Using Tinsel as a Dry Fly Material

By Mike Hogue


It would be hard to find a more devoted following to tradition and use of conventional materials than dry fly tiers. However, in heavily fished waters simple updates using overlooked high-tech materials may be the answer to creating new versions of timeless classics.These small changes can stir new life into flies long since retired as stodgy, boring or unimaginative. Tinsels offer tiers unlimited new opportunities to restore health to many patterns. These products come in a multitude of colors, shapes, textures, sizes and have unique qualities not found elsewhere. More often than not these materials have been mostly marketed to makers of streamers or lures for use in minnow type patterns.

I first became interested in using tinsel for dry flies a few years ago when I developed the Holographic Gold Demon. This patterns traces it's roots to the Big Hole Demon which was a western streamer pattern marketed by Dan Bailey's during the 1960's. Dan Bailey himself liked it so much that it was considered the " 1964 Montana fly of the year." Although the pattern looked interesting, I thought that this might fish better as a dry fly. After some experimentation, The Gold Demon was born. In tying the Gold Demon, I uncovered an old " new material" largely overlooked in the making dry flies-tinsel. Tinsel has enabled us to create flies that are durable, easy to make and highly effective.

Types of Tinsel:

Spooled Tinsel: Tinsel is most commonly sold on spools. The main advantage in using spooled tinsel, is that the tier has increased control and can lay tinsel down in even consistent wraps. While there are both flat and round tinsels which can be used, the flat version creates the effect of a segmented body and is the most useful.

Typically the first spooled tinsel that comes to mind is the doubled sided mylar flat tinsel marketed by Danville Chenille. Double sided mylar has gold on one side and silver on the other and comes in 4 widths. This tinsel is most often used for making ribs or for bodies of streamers.

Another type of material that we like is spooled Holographic tinsel. Holographic tinsel is a prism type of strip which has a highly reflective surface. When light hits this holographic material, small reflections and refractions of the light are created. This often makes the fly appear more life-like and stirs a fish into a feeding frenzy and induces a strike. Spooled Holographic tinsel is available in blue, red, green, black, silver, gold and purple. For a cool effect try using red for holographic Royal Wulff.

Tinsel in Hanks: This material is usually gathered into a hank or bunch and mounted vertically onto small cards. The most well known product is Flashabou. While this product is usually incorporated into streamers, it can also be effective in making dry flies. Many of these tinsels have subtle Earth tones that have a more natural appearance. I often select individual strands from the bunches and use them in making the tiniest of dry flies. Most runs about $3.50, my favorite is the holographic stuff.

New comer Gliss N Glow is made by Just Add Water Products ( AKA Success Flies ) of South Africa. This tinsel has been very popular product with salt water tiers for making large minnow or shrimp patterns. Like Fire Fly, Gliss N Glow has a small embossed pattern that reflects and refracts light in unusual ways. Gliss N Glow comes in 18 pearl and metallic colors.

Hedron's newest tinsel is called Mirage which is a pearlized type of material. Mirage has a chameleon like effect in the presence of light. As the light changes so does the its color. While some tradition bound tiers may find little use for Mirage, it does deserve some consideration. Fly Tyer Preston Jennings believed that all dry flies omitted a rainbow hue which attracted fish and caused them to strike. Consider adding this to flies used on your next trip to spot with heavily fished waters.

Lazer Flash is a newer product introduced last year. It has prismatic effect with an appearance of something like a cross between pearl mylar and holographic mylar. It creates a scale effect when wet which is very unusual. Extra fine strands of this bundle are very unique. The size is 1/69" of an inch which is useful for many flies. One color only: silver. $4.00

Mirror Flash is also a newer product introduced last year. It is a mylar product similar to Mirage and it has a reflective pearl finish which changes light under different conditions. It is split a bit narrower at 1/100" and it is useful for ribs or for body materials. The material can also be used as a spinner wing. Colors inlcude, Pearl, Peacock Black, Lime, Orange and Olive. $5.50


Tying Tinsel Patterns

Tying the Gold Demon isn't very hard. For novice tiers this is a fairly straight forward fly to tie. The fly is your basic add a tail, make the body, tie a thorax and hackle. The most difficult part of making this fly is finding the right color of hackle. We use golden badger hackle for this fly. Since we often use saddle hackle in making this fly, we like to use Indian necks for the tails since the fibers tend to be long and stiff. These necks also have the added bonus of being low cost. If you are in a pinch try substituting grizzly, or a very pale ginger. A light cree might be a good bet too.

