Charlie Craven at IFTS 2015

The following is a report on the Charlie Craven session at the 2015 International Fly Tyers Show in Somerset New Jersey.

Charlie Craven presented in the featured fly tyer session around 2 PM this afternoon, a session that went on for at least two hours.  His enthusiasm for fly tying was evident as he had a seemingly countless amount of tips and advice. The session consisted of Charlie tying a number of his signature flies, telling the story behind their construction, pausing as he tied to note a shortcut he learned for tying in flash or feather.

One of the sources of Charlie Craven’s inspiration is taking an existing pattern and considering how it can be improved. He noted that many flies can be improved in order to do a specific thing better. It’s like a challenge, a puzzle to be solved.

Image of Charlie Craven tying a fly while a screen shows a closeup of the process

The Two Bit Hooker Fishing Fly

Tying the Two Bit Hooker fishing fly, he noted that the red body thread should be built up with only a slight taper. He originally tried creating the body with a biot body but decided that the thread was more durable and easier to tie with. Interestingly, he advised tying the thorax dubbing loosely and with less dubbing than you might think you needed because this allowed more control over the dubbing process.

Charlie Craven’s favorite nymph

Charlie Craven called the Two Bit Hooker his number one nymph to fish because it gets down to the bottom fast due to it’s slim profile and lack of bulk that would otherwise slow down it’s descent. He liked the red colored fly in size 14 for most situations and a black version in size 18 for shallow water.

Charlie said that the design of the two bit hooker, which features two tungsten beads, allows a fly fisherman to avoid having to cast upstream and afterwards waiting and hoping that the fly descends at the right moment to swing by the trout. The advantage of the swift descent is that the fly angler does not have to depend on the river current but can cast closer and more accurately to where a trout is feeding and achieve more hookups. This is why he said it’s his number one nymph to fish. It’s a practical choice, a theme he returned to as he continued his presentation.

Closeup of Charlie Craven tying a fishing fly

Practical choices in fly designs

Practical choices was another characteristic of Charlie Cravens fly tying and fly designing choices. , remarking on his choice of materials and the goals it allowed him to achieve. Goals included ease of tying, consistency of fly tying materials, and efficacy for catching trout. While the Screaming Banshee is not a particularly easy fly to tie, he returned again and again to the theme of choosing a particular material for fly tying because of how much easier it was to tie with it, like the example of choosing thread over biots.

Charlie also remarked that he found that the quality of a certain fur was inconsistent, which slowed down the tying process, which guided his decision to choose an artificial hair  product which he praised for it’s consistent quality. This too is a practical choice and perhaps a departure from some of the classic fly tying practices of the past which required exotic materials such as some of the Catskill flies which required urine stained fox fur or Tup’s Indispensable which called for wool from the private parts of a ram. I want to stress that at no time did Charlie Craven say this was the best way to design a fly. He only stressed that these were some of the considerations that guided his choices, with the ability to catch trout being the ultimate consideration of whether a fly was a success or not.

Tungsten beads

Charlie made an interesting comment about the beads he uses. He said that he always used tungsten beads for all of his fly tying, remarking that he doesn’t know if he even has any brass beads. He said that tungsten has more mass than similarly sized beads it helped his flies get down faster (which of course is the point of beads).

That said, he prefers brass cones on his Dirty Hippy fly because the cone is not there to help the fly sink but to act as a spreader for the hair material behind it.

Insights on marabou feathers

Charlie Craven noted that some people complain that the marabou feathers available today isn’t as good as it used to be, something about how the feathers stick together. He said that the problem wasn’t the marabou itself but how it was processed. He explained that the way modern marabou is dried called for it to be hang dried which caused the feathers to bunch up. Which is why he said that he liked to brush or comb out his marabou before using it to restore the feathers to a better shape.

More tips and observations

Interestingly Charlie said he initially tried fox fur for tying the Dirty Hippy fly but that he changed his mind because fox fur tended to soak up water, weighing down the fly and making it harder to cast when it was heavy and soggy. He also had a few tips about markers. Charlie said that he preferred sepia prisma marker because it was closer to the shade of brown he was after. He said that the brown colored markers were too red and that sepia color was his preference.

Another interesting tip was that he used wader tear mender for gluing on the eyes to his Dirty Hippy because the tear mender was more durable, takes three minutes to set and was easier to wipe off your skin should it get on you. He said that before the tear mender is usable that he leaves the cap off the tear mender until it dries up to the consistency of yogurt.

Notes on the Screaming Banshee Fly

I love the Screaming Banshee fly. It’s designed to be a skating fly that he said earned it’s name due to it’s ability to skate about all over the stream. But also, all his flies were named after people he knew. Growing up in a household with four sisters, his mother always used to say they sounded like screaming banshees. And that’s the connection to the name of the fly. He had high praise for Spirit River products, in particular the yearling elk. What he admired in their products was the high quality and consistency of the product. He said you can’t get a bad bag of it because of the meticulous care they used in dyeing and drying the product.

Caddistrophic Pupa

The Caddistrophic Pupa is an interesting fly to watch Charlie Craven tie. Seemed like every step of tying the fly was an occasion to pause and reflect on why a particular material was chosen or why it was tied in a certain manner. This fly, he said, was one of the few he dubbed loosely with a lot of dubbing. The reason he did this was because it helped make the fly shaggy and buggy at the end of the tying process when he put the brush to it to brush it out.  The goal with this fly was to make it look like the saddest bug in the world, falling apart in every direction. He described the look he was after was the appearance of something you scrape off the windshield, with legs and other appendages hanging out in ever direction. The word he used to describe this fly was snot.  What do you think?


Charlie Craven's Caddistrophic Pupa

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