How I tie a Snake Fly

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It's about time for a snake fly pictorial. This is a REALLY LONG post, but I wanted to be thorough redface.gif .

Just a couple points up front, the snake fly to the best of my knowledge can be credited to Lou Tabory. Mr. Tabory has written several books about fly fishing for striped bass and if you have not read any of them you should. "Inshore Fly Fishing" is a wonderful book with of great information not only about fly fishing and flies but also about reading the surf and fly presentation.

There are a couple differenced from what I can tell about the way I tie a snake and the way Mr. Tabory ties them. The subtle changes that I make include;

1.I use a webby hackle before I spin the head of the fly.
2.I apply eyes.

Most notably I spin a tight head on my snakes. I believe that Mr. Tabory intended the fly to have a loosely spun head so it would get down in the water column or rather so it would not ride high in the water column I think that he would have used the thick hair at the butt end of a bucktail to spin the head. I tie mine with a tight head and lots of deer belly hair on the collar so that the fly rides high in the water.

In fact, after I tie one on I have to drag it through the water and slap it around on the surface to get it good and water logged so it does not float. I typically fish an intermediate line. Once waterlogged, my snake will ride just below the surface. On a strip the fly will dive slightly before it rises back to the surface. It nearly has the action of a swimming plug....on the retrieve it dives, on the pause it rises back to the surface. I find many times strikes while fishing this fly come on the pause as the fly rises.

This diverse pattern can be tied in many colors combinations (blurple is a favorite). Also, it can be tied in many different lengths. Long and thin snakes can imitate sandeels or eels. Mid-length snakes can imitate large spearing or mullet. Short stocky snakes are great peanut imitations in white/pink/yellow. I think you could tie this pattern to imitate almost any baitfish. Below I tie a basic run of the mill snake.

Thank you Mr. Tabory for this wonderful pattern. I hope I have done your fly justice!


Hook: Mustad S71SSS or similar
Thread: white Danville flat waxed nylon
Tail: yellow marabou w/ yellow ostrich hearl
Collar: webby yellow saddle hackle
Collar: stacked yellow deer belly hair
Head: spun yellow deer belly hair
Eyes: 2.5mm prism eyes
Glue: Liquid Nails Clear

Start by attaching a clump of marabou. It should be tied in directly above the hook point. Length in this case for the marabou is about 1 to 1 1/2 times the length of the shank. The marabou should be nice and fluffy, and the feather should have a very fine spine. Avoid marabou feathers with a thick, sturdy spine since they will not breathe well.

Wind the thread up towards the eye 1/8" and tie in a second clump of marabou so the tips extend just a bit short of the first clump.

Wind thread up another 1/8" toward the eye and tie in 8-10 ostrich hearls. Before this step you can tie in a couple strands of flash material of your choice. You have to be careful when using flash material in combination with marabou. The flash will tangle up with the marabou and foul the action.

Tie in one fat webby saddle hackle and wind it wet fly style. I think this step helps neaten up the fly and give it some belly action (lol, that sounds funny). Tie in the hackle, wind it, and then hold the hackle down and add a few wraps of thread in front so that the hackle tips are all pointed towards the tail of the fly.

For reference, the "fat webby" hackle is the bottom feather in this picture when compared to the top feather which is better suited for a deceiver or half and half...

Now its time to spin some hair.

As mentioned above, you could use the hair at the thick end of a bucktail. But if you want it to really flair, and if you want to pack it tightly like I do you'll need to get some deer "belly hair". It's available through most fly shops, online or brick and mortar in many colors. I also like to use a hair stacker for the collar. This one is a large model from Dr. Slick that retails for $10. There are lots of sizes in a broad price range from many manufacturers. For this application I like a this large, heavy model.

Cut a good hunk of belly hair from the hide. A pencil thickness clump is about right, or about as much as you can comfortably hold between your thumb and forefinger. Cut it right at the hide as the longer fibers will help when stacking and tying in. Before you stack the hair you must remove the "under hair". Some tiers like to use a comb, kinda' like a mustache comb. I simply hold the hair as show in my left hand, and with my right thumb and forefinger I will pluck the under hair out. This takes some practice.

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Chuck the hair in your stacker and tap until you think it's done. When you pull it out it should look like this.



To tie in the deerhair collar lay the stacked hair on the shank. The tips of the hair should reach the bend of the hook. This will help prevent the marabou and ostrich from fouling around the hook.



Tying down the collar is a critical step. You want to be sure the deerhair remains on the top and sides of the hook, but NOT the bottom. It's not the end of the world if you get some on the underside, but IMHO the fly will track and keel better with no deerhair collar on the belly. Place one light wrap of thread around the stack. While holding the collar in place and putting a little pressure downwards on the collar so it settles a bit along the sides of the hook apply some steady thread pressure. The hair will flare, but don't let it spin on the hook. Remember you want it to stay on the top and sides of the hook, NOT spin around the shank. Lock the collar down with one more good tight thread wrap.



