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Russ Sy­mons as­sesses the state of play re­gard­ing ty­ing threads

Trout Fisherman (UK) - - Contents -

Russ Sy­mons re­views the lat­est ty­ing threads on the mar­ket

IN re­cent times, there’s been a sub­tle but pro­found in­no­va­tion in fly-ty­ing and it’s not the fan­tas­tic new ma­te­ri­als or the en­vi­able re­li­a­bil­ity of the hooks we now take for granted. It’s some­thing much more mun­dane than that. It’s the thread we use to tie flies. Time was a while back when ev­ery bit of ma­te­rial I fas­tened to a hook was fin­ished with a tight­ened half hitch with maybe even a pin­head of var­nish just in case the thread broke – and yes, it did break. It broke just as a wing went on per­fectly or a head was be­ing formed. Spit­ting feath­ers does not even be­gin to de­scribe the frus­tra­tion! Over the decades I’ve ac­cu­mu­lated more than a few spools of thread from a va­ri­ety of mak­ers, some much bet­ter than oth­ers. But nearly all were made from a polyester fi­bre in a va­ri­ety of thick­nesses, shades and colours. I’ve lost count of the num­ber of spools of thread I’ve thrown away, be­cause they’d have good spots and weak spots. Un­re­li­able was the word. A lot of that thread was big-name thread too.

GSP thread

But that all changed a decade or more ago, when I first en­coun­tered GSP or gel-spun poly­thene ty­ing thread – a crazy, ul­tra-thin but strong thread which has been my ‘go to’ ty­ing thread ever since. GSP ty­ing thread com­prises of a num­ber of fine fil­a­ments, re­sem­bling a floss. As it comes off the spool it has a very loose clock­wise twist and with the light­est of anti clock­wise spins will lie on the hook flat, just like a mini floss. If you want a very fine, but tight thread, sim­ply spin the thread bob­bin in a clock­wise direction to tighten the fil­a­ments so that the thread be­comes very fine in­deed for its strength. If you have ever at­tended a fly fair with maybe a cou­ple of dozen ex­pert fly ty­ers ty­ing their favourite pat­terns, you might have no­ticed how they’re for­ever spin­ning their thread bob­bins to flat­ten or tighten the thread they’re us­ing, depend­ing on what they want the thread to do at that point in the ty­ing process. It would be easy at this point to say that polyester ty­ing threads are fin­ished and that GSP threads are all you need, but in truth that is not al­ways cor­rect. To start with, GSP threads are ex­pen­sive, of­ten more than twice the price of a spool of polyester or ny­lon thread. It is also true that, since the ad­vent of GSP threads, the con­sis­tent qual­ity of polyester/ ny­lon threads has im­proved im­mea­sur­ably. Al­most as if the man­u­fac­tur­ers have seen the writ­ing on the wall and re­sponded to a hard kick up the rump. For in­stance, the UTC Ul­tra threads are pur­pose-made for fly-ty­ing from a ny­lon-based ma­te­rial, which is lightly-waxed and has a de­gree of stretch which aids the grip­ping of fly ma­te­ri­als. Also, the Vee­vus polyester threads are some of the most re­li­able polyester threads I’ve ever used, and they are not overly ex­pen­sive.

Thread size

The prob­lem that many be­gin­ner (and some­times quite ex­pe­ri­enced) fly ty­ers have is what size thread they need to tie a small dry fly, what size thread for a small nymph or even a lure? Do I use a 6/0 thread or an 8/0 thread and what’s this busi­ness with la­belling thread with a ‘de­nier’ num­ber? So we’ll have a quick look at the mys­ter­ies of the old time -/0 sys­tem, a very ba­sic sys­tem with its ori­gins shrouded in the mists of fly-ty­ing his­tory. What it ba­si­cally says is that the more noughts be­hind the num­ber the thin­ner the thread is. So, a 12/0 (12 noughts) is thin­ner than a 6/0 (six noughts)

“The one prob­lem with GSP threads is with the colours avail­able.”

