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'Snippets' - a page for random items of interest

Scroll down the page to find:
  • Material changes
  • A Harrop fly
  • The cost of a partridge hackle
  • Small scale dyeing
  • What use are fluorescent materials in water?
  • On the subject of Tup's Indispensable...
  • The cost of a hackle
Don't be conned by the manufacturers (whether intentional or not) - new supply of some materials are not what they seem.

Virtual Nymph Flexi-body, used particularly for the Ammonite Nymph, was advertised as thicker that Thin Skin thereby giving better segmentation. Some retailers are still persuaded to advertise it in this manner, but it is no longer true. It was 8thou thick. New stock which I have purchased is only 5thou, exactly the same as the thin skin which I have, and it does not form good segmentation.

I have for years used Orvis 10/0 thread for dry flies. It was fine thread with good strength and grip, ideal for small dries. Orvis have apparently changed their supplier. 10/0 is replaced with 12/0. You might think this is good - even finer. Unfortunately, this is a different '0' scale and in fact it is barely finer than Uni 8/0.
I now use Uni 17/0 'Trico' which has similar low bulk to the old Orvis 10/0 but only comes in white.

Having acquired a fly tied by Rene Harrop at our recent auction (at enORmous expense)I think it is worth sharing it here. It is a 'no-hackle' style of fly, with side-mounted feather slip wings. These flies can be purchased from a few stockists of Harrop family fly production, but it is reported that only Rene can tie this pattern successfully.
The method was originated by Swisher and Richards but Harrop perfected the tying.
If anyone wants to try it help can be found via Leeson and Schollmeyer, page 246. Perhaps we should devote a meeting to it, and all have a go. Whoever is successful can buy the drinks for the rest of the season.

Following 'The cost of a hackle' (below)
Here is the cost of a partridge hackle.

I obtained a partridge skin for the price of £20 and counted the hackles that I was able to obtain from it.
The list is as follows:

Partridge & Orange:   209 spiders
Partridge & Yellow:   95 spiders
Small wing feathers used as nymph legs:   43
2nd use feathers:   80
(This means feathers which have been used for spiders, sufficient remaining to be used as a 'pull-through' hackle)

In terms of spiders alone, 304 spiders = 6.6p each.

The total usage, 427 = 4.7p each

Of course, the balance between brown and grey spider hackles varies between skins.
Latest news, October 2011
A dye bath additive has come to light which makes it possible to dye fur & feathers at 85deg.C rather than near boiling. This greatly reduces damage to the materials.
It is called 'Unisol MFD'.
It can be obtained in small amounts from a 'shop' on eBay or larger amounts at lower prices from www.kemtex.co.uk/index.html.


How to dye fly tying materials is a question which is often asked and the answers vary from just adequate to bizarre (leave the materials in cold dye for 2 to 3 weeks)  and to downright dangerous (the last being to " 'Kill' the acid in your dyebath when you pour it down the drain by adding bleach to it". My very strong advice is DON'T. You will poison yourself with chlorine gas.)

Advice is sometimes given as to how to dye a full cape. But if you want a dyed cape, you will have to buy one in order to dye it so it makes more sense to buy a ready-dyed cape. I have much more use for dying small quantities of feathers. Very commonly, for example, I apply Veniard's Olive Green dye to a mixture of feathers -  a patch of grey speckled partridge feathers, a quarter strip cut from a grizzle cock neck, some portions clipped from white goose wing feathers and similar from Canada goose. This gives a wide range of olive hackles and herl. The two different base colours of goose feathers provide both medium and dark olive in the same dyeing. You can also include pieces cut from fur or hair patches.

The equipment needed for this is much easier to come by than that which is required for larger quantities. In fact, my dyeing vessel is a washed tin can of the 'standard' size. Even then, it only needs to be quarter to half filled with the dyeing liquor. Active boiling is to be avoided since feathers are likely to become distorted. The temperature is easily controlled at a little below the boil by standing the tin can in a pan of constantly boiling water.  One should always carry out dyeing with the smallest practical liquor ratio - i.e. the smallest amount of liquor which will conveniently cover the material to be dyed. This is most important when dyeing a full shade and/or when using a dye which is not easily taken up by the feathers (or fur).

