Welcome to the world of "Realistic Fly Tying" by Bill Blackstone
Everyone who fly fishes has used a Hopper. And every fly shop in the world has their version of what works best. On top of that, every fly tyer as their own pattern or preference. And why not. Taking this thought a little further, think on this.
Summer is the normal vacation or getaway time when flyfishing is at its peak, and from mid June to October, guess which fly is most popular? You guessed it, the Hopper, and fish love it.
Naturally I couldn't resist, and mine had to be realistic. I tried about everything you could tie on a hook. I bought special wing material, plastic body material, molded kicker legs, you name it. Together with the time spent tying each one, I think I probably got each fly up to about the $10 each range, and I still was not happy. So back to the tying bench.
I think I'm pretty handy with wood, so I started with that. I came up with the shape which includes the body and the head in one piece. I use Basswood. I'll do about a dozen at a time and paint them with a tan acrylic. All it takes is a groove on the underside, some glue and acrylic paint for filler and I set the body shape down directly over the hook and let it dry then I painted a military tan color with normal acrylic wall paint.
My next hurdle was the legs. Particularly the "Rear Kickers". Up to this point I was using the plastic molded ones that cost $4.95 in a three pack, and they were one size only in yellow and a yellowish tan. Both not in acceptable colors. After some experimenting, I thought I could somehow make my own, so I carved some likenesses and made several sizes.
You can do this by taking the carved leg and utilizing self mixing mold kits available at any hobby store. I make the mold, plug in my hot glue gun and squirt the glue into the mold.
While it is still hot and sticky I lay one strand of the plastic wire twist-on used for garden vine training directly into the hot glue.
The next step is trimming the twist-on to favor your shape. I leave a small amount of overlap at the base of the leg to either tie in on the body shape or to poke through a hole created in the body with my Bodkin, and Crazy Glue them in place. If you use thread, make it is smooth as you can. Eventually, you are going to paint everything so don't start worrying about any problem at this point. The mid and front legs are trimmed to shape, and also tied or glued in. The only thing left is the cap-wing and antennae. I cut it wing pattern by folding a piece of plastic material in half and laying it over the body shape and deciding where I want the wing tip to end, then I cut the shape out.
If you are concerned about a goof, use just a blank piece of paper at first to get the shape you want. You will not have to work very hard at this to see if your proportions are correct. Then cut the cap wing out of plastic material. Tint your wing using permanent markers. I simply lay the wing down over the body and tie it down. For wing material I use a rather stiff 6 mm plastic used by a local meatpacker, "Farmer John". It's smooth on one side, and roughened on the other. The rough side accepts marker stains and does not wash off. Next, I cut another shape called a cap. You can use the same technique as you did with the wing except you alter the shape.
If you can't get your wing material, I have used acetate or about a 10 mm sheet plastic found in reading portfolios. You just have to experiment. If it's clear material I sand it with 280 grit sandpaper on one side. Just to ensure the stain will even-up and hold the color.
If you look closely you will see I have made some texture to the head to emulate the rhino effect the real bug has near its head.
Image #9 and #10
I do this by burnishing the rear side with the polished slightly pointed steel object. Mine is made from a broken 1/8" drill bit. It has been rounded like the tip of a large knitting needle and epoxied into a small handle for easy hand use. If you place your plastic on a piece of matt board surface and rub the area you want to raise, or make a bulge, this is the tool or method I use to do it. If you practice you can change the shape of the surface to show bulges, ripples, folds, etc. The harder you push and work with it, the more results you will receive. This is your "texture machine".
My secret, if there is any, is painting. You can really bring your subjects to life with painting and coloring. And this is where practice and experimentation go a long way. For feelers, I use Mono. I take a strip of Mono, fasten one end into the vice. Grab the other end. Pull it tight, and with sandpaper, sand a spot in the center about 1" long until the Mono snaps. And there is your matching antennae. Adjust and cut for desired length, and with your Bodkin place two holes in the bugs head and "Crazy Glue" the Mono in place.
After painting the detail, I coat the entire bug with the mat lacquer made by "Krylon" available in a 16 ounce spray. When this is dry, I go back and redo the eye to make it shine using "Revlon's" clear "Sterling" nail polish. If you look at my bug closely you can just see where I have tied my cap down over all the other activities. The thread is covered with paint to hide it. Also I put spines on my rear legs. Totally unnecessary, but it looks good. I use "Cold-Weld" epoxy, available at any hardware store. It's used for pipe repair. You see there's no end to nonsense in fly tying.
Now look what my completed bug looks like from all sides. Look how I've covered my thread with paint. You can hardly notice it.
It floats. It has excellent profile. It's reasonably sturdy. Your legs will need to be bent back into position after the fish strikes. That's easy enough. And you can also alter the paint colors for a closer copy of regional patterns and hopper colors.
I hope there is some part of this you can use in your own experiments.
Click on photos for larger view...