I will never forget meeting Rex Fey. It goes back to 1st year Simonsberg Residence at Stellenbosch University in 2001. I was terrible fly tier. He was amazing. I could catch fish. So could he! But he could tie tiny perfect dries – and catch fish. I had to catch up! We fished, we bantered, we drank, we laughed, we fished some more. And so a friendship of opposites was borne. And it will never die. The man has always challenged to tie better flies.
Let him do the same for you. Here he shares a some simple skills and secrets with you. Use, abuse, enjoy. On to Mr Fey, proud new father… I still can’t tie perfect flies, and he can if he wants to 🙂
Dubbing Made Easy
I am a largely self-taught fly fisherman and fly tier, and I have been doing both for about 25 years. I have only just recently ventured out of my little bubble on my farm in Kokstad and done a fly tying course with fly tying guru, Gordon Van der Spuy. It was an eye opener of a weekend. I learned some things there that will revolutionise my way of tying and even fishing, but I also realized that the dubbing method I use is at least very unusual, if not unique. A lot what I do in my fishing and fly tying is unconventional (I’ll attest to this – Fred), and I like it that way. I fish almost only rivers, and almost all them you won’t have even heard of, and probably definitely not fished. All the flies I use are my own designs or modifications of more well-known patterns and I fish them not only because they catch fish, but because they are my own design. I’m not exaggerating when I say that 95% of the fish I have caught over the last 15 years have been on the same 4 flies.There are a few things in my flies that I regard as important. These are movement, “elegant scruffiness”, durability, and lastly almost every fly I tie has some form of red hotspot.
When I was 10 years old I was sent to boarding school and my father gave me a basic fly tying kit to keep me busy during the times when I should have been doing my home-work. I was given a tiny booklet on fly tying basics, and one of Tom Sutcliffe’s books, “My Way with a Trout”. I was fascinated by the idea that simple, suggestive and “elegantly scruffy” looking flies seem to work as well or better than a more realistic looking fly which I was trying to tie. When you tie a “scruffy” looking fly and do a good job of it, it has sort of elegance about it – a bit like modern art.
Trout like modern art flies!
So how do you tie an “elegantly scruffy” fly. Well the dubbing technique I will demonstrate is a very simple way to achieve what a dubbing loop achieves. A dubbing loop would be considered by many people to be the best way to dub a fly, but unfortunately it’s very complicated and so most guys resort to brushing the body or picking it to get the desired scruffy effect.The method I will demonstrate is so simple that you will probably wonder why you haven’t thought of it yourself. It’s so simple that I’m sure there are many people out there tying flies using this very method… But I don’t actually know anyone who uses the method, who I haven’t shown.
I have been using the method since my high school days, but I can’t really remember how or why I started doing it. I suppose these things just evolve over time and as you get better and better at it you start experimenting with different materials.
My dubbing box consists mainly of my own concoctions of various furs and chopped marabou. When using fur such as hare’s fur – which is my favourite for dubbing – I like to take the whole skin and give it a haircut. It’s very important not to cut the fur too close to the skin. A hare’s fur skin consists of the long stiff tendrils that stick out through a thick layer of very fine fluff. To make a perfect dubbing blend you want to have about half fluff and half long tendrils. Experiment with small patches and mix it up thoroughly and get the mix you like. If you cut the hair too close to the skin then there’s too much fluff and you won’t get the spiky bugginess required. If you don’t have enough fluff then it’s very difficult to dub and it will fall off the thread while trying to dub the fly. Sometimes I mix the hare’s dubbing with bit of finely chopped marabou and that gives you the dubbing colour of choice. I also chop up marabou for dubbing. I mix the long fibers with the short stuff and this makes an awesome buggy mix that I use on wet flies. I also have some Dassie (Rock Hyrax) and Yellow Mongoose. Each material has a different application depending on whether I am tying a wet fly or dry fly, what colour I want, how much movement I need or how buggy I feel my fly to look.
My Dubbing Box
For lack of a better name let’s call this dubbing method the”Kokstad Twist”, named after the town nearby to where I live. In the pictures that follow I will demonstrate how to tie a fly using the “Kokstad Twist”! In the pictures I tie it with hare’s fur, and in the video I demonstrate the technique using several materials rather than a specific pattern. The Pattern I demonstrate below is my version of a Woolly-Bugger. It’s tied with hare’s fur, marabou, or a mixture of both. I use it in large sizes in still water, and in much smaller sizes in rivers. This “Kokstad Twist” also works wonderfully for tying a thorax on a tiny dry fly, or for tying very small nymphs. Obviously you need to practice the method on larger flies first before tying anything really small. If you can master this method it will probably change the way you tie flies forever.
That is a bold statement! I know. But in my opinion there is no simpler, more effective, and versatile method of dubbing that I know of. Spend some time practising using cheap materials. Your wife’s cat will do just fine for this purpose. It’s the finger movement and control that needs to be practised.
Step by step on how to tie the “Natal Bugger”
Step 1: Bed the hook and tie in a loop of mono to stop the long Marabou tail wrapping round the hook.
Step 2: Tie in the tail and use the front section of the marabou to form a bit of a taper for the body. I don’t like doing it with dubbing as it’s a waste of quality material. Notice the Hares fur is a good mix of spikey stuff and fluffy stuff.
Step 3: Lightly wrap the fur onto the thread and try and spread it our evenly along the thread. Keep it much looser than you would normally do when dubbing conventionally.
Step 4: dub the tip of the fur tightly ontothread and wrap it onto the hook so only the very first piece of dubbing is wrapped around the hook. Now you twist the other end of the dubbing section one way. And keep twisting untill you have a spiky rope.
Step 5: Once you have made your spikey rope you keep it tight in your fingers and then wrap it round as if you are tying on a piece of wool. You will get a feel of how tight and how much you should twist the string. Don’t overdo it otherwise your beautiful dubbing rope will snap!
Step 9: Repeat the same procedure as above. Notice now how there are now a few long pieces of marabou in the mix. These will be like a collar of hackle, only with a lot more movement, and beautifully “elegantly shaggy”.
Step 10: Twist the base of the dubbing one way and notice the long marabou tendrils sticking out of the rope that will suggest legs. Tie the rope all the way to the bead, and complete the fly as you would any bead- headed fly. I like tying with red cotton so its easy to make hotspots.
Brown Natal Bugger: Hares Fur body, and marabou /Hares fur mix for the collar with a Marabou Tail.
Black Natal Bugger: Marabou tail, and chopped marabou for the entire body.
If you are interested in more information on this method I recommend checking out the YouTube video I made a few days ago. It’s much easier to learn from that.
The Link for the video I made a few days ago is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOinUGPwN8Y
Alternatively search on Youtube for “Rex Fey Alternative dubbing technique”. There are a few older videos along the same lines that I made a few months back but the recent one is the best.
Happy tying and enjoy the” Kokstad Twist”