Veniard dyes are a perfectly good choice. Dyes are available from other craft supplies but are usually limited to bright colours only, which makes it very difficult to match the standard range of colours that we want. These dyes are of a kind which are combine chemically with protein fibres (and nylon). In order to be attracted onto the material the dye liquor needs to be acidified, for which white vinegar is entirely suitable.

All animal fibres must be thoroughly degreased before dyeing. For this I use ordinary washing-up liquid. More expensive detergents are available but not necessary.

Dark/dull shades are best dyed on natural coloured material. For dyed black, brown material is best. As mentioned above, green olive dyed on brown feathers will give dark olive. Bright colours must be dyed over white. Dyes can not in any sense cover or lighten the base colour of the material, but only add to it.


So, the method:

Accurate measuring of the quantity of dye is not necessary when dyeing feathers and fur, because the uptake of dye is likely to be very variable. So the following might be described as an 'empirical' method:

First, spread newspaper wherever the dye will be handled. Any single speck of dye powder which escapes will, when it becomes damp, cause a stain which will reduce your wife to hysterics. Open the tub of dye powder in the middle of the paper and do not move it from there. Get a pan of water to the boil. Add just enough boiling water to the tin can to cover the feathers and stand it in the pan. Add a teaspoon of white vinegar and a fly's eyeful of dye powder (say enough to balance on the tip of your scissors). For a full shade of e.g. black or red you will need much more than this but start carefully.

Degrease the materials in detergent and hot water then wash all the detergent out.
Dunk them into the dye bath, pushing them in with a fork from your best cutlery. Stir gently and occasionally.
Some dyes, like Veniard's Olive Green, will 'exhaust' quickly (i.e. be taken up by the materials leaving the bath almost colourless). Check the depth of colour that you have achieved and add more dye if necessary.

Black and other full shades will need a half hour and more vinegar.

Wash the materials in warm water, press in a towel or tissue and leave to dry.

Fold all the newspaper gently inwards and discard.


It has elsewhere been suggested that citric acid is better than acetic. This is not necessarily true.  At equivalent concentrations, citric acid gives a lower pH than does acetic acid. Assuming a concentration in the dye bath of about 0.1mol/l  (I am guessing wildly) the pH of citric acid will be about 2.1 and of acetic acid about 2.9. Since pH is a logarithmic scale (log to base 10 of the hydrogen ion concentration) this difference is greater that it appears. The lower the pH (i.e. the 'stronger' the acid) the more quickly will the dye be taken up by the substrate. (In fact these acids are suitable only for acid milling dyes or similar. If acid levelling dyes were relevant, sulphuric acid would be needed).

HOWEVER if the dyestuff in use is one which has a high affinity for the fibre, or if a pale shade is being dyed, it might be advantageous to retard the uptake of the dye by not adding acid for the first ten minutes of the dyeing period and even then by using only small amounts of the less strong acid. If the acid is added at the start the dye jumps onto the fibre very quickly and there is the greatest incidence of unlevel dyeing. On the other hand if you are dyeing a full shade, e.g. black or bright red, citric acid would give some advantage but it is not essential - for occasional small quantities white vinegar will do the job.

Whilst our appreciation of colour is certainly subjective, dyeing is entirely objective. That is to say, it is a fully defined science. If it were not so commercial dyehouses could not exist as they do. A dyer's convention for describing a shade of a colour is also objective. If this were not so it would be impossible to pass colour information between, say, dyer and customer. Colour is three dimensional and dyers' terminology comprises three variables:

  • 'full' or 'thin' which refers to the depth of colour resulting from the amount of dyestuff added;
  • hue, e.g. 'bluer' or 'yellower' in the case of a green shade;
  • 'flat' or 'bright' which refers to the position of the shade between pure and neutral.
Finally, to those who want advice about dyeing with  picric acid, I will say "Forget it." There is NO shade which can not be accurately matched with real dyestuffs with the added advantage that they do not have a strong tendency to explode.
What use are fluorescent materials in water?
or in other words, how far into water does ultraviolet light penetrate?

