January 07, 2020
By Charlie Craven
Most often see the Chubby Chernobyl playing the part of the “dry” in a dry/dropper rig, where you tie a buoyant, visible dry at the end of a short, heavy leader, and dangle a beadhead nymph or two below on a dropper. The dry occasionally gets eaten, but I’ve always felt that the Chubby was merely a bobber, and sort of a cop-out as a fly. It more closely resembles a strike indicator than it does any insect, and folks were compromising the effectiveness of the dry fly in favor of the flies that most often got eaten under the water. I had to do something.
I find myself really making a conscious effort these days to embrace flies that I’ve previously ignored. The Chubby Chernobyl has always been one of those flies for me It’s something I’d just never fished with. I’ve previously considered it too simple, mundane, and pedestrian.
But when I talk to other fly fishers in the shop or on the water, every one of them goes on and on about what a great fly it is. Every guide I fished with in Wyoming and Idaho this past summer had a box full of them and used them every day. And do you know what? The thing works. I can’t argue with that, so I figured I better come up with my own way of tying them so I wasn’t quite so bored with it. What I present to you here is not a new pattern, but merely the way I have taken to tying my Chubbies to improve their durability, floatation, and to appeal to my tying senses.
What I first thought of as a simple, can’t-screw-it-up pattern has proved to be a bit more complicated, both in tying technique and materials selection. While what you typically buy from a fly bin is a generic version, as a fly tier you can elevate this pattern to perform even better with just a few modifications.
One of the first things I noticed about the commercial versions is they got loose on the hook shank pretty quickly. Anchoring down the foam can sometimes be a tricky proposition, and to remedy this premature body spin, I have taken to gluing the foam right to the top of a dubbing base at the thread wraps to keep it firmly in place. This small step has made a huge difference in the overall durability of the fly.
The next thing that bothered me is while the Chubby is super visible and buoyant, the common wing materials of Antron yarn or even conventional poly yarn leave a bit to be desired. When dressed with modern liquid fly floatants like Fly Agra or Shimazaki Liquid, Chubbies ride pretty high, but after a few fish I always found myself switching out to a fresh fly. Enter polypropylene macramé yarn—it’s the same stuff guide Pat Dorsey and I have used for years as strike indicator yarn. You purchase this yarn braided, and when you brush it out, it maintains a crinkled surface that repels water, traps air, and floats like nothing else on this earth.
I took it upon myself to start brushing out and mixing various colors of this yarn for my Chubby wings, and the results have been outstanding. This material is cheap and easy to work with, and is far more buoyant and waterproof than anything else I have ever used. Couple this with some of these new liquid fly floatants, and you have a fly you can fish all day with minimal maintenance.
I tie most of my larger Chubbies with two strips of 3mm foam to add a bit more splat and profile. Chubby Chernobyls are wind-resistant, but adding a bit of extra weight with a double layer of foam helps get it headed the right direction. The dual colors of this version add a bit of depth, and certainly contribute to its floatability over time. I like black over tan, brown over orange, and purple over black as my go-to colors, but I confess I have some pretty wacky versions in my box too, just in case.
On smaller Chubbies size 10 to 14, I revert back to the original 2mm foam and tie them on Umpqua’s new XT050 Stubby T hook, which features an expanded hook gap to accommodate the thicker body of downsized Chubbies. The XT050 also has an interesting V-lock bend and micro barbs that are easier to clamp down.
The element that probably stands out the most on these elevated Chubbies is their shaggy dubbed bodies. While most Chubbies are tied with Ice Dub, I am not convinced of its buoyancy and find it a bit porous, particularly in large flies. I use Nature’s Spirit Emergence Dubbing, a blend of longish synthetic fibers. After dubbing, I pick out the long fibers to create a halo effect rather than the usual tightly dubbed and skinny underbody. This shaggy dubbing adds to the fly profile and keeps the fly stuck to the surface film, rather than allowing it to ride the bow wave off that big cutthroat’s nose when he slides up to suck it in.
Finally, for legs, I just couldn’t convince myself to use the plain old traditional rubber legs, and dressed up the pattern with Hareline Dubbin Fly Enhancer Legs. These flashy legs are multi-colored, and come in a potpourri of fishy colors. The gentle transition in colors appeals to my aesthetic senses, and the fish have not argued.
