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Tying the Thread Shop Vac | a Pheasant Tail Variation without the Pheasant Tail

The Thread Shop Vac is a fly that is inspired by simplicity without having to compromise on effectiveness. About a year ago, after tying up a few of Lance Egan's Thread Frenchie, I came to the realization that I could substitute out certain body materials using just thread, and thus the Thread Shop Vac was born! I'm sure that I'm not the first to try a thread body on a Shop Vac nymph, but since I was unable to find a tutorial online, I wanted to put together a video and blog post to explain why I prefer the thread version over the traditional version tied with pheasant tail in most situations.

The Advantages:

  • Sink Rate - a thread body can be made slimmer and does not have the micro-appendages that natural pheasant tail has. By slimming things down and reducing drag, I can design my fly to cut through the water and arrive at the strike zone quicker. This will allow for longer and more productive drifts.

  • Durability - pheasant tail can be pretty fragile. There are things you can do to increase its durability like counter wrapping with wire or applying super glue to the shank before wrapping your body, but it's still never going to hold up as well over time as a thread body will.

  • Quick to tie - I think this is somewhat of a weak point and can be more advantageous for certain groups of anglers. I've always been one to put in a lot of time at the tying bench, especially in the winter months. It wasn't until this year, after my son was brought into the picture, that I had to be more efficient with my tying time. This also might be an appealing reason for competition anglers. This group of folks put in a ton of time cranking out flies and specifically tying them to fish a certain way.

The Downsides:

  • Appearance - this is the only downside that I could think of. In my opinion there are few things that look as good as natural pheasant tail when incorporated into a fly. There is just something about the color, the segmentation, and those small micro-hairs/appendages that give such a realistic look. Although I've started tying more and more thread versions of this fly, I'll never get caught without at least a few traditional Shop Vac pheasant tails in my box. You know... just in case.

A side-by-side comparison of the PT Shop Vac (left) and the Thread Shop Vac (right).

My favorite way to fish a Thread Shop Vac (or PT Shop Vac) is on a dry-dropper rig. This pattern, tied in a size #18 or #20 is my go-to fly when it comes to this style of fishing. The Shop Vac is supposed to imitate an emerging insect coming up through the water column so it works perfectly underneath a dry fly. Because it is small and unobtrusive, I find that I can usually fool fish that have refused my dry fly by drifting over them again with the dropper added. Another reason I prefer the thread version of this pattern is for the quick sink rate so the tippet connecting my nymph to the dry fly quickly comes under tension and thus greatly improving strike detection.

Convinced yet? If so, read on to see how I tie this pattern. But before we get to that, lets talk craft beer.

The Beer

With every Bugs n' Brews video I like to feature a different beer that I have while tying. There are few things more relaxing than enjoying a good brew on a Friday night while whipping up a couple of bugs! In this video I cracked open a beer from Troeg's Independent Brewing called "Trail Days". Troeg's is located in Hershey, Pennsylvania and in my opinion, is one of the top breweries in the state!

Material List

Scud Hook - I like Lively Legz No. 135 in size 18

Bead - Tungsten or brass bead (2mm)

Thread/Body - UTC 70D in Rusty Brown

Ribbing - x-small UTC Ultra wire (gold)

Wing - Hareline Ice Dub (pearl or grey)

Collar - Arizona Synthetic Peacock dubbing (or other peacock dubbing)

Step-By-Step Tying Instructions

Step 1

Place a scud hook in the vise with a small bead. I like using Lively Legz No. 135 in size 18 or smaller. For the bead I use a size 5/32 (2mm) in either tungsten, brass, or glass. Because I typically like to fish this as a dry-dropper nymph, I avoid adding too much weight.

Step 2

Using a rusty brown thread (to match pheasant tail), begin wrapping down the shank of the hook and cut off your tag end.

Step 3

Tie in your tail. I like to use coq-de-leon as a tail. From the tie in point at the bend of the hook, I think it is helpful to wrap the tail in place the entire way up the shaft of the hook to just behind the bead. This will help with the natural taper of the fly.

Step 4

Snip off the excess tail.

Step 5

Tie in your x-small wire just behind the bead and wrap it in place, taking your thread rearward to where the tail starts and then back forward to behind the bead.

Step 6

Next it is time to build the taper. Use touching wraps to wind your thread back about 2/3 of the shank and back to behind the bead. Repeat this, but now wrap your thread 1/3 of the way back the shank and then back to behind the bead.

Step 7

Counter wrap (wrap the opposite direction of the pheasant tail) back up the shank of the hook using open-spiral wraps and tie off with your thread to lock it in place. I like to counter wrap so that the thin wire doesn't get lost between any thread wraps.

Step 8

Tie in your wing. I like to use a fine ice dub for my wing. I think the finer fibers help to give this fly a more realistic look. Alternatively, you can also use crystal flash, flashabou, or even a bit of antron yarn. When I pick out the amount of dubbing I want to use, I pull it apart and align the fibers as best I can; repeating the process till I have most of the fibers pointing the same direction. I then tie in this clump and trim to the appropriate length.

Step 9

Tie in your thorax/collar using either peacock dubbing or by wrapping in peacock herl.

Step 10

Whip finish, cut your thread, and that is that!

The Thread Shop Vac

If you prefer video tutorials, check out our YouTube video on how to tie the Shop Vac.

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