Published Oct 17. 2022 - 1 year ago
Updated or edited Oct 17. 2022

May West Emerger

Inspiration for a new fly design can come from anywhere. The May West is an example of a combination of materials that came together to create a new fly

The May West emerging
The May West emerging
Nick Thomas

In my experience inspiration for a new fly design can come from anywhere. Sometimes a new material will trigger an idea, sometimes it’s a combination of materials that come together to create a new fly. The Mae West is one of the latter.

I came across polypropylene medical wipes some time ago while searching for different forms of this lighter than water plastic. The wipes are made from a heat fused non-woven mesh of fine polypropylene fibres and are easily obtained online. Google polypropylene medical or patient dry wipes and you’ll find a supplier to buy from. You’ll get a lifetime’s supply in one packet. The ones I use came in a packet of 100 20x28cm sheets for £1. Despite being thin and lightweight at just 25g/m2, the material is very robust and resistant to tearing.

The inspiration for the Mae West came when James Matthews, a tying friend from Scotland, sent me some samples of kapok that he had dyed in different colours and a big chunk of the natural material to play with. The two materials came together, kapok inside, material on the outside, just like the life jackets that were called Mae Wests by 1940’s RAF pilots due to the curvaceous appearance they gave to anyone wearing one.

Kapok is a hollow fibre composed of lignin and cellulose with a waxy coating. A fibre like that is going to float like a cork and kapok does. In fact, it’s five times more buoyant than cork, supporting thirty times its own weight. Buoyancy is retained for a long time, the material losing only ten percent after sitting in water for thirty days. I give the fly a thin coat of Gink before fishing and it floats all day.

May West Emerger
May West Emerger
Nick Thomas

The lifejacket of the May West is made from a roll of polypropylene mesh with a stuffing of kapok. The procedure for making it is similar to making a spring roll, or hand rolling a cigarette if you’ve ever done that.

Cut a section of the mesh around four centimetres square, place it on a piece of scrap paper and colour one side with a marker pen. Turn the mesh over and apply a little glue along the far edge with a glue stick. Place a noodle of kapok near the front edge and roll the mesh around the kapok until the glued end is stuck to the roll. Use a thin pencil or the end of a paintbrush to push the kapok in from the ends of the roll leaving just the mesh at the ends.

The mesh
The mesh
Nick Thomas
May West Emerger
Pattern type: 
Nick THomas
Hends BL 550 #12/14
Semperfli 12/0 olive nano silk
Polypropylene mesh
Stripped olive organza ribbon
Kapok rolled in polypropylene mesh and Troutline black pepper squirrel dubbing
Skill level/difficulty: 
  1. Cut a thin strip from a wipe, fray the end and tie in at the bend to form the shuck.
  2. Colour a piece of white cream organza ribbon with an olive marker pen. Cut a thin strip from one edge and remove the long fibres. Tie in at the bend and wind forward in touching turns. Tie in and remove the waste.
  3. Hold the pre-prepared kapok roll hanging back over the abdomen. Tie in the empty mesh at the front of the abdomen with the glued edge of the roll facing up. Bind down the mesh towards the eye and cut off any waste.
  4. Dub the thorax.
  5. Fold the roll forward over the thorax and tie down with tight thread wraps a little way back from the eye.
  6. Smear the thread with varnish, whip finish, pull the thread tight and cut.
  7. Trim the waste end of the roll over the hook eye.

A set of two
A set of two
Nick Thomas

The combination of kapok and polypropylene mesh has lots of potential for tying other floating imitations. For example, the waste end of the kapok roll cut off from tying a Mae West can be tied in at the bend of a hook, ribbed with some monofilament and topped off with a bit of dubbing to makes a floating pupa.

Kapok Kaddis Pupa
Kapok Kaddis Pupa
Nick Thomas

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