It was recently stated in one of the fly fishing magazines that "UV does not penetrate water and that should put paid to the nonsense about UV materials", or words to that effect. I have lost track of the source of this statement, but let us put the record straight - that statement was wrong. Of that portion of the electro-magnetic spectrum which is visible to humans, and which we therefore call "light", absorption by water is highest at the long wavelength end (red) and lowest at the short end (violet). It is lower still just beyond our short wavelength limit, which is what we call "ultraviolet".

It is true that absorption increases rapidly with the "shorter-than-ultraviolet" wavelengths, because at that level different mechanisms come into play, but we are only interested in solar UV, i.e. 290 to 400 nm. where nm stands for nanometre, of which there are 100,000,000 in a metre. A metre is a unit of measurement for people who do not understand English.

A search of the internet reveals that there have been several investigations into the effects of UV penetration into lake waters. Quoted figures are:
  • "1.3m in Lake Kuorinka" (Finnish)
  • "to 10m" (Canada)
  • in peaty lake water ... 1 to 11 cm
  • in humic lakes ... 0.15 to 0.65m at 350nm
It can be deduced from the above that peat stain seriously reduces UV penetration and that the Canadian lake is the only one with water which was anywhere near clear.

Of course, we don't know just how clear that Canadian lake was and it is elsewhere claimed that in CLEAR water, UV penetrates to 500ft. Absolute proof of UV penetration to at least 120ft is given by this writer's discussion with divers who use ropes with yellow fluorescent threads which can be seen as yellow at the above depth which is well beyond the penetration limit of the yellow wavelengths of sunlight. It is difficult to obtain scientific evidence of penetration of water penetration of all light wavelengths ('colours'), imcluding UV, and difficult to apply this to real situations, since objective scientific research would necessarily involve pure water which never occurs in nature; and in natural bodies of water, conditions vary enormously.

The best evidence that the writer has found in an extensive search suggests that maximum penetration is as follows:

Colour   Wavelength   Max depth Metrs
red   700 - 600nm   2
orange   600 - 580   6
yellow   580 - 560   15
green   560 - 500   30
blue   500 - 450   100
violet   450 - 400   150
UV   400   200
UV   300   40
Note that the near UV, i.e. 400nm just off the end of the visible violet, has maximum penetration but moving farther into the UV range, penetration becomes rapidly reduced. At shorter than 200nm penetration is almost zero, possibly giving rise to the supposition that UV radiation does not penetrate water.

So we can be assured that our fluorescent materials are significant at the depths we normally fish in rivers, unless the water is peat stained. (Peat colour is the result of short wavelengths having been filtered out - UV being the first). In a very clear water lake, 10m is probably nowhere near the limit and it would be unusual for a fly fisher to reach such a depth. This is relevant to trolling and since "very clear" water rarely occurs it would be more effective to use luminescent trolling lures rather than fluorescent.


And here is an example of fluorescence versus non-fluorescence:

In each of the following photos, the materials on the top row are fluorescent and the bottom are not.

materials in daylight materials in uv light materials in the absence of uv

First picture:
Normal daylight. All colours clearly visible.

Second picture:
Ultraviolet only. Non-fluorescent colours invisible. This illustrates that at any depth in clear water where 'normal' colour fades, presence of uv makes a fluorescent colour become very significant. (But not, of course, at this strength)
So at depths where wet flies and lures are fished, fluoro red and orange in particular will have more impact than the non-fluoro colours but only in clear water

Third picture:
NO ultraviolet. This simulates the effect of peaty water, in which uv wavelengths are filtered out near the surface.
Note that of the fluorescent colours the red and orange have lost their brilliance, the yellow has gone completely and the green is very drab.
So in peaty water, the most brilliant colour is 'normal' yellow, red and orange also being important.

B Sunderland December 2009
On the subject of Tup's Indispensable...

To begin with, here is a sample of GENUINE tup's scrotum wool (washed), kindly obtained by Malcolm, without regard for life and limb, from his magnificent Jacob's tup (4 horns and a mean look in its eye) ..
Tup's wool There are two noteable features: firstly, the colour - the longer fibres are white to yellow and the shorter are stronger yellow. Secondly, though you need to handle it to appreciate this one, it is a fairly fine quality, possibly 56's. Also, it has a strong crimp which makes nice bouncy fibre.
This second point raises a question with regard to the constancy of the Tup's pattern - the quality or coarseness of the wool can vary hugely between different breeds. This has not been mentioned in any source of information about the pattern that I have seen.

