Swedish version


The Cascade Prawn - A study in Fly Tying -
"base coating" and "color layering"
by Jack Cook

I want to start this article by pointing out that I most likely did not invent these techniques. Unlike most folks in the fly fishing business I realize that most of what we think we invent today was often re-invented several times before, probably by the Egyptians 3000 years ago or so. I have just stumbled on to something here and I want to share it with you.

Also the article is not necessarily about the Cascade Prawn. Although the Prawn is a lovely pattern and very effective the point is to use the Prawn as a vehicle to demonstrate how layering and base coating affect how your fly looks in the water and ultimately fishes. The last few pages of the article contain the recipe and tying instructions.

Base Coating is a term I have been using to describe the use of lighter colors being used underneath darker colors to highlight the darker colors. The technique is exactly what painters do when they want their artwork to jump off the page at you. Paint some blue on a piece of wood. Paint the same blue on a piece of wood which has a base coat of white on it. Look at the two when dry and the difference is dramatic. From a fly tying and particularly fly fishing perspective white is not a good color to base coat with. On dry land white is great but in the water white turns translucent and as much as we often use this property to advantage in fly fishing it does not help with base coating. Since the white turns translucent it does not force the colors out as we desire. What I discovered this year was a color called 'fluorescent silver dun'. This is a fluorescent light gray which is perfect for base coating. It is nice and light like white but being gray does not turn translucent in the water. Being fluorescent it also glows on its own in low light. This means it will highlight our colors as desired, even in poor light conditions.

Since the Cascade Prawn is tied 'in the round', all we need to do to base coat the pattern is to put the base color on first. In the case of the prawn add some Flashabou at the rear and then make about 4 good wraps of base color. It is important when tying a pattern out of marabou like this that you choose marabou which has good feather properties. Most folks these days want marabou with small stems. I am here to tell you that small stems do not catch fish, fibers catch fish. Find marabou with stiffer fibers that stand proud and move in the current rather than going limp. If you need help finding this sort of marabou go to www.irishangler.com. I suggest you try an experiment. Take a hook and wind on 4-5 turns of your favorite marabou color. Then take another hook and base coat it and then put the same color over. Take a look at both at your local flow and you will see exactly what I am talking about.

From what I have seen this technique is especially effective when tying patterns 'in the round'. I have used the same technique on stacked hairwings in the 'Temple Dog' style and I am convinced it still helps but not as dramatically.

Color layering is using several shades of a color to make a pattern look like it is more natural and moving. In the Cascade Prawn the colors are put on the pattern starting with the lightest color and getting darker. This allows a big purple fly to have slivers of lighter purples showing through and around the rest of the pattern. You will never see the dramatic effect at the vise. You must take the fly out and toss it in the water. Once you see the bits of color showing through each other you will realize how natural it looks and how it seems to be moving even when standing still. Ed Ward said that hooking Steelhead was like working the tumblers of a lock. We want a pattern that slowly turns over each tumbler so that each fish our fly goes by has a maximum number of triggers. This way the Steelhead cannot ignore your offering. You can go even a step further and add just a couple of strands of Krystal Flash or some such sparkle between the layers. This is something which is done in the 'Temple Dog' flies I have seen all over Scandinavia. The patterns are not gaudy but they sure are enticing. For that same reason I have chosen shell materials in this pattern which have load of natural iridescent qualities.

Tie up some flies using the 'base coat' and 'color layering' techniques and see how great your flies can look in the water!

Jack Cook is a professional fly dresser and purveyor of fly tying materials, a full time Steelhead Guide, casting instructor, and owner of The Irish Angler fly shop in Carnation, WA. For more information and tying instructions for these and other patterns go to www.irishangler.com or call (425) 922-5413.

Continuing in part 2

Text and Photos by Jack Cook 2005 ©


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