The last of the mohicans (step by step fly tying)

The last of the mohikans

Say the word “Baetis” to someone and most will just look at you strangely. Say “Ephemerella” and  and they will start to think you have gotten some kind of stroke, and when you say “Lebtholebia” you might just get a kick in the groin! But if you say these words to a trout fly fisherman he or she will get a very special look in the eyes and you will instantly see how he or she drifts away in the thoughts reminiscing on that special occasion when that special fish rose to the fly. In other words, there are no insect more connected to trout fly fishing than the family of Ephemeroptera; the mayflies! The life cycle, the explosive hatches, the “live hard – die young” attitude and the way the fish stops eating all else when they start to hatch have all contributed to the legends of the mayflies.

We all have our inspirational sources, persons that can be regarded as having had a significant effect on us. Fly fishing and fly tying is no exception, most people doing it have someone that they regard as their inspiration, idol or even hero. To a caster it might be someone like Mel Krieger or Hywel Morgan, to a salmon fisher it can be Mikael Frödin, to a trout fisherman it can be someone like Garry LaFontain. Honestly there are so many fantastic profiles in our sport so many of us have several heros that we look up to. When it comes to Fly tying itself I have a few people who have affected my tying more than others, the already mentioned Mr LaFontain being one, people like Doug Swisher & Carl Richard, Poul Jorgensen, Bob Clouser etc. are others and of course Oliver Edwards. I can’t remember exactly when I saw his flies the first time but I know that the first I saw was the Hydropsyche larva and the second I saw was the Mohican mayfly, those two flies alone sent me off on an exciting journey in my fly tying that I hopefully never will finish. Honestly, he was the reason my fly tying changed from just a mean to fill my box to an obsession.

All great fly patterns have a habit of spawning variants and side development where people change material, simplifies things and changes the original to fit their needs and their waters. This is exactly what I have done with my adoption and experimentation from the Mohican mayfly. It has developed to something quite a bit from the original to something that can almost be described as my own pattern, the SRM dun. As brilliant as the Mohican mayfly is it is not the easiest of fly to tie and in its original design it is not suitable to tie in smaller sizes for the mid and small range mayflies, it’s a pure Danica/Vulgata imiation. To be honest for me it was the complexity of the Mohican that made me start tampering with it some seven years ago, but things that I did with it also meant that it got possible for me to tie it in smaller sizes. This meant I had much more use for it over a longer period of the season because now I could use it for the early Lebtholebia hatches of early may, for the big olives and Aurivilli of the summer and for the late Stoneclingers of early fall.

So when does a variant of a fly pattern get so far from the original so that it end up being a different pattern? I look at internet forums and see people add a tail to the Klinkhammer fly and call it the “Jeff’s lethal emerger” and claim it to be a new pattern just because of that tail. I have certainly changed the original Mohican mayfly quite a bit with this fly, but I still give Mr. Edwards credit because I know that without the original this fly wouldn’t ever have been borned.

I think that the only thing that I have kept from the original is that I do the extended body of foam on a needle. All others I have experimented away and changed, and even though there is a hackle in “my” pattern aswell it is used differently than in the original. It is surprising how few people actually know and feel comfortable with the technique of doing extended foam bodies on a needle. This is something that is far from limited to only mayfly imitations; sedges and stoneflies and even terrestrials like hoppers can easily be tied with this technique, and it is a great way to learn thread control as well as adding a realism to any dry fly. Personally I will like to use quite thin foam, 0,5 mm or 1 mm, even for larger patterns. The reason for this being that even though foam has good floating abilities it is quiet heavy when it is thick, and keeping the foam thin will make a much lighter fly which sits better on the surface IMO. Another thing that I changed is the wing for the same reason; the deer hair in the original simply is just too heavy and clumsy on the smaller sizes. Started out with poly yarn but these days I find myself using the TMC aero wing instead.

It is interesting sometimes with fishing. This fly has worked good for most hatches but it has worked absolutely flawlessly excellent for one particular mayfly hatch, the one of the Stoneclingers; the Heptagenias. Theories, theories, theories, all we have some time are very little fact and a lot of theories.  Well my theory for this is the fact that no other mayfly sits longer on the surface after hatching than the Heptagenia, and since the SRM Dun sits quite deep on the surface it makes a very good footprint on the surface no matter how long you leave it there.

I normally will fish it close to a dead drift upstream or across, depending the circumstances I can sometime give it a little twitch to get it to just skip over the surface. One thing that works very well sometimes in fast currents is to let it swing downstream and let the current pull it under and fish it home almost like a streamer against the current, works extremely well for trout in most northern rivers in Sweden.

Tying it is straight forward once you get the hang of it.

–          The smaller the imitation the smaller you should make the segments in the foam.

–          A thin tying thread will allow for more wraps around every segment which will give you a more durable fly.

–          If you keep the foam strip on the underside narrower you will get more of an angle to the hackle and get a fly that rides higher on the surface.

–          Keeping six segments on the body is a good measurement for the right proportion of the fly.

–          Using an emerger hook like the Partridge 16BNX will keep the main point of gravity much more central to the fly, making it more balanced.


Step by step description

Hook: Partridge 16BNX size 16-20
Thread:White Sheer 14/0
Tails: Syntetic mayfly tails
Body: 0.5 -1.0 mm foam double folded and tied on a needle
Wing: TMC Aero wing
Hackle: Good quality dry fly hackle.

Step one

Take your foam and cut it into a long strip about 2 mm wide.  Fold it double and at the folding point cut off the corners of the foam so that when unfolded it looks like a bowtie.

Step two.

When unfolded cut down the four “corners” of the crease to create a more smoothly tapered shape like this.