thread. It seems a rough-and-ready but work­able sys­tem, and it would be, but for the fact that one man­u­fac­turer’s 6/0 thread was thicker than an­other maker’s 6/0 thread, be­cause there is no set stan­dard recog­nised by the in­dus­try. De­nier how­ever, is recog­nised by old timers like me as the thick­ness of a young ladies ‘ny­lons’. Sorry chaps I got car­ried away there! The de­nier rat­ing is the weight of 9000 me­tres of the thread. So, there’s a recog­nis­able stan­dard, which will carry from one man­u­fac­turer to an­other. So, if a spool of thread says it is 140 de­nier it will be very close in di­am­e­ter to a spool of the same ma­te­rial from an­other maker. For all gen­eral-pur­poses, choose a thread of 70 or 100 de­nier – 70 de­nier is roughly equiv­a­lent to an 8/0 thread, and 100 de­nier be­ing some­where be­tween a 6/0 and 8/0 thread. Call it 7/0. Fi­nally, 140 de­nier thread is close to a 6/0 thread.

So why choose GSP?

Why have I be­come so fo­cussed on GSP, as op­posed to the now so re­li­able ny­lon or polyester threads? Like most long-time fly ty­ers I have a rack of polyester and ny­lon threads in a va­ri­ety of colours and thick­nesses, which I’ve col­lected over many years and – be­ing a care­ful with money – I’m not about to take them all down to the tip. So, when I’m just ty­ing for my­self I’ll of­ten use the old thread to tie in the body of a fly, where per­haps the thick­ness of the thread is much less of a con­sid­er­a­tion. Then, par­tic­u­larly if I’m ty­ing in a hackle, I’ll tie off the polyester ma­te­rial I’ve used to wrap the body, give it a dab of ce­ment to lock it, then use an ul­tra-thin GSP, say 50 de­nier, to fin­ish fas­ten­ing the tho­rax and hackle. This will re­sult in a tiny, neat head which I ac­tu­ally like. If the fly needs a big black head, then I tie one in de­lib­er­ately, but I hon­estly can­not re­mem­ber the last time I did that. It’s when you’re ty­ing skinny, sparse or tiny flies that GSP thread will en­hance your ty­ing tremen­dously. Whereas, once upon a time, you’d be fighting thread bulk all the way, the ul­tra fine GSP thread gives you mas­tery over the mini flies.

The only is­sue with GSP

The one prob­lem with GSP threads is with the colours avail­able. In the early days white was the only colour, so we learned to colour it with per­ma­nent felt tip mark­ers, which I still fre­quently do to­day. Then the Es­sen­tial Fly com­pany came out with their ver­sion of GSP thread in 30-50 and 100 de­nier in a va­ri­ety of colours and very good it is too. Hav­ing said that, the colours avail­able in GSP are not so var­ied or vi­brant as those in ny­lon/polyester, but how of­ten do you re­ally need a spe­cific thread colour? These days I buy white mostly, and re­cently the Vee­vus GSP black, which is a true black and not the dark grey colour that once passed as GSP black. In fly-ty­ing some things are a pass­ing fad and in the decades I’ve been play­ing with fur and feather I’ve seen the stan­dard of ty­ing get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter. I have some boxes of clas­sic flies from yes­ter­year, flies which I’ve bought from the premier ty­ers of the day, and used as pat­terns. By to­day’s stan­dards most of them are crudely fin­ished and not all that well tied. In my hum­ble opin­ion, for ty­ing your own flies, these new strong, but very fine threads are a huge step forward in rais­ing that stan­dard even fur­ther. With the in­her­ent strength of the GSP, fewer wraps are needed to se­cure ma­te­ri­als, so less thread bulk. If you have never used a GSP ty­ing thread, give it a go. I sus­pect you might end up like me, us­ing it to fin­ish the tricky bits.

Vee­vus, UTC, Ve­niard, Sem­per­fli Nano and GSP ty­ing threads in var­i­ous de­niers. Thin GSP thread suits a Cut-wing Sedge (above) and Stim­u­la­tor (right).

Vee­vus and UTC polyester ty­ing thread. In­vest in a pair of sharp scis­sors to cut GSP threads. Bin­de­faden Ger­man (left), one of the very early pi­o­neers of GSP ty­ing thread. Kevlar thread which has largely been su­perceded by GSP thread.

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