October 19, 2012
By Matthew Handy
Like so many of fly fishing's finer points, there is an ongoing debate over the merits of using preweighted versus unweighted patterns. Some anglers don't like the hassles and problems associated with using additional weights. Others insist on being able to control how far and how fast their flies sink. Like so many of these debates, both sides are probably right.
There are many times when you don't want preweighted subsurface flies — for example, when you fish just below the surface, or when you want to adjust the amount of weight by adding or removing split-shot in response to changing conditions. At other times, however, when you want a fly to sink quickly and stay close to or on bottom, it helps to have the weight already in the fly and all in one place.
You can add weight to a fly by wrapping lead onto the hook shank or placing a bead (brass, tungsten, or other material) at the hook eye. Beads give many old and new subsurface patterns flash and help them sink to bottom, but they only work well on small patterns. For larger patterns, you need something different.
Cones, bullet-shaped weights made of brass and tungsten, allow you to create larger, deep-diving patterns for trout and many other fresh- and saltwater species that prefer bigger meals. Used primarily for streamer patterns, cones also add that bit of flash — right on the nose — that gives new life to just about any old pattern.
The first cones were made of brass and came in a variety of sizes, finishes, and weights. But because they were substantially less dense (lighter for the same volume) than the wrapped lead they were intended to replace, you still had to add weight to the hook shank or your leader to help cone-head patterns reach bottom. This limited the cone's popularity.
Then came cones made of tungsten, a metal about twice as heavy as brass and even heavier than lead. Tungsten cones provide enough weight to sink flies deep quickly without added weight on the fly or leader. Now a variety of cones is available at fly shops and other locations. [Ed Jaworowski's article, "The Versatile Jiggy," on page 62, provides information on how Bob Popovics uses special cones to make his Jiggy patterns. The Editor.]
Pinch down the barb and slide the cone around the hook bend. Photo Matthew handy
Wrap the body up to the cone. Photo Matthew handy
Use a whip-finish or half hitches to secure materials behind the cone. Photo Matthew handy
Use the cone to compact hair bodies. Photo Matthew handy
Finished Cone-head Crystal Bugger. Photo Matthew handy
At the Vise
Weighted cones open the door to new fly designs and save time for tiers who wrap lead wire on their flies, but they also present a few challenges at the tying vise. Here are a few of the problems and how to solve them.
Positioning the Cone. You must slip the cone around the hook bend to put it into position behind the hook eye.
Unfortunately, some cones have a narrow center hole and are difficult to slide around the bend. A hook with a larger bend radius makes it easier to maneuver the cone to the hook eye; the broader, curved shank will prevent the cone from jamming at the bend. Even if you use an appropriate hook size and style, you may still have to pinch down the barb to slide the cone around the bend.
Hook eyes, whether turned-up, turned-down, or straight, must be large enough to hold the cone in place. If the hook eye is too small, the cone may cover it or pass completely over it. You'll have to experiment to find combinations of cones and hooks that work for your patterns.
You can place three or four wraps of lead on the hook shank and shove it into the back of the cone to help secure it. This also adds extra weight to create extra-fast-sinking patterns.
Making the Body. You can use many materials and tying approaches to build a body behind a cone. The cone is simply an addition to standard patterns. Any material that can be wrapped, spun, or otherwise rotated forward to the cone's base is suitable. Chenilles, soft hackles, dubbed furs, rabbit strips, deer hair, and yarns are good choices.
To integrate the cone and body neatly, use a bit of aggressive tying. With the material wrapped to the cone's base, simply force one, two, or three additional turns of the material around the hook and force it into the recess at the back of the cone. Use additional thread wraps to hold the material and the cone in place.
Finishing the Fly. Regardless of the materials used, you can finish the fly by slipping a few half-hitches or a whip-
finish into the area behind the cone.
Tying cone-head flies with spun-hair collars and heads is a good way to finish the fly and is no more difficult than spinning hair for standard patterns. In fact, if you don't secure the cone until the end, you can use it to make tying a hair collar easier. After each bundle of hair is spun, simply push the cone backward to compact the material. Continue the process forward until no space remains after packing, whip-finish, and trim the hair to the desired shape.
On the Line
When you fish with a tungsten cone-head fly, you don't have to add split-shot to put the fly on bottom. Split-shot, though indispensable in many situations, damages leaders and tippets. The more split-shot you pinch on in an attempt to get the fly down farther or faster, the more you create weak spots that can fail when you hook a fish.
Casting a rig with added weights, especially if you use more than one, destroys the smooth transition of energy from the line to the fly. Using multiple split-shot can produce line tangles if the weights go in different directions and slingshot around one another at the end of your forward or backcast. Tangles are aggravating and reduce your fishing time. The severity of these problems increases proportionally with the size of the flies you use. Cone-head flies provide sufficient weight for even the deepest water, yet they allow smoother and more efficient casting.
With sinking lines, cone-head flies go down with the line and stay deep during a retrieve, unlike lighter patterns that may slow the line's sink rate and ride higher than the line during the retrieve.
Patterns tied with beads can get down to bottom and are useful in many situations, especially if the fly is small. However, cone-head patterns, especially in larger sizes and when tied with shiny gold-, silver-, copper, or hot-colored cones, get down quickly to where they need to be and draw attention to themselves with their flashy appearance. When the job calls for a big fly to get down to bottom fast, a cone-head fly simply does it best.
Matthew J. Handy is a freelance writer from Bethesda, Maryland.