Step three

Insert a needle in the vise. I like to use a dressmakers pin with the head cut off. Now carefully insert the foam in the middle at the most narrowest point of the tapering.

Step four

Now pull gently on the foam upwards to open up the hole in it slightly and take the tails and insert them into the hole in the foam as well, takes a little practice but you’ll soon get the hang of it!

Step five

Now tie in your thread close to the vise at the same time tying down the tails and make sure you slide the foam as close to that tie in point as you can. It doesn’t really matter if the tails are not perfectly aligned or slightly too long at this point, we will adjust those later.

Step six

Now the fun begins! So we now have the thread tied in, the foam at a straight angle from the needle and the tails backwards. Now with your non tying hand fold the foam strips over and under the needle forwards and while holding it down like that tie in two  turns of thread over both strips and the needle making sure you have that little piece of double folded foam behind the tie in point for the first segment.

Step seven

Looks nice now! For these first segments you want to learn just the right enough tension with the tying thread so that the foam don’t spin around the needle when tying it down, after about three segments it is secure enough. Now fold both strips up from the needle again and slip the thread in between the foam strips again and tie it forward over the needle and tails about three turns and then let the foam down again.

Step eight

Now we want to repeat steps six and seven again. First make sure that the thread is at point enough forward (but not far off) from the first segment and then again tie three turns of thread over both foam strips, needle (which is under the foam) and tails. Then lift up the foam and slip the thread underneath and get it in place for the next segment. Voila! Now two segments are done and the rest is a piece of cake!

Step ten

Repeat these steps to create five segments, you want the segments to be evenly spaced and slightly larger than the previous one to get a nice tapered effect.

Once you have done your five segments you finish the fly with a whip finish on the tying point of your last segment, when you cut the thread though you leave a piece of thread about 5 cm long.

Now carefully roll the foam body back and forth between your fingers and at the same time sliding it off the needle.

Step eleven

Insert a Klinkhammer special hook in the vise and tie in your thread. Take a piece of wing material and tie it in with 3-4 wraps on top of each other.

Step twelve

Lift the wing up and tie around the base to get it to stand up.

Step thirteen

Go back to a point where you are at equal distance behind the wing as the distance to the hook eye is in front of the wing and tie in a dry fly hackle feather here.

Step fourteen

Remove the hook from the vise and carefully pierce trough one of the strips in the foam body, about a mm from the tie in point so that you will be about half way into an imaginary next segment.

Step fifteen

Now it is time to get the tails right, they can easily be slid back and forth trough the foam body still. So get them aligned and at the desired length and tie them down behind the wing and hackle feather , one on each side. Also tie in the tying thread that we left long from the abdomen. This is purely just to secure the body tie in further and excluding the need for varnishing the tie in point at the foam keeping it lighter.

Step sixteen

Now create a last segment of the foam by folding both strips of foam over and under the hook and tying it down with three wraps of thread. Then hold the foam up and away from the hook and wind the thread forward past the hackle and wing to the hook eye. Just like we did the segments on the needle earlier.

Step seventeen

Wind the hackle forward, 3-4 turns of it behind the wing and 3-4 turns in front of it. Tie it down with the thread just behind the hook eye and cut off the waste. Don’t mind if you tie in a few barbs of the hackle forward over the hook eye, this will just make the fly look better on the surface.

Step eighteen

Take the strip of foam on the underside of the hook and fold it forward, gently moving it from side to side while folding it to ensure a minimum of hackle fibers are trapped down. You want the hackle to be pressed up and to the sides. The more narrow this strip is the more downwards you will get the hackle to point and the higher the fly will ride, so experimenting with cutting it or stretching it will give you different effects.

Step nineteen

Take the top strip and lengthways cut it so that you create two equally wide strips. You might want to shorten it before doing so.

Step twenty

Take one of the strips and fold it forward, if you slide it down the wing you ensure to minimize any hackle fibers being left pointing upwards.

Step twenty one

Do the same with the other strip and tie both down just behind the hook eye.

Step twenty two

Cut off the foam strips but leave the slightest piece of the top ones forward to mimic the head of the mayfly. Finish the fly off here and varnish the tie in point.

Step twenty three

Lastly you cut down the wing to the right size and shape. Voila! If you want you can add markings with a permanent marker to the abdomen to add further realism to the fly.

When you view the fly underneath or from the top you will see how nicely the hackle is flared out!


About Ulf Hagström

Fly fishing, fly tying, family and going your own way; the way of the fly. View all posts by Ulf Hagström

4 responses to “The last of the mohicans (step by step fly tying)

  • Joaquín López

    Hello Ulf: I like your comment, I started eight months ago I more or less realistic flies to tye ahd more than once I wondered who is the author of many mounting patterns unknown to me, so I can be used for other patterns assemblers with no intention of attributing the authorship of my flies.
    In each fly we ride I think there’s always a little of ourselves, our ideas and different materials.
    The cars all have wheels, steering wheel, doors, brakes, etc, and assembled in much the same way, but we agree that it is not the same car a Ferrari that an Opel.
    I think the best pattern is the nature of which no one can claim to authorship.
    Greetings from La Coruña Spain
    Joaquin Lopez

  • marc fauvet

    i loved this one so much i posted it on The Cobra ! the wrap-around foam/crushed hackle legs is a fantastic, much better alternative. i’ll be trying this out tonight with a variant of the wing.
    thanks as always Ulf for such good tying ideas : )

  • The Last of the Mohicans | the limp cobra

    […] to add more… here’s the SRM Dun mayfly step by step by one of the World’s finest fly dressers, Ulf Hagström. enjoy […]

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