Tom Juracek

Having a little trouble with those tinsel bodies? Hopefully the following suggestions and observations will put you on your way to making bodies that glisten in the sun and appear to be plated onto the hook. This is what has worked for me.

I guess we should start by defining what makes up a good tinsel body (at least to me). First, no gaps in the turns of tinsel. Second, an even appearance to the body where light reflections are consistent throughout. Third, if there is a pattern to the body (and there generally will be with both oval and embossed tinsel) the pattern is repetitive. Finally, there is a smooth appearance to the taper or shape of the body.

The selection of the hook plays an important part in the tinsel body. When you select your hook examine it closely. If there are any imperfections in the finish to the hook, they must be removed. This may be bubbles in the japanning or painting, an uneven taper or too drastic of a taper, or simply an uneven thickness in the finish of the wire. All of these factors need to be accounted for. Take a small knife and scrape off any imperfections in the finish. Try to get the hook as smooth as possible before you even attach the tying silk. I recently tried using a hook that had a minor lump in the finish. Although the hook surface was "smooth" and there was tying silk under the tinsel, the lump in the finish made it impossible for two consecutive turns to meet snugly along the hook shank. The lump slightly forced the tinsel to stand at an angle from the hook shank and a gap was formed between the turns. Examine your hook carefully before proceeding, and don't forget to look at the far side.

When tying in flat tinsel I like a long taper to the tip. I tie in as little as I tie in as little as possible and try to get the tie-in to be on the far side of the hook, not on top. The tip section of the tinsel should be smaller in width than the turn of tinsel that will cover it. Try to make the tie-in point in such a manner that it takes no more that the first two turns of tinsel to cover it. Do we start at the fore or aft of the body? I use both places. I tie in at the rear when doing multiple sectioned bodies or when I want a thin body. I tie in at the front when making a thick or tapered body. Remember when tying in at the front of the hook the taper on the tip of the tinsel should be pointing towards the eye rather than the tail. In either method, the first two turns are the most critical. They must start neatly and et the tinsel coming up and over the hook shank as near to vertical as possible. This is much easier to accomplish if you have a long taper to work with rather than a short one.

Why start at the head when making a tapered body? It is my experience that almost no matter how hard or neat the underlying floss body, (which is what I generally use) when you crank on that tinsel you can firm up the floss even more. It seems to almost bite into the underbody. This causes a slight loosening of the floss and can result in lumps that need to be covered. In advancing rearward at first, you can carefully cover and smooth the floss should it take on any lumps or divots from winding the tinsel thus leaving a perfectly smooth surface to wind the tinsel over on the way back to the head. One of the most frustrating things you can end up with is a body that shows no gaps in the tinsel but still looks terrible. Why? Part of what makes a good tinsel body is the way light reflects off it. When the tinsel is not flowing around the hook in a consistent manner, awkward light reflections cause the body to look poorer than it may actually be. Picture, for example a glass jar laying on its side. The light reflections from the jar suggest a smooth level surface. Now imagine a divot in the side of the jar. The surface is still smooth, but no longer level and you can see the dip in the surface simply by the way the light reflects from it. I have found the most common cause of this to be the ribbing tinsel that is tied in before the body is formed. If you tie in a ribbing tinsel, it must consistently lay in exactly the same place along the hook shank. Next time you attack a tinsel body with ribbing, tie in the ribbing in the usual manner (probably under the hook shank) and wind the thread forward. When you have reached the throat, flip the hook over and look to see how the ribbing tinsel is laying. More than likely it will resemble a snake. If this is the case and you wind flat tinsel over this shape, you may end up with a body that has no gaps but does have inconsistent light reflections. I hope I have adequately described this phenomenon; suffice it to say that the underlying ribbing tinsel must be in a perfectly straight line. Unwrap and rewrap until it is.

