Norway’s Barry Clarke ties beautiful saltwater flies, and you can, too. Here’s how.
by Barry Clarke
After four years of field testing, tweaking, and more testing, the Hoodlum streamer has passed with flying colors. Now you won’t find me fishing the salt without a gang of Hoodlums!
Although verging on the fanciful, the Hoodlum was inspired by the sparser flat-wing flies that have proved so effective on Scandinavian saltwater sea trout, and a series of saltwater patterns I have been tying the past five years that have been given the handle “saltwater classics.” The saltwater classics combine modern tying techniques and materials with more traditional ingredients to give them a classic look. Making the Hoodlum requires several tying methods and uncommon uses of materials, but once those techniques are mastered, it doesn’t take long to put the fly together.
The heavy-wire, short-shank hook placed in the front of the fly is a very important element of this pattern’s success. It gives the Hoodlum a dynamic, realistic swimming action that seems irresistible to the fish. The extremely strong Mustad Ultra Point 60543NP was originally developed as a carp hook, but it works perfectly for this kind of fly. The wide-but-short gap keeps the fly on an even keel when fished and allows for a full, unrestricted swimming action. (You may substitute a similar-looking hook.)
It has become extremely popular once more to tie articulated flies with tandem or trailing hooks. A trailing hook on this pattern will totally upset the balance of the fly and kill the swimming action. I also feel that it’s unnecessary because 9 times out of 10, an attacking predatory fish will hit the head of the fly, not nip the tail. If you have ever checked the stomach contents of a predatory fish that has been feeding on large baitfish, you may have noticed that the majority were swallowed headfirst.
Seeing Is Believing
There is a lot of discussion regarding ultra-violet-enhanced tying materials and whether or not they work. Let me share what I know about how a fish sees and my experience with those ingredients.
Let us presume that sight is a trout’s most important sense when feeding. Like ours, the fish’s retina is made of both rod and cone cells. The rods collect all information in black-and-white, while the cones are sensitive to color. The density of those cells determines the quality of the image a trout sees: the more the cells, the sharper the image. But the cells are not tightly packed in the trout’s eye; the image the fish sees is poor in comparison to vision of a human eye. Your eye has about 14 times better image quality than a trout’s, and I suspect that if a fish’s eyesight were as good as ours, a whole lot of fly tiers would be very frustrated.
To make up for their mediocre eyesight, trout and salmon are “tetrachromats,” which means they see four primary colors; we see only three. A fish’s eye contains ultraviolet-sensitive cone cells that increase the contrast and definition of prey.
Hook: Mustad Ultra Point 60543NP or a similar hook, size 6 or 4.
Thread: Gel spun.
Tail: UV2 white bucktail.
Tail flanks: Two white hackles and two blue grizzly hackles.
Flash: Blue Fringe Wing.
Body: Blue Bill’s Bodi-Braid.
Wing: Blue and black bucktail flanked with two barred ginger or Cree saddle hackles.
Throat: UV2 white bucktail.
Topping: Peacock herl from just under the eye on the tail feather.
Horns: Two strands of long blue tip-dyed Lady Amherst pheasant tail fibers.
Cheeks: Jungle cock or a substitute.
Note: This is the recipe for the Hoodlum we will tie in the accompanying photographs, but don’t get stumped if your local fly shop doesn’t have all these ingredients, especially for the flash and body; you may substitute with your favorite materials and tie a fine fly. You can also tie Hoodlums in any of your favorite colors.
Tying the Hoodlum
It was believed that only alevin and smolts were tetrachromats, and they used UV vision for locating zooplankton. Later, as the fish became larger, the UV-sensitive cells were replaced with normal blue-sensitive cells. According to recent research, those UV-sensitive cells are activated when foraging, and throwing a little UV material into the mix, such as Spirit River’s UV2 bucktail, has yielded very positive results in my saltwater patterns. But I have found that you don’t want to use too much UV-treated material.
There is a story of a well-known Scandinavian fly tier doing an experiment with UV materials. He and three friends fished an entire day for sea trout. They all used two-fly rigs: one fly as a dropper and the other on the point. Both flies were the same pattern, color, and size; the only difference was that one was tied with normal materials and the other with UV ingredients. Every time one of them caught a fish, they switched the position of the flies on the leader. By the end of the day, they had caught a total of 28 fish, 24 of which took the UV-enhanced pattern!
You can tie Hoodlums in countless color combinations. Although in my experience blue and white, orange and white, and olive, are the most effective when fishing, let your imagination go wild and create your own favorite colors.
Barry Clarke is a brilliant fly designer and photographer. A regular contributor to this magazine, he comes to us from far-off Norway.