Check out the Step-by-Step instruction page to learn or just get some new ideas.

Welcome to the world of "Realistic Fly Tying" by Bill Blackstone

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Creative Realism Realistic Fly Tying

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Shrimp - Step-by-Step FlyTying Process of Bill Blackstone


I wanted to do a realistic Shrimp.  Oh, I had seen a lot of patterns that others were tying, but they just fell short of what I wanted for mine.  Every time I thought about it, I just came up short on how I could create the body.  I knew what I wanted; in fact I could see it in my head.  The only problem was putting thought into action.  Then, one day while watching television, a program about antique arms and armor was on.  The featured artist was recreating a metal hand-glove and metal protection gauntlet.  He formed the metal to create individual articulated plates to follow the bend of the fingers when in use.  What an eye opener that was for me.  There was the answer for the method to use to create my Crayfish’s body. There were a few kinks to work out but the idea of independent-movable-scales was the answer.  To the note pad I went, and before long, I had a solution I could work with.  Let me share my solution.


I had been working with a plastic sheeting product used by a local meat packer, (Famer John Bacon) with a high degree of success.  The product has a semi-rough surface which accepts staining.  And knowing that my final surface finishing would be stained, this was a good match.  Now to Google…  Time to do my research on the animal.  This is my main source of pre-research on everything I am trying to reproduce, and after studying proportions, shapes, colors, and the minute details, I designed the body using five plates, a tail, and a body tip.  The body shapes I chose start with a partial trimmed tail piece with a tail.  (See Photo #1)


The body end cap is cut and shaped by burnishing from the back to a permanent rounded shape that forms the transition from the body caps or scales to the tail piece.  (See Photo #2)


With the body cap scales,( you must accommodate for proportions as the body always tapers from smaller to larger towards the head) I make five scale pieces.  (See Photo #3)


One important step to remember is to include a tag.  This has to be long enough to accept the joining of one piece to another without your thread being visible when the body is sewn together.  Next, cut out the tail.  Fold and shape it to form the fins.  (See Photo #4)


Etch the fins on the tips and begin sewing.  I use a double thread Size A, knotted and looped, and I sew four holes with a cross stitch to hold the pieces in line.  (See Photo #5)


Align the body into a straight line and pinch it so that it doubles without creasing.  (See Photo #6)


Laying the body cover aside, I mount the hook in the vise and proceed to build a slight body shape and tie the legging.  The fore legs (5-sets) are #30 mono, the aft legs (5-sets) are made from the plastic cording Home Depot provides customers tying down their lumber for transport.  (See Photo #7, 7a)


I prepare the fore legs by tapering them using another vice at my bench.  Using 150 grit sandpaper, I sand the middle of the mono until it snaps. This gives you two matching pieces.  (See Photo #8, 8a)


Build the body; tie in both sets of legs.  Lay the ends of the fore leg pieces down and cover them with thread forming a smooth body surface.  (See Photo #9)


Keep the fore legs somewhat separated and spaced.  Don’t worry about the rear legs at this point.  We will bend the legs and trim them up at the end.  When you get to the eyes, I use 80# mono.  I singe it with a match.  Bend the mono permanently and tie it in at the lead space.  (See Photo #10)


Next I tie in the feelers.  I use 60# mono for these, sanded, just like the fore legs and tie in on each side of the eyes facing forward.  (See Photo #11)


Next I prepare the body shape for tying in.  (See Photo #12)


Following this, I prepare the head cap.  You have to double the plastic sheeting, drop it down over the body shape and mark where you want your outlines to be.  This is my final body scale and head cap.  (See Photo #13)


Now I tie it in the eye section allowing the eyes and antennae to protrude and the beak facing forward.  Now I lift the body shape up.  Turn the fly upside down and fill the cavity with Clear Silicone Caulk material.  ( I use GE 100% Silicone – Clear 2.8-oz.  Available at all hardware stores) (See Photo #14)


Keep the fly turned upside down and put in jig until the caulking sets.  I usually wait overnight for set up.  (See #14a)


Now take the fly out of the jig and begin positioning the legs to match the natural.  I use needle nose pliers.  The fore legs have three bend positions.  If you look closely, you will see first, they go back, then forward, then back.  Since they supposedly match in bends and lengths, try to keep this in mind when you are positioning them.  (See Photo #15)


Try to trim the secondary legs to taper the ends.  Now it’s finish time.  I’ll tell you what I do, and you are on your own from there.  You might figure a better method than I have.  I take two permanent brown markers and make about a solid 3” smeared circle for each color on a plastic surface. (See Photo #16)


I then take and wet my paint brush with Lacquer Thinner, and then into one of my smeared color circles.  This picks up some of the ink-stain on the brush and I brush it on the individual plates.  If the coloring gets too dark, re-dip the brush in the thinner only and erase some color using pure thinner.  Keep fussing with it until you are satisfied with the results.  Be sure to this process in a well ventilated area as this thinner is toxic and flammable.  “No smoking” or your tying days are over.  Daub lightly, as you only want it to be slightly colored and almost translucent.  Just for good measure, and some reassurance that my stain will stay in-place, I finish the bug off with a clear, UV resistant flat lacquer made by Krylon (16-oz. aerosol) that can be purchased at a craft or hardware store.  It dries quickly and stays-on.  Give it two coats.

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