the center of the shank. Clip the tag of thread, and tie a strand of brown Antron yarn to the end of the shank. Trim off the waste end of the yarn. Clip the remaining end of the yarn equal to the span of the hook gap to form the tail of the fly.

3. Wrap the thread to the bead, and tie on a piece of white Antron yarn. Wrap the thread to the center of the hook. Place the scissors flat along the shank to trim the excess yarn; laying the scissors in this position makes a cut that blends the tail and wing fibers into a smooth underbody.

4. Tie a piece of tinsel to the end of the hook shank. Tie several pieces of peacock herl to the hook by their tips. Clip any excess fiber ends at the front of the hook. Leave the thread hanging at the end of the shank.

5. Next, we want to blend the peacock herl with the dubbing. Make a dubbing loop, and push the peacock herls to the side; the loop should be slightly shorter than the strands of herl. Apply a good tacky dubbing wax to one side of the thread loop.

6.  Lightly touch the dubbing to the waxed thread.

7. Place the peacock herl in the dubbing loop.

8. Twist the loop, peacock herl, and dubbing into a single strand; the dubbing surrounds and adds highlights to the herl. Here we’ve looped the highlighted chenille around Al’s finger so you can see its full length.

9. Wrap the twisted loop forward to meet the thread, tie it off, and clip the excess. Wrap the tinsel over the body to form the rib. Tie off the tinsel and snip the surplus.

10. Tie on a brown hackle and wrap the collar behind the bead head. Tie off and clip the excess feather.

11. Pull the wing back along the body. Make several wraps of thread in front of the Antron to force it to stay in the Trude position. Tie off and clip the thread. Trim the wing so it equals the length of the body.


Double Magic with a Dry Fly
Lochsa Special

Dry fly hook, sizes 22 to 6.
Chartreuse 6/0  (70 denier).
Moose or elk body hair.
Calf tail or body hair.
Rear body:
Green Quick Fingers Touch Dubbing.
Front body:
Peacock herl and green Quick Fingers Touch Dubbing.

Image1. Start the thread. Wrap a thread base covering the last three-quarters of the shank. Wrap the thread halfway up the base. Clean and stack a clump of moose or elk body hair. Tie on the hair to form a tail equal to the length of the shank. Clip the butt ends of the hair, and wrap the thread to the front of the thread base.

2. Clip a bundle of calf hair, clean out the underfur, and even the tips in a stacker. Tie the hair on the hook with the tips pointing forward. Stand and divide the hair to form two wings. Wrap the thread to the back of the hook.

3. Apply dubbing wax to the thread, and touch a bundle of dubbing to the waxed area. DO NOT twist the dubbing around the thread; instead, wrap the thread to the end of the hook shank to form the first half of the body. Gently stroke back the dubbing fibers after each wrap. Tie a clump of peacock herl to the hook by their tips. Apply more dubbing wax to the thread, and lightly touch the dubbing to the sticky section.4, Place the peacock herl and dubbing in a dubbing loop; hook the end of the loop in a dubbing-loop tool. Hold the loop out of the way with the dubbing-loop tool. Tie on a hackle feather behind the wings, and bind the stem to the hook while wrapping forward to the hook.

5. Spin the dubbing loop to form a single strand. Make three wraps of twisted herl and dubbing behind the feather; then wrap the twisted material forward, covering the area between the hackle and wings.

6. Continue wrapping the dubbing loop to the hook eye. Tie off and clip the surplus loop. Secure the material with a half-hitch to avoid an unfortunate accident if the tying thread snaps.

7. Spiral-wrap the hackle over the front part of the body. Tie off and clip the excess hackle tip. Whip-finish and snip the thread.

 8. Here we see the Lochsa Special from the top. Notice the beautifully splayed wings.



Tag it:
Furl it!