Sensational Swimflies

Sensational Swimflies

And the joints that makes them deadly.

  • By: Stanton Klein
Den Fmt    

Click image for slideshow.

As a fly guy, one thing has always stood out to me—what freshwater fly fishers consider to be a large fly in comparison to gear guys who are setting big-fish records by throwing eight- to 12-inch swimbaits. It’s common knowledge that predatory fishes, given the opportunity, eat the biggest thing they can get their maws around. Why, I wondered, don’t more fly fishers take advantage of the big-fly/big-fish equation?

About seven years ago I began tying what I call “swimflies” to mimic those big baits that the gear guys were doing so well with. My early designs were bulky, made half of lead, half of steel, and weighed in at about five pounds. Over the next few years, however, I borrowed, tweaked and stole from noted fly designers like Kelly Galloup and Enrico Puglisi, and from swimbait designers and companies such as Bill Seimantel, Allen Cole, Jerry Rago, Butch Brown, Castaic, River 2 Sea, Lucky Craft, Storm and Matt Lures. Today my swimfly designs are hybrids of traditional flies and swimbaits and they are catching big fish like crazy. In fact, recently, after I’d sent a batch of these flies to Galloup at Slide Inn in Montana, he threatened to fly to Maryland, track me down and kill me so he could take credit for the patterns and garner future royalties on these flies. But it took me time to get swimflies to this point. They are now copyrighted and patented, and being tied in production by Rainy’s Flies.

Over the years I learned several universal truths in successful swimfly design. First, swimflies require a moderate- to large-gap hook, positioned near to or at the head of the fly. This allows the hook to act as a rudder, and the point is the first thing a striking fish comes into contact with. Second, all the swinging hooks should have a large hook eye (Gamakatsu and Owner hooks are my favorites because they have a large gap and large eye, and are corrosion resistant, super strong and deadly sharp). Third, all segments must easily collapse together. The joints should swing freely, both side to side and up and down. This feature is crucial because most strikes occur when a fish is coming from below, turning on a swimfly’s head. In addition, mobility of the joints greatly increases a swimfly’s action. Fourth, the caudal (tail) and pectoral fins (if added) should be soft and collapsible, yet rigid enough to maintain shape when at rest or dead-drifted . . . without the use of glues or epoxies. This aids in hook-ups and increases realism. It’s worth mentioning that, except for sculpins, I don’t add pectoral fins to my patterns—they look super cool, but drastically increase wind resistance and don’t increase the number of strikes. Fifth, the ideal body material reflects some light, is hydrophobic and cheap, can be easily tied, easily shaped and easily colored, and maintains a tight aerodynamic shape in flight.

All of those attributes decrease tying time, cost and overall weight, while allowing a swimfly to be cast accurately at distance. In addition, they allow a swimfly to maintain a consistent profile regardless of how it’s fished. This is the most important design criterion of my flies, and what makes them unique—I achieve that trait by incorporating synthetic materials in the construction of the body, such as EP-Fiber, Body Fur, Ice Fur, Craft Fur, PolyPro, McFlylon and Z-lon, among others.

When I started designing swimflies, the most troubling part was the joints and where to place them to achieve life-like movements for the particular prey species I wanted to match. For example, benthic fishes such as sculpins are morphologically and physiologically adapted for station-keeping and ambush predation at or near the substrate. Their swimming capabilities are limited. They exhibit a higher frequency of tail and trunk undulations to move the same linear distance as a minnow, trout, bass, tuna or billfish.

All fishes that inhabit rivers and tidal areas use the force of water to their advantage when moving, much like a sailboat tacking across- or downwind. If they are not pursing or being pursued they may not exhibit tail undulations.

Additionally, within organismal groups, fight or flight responses are identifiable. For example, all crayfish crack their tails to propel them away from danger. Minnows, herring, shads, basses and many juvenile fishes may exhibit erratic circular-darting motions, which require a high frequency of tail and trunk undulations. Within my swimfly series, I place joints in locations that mimic the biomechanics of the prey I’m imitating. However, the bottom line is this: I want my designs to remain practical and not require a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering to tie or to fish. So I keep it simple and construct a swimfly’s first articulated joint at the bend of the first hook. The second joint occurs at the bend of the second hook (or somewhere along the shank if I’m planning to remove the second hook point). The third joint is at the bend of the third hook if the hook point remains, or somewhere along the shank if I’m planning to remove the third hook point.

To increase “tail wagging” I construct the final joint at the constriction point between the body and the tail, properly known as the caudal peduncle. To achieve a deeper kicking action, I place the final joint between 50 and 69 percent down the length of the body. For example, a double-articulated pattern with a total length of four inches would have the last joint two to 23⁄4 inches back from the hook eye, to achieve a deeper kick, and 3¼ to 31⁄2 inches back from the hook eye to achieve a shallower and faster wiggle.

As mentioned above, there are reasons to my madness, but a tier should arrange joints to suit personal fishing styles. At first keep it simple and arrange your joints at the hook bends. Also, feel free to tie with familiar materials. Nothing may trigger finned violence like a double- or triple-articulated Zonked-Muddler.

Swimflies aren’t the only patterns you’ll ever need. Older go-to patterns remain because they work. But fly-tying and fly-fishing are ever-changing. In future years swimflies may be in a class all their own. For those open to new ideas and unique problem-solving strategies, we are limited only by our imaginations.

Staton’s Jerked Meat (dace)

  • Thread: White GSP 100 or UNI 6/0
  • Front Hook: Gamakatsu Executive Series B10S Stinger #1
  • Rear Hook: Bass Pro Shop XPS straight shank/round bend #2/0
  • Body: EP-Fiber 3D Tarpon over EP-Fiber White
  • Eyes: ¼" Hareline Oval Pupil 3D Eyes (Super Pearl Black Pupil)
  • Note: Lateral stripe colored with black Sharpie

Staton’s Force Fed Swimfly (green/blue)

  • Thread: White GSP 100 or UNI 6/0
  • Front Hook: Gamakatsu Executive Series B10S Stinger #1
  • Middle Hook: Bass Pro Shop XPS straight shank/round bend #2/0
  • Rear Hook: Bass Pro Shop XPS straight shank/round bend #1/0
  • Hinges: Tyger leader 30 pounds
  • Tail: Hareline Baitfish Emulator White (highlighted with sky-blue Sharpie)
  • Body: Rumpf CCT Body Fur (all segments)
  • Eyes: ¼" Hareline Oval Pupil 3D Eyes (Super Pearl Black Pupil)
  • Note: Body colored with sky-blue, green, and yellow Sharpie

Staton Klien lives in Frostburg, Maryland.