Fly Tying Tutorial by Aaron Fleming
The Akai O, or Red Tail, is a modern take on a time-honored Japanese high mountain reverse-tied fly using (mostly) traditional materials. And that’s a mouthful. With any luck, a mouthful of classic spade end fly for the trout as well!
As the colder seasons are setting in here in the Ozarks, the days are getting shorter and the trout are getting deeper. The Red Tail is designed to command some attention by attracting them with the darker crimson hue and reasonable body shape without also spooking them by introducing highly fluorescent colors and too much flash into an environment otherwise devoid of such natural features. I find that tying appropriately, mindfully, and with the colors of the seasons conjures the constructive subtlety necessary to evade such suspicion.
Having given you something to ponder, I’ll leave you with a haiku and a recipe.
Up and away deep
Into the high mountain stream
Swims the winter trout
This is my personal recipe:
- Japanese #6 spade end hook
- Semper Fli 12/0 (50D) olive nano silk
- Stripped red peacock herl
- Red Peacock herl
- Onagadori neck hackle
- Head cement or Sally Hansen’s
Fig 1. Begin with a spade end hook. Crush your barb if you’d prefer ahead of time. I began with a Japanese #6 spade end and did not crush my barb for aesthetic purposes.
Fig 2. Lay your base with your tying thread. I’m using 50 denier Semper Fli nano silk. I take the base almost to the halfway point in the bend on these hooks. They have a very large gap and I like to conceal as much of the hook as is reasonable.
Fig 3. Lay your loop material across the top of the hook shank with your left hand and take 3 or 4 wraps forward securing it in place. I’m using a small piece of backing material. I like to lay it just on the top far side of the hook shank because when I complete the loop the other end will lay on the top near side. This keeps the material evenly distributed across the top of the hook.
Fig 4. Create your loop! I’m using the end of a whip finisher to gauge my loop size, but the width of a wooden match stick or similar object would be equally sufficient. Touch your loop gauge tool of choice to the front of the spade and pull the forward-facing loop materials around the front of it and hold it securely with your left hand next to and parallel to itself across the near side of the hook shank. Remove your gauge from the loop. Both pieces of material should be riding the top of the shank at the 11 o’clock and 1 o’clock positions.
Fig 5. Secure your loop with 3 or 4 wraps rearward.
Fig 6. I like to pull up on the rear portion of the loop materials and place a couple of wraps under it. Then, I will lower the materials and wrap forward to just before the eye to lock the back end down.
Fig 7. Pull the loop up and place a couple wraps under the loop. Then lower the loop and wrap a couple more times rearward to lock the front of the loop down.
Fig 8. Snip the rear portion of the loop materials off at the rear of your locking wraps close to the thread.
Fig 9. Place a tiny dab of head cement or S. H. on the snipped tail and locking thread for good measure. I use my finger to rub it into the thread-work for extra security. No need to let it dry.
Fig 10. Continue your thread wraps over the snipped tails and cement, completely concealing the snipped tail.
Fig 11. Bring your thread rearward to the bend in the hook and then prepare your stripped red peacock herl. I typically strip my own by gently pulling it against the grain of the fibers several times between my index and thumb nails until the fibers are gone and all that remains is rachis. However, these are also available pre-stripped for the sake of convenience.
Fig 12. Tie in your stripped peacock herl narrow end first with just a couple thread wraps to secure. Then as you wrap forward the gradually thicker part of the rachis will wrap towards the eye of the fly which will aid in slight body taper in the correct direction.
Fig 13. I wrap clockwise around the hook shank and under the thread, taking the thread up the body with each turn of the herl. This helps to keep everything tight and secure as you go.
Fig 14. Complete your stripped herl wraps around the point where you snipped the loop material tails. Secure the herl with a few more turns of the thread and break or snip off the herl tail. This will also accomplish an even and smooth body transition from the end of the peacock to the end of the loop material, making for a uniform platform between with two end points without a lot of contour between the materials.
Fig 15. Wrap your thread forward and build your fly head with an appropriate number of thread wraps until you are satisfied with your proportions.
Fig 16. Prepare your hackle feather. I tie the majority of my Japanese flies using a North Country Spider fly method. I personally enjoy the sparser and more evenly distributed hackle ratio that this concept typically achieves. Regardless of how you choose to prepare your feather, using a Sakasa style tie-in is appropriate to achieve the intended submerged effect. (A quick search online for tying North Country Spiders and/or a basic Sakasa hackle will explain these methods in far greater detail than I have available space here for an in-depth tutorial.)
Fig 17. Secure your hackle with a couple of thread turns. (I typically secure it near side for a better visual when manipulating the feather for the initial turn.) I put a wrap or two behind and under the tail and then another wrap or two over the tail for extra security and then snip the tail. Here I’m using a golden-hued Onagadori feather from one of my own birds, but any old chicken or other type of pliable feather would work just as well. Pheasant and grouse are just fine, also.
Fig 18. Begin your hackle wraps until you’re satisfied with the appearance. Usually this is partially dictated by the length of the feather! But I try to get in around 6 or 7 turns before I’m through. I like to keep the fibers pulled forward for each wrap to achieve that nice loop-oriented fiber direction going. As you can see in the photo, my fibers on the feather still waiting to be turned are oriented in the same direction as the loop the entire time. Wrap tightly behind each previous wrap. It’s normal to pull the wrapped hackle fibers forward in order to properly orient the fibers of the wrap in progress.
Fig 19. Once I’m satisfied with the volume of wrapped hackle fibers I’ll carefully place a few thread turns in between a couple of the feather fibers to secure the rachis to the body of the fly while also carefully ensuring that I don’t trap any fibers during the process. After about 5 thread wraps or so, snip off the hackle tail and any errant fibers sticking out of the back.
Fig 20. Place a few more thread wraps in to conceal your snipped ends and smooth out the contour of the body behind the hackle. Then move your thread to just behind the hackle and prepare to tie in your peacock herl.
Fig 21. I typically create a small loop with the tip of the peacock herl around the tying thread. This seems to make the herl tail easier to manage and allows me to easily snip it off without having to dig it out of the hackle fibers later. Once you’ve made your herl loop around the tying thread, give the thread a couple of wraps to secure the herl and then snip off the tail.
Fig 22. Wrap your peacock herl tightly around the body to create the thorax. Start at the rear of the hackle and tightly wrap rear-wards. I find that 9 turns of the herl usually works well for me, but do whatever looks appropriate to you. I wrap the herl under the thread taking it with me to the rear. This positions the thread properly for you to secure the herl when you’re done wrapping. Once done, secure with a couple of thread turns and break or snip off your herl tail.
Fig 23. Place a few more wraps tightly and evenly around the end of the herl to secure and conceal whatever tail may still be poking out. Whip finish when satisfied.
Fig 24. I like to place a dab of head cement or S. H. to the finishing location just to secure the knot. I then take the side of the tip of my bodkin and gently rub it in to prevent any cement beads from forming.
Aaron Fleming is a retired US Infantry Marine, owner of Hillshire Flies & Tenkara, pro fly tyer, and aviculturalist.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2021-22 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.
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