The Tup's Indispensable was designed by R.A.Austin in 1900.
Miss Austin gave G.E.M. Skues permission to publish the correct dressing in 1934.  The secret of the Tup’s Indispensable was published in the Flyfisher’s Club Journal, part of which is as follows:

Skues writes: 'Here is the true and authentic pattern.  It is too much to hope that at last we may now see the true patterns on sale in the tackle shops?
'I have always had it in my mind that the prescription was so valuable to anglers at large that it ought not to be lost, and it was my intention, if it were not disclosed in my lifetime, to leave a record of it to be made public when the time for its disclosure came.
'That time has now arrived, and I have been generously released from the moral obligation which so long bound me to keep it a secret, while fuming at the many absurd abortions which tackle dealers were selling as the real thing.
'I believe I was the first angler to use the magic dubbing.  I was, at the time, in constant correspondence with Mr. R. S. Austin.  The date I do not exactly recall, but, from a note in Mr. Austin’s handwriting describing its first use, I judge the date to have been June, 1900.  He sent me a sample on a broken Limerick eyed hook, telling me that with it (the actual fly) he had killed at the mouth of the Loman, where it debouches into the Exe at Tiverton, in two or three successive evenings a number of big trout which the natives there counted uncatchable, one of them exceeding 5lb. another 3lb. ½ oz. another 2½lb. and another about 2lb.  Being naturally very much interested I asked Mr. Austin (in returning him the pattern) what was the nature of the dubbing, and he very generously not only gave me the prescription, but also sent me enough of the made-up material to dress a number of examples of the fly.
'I told Mr. Austin that I thought the fly deserved a title, and in his reply he asked what I suggested.  I replied that there was “So and So’s Infallible”, So and So’s Irresistible”, and so on – “Why not ‘Tup’s Indispensable’?"    He said he did not care to name it and for the moment the matter dropped.
'The essential part of this dubbing is the highly translucent wool from the indispensable part of a Tup, thoroughly washed and cleansed of the natural oil of the animal.  This wool would by itself be, like seal’s fur, somewhat intractable and difficult to spin on the tying silk, but an admixture of the pale pinkish and very filmy fur from an English hare’s poll had the effect of rendering it easy to work.  There was also in the original pattern an admixture of cream coloured seal’s fur and combings from a lemon yellow spaniel, and the desired dominating colour was obtained by working in a small admixture of red mohair.  For the mohair I generally substituted seal’s fur, and I believe Mr. Austin did so himself.  When wet the Tup’s wool becomes somehow illuminated throughout by the colour of the seal’s fur or mohair, and the entire effect of the body is extraordinarily filmy and insect-like.

When was the Tups wool first used in the construction of trout flies?’  Page 160 of the Driffield Angler, written by Alexander Mackintosh 1808, states in the pattern for the Green Drake; The Body: A little fine wool from the ram’s testicles, which is of a beautiful dusty yellow.

There is another reference even earlier than Mackintosh; in “The Angler's Museum”, 1784, Thomas Shirley writes on page forty, whilst giving the instructions for tying the Mayfly, the body is made of yellow wool of the ram or wether.  
The cost of a hackle:

Having recently bought a Metz Grade 2 neck for £42 I decided it was time to find out how much a single hackle costs. I stripped one side of the cape of all the hackles which could be useful for fly sizes from 10 to 18, graded them all for size and counted them, then doubled the number for the other side of the cape. Some of them were long enough for 2 or 3 flies and with this in mind the number of flies which could be tied was estimated.

The result was as follows:

Hackle spread, mm.  Number of flies

19 – 20         100
16 – 18         108
15 – 17         130
14 – 15         90
12 – 14         128
10 – 11         66
  9 – 10          60

Total number of flies 682, cost per hackle per fly a little over 6p.
In other words, a hackle costs as much as a hook (depending how you buy your hooks)

B. Sunderland August 2009