To help hold the collar in place bend back about ½ of the butt ends of the hair and wrap two tight thread wraps around the shank. Then once again, take ½ of the remaining butt ends and do the same thing again. This will lock the collar in place.



With your left hand pull all the deerhair towards the back of the hook and add a few wraps of thread in front of it. Smush it back with your fingers if you have to, no need to be gentle here. Once the collar is completely tied in, your fly should look like this...



Now you have to spin the rest of the head. This just takes some practice, and if you are just getting started I suggest you practice on a bare long shanked hook just to get the feel of how is should work. Spinning hair is all about thread pressure and understanding how the hair will react to the thread pressure. Practice and it will come easily. Cut a pencil thickness clump, and as before remove the under fur with your fingers or a comb. Lay the hair on top of the shank just in front of the collar.



Now is a critical step in spinning hair. 2 thread wraps will spin and hold the hair. Wrap your thread ¾ around the clump of hair and shank while still holding the hair on the hook with your left hand. Your bobbin will be right in front of your face at this point. It should look like this. Note the position of my bobbin.



(Continued on next post)

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With firm, even and steady pressure move the thread forward around the fly as you release the hair on your second revolution. This is hard to explain on the internet, and frankly even if you were right in front of me it would be difficult because it's such a feel thing. When done properly you feel the hair spread around the shank of the hook as you move your bobbin around the shank on the second wrap. Pull the hair back and get your thread to the front of hair you just spun. Now your fly should look like this....



If you wanted a loose head you could call the fly done after this first clump of hair is spun. As mentioned I like my heads tight. So I continue with a couple more clumps of hair. If you have a hair packing tool you can use it here, or you can use a bic pen with the ink insert removed, or as I do, just use your fingers to push the hair back toward the back of the fly like this...



Now I have four clumps of hair spun on my hook; the collar plus three more clumps. I like the last bunch to engulf the eye of the hook as in the pic below. I tie it off with a hand whip and cut my thread.



Once tied off the front of the fly should look like this. Note how evenly the hair is spread around the shank of the hook.



Now it's time for a haircut. Some folks like to use a flexible straight edge razor blade to trim deerhair. I have never had much success with the razor. I prefer a good sharp pair of scissors. The ones I like are made by Tiemco. They are about 5" long with 2 1/2" blades. I use these scissors ONLY for trimming deerhair. Around my house there are two things my wife and kids know they had better not touch. One is the flashlight from the little holster on my wading belt. The other is my set of deerhair trimming scissors wink.gif . For trimming around hook eyes I use an old pair of scissors so I don't ding up my good set. Here are my deerhair trimming scissors.



The first cut is the most critical when trimming your head. If you take too much off you are out of luck. If you don't take enough off, you can fix the fly by trimming more, but it will take a lot longer. Try to envision the head of the fly. Think about the taper and the thickness of the head. I like to keep a touch more hair on the top of the fly than on the bottom to be sure it keels properly. The first cut I make is on the top of the fly. I hold the fly in my left hand and cut with my right (pic has the fly in the vice). I try to make one solid cut that will lead from the eye all the way to the beginning of the collar. In this pic you can see where the head ends and collar begins. Don't be bashful. Cut right to the collar. Long even cuts will make this job quick. It takes me about 2 minutes to trim one of these flies.



After the first cut I work my way around the fly in the same manner. It takes about 6 cuts to get all the way around the head. This pic below shows the fly after I have made 2 cuts.



(Continued on next post)

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Work you way around the head until you get back to your starting point. The pic below shows the head with one cut left. Notice the soy peanut dipping sauce on my finger from the fish cakes I was eating while I did this wink.gif . Notice also that there is no deerhair on the underside of the fly. Only the hackle fibers show on the belly. Again, its about keeling the fly.



With my scissors I clean up the head by trimming out any random hairs. I will do a little additional shaping at this point. I am looking for a bullet shaped head. I clean up the area around the eye with an older pair of scissors. People ask frequently how to get that nice transition from head to collar. To me the secret is to have lots of hair on the hook and to always cut from the eye of the hook towards the back. Resist the urge to turn the fly around and cut from back to front. Trust me, it will cause you problems. This is the WRONG way to cut...



When completely trimmed the head should look like this...



I insist on eyes on all my flies. Some argue it's not necessary, but that's a topic for another day. I used to use 3D epoxy eyes. When using the 3D's I would use my scissors to cut a little socket to seat the eye. I would apply some Liquid Nails into the socket with a shish kabob skewer and press in the eye. More recently I have switched to flat prism eyes. For a 2/0 I would like to see 3mm eyes, but I only had 2mm's this weekend, so that's what I used. I like to use Liquid Nails to attach the eyes, but GOOP will work, and I am not so sure LN and GOOP are not the same thing cwm13.gif .



When done your fly should look like this one.



I hope you find this pattern as enjoyable to tie and as productive to fish as I have over the past few years. Please ask if you have any questions. Good luck tying!



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