New fly-fishing bait imitates swim motion

When it comes to selecting the right fly pattern to use, fly-fishermen generally follow the guideline to “match the hatch.” Simply, this means to present the fish you are after with a bait choice that resembles, as closely as possible, whatever they already are eating.

Matching the hatch makes perfect sense, but it isn’t always easy.

When it comes to matching the hatch at Lake Mead, for example, an angler needs to consider that bass — largemouth, smallmouth and striped — like to eat other fish. So it makes sense that an angler needs to use a fly that resembles the lake’s primary forage fish, the threadfin shad and gizzard shad. While fly tiers have developed patterns that mimic well the up-and-down motion of a swimming baitfish, the same cannot be said for imitating the swimming motion.

That, however, is about to change.

Last week I had the opportunity to walk though the International Fly Tackle Dealer Show that was co-located with the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades at the Las Vegas Convention Center. There I came across a new product that makes possible the tying of fly patterns whose movement in the water imitates not only the vertical movement of baitfish but the swimming motion as well. The product is called the Articulated Fish Spine and is marketed by the Flymen Fishing Company under the brand name Fish-Skull.

Martin Bawden, CEO for the company, described his new product as “a system of interconnected shanks that are daisy-chained together to form literally the spine of a fish.” This, he said, solves one of fly-fishing’s biggest dilemmas, imitating the side-to-side motion of a swimming baitfish the way hard lures and swim baits do. “Now we are able to cast swimflies,” Bawden added.

Each package or kit comes with enough stainless steel shanks to tie on six to eight flies, depending on how long you make each one. The shanks come in four lengths — 10, 15, 20 and 25 millimeters.

“Fly tiers can mix and match shank lengths to do whatever they want,” said Bawden, who recommends using at least three shanks. “The more joints you put in it, the better the action.”

Basically, you start tying at the tail section and add shanks until you reach the length you desire, and, according to Bawden, you can use a variety of materials to tie the body from deer hair to zonker strips. However, whatever you use needs to be dense enough to force the water to pass around the materials and not through it. That is what helps to create the desired movement in the fly.

As for hook placement, you can tie one in at the front like a traditional fly, or you can tie one at the back. Or, if you want to catch short-biting fish, you can tie hooks in at the front and the back of the fly.

Bawden said the Articulated Fish Spine will retail for $9.50 per pack, and they should be available this week.

You can order this product and watch a video demonstration of its use online at

Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at

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