Is it possible to tie flies as suggested by Cross?

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David S.
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Is it possible to tie flies as suggested by Cross?

Post by David S. »

For the last couple of weeks I've been reading "The Complete Fly Tier" by Reube Cross. This is really a brilliant book, even though the clarity of some of the fly recipes leaves a bit to be desired :oops: In the first section of the book, which is in effect Reube Cross' first book "Tying American Trout Lures", there are fairly detailed tying instructions for four types of dry flies, quill-slip winged, fan wings, quill-bodied and bi-visibles. After reading "The Dettes" by Eric Leiser I have come to understand that the tying sequence depicted in the book isn't really how Cross himself tied his flies, from what I understand he actually tied them the other way around. In all fairness I can find no place in "Tying American Trout Lures" where Cross actually claims that the tying sequences in the book is the ones he himself uses. He just shows us one way of doing it..

I find this whole thing somewhat intriguing, and I thought it would be a nice way to spend a Friday night conducting a little experiment and attempt to tie a fly according to the instructions in the book, just to see how awkward it actually is. You know, like one of those TV-shows featuring "practical archaeology" you see on the Discovery Channel, How did they actually build those pyramids?, but on a somewhat smaller scale..:D

In my little experiment I used a (very) modern vise and a bobbin, Cross in his book also uses a vise, but a clothes pin instead of a bobbin. Other than that I think I got pretty close. For the experiment I choose to tie a Cross Special, just because I have the material and it takes fish as well as the Quill Gordon or Hendrickson ;) .

1. Starting the tying sequence by securing the thread to the hook opposite the barb.
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2. Tying in the tail. I think Cross was perhaps on to something quite good here, doing it this way automatically gives you a beautifully splayed tail :) In effect you are getting much the same effect as when taking one turn of thread in-between, and on top of, the last two turns of thread, and tying in the tail with the next turn of thread (as suggested by AK Best in videos and books). It also automatically cocks the tail quite beautifully.
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3. Adding the dubbing. Cross suggests doing this on a separate thread by rubbing thread and fur between your hands. I added a little bit of wax to the thread, and I think this way of doing it worked quite well. I used cream colored fox fur instead of the marten suggested by Cross, I guess if anything it would be easier with marten as this is a finer hair.
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4. Winging. The method suggested by Cross for winging with wood duck is to use four slips, two from each side of the feather. Nothing really new here, we all know that this works. As you can see my wing ended up a bit too far forward, which is entirely my fault for doing the body too long. Making the body before the wing however makes this hard to correct.
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5. Hackling. Nothing very special here..
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6. The finished product. Not the prettiest fly I've tied but not too bad for a first attempt at "backwards tying".
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Conclusions:
Is it possible to tie flies according to Cross' instructions? Yes, It is entirely possible!
Is it awkward? Yes somewhat, but I guess If you did it this way for a while It would work just as well tying the other way around.
Why didn't Cross show us his way of tying flies? I am really at a loss here, why not show us his own way if the other way works just as well? Perhaps he was guarding his trade secrets as many suggest, or perhaps he just thought this way of doing it would be easier to master for the novice tier..

/David S.

PS: Please excuse the high-tech Tiemco-vise, I guess I won't be getting one of those badges ;)

mikevalla
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Re: Is it possible to tie flies as suggested by Cross?

Post by mikevalla »

I don't know, David.

Walt always seemed to give Rube the benefit of the doubt; he told me more than once that maybe Rube changed his technique and that's what appeared in his books. Winnie thought it was a secrecy thing. But who knows really.....so long as Rube remains dead, we'll never know.

But I do know it's not uncommon to change tying techniques----I've changed mine, to a degree, over the years.

-About that wood duck winging technique. You need some awful large flank feathers to get that to work for you---his method. That's not my favorite technique but thought I should show it in "the book," for historical reasons.
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David S.
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Re: Is it possible to tie flies as suggested by Cross?

Post by David S. »

mikevalla wrote:I don't know, David.

Walt always seemed to give Rube the benefit of the doubt; he told me more than once that maybe Rube changed his technique and that's what appeared in his books. Winnie thought it was a secrecy thing. But who knows really.....so long as Rube remains dead, we'll never know.

But I do know it's not uncommon to change tying techniques----I've changed mine, to a degree, over the years.