As I mentioned, this is not a new pattern, but I thought I’d use this common and popular pattern to show that with a bit of thought and problem solving, nearly any pattern can be elevated from workmanlike to something you can be proud to fish.
Tying the Chubby Chernobyl Elevated
Hook: #4-8 Tiemco 5262 or #10-14 Umpqua XT050.
Thread: Tan 6/0 UNI-Thread.
Body: Nature’s Spirit Emergence Dubbing, Hare’s Ear.
Overbody: Black over tan 3mm Wapsi Fly Foam.
Legs: Gold/amber black Hareline Fly Enhancer Legs
Wings: Polypropylene Macramé Yarn, gray, brown, rust, gold, and tan, brushed and blended together.
- Prepare the foam by stapling two sheets together to keep them aligned and—using a single-edge razor blade and metal straightedge—cut several matched strips of foam that are about as wide as the gap of the hook. I try my best to keep each “set” of foam strips matched up together so they are exactly the same width.
- Dress the hook shank with layers of thread from the eye to the bend and back again. Leave the thread hanging about halfway between the barb and the hook point and put a light layer of Zap-A-Gap on the thread base to anchor it. Dub a small nub of dubbing onto the bend of the hook up to the hook point. Leave the bare thread hanging about halfway between the point and the barb on top of the dubbed base. Place a small drop of Zap-A-Gap right on top of the dubbing where the thread intersects it.
- Place both strips of foam on top of the dubbing with the butt ends extending about a half shank length past the bend of the hook. Tie the foam down with three firm wraps of thread right over the top of the glued base. I make a turn of thread around the foam and tighten it by pulling the bobbin first toward my chest to compress the far side of the foam and then make another wrap to compress the near side, topping them all off with a single tight turn.
- Cut four strands of Fly Enhancer Legs from the bundle. Cut them in half and place two of the strands along the near side of the foam. Tie down and bind them in place with a couple of firm thread wraps. Repeat this process on the far side of the fly as well. Line the legs up with the center of the lower foam strip.
- To create the wing shown here, I used several colors (gray, brown, rust, gold, and tan) of polypropylene macramé yarn that I brushed out and blended together. The variegated wing color is highly visible, but less intrusive than the traditional white wing of the original Chubby Chernobyl.
- Select a healthy clump of wing material and cut it to about three inches long. Lay the center of its length on top of the tie-down point and bind it in place with three tightly stacked turns of thread.
- Apply a tight noodle of dubbing to the thread and—while holding both ends of the wing as well as the rear-facing legs back toward the bend—wrap the dubbing in front of the base of the wing to wedge it into place.
- Once the wing is secure, continue dubbing forward all the way to the hook eye, then back again to the front of the foam and once again back to just short of the eye. Leave the thread hanging just slightly behind the hook eye on top of the dubbing. Add a drop of Zap-A-Gap to the top of the dubbing where the thread is hanging.
- Pull the two strips of foam down flat against the dubbing and secure them in place with three tight turns of thread. I’ve trimmed the front end of the foam slightly here just so it wasn’t in my way while tying the rest of the fly.
- Repeat the leg process on the front of the fly as well.
- Tie a forward clump of wing material in the same manner. Tightly dub a collar in front of the base of the wing, propping it into a single unit. Use the remaining dubbing to work up to the eye of the hook under the foam. Whip-finish the thread behind the eye and clip.
- Place a light smear of Zap-A-Gap between the foam layers at the front and back of the fly. Squeeze the pieces together to weld them into a single unit, but maintain a slightly upward angle to clear the hook bend at the rear and create a planing surface at the front.
- Fluff the wings so they are standing upright and cut them to about a shank length long.
- Use a dubbing brush to shag out the dubbing along the belly of the fly, trim the legs to just a bit shorter than a shank length, and knock the corners off the foam at the front and back to taper it.
Charlie Craven co-owns Charlie’s Fly Box in Arvada, Colorado, recently moved to a new location. He is the author of two books: Charlie’s Fly Box (Stackpole Books, 2011) and Tying Nymphs: Essential Flies and Techniques for the Top Patterns (Stackpole Books/Headwater Books, 2016).