The Hair Diver is my first attempt at a photographic hair fly tutorial. I can say that this has been the most difficult pattern I have tried to demonstrate photographically as both the pattern itself is complicated and the photos are more challenging because of the larger fly size.
I am often asked to tie hair flies for tying demos. I believe hair flies are some of the most fun you can have with hooks and thread. They are indeed challenging and there is a lot to keep track of during the process but my love for tying them has produced a few tricks that may make your tying a bit easier.
I will demonstrate how to tie in a monofilament loop-style weed guard and the proper way to tie it off. Keeping the weed guard in line with the hook point is of paramount importance, as it won’t function any other way. The trick I show here assures the guard always lines up right.
I have merely skimmed over the tail portion of the fly in this tutorial as it is tied exactly the same (skipping the bucktail foul guard) as the Keys Style Tarpon Fly found elsewhere on the website. If you are not familiar with the steps for the tail and collar assembly check out the tarpon fly and come back to this one afterward.
One of the most useful tricks I’ve developed for tying hair flies is the use of a simple plastic “hair guard”. It works like the old style hackle guards, in that it holds the initial bunches of hair out of the way while we go on with the rest of the fly. I use this guard on a Diver to hold the longer collar hair back while flaring and stacking the rest of the head. It is used on both a Diver and a Popper to hold the ‘face’ back while completing the weed guard tie down. I use a piece of heavy lead wire to hold the hair and plastic guard in place during the tying process. This guard assembly can be manipulated and removed easily when the time comes.
Another point I need to make here is that while most people think of hair bugs as spun deer hair flies, I have better results with simply flaring and stacking the hair in place. ‘Flaring’ the hair means compressing the bunch in one place on the hook without allowing it to spin completely around the shank. ‘Stacking’ is layering and flaring another bunch of hair directly over the first (or second) bunch, to create density and, in most cases, color variation. This process allows me to lash incredibly large amounts of hair to the hook (the secret to creating beautifully trimmed, durable flies) and control the density and colors of the bug. By varying the size and color of the hair clumps you can create mottled patterns, stripes, and dots. Spun hair only allows bands of color.
Loosely spun hair bugs don’t hold their shape like tightly packed flies and are not as durable. I use very large clumps of hair in each flared and stacked bunch to attain super density bugs. Most of my bugs have between nine and fifteen separate bunches of hair making up the head. These large clumps are necessary to create the density and evenness needed for a durable, buoyant fly. The floatation of a densely packed bug is far superior to that of a spun hair pattern.
Stacking large clumps of hair and packing them tightly are just some of the keys to producing immaculate bugs. Deer Hair Master, Tim England is responsible for another trick I commonly use. Tim steams his hair bugs over a kettle of boiling water after the initial trimming. It only takes about thirty seconds in the steam bath for the steam to expand the hairs back to their original round shape and shrink the thread wraps, tightening them down around the hair. You see, when you handle and pack the hair, you smash it flat in cross-section. Steaming the hair allows it to expand and become tighter on the hook and stiffens the hair as well. I find the stiffening makes a big difference when trimming the fly. The harder hair stands up to the razor blade a lot better and allows you to make cleaner cuts. I sometimes will steam a fly three or four times during the trimming process to assure that I get any flattened hairs out. The results are obvious when viewed up close. The hair ends go from being flat and dull to circular and shiny, giving the bug a nice sheen. The steaming process also keeps the fly from changing shape when it is fished, as water will have the same effect on the bug as the steam would. You don’t want to spend an hour trimming a bug without steaming it first and have it “grow” once it gets wet. (Youll see what I mean by ‘grow’ when you steam your first fly.)
The process of creating a hair bug is rather long and arduous, but is well worth it when you produce a bug to be proud of. The real key to tying this, and all other flies, is to practice. You probably won’t get it exactly right on the first try. Stay with it, learn from your mistakes and before long, people will be asking you to show them how to build these beauties. Some people say that a loosely tied hair bug (or foam head popper) fishes as well as a well-tied version. I say this is an excuse to fish with crappy flies that have no character. Not only are well-tied bugs beautiful to behold, they are incredibly durable and instill a confidence in the angler. I remember a few years ago, some friends and I had access to an overstocked private bass pond. I left a fast-action six-weight rod in the boathouse for use by the members. At the beginning of the season I tied one of my tightly packed deer hair poppers on the end of a stout leader and left it strung up on the rod. That fly caught more bass that year than I can imagine. Over the course of the summer I am sure I caught in excess of two hundred fish on it, and who knows how many my friends caught! It gives me a warm feeling inside to know so many fish were caught on a bug from my vise. The fly was a little dog-eared by October, but still in perfect fish-catching shape. I retired it to my Fly Hall of Fame until the next season when I snagged it in the top of a bankside cottonwood tree and lost it. I bet its still up there and in great shape…and No, I’m not saying where.