The killer fly
It is a perfect imitation of a 20 gram Toby spoon. It is easy to tie and extremely aerodynamic to cast. And it catches anything from brown trout to tuna.
The fly is Tinsel - a length of Flashabou tied to a hook. And nothing else in the basic version. Traditional streamers are fine, but in many conditions they lack the brightness and flashes of schooling baitfish. Some tyers try to incorporate these features by adding space age materials to the wing. This is fine and works well in many situations. But often you need a very flashy fly to get the fish’s attention: This situation occurs in dark water, during low light conditions, with predatory species chasing bright baitfish and sometimes as a change of pace when more somber flies fail to produce the desired effect.
The Tinsel Fly
has become my first choice in most of these conditions as long as the fish are not over fished - tossing four inches of shiny Flashabou to a brown trout sipping mayflies on the Test or Itchen might not be a good idea - or legal for that matter! But besides that the fly is a logical choice and has accounted for vast numbers of pike and cod as well as mackerel, pollack, coalfish and sea trout in salt water - thus reflecting the fishing in my native Denmark and the rest of Scandinavia.
And yes - it has also caught some picky five pound brown trout in unstocked rivers.
The Tinsel Fly
is just a hook and a bunch of Flashabou - tied as a wing for trout and salmon or as a tail for cod and pike. It’s as simple as it gets, and many fly tyers might claim the pattern as their creation.
The first time
I fished one of the variations of the Tinsel fly was at the Finnish archipelago Aaland in the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Finland in the mid-90’es.
Our host was the the local flyfishing guide Vidar Häggblom who specializes in fly fishing for pike in the private waters that surround his farm on the island of Ängö.
Vidar’s only fly was tied with a 4 inch long tail of Flashabou and a short black hair hackle in front of the tail. Threecolorss was all he needed to keep him and the customers happy: Green, blue and silver. Tied in classic tarpon fly style the fly dived head first and displayed an attractive up & down motion when retrievedd and paused in foot long pulse.
The soft Flashabou shivered in the water and gave the fly a very convincing look when I first tried it along the side of the boat. The pike agreed. And I brought the fly home to test it further on cod, trout and Danish pike. Travelling the Worldd you meet a lot of guides with their boxes filled with patterns. They have to catch fish under any set of conditions and Vidar’s insistencee on one fly was surprising to me. It had to bee good. And it was.
It outfished all
my usual patterns for cod and pike and caught some nice perch, mackerel, pollack and coalfish in the process. A giant seatrout even tried to swallow a 8 inch version one day. It missed!
The pike version is generally tied on size 2 Stinger hooks as they get a very solid grip in the fish’s mouth and are lightweight and easy to cast. Flies for pike have to be big and generally I tie the flies with the full length of Flashabou from the packet, making them close to 10 inches. Others are tied a bit shorter - 7 inches - for the one reason that the short strands that are not used are perfect for making smaller versions of Tinsel.
The pike version
of Tinsel Fly is a big creature but as the Flashabou fibers do not soak water and cling to each other when the fly is lifted from the water, the pattern is both lightweight and aerodynamic to cast even in the biggest versions. The shank of the hook is left exposed, acting as a very short shock tippet, but generally a standard shock tippet of light wire or heavy monofilament is recommended for pike. The exposed shank has another function, however, as it can act as the base for a foam head (an ear plug, for instance), thus converting the subsurface streamer into an 'instant popper' if needed. With its long tail some flyfishers fear that the fish will strike short on the pike version, but it does not seem to be a problem as pike tend to attack their prey from the side and target the front half of the body. Most fish are actually hooked quite deep.
A few years
later I fished the rivers on the north of Russia's Kola Peninsula in August when they were running low and warm after five weeks of draught. The conditions called for small and dark flies, and the second day on the river I found myself dead drifting size 14 bead head nymphs through the pools with some success. But the choice of fly changed dramatically a week later, when the helicopter dropped us at the Varzina River as the guests of the river’s lodge. The first day we shared the fishing with some of the guides and during small talk and fishing stories on the flight to the river, I had a look at their tackle - all of the guides fished three inch long streamers tied only with silver Flashabou! The Tinsel Fly - or Puke Fly as it was nicknamed - was their secret weapon for the salmon, and the lodge’s log book confirmed it.
A surprisingly large number
of salmon were taken on this pattern. The salmon version of the Tinsel Fly has a shorter bunch of Flashabou tied as a traditional wing - putting the point of the hook approximately one third down the wing. This version is my first choice for salmon, trout and most species in saltwater.
Standard size is 3 inches of Flashabou on a size 4 or 6 streamer hook. The guide’s version of Tinsel was a crossover between traditional fly tying and the simplicity of the Tinsel, as it had a silver body, a red throat, white underwing and a head of black wool. I have simplified this and reduced the fly to just the Flashabou. The fish do not seem to care. Generally this fly is tied on a bright streamer hook where the shank blends with the silver flash of the Flashabou wing.
When fishing for salmon and seatrout in rivers I like to use traditional low water salmon hooks. These are black and call for a silver body on the fly - mainly to please the fly tyer.
The weighted version
of the Tinsel Fly is rarely used by me as I prefer to use sinking lines and a light fly when I have to fish the fly deep - but sometimes a weighted version is more practical: When the fish are chasing bait in the surface it’s often a good idea to get the fly below the baitfish to the level where bigger fish are waiting. In this case the weighted fly and floating line is the most practical choice. Picking up the floating line and recasting is much easier that with sinking line - making it possible to get more casts at the fish during the - often - short breaks at the surface. At other times it is necessary to retrieve the fly extremely fast to provoke a strike and here an unweighted fly tend to move in the surface and not just under it. My solution to weighting the Tinsel Fly is a little more complex than the basic pike and salmon versions: I like the simplicity of tying with dumbbell eyes. In this case they are tied on top of the hook which is then reversed in the vice - the final result should be a upside down streamer. The next step is to tie in a short wing of white rabbit hair. The rabbit hair’s only function is to push the Flashabou away from the bend of the hook. At this point the fly looks exactly as a Crazy Charlie for bonefish... And then the silver Flashabou is added. My standard proportions is 3 inches of Flashabou for a size 2 or 4 hook.