The Gold Demon:

Hook: Standard Dry size 14-16

Thread: White 6/0 or 8/0

Tail:10 to 15 Gold Badger fibers

Body: Fine gold flat tinsel or small gold Holographic tinsel

( If you wish sub in one of the many gold hank tinsels you have left over from that Bass or Redfishing trip you made last season. )

Thorax: Peacock Herl

Hackle: Gold Badger

To tie the fly wrap in the tail. The tail should equal the hook shank. Move the thread forward leaving the front 1/3 of the hook shank open. Tie in the tinsel. Wrap the tinsel back and then forward. Tie off. Tie in peacock hurl and hackle. Move thread forward. Wrap herl and hackle. Tie off and finish the head. I specifically omitted adding wings as I found that it made no difference in how well the fly fished.

Using this same concept, I tied the classic Quill Gordon with Bronze Flashabou. The original Quill Gordon is considered one of the first American dry flies. Originated in the Catskills of upstate New York this pattern is very labor intensive to make. Now instead of spending hours trying to create the perfect dry fly using burnt peacock fibers or stripped hackle stems, simply tie in the Flashabou and you have a wonderful classic dry which is much more durable and easy to tie.

Mike's Bronze Quill Gordon

Hook: Standard Dry size 12-16

Thread: Black 6/0 or 8/0

Tail: Dark Dun Tail fibers

Body: Bronze Flashabou, Gliss N Glow or Fire Fly Tie

Wings: Wooduck

Hackle: Dark Dun

Begin by tying the tail in, making the tail equal to the length of the hook shank. Advance tying thread, wrap in tinsel at mid-point of the hook, leaving the front 1/3 of the hook bare. This will help to make the fly's body even and smooth. Wrap tinsel back to tie in point of the tail and wrap back toward the mid-point of the hook. Cut off tinsel. Using one full wooduck flank, remove the center of the feather. Roll wooduck fibers together and tie in. Split fibers and wrap in figure 8's. Tie in hackle. Make three hackle wraps behind the wing and 2 wraps in front. Whip finish head.

One of oldest British Flies is the Blue Bottle which is a fly designed to imitate house flies. By updating the material, this is useful for making a pattern to imitate deer flies and the common house fly. Green is a useful color too.

Hook: Dry Hook size 12

Thread: 6/0 Black

Body: Blue Flash-a-bou

Hackle: Black, palmer wrapped

Wing: Dun CDC over Dun Z-lon

Head: Black Ostrich Herl

Begin by runing a thread base along the hook shank. This keeps materials from slipping and makes the tinsel body seem smoother. Tie in 2 strands of blue flash- a-bou. ( if you don't have blue, you ,might wish to try using white z-lon colored with a blue magic marker). Tie in hackle. Wrap tinsel toward eye, leaving 3 eye lengths open. Tie off.

Wrap hackle in even wraps and tie off. ( Notice that the hackle is roughly the gap of the hook. I undersized the hackle so that it willfloat better.)Clip a small notch out of the top of the hackle. This will allow the wing to sit flat.

Tie in z-lon and clip tag off so that the total length of the wing equals the length of the hook shank. Tie CDC flat on top of the z-lon. Clip tag ends off. Wrap head with ostrich and whip finish.


