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Reinforcing Herl

The Bullet Proof Prince

gold bead prince nymph

Hook:     Daiichi 1560 or 1760 #8-#16
Thread:  MFC 8/0 or UTC 70, Black
Tail:       Brown or Tan Goose Biots
Rib:       Fine Gold Wire or Oval Tinsel
Body:    Peacock Herl
Hackle:  Mottled Hen Saddle
Wings:  White Goose Biots
Head:    Gold, Brass or Tungsten Bead

The Pheasant Tail Nymph, Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear and Prince Nymph are three ‘cornerstone’ nymph patterns common to many fly boxes.  I am not immune to their charms as my fly boxes for both rivers and streams and lakes feature an assortment of Pheasant Tail, Hare’s Ear and Prince Nymph variants.  These ‘generic’ patterns suggest a variety of prey items including mayfly nymphs, scuds, stonefly nymphs, water boatman and backswimmers.  Early in a Callibaetis hatch a gold bead Pheasant Tail, Hares Ear Nymph or Prince Nymph can be magic.  Later as the hatch progresses more exact patterns may be required but on occasion the slight alternative these patterns provide makes them stand out amongst the naturals. 

The Prince Nymph has become a favourite searching pattern, whether prospecting a river or probing a promising shoal.  Perhaps the Prince Nymph’s only failing is its brittle peacock herl body. 

Peacock herl possesses a beautiful iridescence that fish find hard to resist.  Mother Nature’s Crystal Flash, peacock herl offers a wide array of uses including bodies, thoraxes on some of our favourite nymphs.  Without reinforcement peacock based patterns such as the Prince Nymph become a tattered mesh, forced into retirement far before their time.  Thankfully, there are a number of techniques you can use to increase the durability of any peacock herl pattern, transforming your fly from fragile to almost indestructible.  These tricks and techniques also work well for other materials such as pheasant tail and ostrich herl.

Always tie in your peacock herl by the tips.  The fibres are fullest at the tip and produce the best looking bodies and thoraxes. The tips themselves are brittle and difficult to tie in by so I trim the first half inch or so of the tips to add a degree of durability.  Trimmed ends are also easier to tie in. 

Most peacock herl bodied flies feature a rib of some kind, traditionally oval tinsel or Mylar.  Today, wire ribs are preferred.  Wire comes in a myriad of colors adding an extra element of contrast but its primary function remains, durability.  The key to durable ribbed peacock bodies is counter winding the wire.  Counter winding the wire over the body in the opposite direction in which the body was wound creates a ‘crisscross’ effect reinforcing the delicate peacock body.  Counter wound ribs also stand out as the wraps do not disappear into the body material.  I find wire ribbed bodies reasonably durable and are the least intrusive method to avoid matting the herl fibres.  Wire ribbed peacock bodies are full, fuzzy and full of natural iridescence.

Wire can also be used to form a dubbing loop that when combined with multiple peacock strands creates a bullet proof body.  Begin by tying the peacock herl strands together by their trimmed tips so they behave as a single strand.  Tie in a loop of wire that is at least two inches shorter than the peacock herl strands.  Gather all of the peacock herl strands and hold them parallel to one side of the wire loop.  Take a pair of push button electrician’s pliers and hold the wire and herl strands together at the base of the loop.  Begin twisting slowly, no more than five to six times.  Wind the body forward a few wraps and twist the loop tight again.  Continue winding and twisting until the body is complete.  If you wind the wire loop tight the brittle herl breaks at the shank as the materials twist tightest at the hook.  Alternating winding the body and twisting the wire loop alleviates the torque on the herl so it stays together.  The end result is one tough body capable of surviving a ton of abuse.

Tying thread is another simple reinforcing medium that can be applied in a number of ways.  One of the simplest methods involves winding the tying thread over the completed body or thorax using open wraps.  To reinforce a herl body spiral the tying thread back over the body to the base of the tail and then back to the front of the body.  Using open wraps reduces matting the herl fibres down. 

Peacock herl can also be wound around the tying thread.  A popular technique advocated by many.  Once the strands are in place wind the herl around the tying thread and then pinch them together.  Wind the herl ‘rope’ forward.  Keep your herl rope manageable.  Additional wraps of herl around the thread can always be added to extend the rope.  Once the body or thorax is complete unravel the herl from around the tying thread tie off and trim the excess.