What about tying in the hackle that is to be wound over the tinsel body? A couple of thoughts. My experience indicates you have two choices here. You can trim the tip of the feather of all barbs and simply tie in the stem, or you can leave all the barbs intact and tie in the doubled feather. Either way you should not shorten the length of the tip that is available to be tied in. If I elect to trim the barbs off the tip, I still leave the last three or four on each side at the tip. I will explain why in a moment. Leaving the barbs on the section to be tied in will make a thicker body than trimming the barbs. I have found that by leaving the barbs you have a much better chance of making a smooth body. The barbs will help keep the surface under the tinsel smooth and round. By leaving them all on, or by leaving the last few should you elect to trim the remainder, the tips will form a natural taper for you to wind the tinsel over and eliminate any gaps that may occur as a result of moving off the hackle and onto the underbody. If you leave the barbs on, they will also help to fill in some of the taper on the underside of the hook where it tapers into the head area. The barbs will also help get the tinsel to climb onto the gut eye. Remember the hackle tip should remain in the same location throughout the winding. Do not allow it to come up the near side or fall from the far side to under the hook shank. You will encounter the same look as we discussed above regarding the ribbing if you are not consistent with your placement of the section of hackle that is tied down. Another helpful pointer that occasionally happens: I mentioned not shortening the tip of the hackle. Occasionally this tip will be long enough to extend past the head of the fly. In such a case make sure that the tip is on the far side of the thread up at the throat. The thread hanging there will help keep the tip section you are winding over in the same place (you may not even have to move it or hold it) as you advance the tinsel up the body.

When you finish winding the flat tinsel on a body that will have a hackle over it, DO NOT cut off the tinsel. Wind the ribbing tinsel next and tie it off, again NOT cutting it. Finally wrap the hackle forward. This can make tying off the hackle a hassle at the throat because you will no doubt have a mass of material just hanging around their. However, should the tinsel cut the hackle (with that distinctive "PLINK" that we all know and love) you need only loosen the ribbing tinsel and unwind it, and then unwind the flat tinsel back to the point where the hackle was tied in. We are, since I forgot to mention it, tying in the hackle with the tinsel on our way from the rear of the fly to the throat, regardless of the body style selected. If you cut the ribbing and body tinsel before wrapping the hackle, you have no choice but to replace both pieces and the resulting aggravation will set you in a foul mood for hours (not to mention with a frayed thread that breaks). No sense in having that when it can be avoided.

When tying off flat tinsel I generally advance the tinsel over the thread at the tie in point, that is, continuing to wind forward past the tie in point. Then I carefully pick up the thread and wind it directly over the top of the hook securing the tinsel in place. This seems to result in a neater tie off. Needless to say, always be careful about thread tension when working around tinsel or the dreaded "plink" will occur.

When tying oval tinsel jointed bodies, such as a Torrish or Blue Baron, try the following to leave yourself a clean location for body veiling attachment. Tie in the oval tinsel and advance the thread to the desired location. Make sure the waste end of the oval tinsel extends at least this far. Again make sure that the section tied down is in a straight line. Upon reaching the designated coordinates with the thread remove 5 or 6 turns. Closely trim the waste end of the tinsel and rewind 4 or 5 turns of thread. This should place the thread on the bare shank for the last 2 turns. When you advance the oval tinsel forward (the same holds true for embossed tinsel) if you examine the tinsel carefully you will see there is a pattern to where the "breaks" in the tinsel fall. I find they usually repeat for about 2 or 3 turns, change locations, then start repeating again in the original location. This is probably a nuance only someone who has lost a few too many brain cells (like me) would even notice. Wind the oval tinsel forward completely covering the thread. The last turn or two of oval tinsel will be wound around only thread-covered shank. Tie off on the near side and trim very closely. Take your thumbnail and flatten the butt of the tinsel as much as possible. This will make a smoother surface for the herl to be wound over and increase your chances of obtaining a neat mid-body butt. By handling the tinsel in this manner you will find that the tie-in location for the body veilings both on top and bottom of the shank are identical. They are clean with no butts from the oval tinsel to deal with and the height the veilings must clear is the same on top and bottom. Since you wound the tinsel directly over the top of the shank, the angle of the tinsel is also consistent making it easier to center the veilings over the body.

Most of what I have covered here is also applicable to floss bodies. They can be handled in the same manner as the tinsel. Fortunately, floss is slightly more forgiving than tinsel as a material to work with. This makes obtaining a neat body a little easier.

I do hope the above suggestions will help the next time you attempt a tinsel body.