Published Aug 4. 2023 - 11 months ago
Updated or edited Sep 8. 2023

Inspiration and Imitation

The story about how the Toothpick Stone Clinger was inspired by turning over rocks and taking pictures

The clinger
The clinger
Nick Thomas

Sometimes when the fishing is a bit slow, or I'm waiting for a hatch to start, I'll put the rod down and go and turn over some rocks. It can be an interesting interlude to see what's hiding underneath and maybe take some pictures. It's not easy to get a good shot with a macro lens holding the camera in one hand and a rock in the other. There's always a good deal of manoeuvring to get the lens three inches from the subject to get maximum magnification while avoiding camera shake. It's usually just at that moment that the little critter decides to walk out of frame. Most shots get deleted, but now and again there's a decent one that gets to stay in my Lightroom library.

The rivers I fish have a number of species of stone clinger nymphs, March Browns and Brook Duns being the most common. The image of one of them was taken a couple of years ago and has served ever since as the inspiration for many attempts at designing and tying a good imitation.

Basic stone clinger anatomy
Basic stone clinger anatomy
Nick Thomas
Toothpick Stone Clinger
Toothpick Stone Clinger
Nick Thomas

The key feature of stone clingers is that they have a flattened profile. If they didn't, they would have a hard time actually clinging to any stones. Therein lies the first problem for designing an imitative fly; the art of tying is essentially wrapping stuff around a hook which produces a round body and not a flat one.

The second issue is that their eyes are on top and not on the sides as in other upwing nymphs where they can be imitated with a piece of melted monofilament tied in behind the hook eye. Plastic gems are the solution. These can be found in craft shops and come in a range of colours and sizes down to 1mm, which are ideal for adding little eyes to flies.

As well as seeing, nymphs need to breathe, and stone clingers array their gills along either side of the abdomen behind the flattened body. Another material from a craft shop comes into play here in the form of embroidery floss. Knotting strands of floss along the hook shank and then trimming the ends short produces fluffy tufts which stick out sideways from the abdomen, just like the gills of the nymph. DMC rayon floss is the same material I use for the legs on my Hitched Hoglouse and the clove hitch knotting method is exactly the same.

So, the gills and eyes are sorted out, and the tails are old school pheasant tail fibres. But what about the flattened body? It is the defining feature after all. The solution was at hand – a wooden toothpick. I've used these for a long time to apply UV-resin to flies as the narrow tips allow precise placement. I put a small drop of resin on a Post-it note stuck to my tying bench and pick up small drops on the end of the toothpick. When I'm finished a quick blast of the residue with a UV torch cures the resin before I drop the paper and toothpick in the bin.

A short piece of toothpick tied in behind the hook eye forms a scaffold over which to fold a length of organza ribbon to produce a flattened tapered body. The folded ribbon has openings on the sides for the legs and the eyes can sit nicely on top where they are supposed to be.

Three clinger imitations
Nick Thomas
Nick Thomas
Toothpick Stone Clinger
Pattern type: 
Nick Thomas

A simple clinging mayfly nymph

Fasna F-210 #12/14
Sheer 14/0 brown
Pheasant tail fibres
Clove hitched DMC S712 satin floss
Partridge feather
Toothpick section and 3mm brown organza ribbon
Black plastic craft gems
Clear UV resin and varnish
Skill level/difficulty: 
  1. Run on the thread, take it down to the bend and remove the tag end.
  2. Catch in three pheasant tail fibres, bind down up the shank and trim off the waste.
  3. Build a smoothly tapered abdomen with thread wraps, whip finish and remove the thread.
  4. Add the gills with clove hitched lengths of floss.
  5. Secure the knots with a little superglue applied with the point of a toothpick.
  6. Trim the ends of the floss leaving about an inch so that they can be pulled back out of the way when working on the thorax.
  7. Cut a 3mm piece from a toothpick by rolling it back and forward under a craft knife.
  8. Tie in at the hook eye with figure of eight wraps and secure with superglue.
  9. Dub a tapered thorax behind the toothpick.
  10. Strip the base of a partridge feather and tie in by the tip against the toothpick.
  11. Add more turns of dubbing working back to the abdomen.
  12. Fold the feather back, tie in and remove the waste end.
  13. Tie in a length of organza ribbon under the hook at the back of the thorax.
  14. Fold the organza over the hook eye and toothpick using a needle to open the ribbon fibres to fit over the eye.
  15. Tie in the ribbon at the rear of the thorax and trim off the waste.
  16. Tidy up with thread wraps, whip finish and remove the thread.
  17. Trim the floss ends to form the gills.
  18. Pick up the craft gems with a tapered piece of Blu tac and glue in place on top of the thorax.
  19. Coat the thorax with UV-resin, set the resin and seal with a thin coat of varnish.

Clinging to a stone
Clinging to a stone
Nick Thomas

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