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Russ Symons assesses the state of play regarding tying threads
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.
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.
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.