River flies

A farewell to Frog’s Fanny


A few posts ago Luke asked if I could provide instructions for tying the foam-headed emerger that I use a lot so today that’s what I’m doing. I should say that I am not the world’s greatest fly-tier and purists would find a lot to criticise, justifiably, about my efforts. Nonetheless, over the past ten years or so that I have been using this fly I have found even my somewhat tatty constructions to be highly effective. In my view this fly has two huge advantages. Firstly the body of the fly hangs nicely below the surface film and so presents, I reckon, a tempting and easy-to-grab morsel for a hungry trout. Secondly it doesn’t sink (if you’ve tied it properly with enough foam). That is a massive boon for the idle angler. No more amadou, Gink or Frog’s Fanny. It can be fished through busy, tumbling water and still bob around like a cork. My friend John calls it the ‘Magic’ and I’m very happy to adopt that name.

This summer on my annual trip up to the hill lochs of Scourie, for the first time I exclusively fished a single Magic on a long leader and had my most successful year yet – in about 15 years of going up there – including a belting wild brown of over 2lb.

The Magic evolved from a pattern I saw for a suspender buzzer. I decided simply to add a hackle and mess around with different bodies. Now because it is the foam that keeps the fly on top of the water, one might wonder why bother with a hackle. That is a pertinent question and I have experimented with a hackle-less fly. I fished the Seven in North Yorkshire with such a fly for an hour or so, targeting rising fish, but got nowhere. When I reverted to the hackled version I started to pick up fish almost immediately. Hardly a scientific test but it certainly suggested to me that the hackle might be important. It might improve the appearance of the fly from the trout’s-eye view, either by representing some important morphological structure of the emerging insect, or merely by disguising the rather unsightly foam blob. Whatever, I’m sticking with it.

The other curious thing is that I can find no instructions on the internet for tying this kind of foam head. Had I been able to, I simply would have pointed you in the right direction. Sadly you’ll have to make do with my version (unless you are more successful in searching for it than I have been). There are many patterns that include foam, but the foam is always ‘naked’ (mine is encased in nylon from an old pair of tights) and I’ve found in the past that these are not so robust; the foam is vulnerable to chewing and the flies don’t last as long. In general mine are good for a decent number of fish before they are chewed out.

It’s quite a tricky fly to tie, mainly because the nylon fabric doesn’t want to sit on the hook shank very snugly and tends to rotate as you take the thread around. But it’s worth persevering until you find a method that works for you – that’s what I have found in any event.

Also, what I am presenting is essentially the concept rather than¬† a strict recipe. I use all sorts of stuff for the body: plain thread with a rib for a skinny version, hare’s ear, peacock eye if you want some nice iridescence, seals’ fur and so on. With a steady hand I can get down to about a size 18, but find that 16, 14 or even 12 for the hill lochs does fine.

Finally, huge thanks to my mate Carl who took these photos without having the luxury of macro lens.

So, a step-by-step guide for Hopelessly’s ‘Magic’ emerger

  1. Form a short ‘bed’ of thread for the foam head about a third of the way down the shank from the eye. It’s important not to get too close to the eye as the foam and hackle will encroach a fair way.



2. Source some suitable foam. Recently I’ve found that the shiny, tight-celled stuff that you often get in the packaging of things like electronic goods is very good:



3. Cut out a cube whose size is appropriate to the hook. This might take some trial and error. Better in my experience to have it too big than too small because it is a bore if the fly ends up sinking, which it can do if there’s not enough lift from the foam, given that the body and hackle will get saturated. Bear in mind that you will be compressing the foam in the nylon tights fabric, and it will end up about half the size of the original cube.



4. Rummage around your partner’s (or indeed your own) underwear drawer for a pair of old tights. Lighter colour might be better, but the fabric gets stretched so much that it doesn’t make that much difference. Catch the foam cube in the fabric:



5. Twizzle the foam while keeping hold of the ‘tail’ of the material. It’ll form a tight little sphere:



6. Here’s the trickiest part of the operation. While maintaining the tension on the foam (ie not letting the nylon unravel), offer the ‘neck’ of the nylon/foam construct to the hook shank and fasten it as best you can with a pinch-and-loop. Make several turns of thread to hold it in place. Now this is where the structure wants to rotate around the shank. What you can do is take the thread around the neck once to allow you to take the thread the other way, if you see what I mean. So if you are tying ‘clockwise’ around the hook, you can loop the thread around the base of the ball and come back ‘anticlockwise’ for a few turns, before going round the neck again to get you back on the correct side. I’m hoping this is not gobbledegook, but am aware that it might be. Anyway, the thing is that I have found that if there is a little bit of play in the foam ball, ie you can move it from side to side, that does not matter too much. The hackle will stabilise it to some extent.



7. Snip off the excess nylon fabric:



8. Tie in an appropriately sized hackle feather at the base of the ball. The one I have used here is probably too big, but you get the idea:



9. Trim away the hackle stalk and any stray fibres and run the thread as far down the hook as you think is necessary:



10. Incorporate whatever body material you are using – dubbing, feather etc. For this fly today I’m just using the tying thread with a rib of flashabou. This will take the thread back up to the base of the ball:



11. Drop the fly vertically in the vice. This makes it easier to tie the hackle and do the whip finish:



12. Take the hackle as many turns as you think necessary around the base of the foam ball in parachute fashion (I invariably use all the feather, which could well be too much. I can’t bear to chuck any away. I’m from Yorkshire), then do a whip finish around the base of the foam ball. This requires a bit of manipulation of the tip of the feather to get it above the thread, so that the thread catches it properly to secure it, and you have to gently work the thread through the wound hackle to get it on the ‘top side’ of the hackle. I hope this is clear (!). Anyway, this is the final result:


So there it is, the Magic. In my experience it’s a top fly. If anyone does have a go and tying one, and more importantly at fishing it, I’d be really interested to hear how you get on.

  1. Hi Simon, thanks for yet another fantastic blog! This is a really helpful (and to me at least) clear description of the Magic and I will certainly give it go. Great pictures and great writing as well – and if I am asked who’s drawer I went to for the old tights, I will plead the fifth amendment! Cheers, Chris

  2. Hi Simon,
    What a great idea. I have tried making some and started with 12# hooks. I found the most difficult bit was tying the nylon covering the foam to the hook securely and it ended looking like Ena Sharples stockings. I now have made a loop in a separate length of strong thread and secured it at the base of the foam around the nylon. That way, I can make a few blobs before tying the fly and can select the correct size for the hook. It is also much easier to get a tidy finish .
    I havn’t tried any in practise yet but realise they will be a perfect indictor fly to hang a nymph underneath in NZ style as well as a great emerger pattern.

    1. hahaha, Ena Sharples. That places your age somewhat Owen! Yes, I’ve tried experimenting with encapsulating the foam in the nylon off the hook as it were by (with some effort) whipping thread around the neck then trimming it off to make a free-standing blob with a little tail on it then whipping that to the hook. It sort of worked for me but in the end decided there wasn’t enough advantage to compensate for the faff. The real problem is just that nylon is so slippery. But I still maintain that getting a nice tight ball is better than just bare foam both for buoyancy and robustness. I’d be really interested to know how successful you find it when you eventually give it a go. Tight lines!

      1. Simon,
        I used a dab of superglue on the wnipping under the foam and then another dab from my bodkin at some stage later after the blob is tied in. Perhaps its cheating but it did work well. BTW, my wife thought Nora Batties stockings would be more appropriate….

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