Change comes slowly in certain fields of human endeavor. Fly tying is one of them. Year after year amateur and professional flytiers have been turning out the same standard dry-fly patterns for trout—the Royal Coachman, the Quill Gordon, March Brown, Light Cahill, etc.—and only once in a great while does a new fly, the Rat Faced McDougal or one of the Wulffs, come along. But even these flies, for all their effectiveness, are variations on an old theme: they all use hackle wound around the hook near the eye to give the fly buoyancy and the appearance of legs.
Now, however, Ted Niemeyer, a gifted 37-year-old amateur, is tying stunningly realistic mayflies that have no hackle at all. "To me," says Niemeyer, "hackle is unnatural." Instead of hackle, the six legs of a Niemeyer mayfly keep the body above water as in life. The legs are made from the belly hairs of the javelina. the wild pig of the Southwest. The javelina is fond of groveling in sand, and the tips of the belly hairs are delicately frayed. These frayed tips, which serve as the tarsal claws or feet of the mayfly, trap air bubbles and keep the imitation afloat. Niemeyer also has been tying beautifully realistic nymphs of mayflies and stone flies, and anyone who has been fortunate enough to see his work has been surprised by the resemblance to the living insect.
Niemeyer was born and raised in Seattle. Until the age of 17, he was a bait fisherman. Then one day, while fishing the Skykomish River to no avail with salmon eggs, he met a fly-fisherman who was taking fish consistently. "I was so impressed," Niemeyer recalls, "that I went back home and started tying flies."
For a dozen years Niemeyer tied orthodox patterns as he moved about the country for his employer, United Airlines. Precise and meticulous by nature, he thought nothing of taking several hours to tie what he wanted to be the perfect Royal Coachman. Three years ago, in the midst of a winter tying session at home, Niemeyer, to use his own words, "got disgusted tying standard patterns." He decided to try natural imitations without hackle. "There's great satisfaction in tying an old standard dry fly," he says, "and the old patterns work. But doesn't it get tiresome if you're always driving the same old car? I'm one of those people who are eager to see if something new won't fool the fish."
Niemeyer's first mayfly took four hours to complete. Now he can knock one off on a dinky size-20 hook in 25 minutes without using a lens. According to him, tying a mayfly, say the Green Drake, is simple. Here are the directions: insert a size-16 hook 4x short shank, upturned eye, in the vise and sharpen the point. Wrap fine tying thread on the shank from the eye to the bend. At the bend, tie in a partially stripped quill from the throat of a Chinese ring-necked pheasant, tying the quill so that the natural curve sweeps back and up from the shank. Then tie in two fine, long hairs from the back of a javelina and a stripped quill from a peacock sword feather. Wind the thread all the way up to where the body should end, holding the pheasant stem, javelina hairs and quill by the tips as you wind. Bring the thread back down to the bend of the hook. Now spiral the peacock quill around the pheasant stem to the bend, making sure that each segment abuts the other. Tie the quill down at the bend. This completes the abdomen or body.
The legs, the belly hairs of a javelina, are tied in. The rearmost one nearest the flytier should be tied first. Next the rearmost one on the far side. With the rear legs secured, tie in a stripped quill from a peacock sword feather on the underside of the shank. This quill should be slightly darker than the peacock quill used to wrap the body. Let the quill hang free. Tie in the near-side middle leg and then the far-side middle leg. Tie in the two forward legs in the same fashion. Come back with the thread and tie in the wings, using natural-dun spade-hackle tips. After the wings are tied in, bring the thread forward toward the eye of the hook. Now take the quill which has been hanging free and spiral it forward, all the while making sure that the spirals force the javelina-hair legs to stand out in the proper position. When the quill has reached the eye, tie it off with a whip finish of the thread and put a drop of varnish on the knot. The Drake is complete. Got it?
In the field Niemeyer finds that his imitations are superior to standard patterns in taking fish. However, they must be presented delicately, and they definitely are not flies for rough water.
Niemeyer ties for his own pleasure, but once in a while he gives a few flies to friends. It irks him that they invariably put the flies on display instead of using them. "I wish they'd fish them so I could get criticisms," he says.