A Question of colour?

In a recent blog, https://theenigmaticangler.com/2012/03/12/secret-squirrel/ , I was asked how I finished the head of a waddington with such a bright colour? Much has been written about daylight fluorescent materials (DFM) and I’ll try not to repeat any of that here; I’ll leave you to do your own research via the internet. However, it’s very simple really and is all to do with the base colour or undercoat.

Many of us just use one or two colours of tying silk to tie all our flies. The predominant colour is black. This suffices for 90% of our tying and moreover, makes it much simpler because we only have to pick up the same bobbin holder each time to tie a different fly. Black as a colour however, has one big draw back; it absorbs light of all wavelengths and reflects nothing back; that’s why it’s black! This doesn’t do anything for us if we start to use bright colours or even modern plastic coated tinsel.

One of the many DFM colours I use and the one used for the SBS Waddington is Glo Brite No.4:

Glo Brite No.4

There are many other colours in the range. It just so happens that this was to hand to illustrate the point I’m trying to make.

So how does changing the colour of tying silk affect how our fly looks? Well essentially, some of the light penetrates the material that we use and then get’s reflected back from materials underneath to enhance the colour. In the case of black tying silk, this doesn’t happen. Any light that penetrates that far gets absorbed and none gets reflected. This then dulls the material we’ve used as a topcoat.

To illustrate the point and something I mentioned about modern tinsel, I tied two waddington shanks, one with black tying silk, the other with white tying silk:

Waddington Shanks

Both waddingtons have bodies made of pearl mylar. The waddington on the left was tied using black tying silk and the one on the right using white tying silk. I’m sure from just looking at the picture, you can see the point I’m trying to make about the base coat and reflected light. The waddington on the right looks as if pearl mylar was used. The waddington on the left looks like green mylar has been used but I can assure you, it’s all down to the base coat of black tying silk.

Taken further, I just added a wing of black squirrel tail and finished them off using the same colour of tying silk as I used for the body:

Black and White Heads

Already, you can just see how the reflected light has changed the body colour on the waddington on the right to a green hue.

If I then finish the heads off with a layer of Glo Brite No.4:

Finished Underside

The effect of the use of white tying silk can now be seen which gives the fly a much brighter body and a brighter head.

Finished Topside

For reference, in the photo above, I have left a collar of the colour of the tying silk so that you can see how it affects the brightness of the floss. So, there you have it. How do you make bright heads on flies when using DFM floss? Use white tying silk!

It’s nothing new and is standard practice in the decorating trade. It’s used on floats used in coarse fishing to get bright tips and is discussed at length when tying a very successful salmon fly devised by former Trout and Salmon editor Sandy Leventon, The Editor.I think it’s good practice to get into using tying silk the same shade or colour as the body you’re tying and will complement your fly. You’ll see a difference in the colour and brightness possibly making them more effective.

The one thing that I haven’t mentioned though is light. To make colours work, you need white light. Whether that’s from the sun or some artificial source, it doesn’t matter. Without light, colours aren’t activated; all you get is shades of grey and black. So why then, if I fish for seatrout at night when the sun is below the horizon and there are no sources of artificial light, have I used a bright colour for the head of a Seatrout Fly? Why use different colours at all? It’s a question that many anglers have tried to address and arguments have come and gone. Scientifically, the arguments are correct. With no light, you’ll only get shades of grey or black. However, from a psychological point of view, do the colours give us confidence? If we have more confidence in a fly because it looks good will we fish it more effectively? Something to ponder on I suppose. If I ever meet a talking fish perhaps I’ll get a first hand point of view.

11 responses to “A Question of colour?

  • parkea2

    Thanks Alun, I will try that on my next batch…

  • chucknduck

    A Cracking way of showing how glow bright floss should be used correctly mr rees !

  • Marc Fauvet

    a very awesome post Alun ! many thanks.
    light, it’s effects, colors or tones of grey and how we perceive them is a fascinating subject most often taken for granted.
    your article and accompanying photos explain the transparency phenomenon very well and will be of great service to many. good on ya for approaching this angle that’s usually only talked about in art classes.

    • Alun Rees

      Thanks for the comments Marc and the reblog!

      Since we’re all individuals, we all look at things in different ways. This was the result of a reply to one of the other posts.

      Like I said, it’s probably nothing new for some, but for others, they might be seeing it for the first time and is very relevant.


  • A question of color ? | the limp cobra

    […] brilliant article from Alun Rees, our friend at ‘the enigmatic angler’ transparency and translucency are key elements in fly design. not only because a lot, if not most […]

  • David Edwards

    Very interesting… coincidentally I use a white spectra on all my flies – rarely using any other colour and if I want a colour change I use a marker pen of the correct shade… bonefish flies with globrite or other flosses always have a base of white… glad I’m doing it right… perhaps by accident rather than design🙂

    • Alun Rees

      Hi Dave,

      I doubt it was by accident! Somewhere in the back of your mind, I’m sure you knew it was the right thing to do! Many if not all Classic Salmon fly tyers use white tying silk when building the fly bodies purely because the bodies are formed from silk floss. The underbody of white tying silk enhances this. I’m sure your bonefish patterns benefit from the use of the white spectra especially because the environment where the fish are encountered is usually very bright and sunny and there’s a high light transmission factor there.

      Incidentally, that is a top tip! Use white tying silk and just change the colour to suit by the use of marker pens. Thanks for sharing.

  • chris reeves

    Nice article and well presented, I will promote your ideas in the next session with my fly tying class.

    Regards, Chris

    • Alun Rees

      Hi Chris,

      Thanks for the comments. I’m sure it has a lot of relevance for you with your stillwater background. John Veniard, Roger Fogg and many others have written about it previously so I’m sure you’ll find many applications for it.

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