Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Fly Tying Series #3 - San Juan Worm Variation

This is number 3 in the fly tying series.  Today, I'll share a variation of a San Juan Worm using soft hackle collar.

This fly is devastating on bluegill and bass.  I have also caught trout on this fly in the Smokey Mountains and in Yellowstone.  There are a couple little tricks I've learned for working with the ultra chenille.  I've picked some of these up from other tiers and some from trial and error.

Here is the finished fly.  Read on after the jump for some step by step instructions.

This fly can be fished by itself or it can be used as a "dropper" under a popper or hopper (just love the rhymes today).  I find it best fished by itself in streams.  Cast it across and slightly down stream and let it swing in the current.  A lot of strikes happen right at the end of the drift.  Rather than just pulling up and casting at the end of the drift, I twitch it a few times and lower the rod tip to allow it to go just a few inches more down stream and then hang on for 10 or so seconds.  A lot of the strikes come just as I'm thinking it's time to pull up and cast again.

In lakes, I hang it about 18" below a popper or bass bug.  The popper serves as a very effective strike indicator that actually catches fish.  When a bass or bluegill hit this, there is no doubt.

Always use barbless hooks or crushed barb hooks on this fly.  The only problem I've ever encountered with this fly is they sometimes take it pretty deep.  Those end up in the frying pan as they would die anyway after being hooked in the gills.

Materials used:
  • Hook: Any standard 1X or 2X streamer hook.  I prefer size 8 and 10.
  • Body and tail: Thin ultra chenille (brown and red seem to work best, green is also OK).
  • Weight: Optional, you can use a few wraps of lead wire, or a bead head.
  • Collar: Any soft hackle.  On this fly, I was using grouse back feathers.  Hen, pheasant, partridge, any soft hackle will work.
  • Thread: I used black on this for the photos.  Tan thread is what I normally use for brown and red thread for the red chenille flies.
Start by laying a good thread base back to the bend of the hook.  Tie in a length of your chenille at the hook bend leaving a tail about the length of the hook shank off the back.  TIP: hold the end of the tail piece several inches above a lighter, match, candle, or any other source of flame (5 or 6 inches is about right).  The heat from the flame will singe the fibers and form a nice pointed tapered tail as in the photo below.  Not only does this form a nice tail profile, it binds the end to keep the thing from unraveling on you as you fish it.

Next, take your thread about 2/3 of the way back up the hook shank.  I usually put a half hitch in at this point to secure the thread.  You're going to leave it there for a few minutes.

Next, wrap your chenille up to where you tied off your thread. (TIP: if you have a rotary vice, this is a good time to use its rotary feature.)  Make tight wraps.  You want a nice segmented look.  I usually wrap back over the first layer of wraps for about 3 segments and take it back to the tie off point.  The purpose of this is to form a bump or collar like a real worm has. 

Tie off your chenille with 8-10 tight thread wraps.
Tie in your soft hackle feather.  I tie in by the tip.  I've never found much difference which side the shiny side of the feather goes.  If I'm paying attention, I try to tie the shiny side down.

Next, make 5 or 6 close touching wraps with your feather.  I brush the hackles back with each wrap.  The goal is to make a nice slightly "cone" shaped group of hackles at the head of the fly.

Tie off the the hackles, make a thread head and whip finish.  I'll usually put a drop of clear nail polish for head cement to hold everything together.

Here is the finished fly.

You can also make a similar fly using yarn of the color of your choice.  One tip I have found when using yarn is after you have the fly tied is to take a wire brush ( I use a .22 caliber rifle cleaning wire brush, but Velcro or any other course thing will work) and "rough" up the yarn to make it more "fuzzy".

Here are a couple pictures of variants using yarn instead of chenille.

The next fly in the series will be a "Blackbird Soft Hackle".  This is my take on Hugh Hartsell's Smokey Mountain Blackbird Soft Hackle.  Here is a teaser pic.  I should get this fly up by mid week next week.


  1. A little late with my comment, but that's a good looking fly that I can't see how a bluegill could resist. I'll tie a few up for May, keep up the good work.

  2. Brandon,
    Thanks. Bluegill and bass both love them. I've also fooled a few trout in the Smokey MOuntains and in Yellowstone with these as well.

    Thanks for the compliments.