How to Tie a Pink Squirrel Variant

Producer: Tim Flagler

This is John Bethke’s Pink Squirrel, a fly almost synonymous with Wisconsin’s Driftless area. I call this a variant because unlike Mr. Bethke’s original, I learned to tie it without a Krystal flash tail, about ten years ago, and do so even today. Other than that, I feel this version is at least somewhat close to his original.

In my opinion, the true magic of the fly is in it’s scruffy body. This comes from a mix of three different dubbing materials: tan Antron, natural Fox Squirrel and olive Ice Dub. I’ll do one part Fox Squirrel with half a part tan Antron, then 1/4 part olive Ice Dub. You can use a coffee grinder if you like, but I find it nearly as fast just to put all three dubbings together and mix them by hand.

After mixing, it’s important to shorten the fiber length of the blend. Do this by snipping the clump into 1/4” lengths then mixing them up. It’s an exceptional looking blend, with just the right amount of color variation, sparkle and stiffer guard hairs. Blend up as much or as little as you want at a time. An individual fly doesn’t use much.

For a hook, I really like a Dai-Riki #135 in size 16 or something similar. I’ll match this with a 3/32” gold tungsten bead. Picking up the hook, and securing it with plunger-style hackle pliers, makes it easy to insert the hook point into the small hole of one of the beads while it’s still safely in it’s container. Work the bead up onto the hook shank then get the assembly firmly secured in the jaws of your tying vise. Push the bead forward against the back edge of the hook eye.

For thread, I load a bobbin with a spool of black UTC 70 Denier but a bright pink would also be a very good choice. Get the thread started on the hook shank at the back edge of the bead and take a half dozen or so wraps rearward before snipping off the excess tag. Then take wraps forward to position your tying thread at the back edge of the bead.

Small-sized red Ultra wire is used for the fly’s rib, a 6” length will make numerous Pink Squirrels. Insert one end of the wire into the back of the bead and take thread wraps to secure it there. Keep taking thread wraps rearward, anchoring the wire to the near side of the hook as you go. Continue well down into the hook bend then wrap back up until the thread hangs at about the hook point.

Uncap some sticky dubbing wax, and position a dubbing whirl and the dubbing blend within easy reach. Pull down on your bobbin to expose about 4” of tying thread and, using the middle finger of your left hand, double it over and take a wrap around the hook shank, and around the two thread legs, so they come to a point. Pick up the wax and give both legs of the loop an ample coat. Get hold of the dubbing blend and start pulling short, thin slips free from the clump, and inserting them between the two thread strands. You really don’t need much. Here, I’ve used 4 very thin slips, which is plenty.

Pick up the dubbing whirl and hook it in the bottom of the loop then give the whirl a healthy clockwise spin. This will twist the dubbing into a nice spiky, little rope. Rather than wrapping with the whirl, I find it easier to take a wrap or two around the hook of my plunger-style hackle pliers, then close them down and snip the whirl free. This allows me to wrap knowing the thread is well secured in the hackle pliers. Take a few wraps of tying thread rearward to bind down some of the bare thread above the dubbing then wrap forward to the back edge of the bead.

Start taking wraps with the dubbing rope so it covers up the rearmost thread wraps. Continue making touching wraps up the hook shank to create the body of the fly. When you reach your tying thread, use it to anchor the dubbing rope and snip the excess off close. Take a few more wraps of tying thread to ensure everything is well anchored behind the bead.

Get hold of the red wire and make open spiral wraps with it, over top of the dubbing to rib and segment the fly. When you reach your tying thread, use it to anchor the wire then helicopter to break it off close. The body of the fly should now look something like this. Whatever you do, don’t trim off the spiky fibers, as they really seem to add to the Pink Squirrel’s effectiveness.

Here I’m going to use micro-sized Ultra chenille for the fly’s thorax, a 4” length will make several Pink Squirrels. Secure one end of the chenille with tight wraps of tying thread behind the bead, then position the thread at the back edge of the bead. Take a wrap or two with the chenille to cover up the thread wraps below, then anchor it with wraps of tying thread. Snip the excess chenille off as close as you can, and take a few more wraps to help bury the snipped off end.

Get hold of your whip finish tool and use it to do a 4 or 5 turn whip finish, seat the knot well and snip or cut your tying thread free. A drop of head cement, or here Sally Hansen’s Hard as Nails, applied to the thread wraps behind the bead will greatly increase the fly’s durability.

And that’s my version of John Bethke’s Pink Squirrel. By all means, add a couple strands of Krystal flash for tails if you like, but I’ve been having success with this pattern for years without them.