How to Tie a France Fly
This simple-looking little jig is called the France Fly. It was developed by former US Youth Team champion Hunter Hoffler. The same reasons that make it a good competition fly also make it a good guide fly, as it’s quick to tie, durable and extremely effective.
I like France Flies small. A size 18 Lightning Strike JF2 is one of my favorite hooks for this pattern. Plunger-style hackle pliers make handling them much easier.
Here, I’m going to match the hook with a 3/32” black nickel slotted tungsten bead. These little guys ain’t cheap, and they’re rather easy to lose to the floor, so I’ll drop the bead into one of the depressions on the base of my tying vise. Here, escape is nearly impossible. I’ll then use a fine-tipped bodkin to stab whatever side is up – the slot or the small hole – here, the slot. This allows me to center the bead in the fingertips of my left hand, then remove the bodkin, thus making the small hole readily accessible. The hackle pliers make inserting the point of the hook into the small hole super easy. After sliding the bead up onto the hook shank, get the assembly firmly secured in the jaws of your tying vise. Make absolutely sure the square end of the slot is pointed down so the bead rests correctly behind the hook eye.
For thread, I’ve loaded a bobbin with a spool of black UTC 70 Denier. Get the thread started on the hook shank behind the bead and, after a dozen or so wraps rearward, snip off the excess tag.
Fibers from a medium Pardo Coq-de-Leon feather are used for the tail of the fly. After stripping off all the lower fuzzy stuff, gently preen down 8-10 fibers perpendicular to the stem, then squeeze them tightly in the fingertips of your left hand. The tighter you squeeze, the more likely the fibers are to stay aligned when you pull the stem away to strip them free. Pass the fibers to your right hand so the aligned tips are exposed, then measure to form a tail a scant hook shank in length. Reach in with your tying scissors and, using the back edge of the bead as a guide, snip them off square. Give your bobbin a counterclockwise spin then take wraps of tying thread to begin anchoring the fibers to the top of the hook shank. Keep taking thread wraps rearward, pulling up and toward you on the fibers as you go. This will ensure they land on top of the shank. When you reach the start of the hook bend, take open spiral wraps forward with your tying thread all the way to the back edge of the bead.
The abdomen of the fly is created using black stretch tubing – not round rib, which looks somewhat similar. For this size 18 fly, the micro stuff works the best. A 10” length will make numerous flies. Insert one end of the material into the back of the bead and take a few thread wraps to secure it. Pull the material back and toward you, stretching it significantly as you take thread wraps rearward to bind it down. Go all the way to the base of the tail then relocate your thread forward to behind the bead. With a good bit of tension, begin taking wraps with the tubing up the hook shank. Start off with touching wraps and lots of tension, then gradually ease up on the tension and begin to make slightly overlapping wraps as you work your way forward. This should add just a little bit of natural taper to the body of the fly. At the back edge of the bead, lock down the tubing with nice tight wraps of tying thread, first behind it, then in front of it. Once the tubings’s adequately secured, pull up to stretch it and snip the excess off close.
Dark Hare’s Mask dubbing is used to create a furry little collar on the fly. Pluck just the smallest amount free from the packet or dispenser. Pull down on your tying thread and use the dubbing to build up a short, slender noodle – less is definitely more here. Start taking wraps with the noodle immediately behind the bead to build up the collar. Take a few more thread wraps behind the bead to start a small thread collar. Reach for your whip finish tool and use it to do a 5 or 6 turn, back to front, whip finish. This will increase the width of the thread collar ever so slightly. When you’re done, seat the knot well and snip or cut your tying thread free. These thread wraps are the most vulnerable part of the fly, so it’s a good idea to reach for your head cement, or here, Sally Hansen Hard as Nails. Apply a drop or two to the thread wraps to ensure they don’t come unraveled.
The France Fly is a fast tie even for less than experienced tiers. It’s also extremely versatile and can be tied in a wide range of color combinations. I really like the look of ice dubbing for the collar. My favorite color combination looks a heck of a lot like a Frenchie. And green France Flies seem to work well as baetis imitations.