A thread dubbing loop can also be used in a similar fashion to wire loops to dub and strengthen herl.  I prefer a Cal Bird dubbing hook for this technique.  This tool features a unique angled hook similar in appearance to an English style bait hook that works well for pinching peacock herl in a thread loop.  As with the wire loop technique, tie in the desired number of peacock herl strands by their trimmed tips.  Form a thread dubbing loop that is at least two inches shorter than the herl strands.  A critical step for both thread and wire loops.  Open the loop using your thumb and forefinger and pinch the peacock herl against the left side of the thread loop.  Insert the hook into the thread loop, open end up.  Lock the peacock herl strands and left side of the thread loop together with the hook.  Pull and rotate the tool point down between the thread strands sandwiching the herl within the thread loop.  Twist the loop tight, slowly at first to avoid accidental breakage.  Your initial attempts to dub herl may be clumsy at first but once mastered you can form durable herl bodies in seconds.  Give this technique a try to reinforce ostrich herl and pheasant tail too.

Careful use of super glue is another reinforcement alternative.  I consider it a one shot method as it is difficult if not impossible to undo.  I use this reinforcement technique when forming slender bodies on chironomid pupa using stripped peacock herl or pheasant tail fibres.  Coat the hook shank with brushable superglue once the herl or fibres have been tied in.  Stroke the materials together and wind forward to form the body.  Tie off and trim the excess. 

My favourite superglue method involves using it to reinforce peacock herl thoraxes behind bead heads on chironomid pupa patterns.  When the peacock herl thorax is complete and the excess herl has been tied off and trimmed coat roughly half an inch of tying thread with brushable superglue.  Wind the coated thread around the shank a few times at the tie off point while applying thread tension to squeeze the superglue into the base of the fibres.  This method uses tying thread as the medium to carry the glue into the areas it needs to be while reducing the risk of coating peacock herl with glue.  This method also works well for securing dry fly hackle, marabou collars behind cone heads or dubbing behind bead heads.  Once you get proficient using this technique try blending it into your whip finish when using a Mattarelli whip finish tool.

The next time your Prince Nymph, Halfback or other favourite peacock pattern looks a little worse for wear try one of these reinforcement techniques.  Your average mileage per fly should increase!

Step by Step Tying Instructions

1) Slide a gold bead onto a de-barbed hook and place into the vise.  Cover the hook shank with tying thread.  Tie in two brown goose biots at the bend of the hook forming a tail that is about half the shank length.  Additional weight can be added to the shank before covering the hook shank with tying thread.

2) Tie in ribbing material along the near side of the shank from the rear of the bead to the base of the tail.  Select four strands of peacock herl and align them by the tips.  Trim the last half inch of the tips even.  Secure the peacock herl in by the trimmed tips directly behind the gold bead and bind in place on top of the shank down to the base of the tail.

3) Form the body using one of the described techniques.  For this example I dubbed the body.  Begin by forming a thread loop that is about two inches shorter than the thread loop.  Pinch the left side thread strand and the peacock herl together.  Insert a Cal Bird style dubbing tool into the loop open end up and lock the herl and thread strand together.

4) Turn and rotate the dubbing tool point down between the peacock herl strands on the left and right side of the dubbing loop pinching the herl between the thread strands of the dubbing loop.

5) Twist the dubbing loop tight using the tool.  Avoid twisting the loop too tight to avoid accidently breaking the herl.  Coat the thread underbody with a thin layer of brushable super glue. Wind the dubbed peacock forward to the rear of the bead.  Tie off and trim the excess.  Counter wind the rib over the body tie off and if using wire use a pulling and twisting motion to break away the excess.

6) Choose a hackle feather with fibres roughly three quarters of the shank long.  Strip away the flue from the base of the feather.  Tie in the prepared feather behind the gold bead.  Wind the feather behind the feather 2-3 times as the feather allows.  Tie off and trim the excess.  Sweep the hackle fibres down and back clearing a path on top of the fly for the white goose biot wings.

7) Tie in two white goose biots on top of the shank directly behind the bead so the natural curvature of the biots cups the body.  The tips of the biots should reach the rear of the body.  Carefully trim the excess biots protruding over the bead.  Built a smooth neat head behind the bead, whip finish and apply head cement.

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