There are gifts in fly fishing. Staying up way past your bedtime and fishing to rising fishing long into a mid to late June night in Michigan with a hex fly is one of them. The bugs are big, colorful, and it’s arguably your best chance at catching a large brown trout on a dry fly. In regards to this particular pattern, you’d think the oversized dry fly would be easy to tie but aside from any articulated streamer, I’d be hard pressed to find a more difficult fly to tie. Maybe it’s just because I despise deer hair and could have been a hooves creature in another life. Regardless, this is one of the most eye-catching (and trout catching) patterns when it comes to the hex hatch.
Start the thread about a hook eye-length behind the eye and end roughly a quarter of the hook-shank behind.
Cut, clean, and stack the calfs tail. You’ll want to start with a moderate sized amount of material as when it is cleaned, stacked, and cleaned again, you’ll end up with less than you think. In this pattern, size is everything.
Measure a shank-length amount of hair and place your fingers at the tie-in point of the thread. Hair is tricky stuff to work with. Start with two loose wraps of thread and then gradually increase tension as you wrap backwards. Once the hair is secure on top of the hook shank, use sharp scissors to cut the butts of the hair. You’ll want to cut at a shallow angle. In other words, you want a very slow taper from the back of the hook to the tie-in point of the hair. (see the photo above)
Gently lift the hair and advance your thread ahead of the hair towards the eye of the hook. Build a thread dam so the hair stands up at roughly a 45 degree angle.
Using a finger, I gently push the hair rearward. This splays the hair out and it sometimes the hair naturally splits itself. At the very least, it’ll give you a visual idea of how much hair to separate on either side. Take “X wraps” to separate the clump making two wings. Use your fingers to make adjustments until you’re satisfied with how the wings lay out. Then, take two or three wraps at the base of the wings creating a small post. You don’t want to wrap up the wings too much but just enough to gather the hair into two equal groups.
For fly strength, I use a drop of medium head cement right between the two wing posts. This really solidifies the wings and they won’t budge after it cures.
The use of a rotary vice aids in the next few steps as you’ll want to invert the fly. Take a clump of yellow deer body hair (you can also use bucktail). Clean the hair very well and snip the tips off creating a uniform stack of hair. Tie in the tips of the hair just behind the wing posts and while holding the hair with one hand, take spiraling wraps with your thread to the very back of the hook where the shank begins to transition to the bend.
Here, you’ll want to pull the deer hair snug and make two wraps securing the deer hair. Then, let go of the hair and rotate the fly upright.
Next, take about four or five moose main fibers and give them a quick stacking so the tips are even. Measure a hook shank length and tie them in at the tail on top of the shank. It doesn’t matter if they splay out or not, at this point, just secure them in. Take wraps with your thread to just behind the wing posts.
Once again, rotate the fly so it is inverted. Carefully gather the deer hair and pull it forward towards the eye of the hook and secure the hair with two loose wraps and one snug wrap so the deer hair begins to flair.
Snip the deer hair off as close as you can but be careful not to cut the wings or the tying thread.
Take an even amount of natural or dyed deer body hair, snip it free from the hyde before cleaning and stacking it. Grab the tips with the left hand and set the clump of hair on the hook shank. The tips should be slightly longer than the hook shank. Take two loose wraps behind the wing posts to hold the hair into place and then make spiraling wraps rearward on the fly. Once you get to the tail, apply a little pressure to the thread which will make the tips flair out. Now, with more tension, finish segmenting the body of the fly with your thread. I didn’t make pretty cross wraps with my thread because with this fly being fished at night, the trout won’t see the top, just the bottom. To me, the underside of the fly and segmentation is more important. Perfectionists beware.
End with your thread just behind the wing posts once again. Carefully snip out the butts of the deer hair and secure it with some wraps behind the wings. This will give the hackle a nice uniform area to lay when you begin the wraps.
I use a large light barred ginger cape feather for my hackle. You can also use a grizzly and a coachman to complete the fly. I find the ginger feather provides a great contrast and you only have to use one making a complicated fly a little more simple.
Since this is a large fly, a dense hackle job will aid in flotation. Take three wraps behind the wings and three or four in front before capturing the hackle with the thread and snip the end off. Make a nice bulbous head on the fly and apply some head cement to finish it off.
It does look like a small dry fly on steroids and it requires beefy equipment to sling this night creature. After all that work, just watch out for the trees that seems to creep in on the center of the river at night.
Thread: UTC 140 (Hopper Yellow)
Hook: TMC 5212 Size 6
Wing: Calf tail
Body: Yellow and brown deer body hair
Tail: Moose main
Hackle: Light ginger hackle
Head Cement: Medium Zap-a-gap and Wapsi head cement