January 14, 2016
Californian Charlie Bisharat seems to have cornered the market on unusual fly patterns. His near mythical pattern the Pole Dancer was but a glimpse into his deep well of creativity, and with flies with names like the Bubbleicious, Charlie's Airhead, and Puckerlips, Bisharat's imagination clearly extends well beyond the vise.
His newest creation, the Flat Fred fly, is an admittedly odd-looking pattern that throws many fly fishers and tiers off their game. Bisharat credits the original design of the Flat Fred to Leo Gutiérrez who first created the pattern from balsa wood to target largemouth bass in Lake El Salto in Mexico. It was with Leo's blessing that Charlie went forward with this more modern design, and we can thank them both for the amazing results.
The first thing the guys at my fly shop said when I showed them this crazy fly was, "won't that float on its side?" The answer not only is a yes, but it's explicitly designed to do just that.
Lying flat on the surface, the Flat Fred imitates a dying or crippled baitfish twitching and twerking at the surface, and there's not a fish in the world that will pass up that kind of easy meal.
Bisharat tells me of the success with this pattern on all species of freshwater bass from largemouths in California to peacock bass in the Amazon, as well as stripers and even redfish.
Trace an outline onto a block of foam. I started with a square about 3x3 centimeters, and then traced a sloping curve to the backside and an angled face with a fine-tipped pen. Once you've made a few heads, save one to use as a template.
Cut the shaped piece from the foam blank using scissors or a razor blade, and use a rough emery board to round the edges and smooth everything up.
Slit the foam exactly in half along the bottom with a razor blade. Continue slicing up around the rear and forward to just past the halfway point, creating a slot in the back of the head.
Cut two equal bunches of gray and white bucktail, and hand-stack them to even the tips. Cut a clump of gray Fishscale and place it on top of the gray bucktail. Carefully pinch the bucktail and Fishscale together and smear a drop of Shoe Goo on the ends.
Add a half dozen strands of silver Krystal Flash along the division point between the gray and the white bucktail on either side of the clump, working the flash into the Goo at the butts. Set the clump aside to dry. Once the butt ends are dry, trim them off at a slight angle.
Tie in 6" of Mason Hard Mono. Return the thread to the hook eye and lash .035" lead wire on the top of the shank. Bring the monofilament up through the hook eye and bind it in place both above and below the shank just behind the eye. Whip-finish the thread.
Coat all the thread wraps with head cement and let them dry. Apply Zap-A-Gap liberally inside the slit in the foam, and place the head on the hook as shown.
Pick up the tail blank and press the glued end into the slit in the back of the foam.
Pinch the foam together tightly and hold it for a few moments until the Zap-A-Gap completely adheres the foam head and tail assembly. Squeeze the bottom half of the fly together as well.
Paint the whole head with pearl white fingernail polish. Let it dry.
Paint the top third of the foam head with silver nail polish. For the black spot on a shad, I used a brass dowel to stamp black nail polish. Put a small drop of Zap-A-Gap on each side of the head, and align the eyes so they are even on both sides.
Using a red Sharpie, draw a curved line along each side of the head to imitate gills or a bite mark.
Upon seeing my photography for this issue's "Fly Tier's Bench," editor Ross Purnell instantly called dibs on the flies shown here for his upcoming hosted trip to Farquhar Atoll in the Seychelles. It's a pretty good bet these happy, smiling Flat Freds are going to be destroyed by some very angry giant trevally.
While the flat-sided design of this fly may lead you to believe that it's a one-trick pony, the distinctive head shape coupled with its stacked tail construction make for a fly that presents a wide silhouette and is, in the words of Umpqua's Brian Schmidt, "completely animateable (sic)." A slow hand-twist retrieve produces a wriggling flip-flopping side-to-side action, while a sharp jerk makes it stand right up and splatter water three feet ahead. The Flat Fred fits right in with Bisharat's growing reputation for creating flies that mimic conventional lures, while being easy to cast on a reasonably sized fly rod.
I must admit, when I first saw this fly, I was stymied by its construction, but after a short conversation with Bisharat, I learned that the fly is not really–tied so much as it's assembled like an arts and crafts project. Using 6mm Hard Fly Foam, Bisharat produces consistently shaped and durable heads using a custom foam cutter.
Since the rest of us don't have access to this cutter (yet), I had to figure something out. A sharp razor blade and an emery board make these heads pretty easy to replicate on a smaller scale and they are readily available to those of us left out of the loop!
I confess this little bit of gluing and painting is actually fun too. Building the tail section separately and notching it right into the head assures that the head and body are seamless, contrary to most conventional designs that have a distinct gap between the two. It makes perfect sense in hindsight, but I'd have never come up with that idea myself.
Bisharat makes Flat Freds in a variety of color schemes, from the standard old school white with a red face to more specific baitfish colors using just nail polish.
While the Flat Fred is really a pretty easy fly to put together, the drying time for the glued tail and painted body requires that you tie batches of these flies in stages. Make all the bodies at once, glue and dry an entire batch of tail sections, and then paint your whole batch of flies in stages so you can let the base layer dry, then return and add the finishing touches. You don't want to tie these one at a time.
The actual construction and tying portion of the fly takes very little time, and the results are well worth the wait. Bisharat has given us not just a great new fly, but a new way of using surface flies. And I love that.
Charlie Craven co-owns Charlie's Fly Box in Arvada, Colorado, and is the author of Charlie's Fly Box.