Tying Emergers

In the past couple of years there has been increased interest in tying emerger imitations. Especially in the salmoniden biotope since surprisingly good results are possible with these artificials. This is not a recent discovery. More than a century ago the English fisherman G.E.M. Skues already noticed this. He acknowledged that trout readily took insects on their way to the surface to transform from their aquatic stage into the winged stage. The clumsily floating insect is an easy, and therefore popular, prey for feeding trout.

In a way it is odd that over the years little was done with this knowledge. For some time the emerger imitations were even regarded as being relatively unimportant. The absence of suitable tying materials to tie a more or less permanently floating imitation may be a cause for this lack of popularity in the past. Most tying materials that were used hundred years ago easily absorbed water. This caused the imitations to sink sooner or later. In those days, if one wanted to fish with an emerger imitation, one had to use difficult fishing techniques.

Materials used

In a previous article we briefly touched upon the subject of sedge emergers. I discussed the importance of the buoyancy of the materials used, and the fact that only closed cell foam qualifies as a suitable material. This foam is usually readily available from suppliers of fly tying materials.

Plastazote is an example of a closed cell foam brand that has been marketed for the past 30 years by the British company Veniard. Since suitable tying techniques had not yet been developed it was hard to tie an effective imitation with this foam. Another issue was that the foam was only available in white; Hardly a very useful colour for the fly tier. Flies tied with this foam looked bulky and often unrealistic. They were therefore not a very satisfying material for the fly tier. After all, most of us tie flies not only for the fish but to a certain extent also to please the eye.

The past 20 years several attempts were made to find techniques to tie imitations with closed cell foam. The resulting patterns published in magazines were in general not considered of a high enough standard and most fly tiers found these patterns too unattractive to copy. All this changed when in a 1989 issue of American Angler & Fly Tyer a pattern of a comparadun by David Hughes was published. This dun was tied with Polycelon, another closed cell foam.

This was the beginning of my extensive research in this field. The research resulted in a new series of floating emergers. The techniques I used are based on the ideas of David Hughes and discussed in detail in my book “Stijgnimfen”, published in 1993. The patterns I described in this book had excellent buoyancy but received some criticism because their shape was unappealing to some. I also found out that the bodies of Polycelon would become less buoyant over time due to the foam losing its shape. There were reasons enough to continue the quest for better materials and tying techniques.


The first step was to find a harder kind of foam with better properties. I found “Crepla” is an arts & crafts shop and it seemed promising. This material was used in general to make fashion accessories for kids.

Other tying techniques had to be developed for Crepla. In view of the specific needs of the fly fisher the material needed to meet several demands. It should be highly buoyant, retain its shape during prolonged use, and have the possibility to be used in different ways to produce a variety of shapes in order to create an attractive body, at least to the fish, with the proper action. After ten years of experimentation I was able to come up with a mature tying technique that can produce both floating and slowly sinking emergers.

Approach to tying First one has to cut a wedge shaped strip from a piece of 3 mm Crepla. This strip has to be wound around the hook to create the body. Each layer has to partly overlap the previous one. In this way a tapered body with clear segmentation is created. Hook sizes #10 - #14 are best served with the 3 mm Crepla. I would recommend the 2 mm Crepla for smaller hook sizes.


It was desirable to have a ribbing on the body. I preferred, however, a ribbing that would stay in place and would not sooner or later unwind itself or have the other problems usually associated with traditional ribbings. The only thing we have to do is to colour the top and the exposed side of the wedge shaped piece of foam that we cut with a permanent marker. Now we automatically crate a ribbing as we wind the foam around the hook.

It is also possible to only colour the side of the foam strip. For example a yellow foam of which is coloured brown on one side will result in a brown body with a fine yellow ribbing.

There is yet another way to create a ribbing. If only the first 9 mm of the foam strip will be coloured, this will result in the dry fly with a ribbing only near the bend of the hook as can be seen in the next picture.

The last approach to ribbing is to simply t wind backing, mono or a metal wire around the foam body. Depending on the tension applied when winding this will create a ribbing that is either deeper or more superficial. The top of the body can be coloured with a marker to create an imitation that looks still more realistic.



To create a more appealing imitation that also has good action in the water one needs a “glue roller”. These rollers can be found in office supply stores and are used to apply (‘Pritt’) a thin double sided adhesive film on a surface.



Now practically everything can be glued on this adhesive film. It does not really matter whether the glue film is waterproof or not. Once finished the material is held in place by the windings of the body.

The foam strip that you want to use to create the body should be put on a piece of paper with the coloured surface facing away from the tier. Next apply the adhesive film with your roller. Now you can attach the fibers you want to use to the foam strip (CdC, dubbing, soft feathers of a partridge or pheasant chest). In the event that you want to use CDC all fibers should be facing in one direction. In that way the fibers on both sides of the stem can be used. There is an easy technique to achieve this. Fix the tip of the CDC feather in a hackle pliers hanging from your vice.

Attach another hackle plier to the other side of the feather. Now move the cutting edge of a scissors in one movement from top to bottom along the stem of the feather. Now you can attach the fibers to your prepared foam strip. Tie the strip around the hook and trim the fibers to the desired length: Finished.

By combining the techniques discussed here an enormous variety of buggy and hairy bodies can be produced.


Buoyancy improved

Since the weight of the hook is always there in an imitation the buoyancy of just one foam strip is seldom enough to provide the necessary buoyancy. The movement of the water gives the imitation a certain upward force. This is helpful for imitations that soar in the water but will be insufficient for imitations that are intended to float on the surface at all times. For the floating imitations the solution is to increase the amount of foam used in the imitation. This is achieved by creating a foam underbody.

The body foam strip will then be wound around the foam underbody. The use of an underbody results in a slightly more voluminous body. This is certainly not a problem since most emerging insects are actually rather bulky in that stage of their development