Very collectable stuff/ VERY RARE!:

I have some copies of the First and Second Fly Tyer's Almanac. These books are out of print and very expensive. The Second Almanac is a first edition hard back and it is signed by the author Dave Whitlock and it is remarked with a trout drawn by Dave. Normally this book alone sells for $150 alone. First Tyer's Almanac is PB. I will sell the set of 2 books for $175. If I don't get any takers, I will put this up on Ebay or take them to fishing shows this winter. I will swap this book for an original Gold head Regal vise in good shape. I have another pair, one hard back Tyer's Second Almanac, no jacket, First Tyer's Alamanac PB $125.


New Natural Stuff:

I have been busy buying some new stuff and I found some pretty cool things. I should mention this with the problems from 9/11 it has become very difficult to find lots of interesting natural materials. Also folks are not hunting as much and there are not alot of people which wear furs anymore. Be prepared for price increases this winter and many items which you liked will no longer be available.

Pink Vixen Fox: This is the real stuff! VERY hard to find. Pink vixen is THE color used to make the Pink Hendrickson dry and wet. Impossible color to duplicate using synthetic colors. Good stock of patches. Available in light ( pink-white-tan) or medium( tan-pink-amber). $2.50

Lavender Guinea Hen: This actually a pearl gray guinea hen. Mostly a silver dun color with white spots. Ideal for salmon flies, steelhead or a nice collar on bass bugs. Very rare and hard to find. Full pelt: $30

Purple Guinea Hen: These are natural purple guinea hen skins ( NOT dyed). Color has a dark purple cast, blue and is a mix of dark dun. Speckles are fine dots, not the usual large poka-dots found on most guinea hen. Great for wets and salmon flies or steelhead. Full pelt, head-tails-wings. $35.00\

Green Mutant Pheasants: I haven't had any of these for at least 3 years. Very rare green/olive cock pheasant. Saddle is a pretty olive, green/blue mix. Neck is royal blue and the sides have a cool metallic brown color. Tails are natural olive and brown. #1 pelt: $35, #2 pelt: $25

Red Bourbon Quail: These come from TN are very unusual. Body is a red brown with dark brown markings. Many small feathers. Ideal sub for woodcock. Great for soft hackles, nymphs and bead fly hackle. $12.00\

Cinnamon Turkey Tails: These are mostly white with a red brown edge to them. Ideal for salmon flies and for those looking for a large white marrying feather to dye. Full clump includes large tail feathers and skirt. Very rare. $20.00

Reindeer Hair: Similar to carabou. Tannish gray with some brown. Makes a great mouse. Easy to spin. Used sometimes for Darrell Martin's wings from Fly Tying Methods. Very hard to find. $2.50.

Some new colors:

Bead head beads in a new color: Olive Brown. Standard beads in a nice olive brown. Sizes are 1/8", 3/32" and 5/32". $2.50

Scud back; Very popular transparent strips that strech. New colors: Black, Yellow, Brown, Chartreuse. Makes cool nymphs, super caddis bodies. These are all clear and 1/8" wide. $1.50

More colored Kid Goat. I have found another source for this great material. I use this all the time for Clouser minnows and it is great. You know that really small sweet spot on bucktails that is at the tip? Well this is an entire patch. Colors: Chartreuse, Hot Orange, Purple, Black, White, Red, Yellow, Hot Pink, White. $3.50

Mole skins: Back in stock and impossible to find. Great for midges and small flies. Colors: Black, Tan and Dark Brown: $2.50

Small Tanned Muskrats: Full pelt tanned. Smaller pelt: $6.00.

Big Bag O Dry Fly Fur. Contains a mix of choice dry fly fur. Beaver, Beaver dyed black, Beaver dyed brown, Otter, Muskrat and Nutria. Some places one patch alone is $1.50. $2.50


Other New Stuff:

Stalcup's Sparkle Leech Dubbing: Very cool natural and flash materials mixed together. Interesting colors: Green Pumpkin, Blue Black, Motor Oil, Peacock, Pond Dirty Olive, Pumpkin, Watermelon. Great for caddis, damsel nymphs, bass flies or deep woolies. $2.50

