Sparse...a question of why or when.

Discussion in 'Fly Tying' started by Eyejuggler, Apr 7, 2013.

  1. As a budding tier, I have read and heard sparse is better, obviously a clunky tie with too much material is overdone, potentially inhibits proper hookups, looks sloppy (depending on the materials like hairs and such)
    I have been working on chum babies and after reading through some books and browsing ties here, I notice some are more full than others and in my mind if its too sparse, it looks odd. For small water, small fish, and spooky fish I can totally see this. Below are 2 Chum Baby ties, one is sparse in my opinion and the other is more full and IMO "better looking". But, I realize;

    - I am not a fish so perhaps I need to think more like a fish.

    - Make a variety of densities and just try them out to see if somedays might be better using a slightly different tie.

    -Or maybe I am hella over thinking this whole thing and I need to just get out and fish :)

    One of these is from a store and one is my own tie. If you have any thoughts on the aspect of sparse, I would love to know your opinion or have some tips. Many thanks in advance :) You folks really rock. I try to post respectively and not be too inane.

    These are about 1.4 inches long


    Jack Devlin likes this.
  2. Chum babies and other small fish in the sound have a shiny lower body that almost gives them that cloaking effect where the mirror of the scales makes the body color the color of the surrounding water. IMO a sparse fly with a little flash on the underside look perfect when I see the fly moving through the water. Over dressed baitfish flies just dont look as much like the real fish to me.
    Of course, a big hunking spoon will catch fish too I guess.
    And by the way I dont think either of those flies are not sparse enough, and if you're worried its too full, then cast it a bit and it will thin out.
    Eyejuggler likes this.
  3. Fish with what you have confidence in, be it sparse or fully dressed.
    Everything else will fall into place.
    Eyejuggler likes this.
  4. I agree with Pat, both of those flies are going to fish. I had the same problem you did.

    One way to train yourself to tie sparsely, and what I did, was to fish the flies side by side. In clear water it is amazing how well a fly I thought was way too sparse showed up with perfect profile and translucency. The fuller, better looking, flies looked like a hunk of hair (almost lure-like, think Rapala) and were not translucent at all. Clousers always looked better tied full on the vice in my opinion, until they hit the water. You want all your materials to taper and blend together, giving you that perfect profile.

    A lot of rambling, but hope that helps.

    Sent from my SCH-I535 using Tapatalk 2
    Eyejuggler likes this.
  5. Thanks, kinda what I was thinking but my visual/human mind kept me at full figured materials. It's the little details like that that really make it fascinating and fun.
    Made up a pile more and I definitely have to say..."self, how bout half that much", much better effect.
  6. I have no idea why I decided to tie this streamer as sparse as I did. Honestly, it doesn't make sense. The profile of a baitfish is usually wide. Once I found it caught both bass and trout, I named it "Spartan" due to the sparse approach.


    Beats me why sparse will sometimes work when fat doesn't. So, as per usual, I tie both and carry both just in case. The sparse factor also comes into play for insect patterns. One day at East Lake in Oregon, Virginia was catching trout after trout and I couldn't understand why her GRHE was working and mine wasn't.

    Finally I asked to look at her pattern and it was tied much more sparse than the GRHE I was using.
    Eyejuggler likes this.
  7. too much of everything is just enough!
  8. You will often find that most forage fish species are nearly transparent when observed under water. Light and color passes through them quite freely, especially as juveniles. The difference between a fish under water, with light passing through the tissues, and the ghostly image they present, and a fish out of water, in a pan or dish or in hand, is profound. So many flies are based on fish out of water and are far too dense. Most of our fly patterns are only impressionistic rather than truly imitative. And many of the colors used have little to do with the actual forage they are intended to represent- and yet they often work. General size and profile are certainly important. But one thing that really helps is that very sparse quality that allows the light to shine through the fly.

    In Rhode Island fly fisherman, guide, fly tier and general Raconteur Kenny Abraham's ( ) book: "Fly Tying Illusions", and also in "Striper Moon", he talks about this at length. Kenny had picked up on Roderick Haig-Brown's flatwing flies and has popularized them in Striped Bass and inshore fly fishing flies on the Atlantic Coast today. The Rhody Flatwing, Ray's (Ray Bonderow) Fly, and many others. Doug Rose gave this a solid once over a while back on his great blog at

    Kenney used to teach fly tying classes at the fly shops and club meetings up and down the east coast in the wintertime. I took one of his mid winter multi-day shop classes at the old Fairfield Fly Shop, back in the early 1990's, and he came to our club several times. He saw these things in a very deep way, almost fanatical. But he is right. Once I began tying my flies more sparsely, with a sense of illusion, allowing less materials to accomplish more, as far as color and light and movement- I began catching more fish.
    Bert and Eyejuggler like this.
  9. Really great tips, it totally makes sense and now when I get out, I run my fly thru the water and actually try to look at it from a "fish"perspective. Funny how I am actually taking out alot of my flies and retying them with less material.
    I believe this is one of the most important lessons in fly tying, kinda goes under the radar but it really is like 80% of a tie.
    Thanks for the thoughtful and thorough responses.

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