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Fly Tying

Two Bit Hooker

by Charlie Craven   |  July 1st, 2011 6

Double beads for perfect proportions

Inspired by Mike Mercer’s Micro Mayfly, the Two Bit Hooker sinks quickly and is equally durable, but has a more natural, streamlined body shape. Photo Charlie Craven

Tying Steps

Over the years, Mike Mercer’s Micro Mayfly has proven to be a dependable addition to my fly box. I fished the fly as a dropper under a dry, as the “copper” portion of the hopper-copper-dropper rig, or even under a yarn indicator and felt confident that it was going to take fish. I was perfectly happy with it for years until my buddy Ross Bartholomay mentioned that the bead was grossly oversized and out of proportion.

This sounded like blasphemy to me. I have never met Mike Mercer in person, but I’m a huge fan of his flies, and hearing that there could be something on which to improve almost offended me on several levels. The Micro Mayfly is a small, bulbous, and reasonably durable pattern, and the oversized tungsten bead not only adds the necessary weight to get the fly down, but also a bit of goofy charm. I always thought of this fly as a bit disproportioned, but I never gave it a second thought until Ross mentioned it. It’s like when someone calls you fat, or points out that your hairline is receding . . . and you are and it is. You are just a little too close to note things like this yourself, and it might hurt a little to know that others do. Of course, once Ross mentioned this, it stuck in my craw like an insult and made me rethink the whole Micro Mayfly philosophy.

I knew that a smaller bead would certainly be more proportional, but even a tungsten bead would not be as heavy as the large original. Adding a lead wire underbody would get me the weight I needed, but ruin the slim profile. I decided to start from the beginning and take stock of the attributes of the Micro Mayfly and hope to stumble onto something to solve the weight issue along the way.

The Micro Mayfly has a tail and legs made of sparse pheasant-tail fibers, and I have always noticed the tail is the first thing to go on this fly. Pheasant tail is readily available in a host of colors and does a great job of imitating the pulsing tails and legs of a natural mayfly nymph, but it is innately delicate and breaks easily.

The stripped peacock quill body was another issue altogether. It took longer to make than it really justified, but it was hard to argue with its prominent ribbing. The double turkey slip wingcase was a creative way of getting around the epoxy soaking through the feathers and into the dubbed thorax, but again, it seemed like a bit more work than was really necessary. There had to be a better way.

I really liked the overall profile of the fly, but I thought maybe I could come up with a few improvements and perhaps streamline the fly and make it faster to tie and more durable at the same time. So I sat down and went to work with a Tiemco 921 clamped in the jaws of my vise.

I put a smaller tungsten bead on the hook for lack of a better idea, resigning myself to adding split-shot to the leader to keep the fly down in deeper water. I knew that a mottled hen back feather would provide a beautiful sparse tail, and its softness and flexibility would help keep it attached to the hook. I decided to use the hen fibers for the legs for the same reasons, as well as the fact that I already had a special trick up my sleeve for creating the legs quickly and easily.

The body was an area of contention for me. A simple thread abdomen was the easiest, fastest, and perhaps the most realistic—particularly in small sizes, as I could readily control the diameter of the body—but it just didn’t pop out at me as the right answer. It was too plain and even-toned. I tried a variety of options like twisted rod building thread, floss, goose biots, and even Super Hair like the Jujubaetis, but found that none of these was really what I was after.
It finally occurred to me to stick with the thread abdomen, but add a contrasting color of thread rib. The first color variation I tried was the brown thread abdomen with black thread rib (shown in the accompanying step-by-step tying instructions).

I was struck by the resemblance the ribbed thread body had to a smooth goose biot body, although with the thread body I was able to control the diameter and spacing of the rib much more readily.

I ultimately found that using a thin thread on the smaller versions was key, as the thread work near the front of the fly would need to be as minimal as possible to keep from creating too much bulk. Now I had the answer to the body of the fly and was ready to move on to the wingcase.

The Micro Mayfly was originally tied with a strip of pearl Flashabou pulled over the turkey quill wingcase, but the bulk created by tying in the slip of turkey and the flash was hard to control on smaller flies, and the thin strip of flash would sink down and nearly disappear into the soft wingcase. I had to find a way to get a visible flashback on there without increasing the bulk.

A single strand of medium Opal Mirage Tinsel solved both of these problems exceptionally well. Opal Mirage Tinsel is similar to the standard pearl tinsel that has been available for years, but it exudes a much more colorful flash than the pearl and is slightly more metallic. I later discovered that it also prevents the epoxy from soaking into the underlying thorax dubbing. The medium size was just the right width to envelop the dubbed thorax and create a vibrant, glowing wingcase. Almost there!

I still had but a single small bead perched at the head of the fly. The smaller bead fit the profile of the fly much better, and I had managed to really slim down the fly with the changes I had already made, but I knew that the fly would be too light to pull a dropper tippet down and stay along the bottom in faster, deeper runs. I had done all this work and still hadn’t answered the original question until it hit me like a ton of bricks. Use two small beads.

Using two smaller-diameter beads turned out to be perfect for this fly. I was able to maintain the slim profile yet add even more weight to the fly than a single oversized bead. I now had a fly that was thinner, heavier, and more durable than its predecessors. This fly had the uber-lean profile of the Pheasant Tail Nymph, the weight of a Copper John, and durability in spades.

We fished the new fly in every way imaginable, and it produced fish like no other. I recall fishing a small black Two Bit Hooker on a short 12-inch dropper beneath a small Charlie Boy Hopper on the Colorado River one fall day. I was fishing the super-skinny riffles and edges that everyone else had waded through on their way to the deep runs. Fish were piled up in this shallow water and were feeding heavily on emerging Baetis nymphs. The Two Bit Hooker sank quickly on the short dropper and hung low in the water column. Brown after brown came flashing over to the fly, visibly inhaling it as it drifted subtly by. I felt like I was stealing these fish from the other fishermen, and I’m sure a few of them were kicking themselves for thrashing through such productive water.

The Two Bit Hooker was the perfect fly for this shallow water because an unweighted fly would not have stayed down in the fast-moving riffles, and using a split-shot was just asking to hang your rig up on the bottom every few minutes. The buoyant hopper suspended the heavy, but slim fly at just the right level in the water column for it to be seen by the fish, but not so low that it was grabbing onto every rock it passed.

Charlie Craven co-owns Charlie’s FlyBox in Arvada, Colorado, and is the author of Charlie’s Fly Box (Stackpole Books, Headwater Books, 2011). He is also the featured tier in the iPhone app FlyBench, available at apple.com/iphone/flybench.

Tying Steps

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