Stalcup's Flashback: Pearl sheet material dyed and crinkled. Can be used on scuds, flashback, crabs or shrimp. Really unique. Makes some cool stoneflies. Black, Pearl, Olive Brown, Peacock, Orange. $2.75

Polar Dub: Another Hot new dubbing from Hareline. Transparenent sparkle dub. 12 colors packed in a dispenser. I like to mix many of these together with other dubbings for different effects. Nice colors. $15.00

Ice Fur: This is the craft hair you love which now comes in long hanks. Hank size is 5 1/2" long which is folded in half. Now you can clip fur to any size. Great for saltwater, streamer wings, shucks, wings or as a zelon sub. Colors: Hot Orange, Minnow Blue, Olive, Pink Bonefish Wing, Rusty Orange, Olive, Silver Gray, Silver Tan Super Gothca, Camel Tan, Chartreuse. $3.00

Nymph Stretch: Pre cut latex strips in dyed colors. Sub for nymph skin used in Steve Thorton patterns. About 1/4" wide, stretches and can be split. Colors: Black, Natural, Olive, Yellow, Brown, Caddis Green. $3.00

Two Toned Rabbit Strips. These are zonker strips with dyed tips. Base color is solid and the tips have a variety of colors. Creates a two toned effect for zonkers. Standard width with standard cut strip. Colors: (Tip is first) Purple/Fuchsia, Purple/Hot Pink, Black/Red, Black/Hot Orange, Black/Chartreuse, Black/Hot Pink, Black/Olive: $3.00


New tools:

Wasatch Jumbo Stacker. Extra large cocobolla wood stacker. Great for hair bugs. Very nice and hard to fine this super jumbo size. $14.00

Skeeter Scissors: Extra fine, extra sharp scissors with lined finger loops. Imported from Japan. Made of high carbon steel with razor sharp hand ground edge . For precise cutting. Standard or Serrated Edge: $25.00

Anvil Push Btton Packer: Unique hair packer has a push button lever which slides along the hook shank to create solid packed hair bugs. Machined from soild brass. USA made. $15.00


New books:

The Practial Fly Tier by Royce Dam: Royce Dam is a long time favorite at FFF Conclaves and at sport shows across the country. For those that have not seen Royce tie this great book. Well done book with excellent pictures. Book contains many of Royce's favorite flies and steps how to tie them. Perfect book for the newer tyer or for someone that likes nice pictures. Contains info on how to make wet flies, drys, streamers and nymphs. $29.95 HB

Fishy's Flies by Jay Fishy Fullum: Fishy is a regular on the show circuit and is a columnist for Fly Tyer Magazine. His articles always contain interesting, new and innovative patterns with wonderful illustrations. This book is a collection of some of his favorite flies. Many useful ideas are explained here such how to make saltwater shrimp with drinking straws and his famous swimming/kickboard foam hopper. This book is affordable and should be in every tier's set of books. $9.95 PB

The Complete Guide to the Salmon River by George Doulgas: This is a pool by pool trip up and down New York's famed Salmon River. Contains aerial photos, maps and locations for all of the entire river. The parking tips alone are well worth the purchase price of this book. Describes holes, how to fish and places to check out. If you are planning a trip to Pulaksi don't go without this book! $28.95 PB


Fishing Report: Some salmon started running around Ithaca. No browns or rainbows yet. Inlet is still closed above fish ladder. Try Fall Creek and other tribs. Some lakers spawning off Tang. ( I can never spell Tanganuck ) State Park. Good choices are stoneflies, black woolies, hot belly Montana stones, egg flies and some chartreuse Clousers. Recent rains at Salmon River makes that a good bet. CFS at Salmon River bumped up to 185 from nothingness of 95 cfs. Some really nice kings are in. Big mothers ( and daddies too!)


As usual if you want to be deleted from this list for any reason, let me know. Hope you enjoyed this! Contact: Mike Hogue, Badger Creek Fly Tying, 622 West Dryden Road, Freeville, NY 13068 . 607-347-4946. Email:, Web Site: