...the Balanced Damsel


A few months ago I was reading a favourite fly fishing magazine and came across this fly. It represents an innovation in fly tying and offers some interesting possibilities to explore.

As the photo shows the fly is constructed on a jig hook, and the first step in tying it involves sliding a metal bead onto a sewing pin and then strapping the bead and pin on the top of the hook so that the bead is out past the eye. And this arrangement is critical in tying the fly.

A point to note is that when you cast this fly and then retrieve it (with your tippet tied to the eye of the hook) the fly will turn over and swim with the eye on top.

The challenge in tying the fly is to get the weight of the bead on one side of the eye to exactly balance the weight of the materials used for the body on the other side. If you get this right then when you tie some line to the eye of the hook and let the fly hang down it will hang in a horizontal orientation. Thus the name – the “Balanced Damsel”.

Why go to this trouble? A quick search on Mr Google reveals that this type of fly is a popular choice on stillwaters in Canada and the USA; and it’s popular because it has been very effective. It is often fished under an indicator. If you tie on a traditional damsel nymph and then suspend it under an indicator it will hang vertically, thus looking most unnatural. But if you tie on a Balanced Damsel it will hang under the indicator in a horizontal orientation. Much more natural-looking.

Phil Rowley, whose website describes this fly in some detail, suggests that the best way to connect these flies to your tippet is to use a non-slip loop knot such as a Duncan Loop. He also suggests that a bit of surface chop on the lake is good because it animates both the indicator and the fly. And loop knots, he says, enhance this motion, “adding an important element of seduction.”

Phil suggests that these balanced flies can be fished stationary under an indicator, or slowly retrieved whilst under an indicator, or fished without an indicator on a floating or sinking line. “These flies are just as deadly fished without an indicator on a floating line or a suitable sinking line. The fly’s sultry pitching action calls fish from a distance. A balanced fly lands nose down and hook point up, its tail seductively waving at any passing fish.” (So there you are – they sound a great fly.)

Of course damsel nymphs are not the only patterns that can be tied this way. Phil also writes about Balanced Leeches and Balanced Minnows. But damsel patterns are easy to tie and this is the fly we feature this month.

Materials for the Balanced Damsel:

(There are lots of patterns for damsel flies. For the pattern described here the materials are generic and simple. Plenty of other materials can be substituted. Damsel nymphs are mostly a dark green or olive colour. Some tiers like to include those small black plastic eyes in their damsels. Feel free. The critical feature here is the ‘balanced’ aspect of the fly.)

Hook: Barbless Jig Hook such as a Hanak H400BL in size 10.

Steel Pin: A normal sewing pin, or something slightly thicker and heavier, such as a quilting pin. (A spouse who sews and has an extensive selection of pins is helpful here.)

Bead: Tungsten bead (and not a slotted bead) in sizes 3.2 or 3.5 mm. Colours – Green or Red, or any other preferred colour. (A tungsten bead is needed here because it is heavier than a brass bead of the same size and thus requires a shorter shank extension to balance the fly.)

Thread: Olive 6/0 or 8/0.

Tail: Dark green or olive marabou (or olive rabbit fur cut from a Zonker strip that has sufficiently long fur).

Body: Olive fur – dyed hare’s fur or seal’s fur or possum fur. Or a suitable synthetic. (Possum fur is good because it is very easy to dub

Rib: Fine gold, copper or green wire

Thorax: Same as for the body.

The chassis of a balanced fly showing the pin and bead in place

Tying Procedure:

  1. Use pliers to cut the stem of the pin so that it is 2 – 3 mm shorter than the shank of the hook.
  2. Slide the bead onto the pin so that the smaller hole is hard up against the head of the pin.
  3. Put the pin into your vise and wrap lots of turns of thread behind the bead to keep it against the pin head. Then add a drop of superglue to the thread behind the bead.
  4. Put the jig hook in the vice and place the bead and pin on top of the hook so that the bead is about 6 or 7 mm beyond the end of the hook. Now tie the pin on top of the shank of the hook with several turns of thread. Then whip finish the thread and cut it, and take the hook out of the vise.
  5. Pass a loop of fine line through the eye of the hook and hold the assembled frame up to check the balance. If the orientation of the hook and bead is roughly horizontal with the bead end perhaps tipping slightly down then your fly frame is ok. If it tips too much either way then adjust the pin length or bead mass to correct this.
  6. When you are satisfied with the balance, put the hook back in the vise and add some drops of superglue to the thread binding the pin to the hook shank.
  7. Select some olive marabou, wet it (as this makes dealing with cantankerous bits of marabou much easier to tie in), then tie it at the bend of the hook to make the tail. The length of the marabou tail should be about the same as the length of the rest of the fly.
  8. Wrap turns of thread back along the shank to the end of the pin holding the bead to strap the marabou to the shank. Then bend the waste marabou back over the back of the fly and tie it down. This helps even up and fill the space on the shank behind the end of the pin. Cut away the waste marabou.
  9. Tie in some fine copper or gold or green wire for the rib. Then add some olive fur to the thread as dubbing and wind this along the shank to build up the body. The body should cover about two-thirds of the back end of the fly.
  10. Wind some open turns of the wire to add the rib, then tie it in and cut off the waste.
  11. Add more fur to your thread and build up a slightly fatter thorax. The thorax should be tied along the pin too, to fill the space behind the bead.
  12. Whip finish to complete the fly.
  13. Remember that when you fish with this fly it will be upside down with the hook eye on top. (A good reason for not tying in a wing case. The eye of the jig hook prevents this.)