-About that wood duck winging technique. You need some awful large flank feathers to get that to work for you---his method. That's not my favorite technique but thought I should show it in "the book," for historical reasons.
I certainly don't claim to know the reason Mike, perhaps the guy just had a sense of humour, reading his books it's pretty obvious he did... :) I just wanted to see if it was possible to do it as depicted in the books, and how awkward it actually is. Reading some sources (not Leiser) you could easily get the impression that it's entirely impossible to tie a fly according to Cross' instructions, it's certainly not impossible.

Regarding changes in tying technique I think that's something we all do to some degree, I guess that's what keep this whole pursuit interesting. if you don't change you don't develop and things quite rapidly becomes uninteresting.

Regarding the winging technique perhaps I used the word "work" a little carelessly, It does work, but as you say it requires some pretty big wood duck feathers to work well. It's not a method I prefer, I usually use two feathers for flies I want to look their best.

/David S.

Allan
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Re: Is it possible to tie flies as suggested by Cross?

Post by Allan »

David,

I guess I'm not quite in sync with your commentary. Would you explain what you meant when you wrote,

"6. The finished product. Not the prettiest fly I've tied but not too bad for a first attempt at "backwards tying".

As far as I can see that sequence is completely forward.

Allan

David S.
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Re: Is it possible to tie flies as suggested by Cross?

Post by David S. »

Allan wrote:David,

I guess I'm not quite in sync with your commentary. Would you explain what you meant when you wrote,

"6. The finished product. Not the prettiest fly I've tied but not too bad for a first attempt at "backwards tying".

As far as I can see that sequence is completely forward.

Allan
Indeed it is :)
/DS

Allan
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Re: Is it possible to tie flies as suggested by Cross?

Post by Allan »

Whoops. My mistake. The sequence is actually different than what is typically seen. Now I know there are 2 typical sequences re. Catskill dry flies:
1 - tail, wing, body, hackle
2 - wing, tail, body, hackle
I prefer #1 because of your description about the tail and because there is no wing to get in the way of tying in the tail.
Your sequence is:
3 - tail, body, wing, hackle.

From a pragmatic viewpoint, based on the literature I remember reading, and maybe taking into account my own preference, I think Cross would've tyed his flies as in sequences #1 or #2. Not #3. I think this is borne out by the descriptions given in the Darbee and the Dette books. I believe that in both books, the subjects state that they bought Cross' flies, disected them to learn how they were tyed, then duplicated his method. At least that's how I remember what they wrote. Open to correction.

Allan

mikevalla
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Re: Is it possible to tie flies as suggested by Cross?

Post by mikevalla »

Flick also had a slightly different sequence for tying dry flies (check his Master Fly Tying Guide--Hendrickson sequence).
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major257
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Re: Is it possible to tie flies as suggested by Cross?

Post by major257 »

I am glad this came up because I use the above #1 method and the Leisers Book of fly pattern calls for the #2 method and I was unsure if I was doing something wrong or it is just a style thing.

David S.
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Re: Is it possible to tie flies as suggested by Cross?

Post by David S. »

major257 wrote:I am glad this came up because I use the above #1 method and the Leisers Book of fly pattern calls for the #2 method and I was unsure if I was doing something wrong or it is just a style thing.
I seriously doubt that there can ever be a right or wrong way to do it, as long as it works for you and you and the fish are happy with the end result :)
There are however many different ways of for example tailing, or winging, all with their advantaged and disadvantages. If you are tying flies commercially I guess it's a completely different game however, some ways are quicker than others and will obviously give you a higher revenue in the end.
/David S.

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drlogik
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Re: Is it possible to tie flies as suggested by Cross?

Post by drlogik »

For those of us who have access to Cross's flies from the early, mid and late years, if one were to dissect those flies there would be little doubt how he constructed his flies. Anyone willing to donate some Cross flies to that cause? Didn't think so.

If it were me and I had extras? I might consider it........I'd certainly want to know,... was he REALLY that secrative to intentionally publish the way he WASN'T tying his flies??

Very interesting indeed if that's what he did. And a previous post is right, nobody knows except Reuben...and he can't defend himself.

Maybe this is a job for the Catskill Guild to do behind closed doors and publish the results only to Guild members....hint...hint.... 8-)
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