My favorite fly is a Beetle. When all else fails that's what I tie on. I have fished when there was not a bug in sight and caught fish on a Beetle. I fished Beetles and caught fish on size 10 hooks when everyone else was using size 20s. Beetles fish in any temperature water. They don't hatch in streams. When the trout were upside down taking Nymphs, you guessed it, they still took a Beetle.
I've tied them with deer hair, conventional dubbing bodies, chenille, chamois leather, plastic lacing, floss, and about everything else you can imagine. But when it got around to thinking up another design, I started to experiment in the area of Realism. Since most of them I had used before were black, that part was easy, so with a little experimentation I came up with a pattern using Mono for legs and black dubbing for the body. And a piece of formed artificial fingernail cut to size, glued to the dubbed body, and finished with black nail polish.
Although it was a good pattern, it begged for changes, so I modified it by reshaping the hard back. I molded the finger nail piece with the nozzle of a hot glue gun. I found if you were careful, you could make almost any rounded shape that more closely resembled a Beetles back. Heat was the answer.
I could take a fingernail and change it to almost any shape I desired. But I wasn't happy with having to Crazy Glue everything together. It needed another change. While using the hot glue gun on another project I made some droplets on a drop cloth while laying up some wood and temporarily gluing the boards together. After completing the project, I was cleaning up and noticed the droplets on the drop cloth, and as I was trying to pry them off the surface, a couple of them resembled a Beetle body. I thought then, if I could practice a little, maybe I could get some good results turning out Beetle bodies with hot glue. And sure enough, the observation paid off.
I started out by buying some open weave material from the fabric store. I wanted to put the hot glue on the material so it would adhere to that. Then when it set I could trim around the shape and save the forward threads to tie in or tie down on the hook. What a find. It has some downsides to it but nothing close to the advantages. So here are the results of that find.
First I cut cardboard or matt board into strips 2 inches wide by 8 inches long. Then I cut a fabric strip the same shape as the cardboard. Then I tack the fabric strip to either end with hot glue.
Next, I reproduce the body shape I want to use on the specific pattern I've chosen. If you need a picture is a reference, use it. If you need to draw an outline to follow, or a start and end line for your hot glue application, do it. Stay with one pattern, your results will be more productive. Make as many patterns as your strip will hold and still give you a little room for your cutting out process.
When the glue is set take your pencil and mark next to the ones you think will work best for you. Look for evenness, no bubbles, and straight lines. In other words, look for the best results. Bear in mind, this product is cheap. You can throw everything in the wastebasket and still not be out much in cost. Use the high-temp hot glue and the small glue gun. It performs better.
Cut out your best bodies which you have marked, cutting them out one at a time. But at least you'll know which ones to use. Trim the edges of your fabric as close to the body shape as you can, and save the forward strands for tie in. Next place your hook in the vice and lay-a-rap from the headspace to the bend.
Now here's some more things to consider. You want to bend the hook? I do in the case of longer body Beetles. I bend it at the body – thorax junction. For this illustration I'm using a bent hook for clarification. On short bodies or pill type bodies you don't need to use a bent hook.
Start your rear legs tie in. You will want to tie in two sets, and spaced under the body. If you need to look at your model for positions, do so. At first you will be all thumbs, I guarantee it. So use a reference. I'm using .0009 black Mono from a stranded rope, just one strand. Now tie in your body. Since I'm tying on a bent hook, notice how my body drapes backward on the rear of the hook. Now tie in the forward leg strand and proceed to the headspace with your thread.
Next, tie in your foam strip which will be your head and thorax material. I tie it in facing forward to provide an underbody for the head. It's about 3/16 inch square. Now bring the foam back, tie in a head and your antennae. I use a smaller size of monofilament for the antennae .0007, tie these in one on each side of the head. (If you have seen other instructions you know the Mono I am referring to here is truck rope that can be purchased from the hardware store.)
Now wrap the thread back over the foam strip and in between the forward leg strip and back to the body and trim the excess foam piece. Finish and trim your thread. You're done tying at this point. Now it's finish time! I choose a thorax or pronatum cap to match my model. It can be dome shape, cone shape, barrel shaped, this is where my hot glue gun and artificial fingernails get their work out. If it's dome shape, I still have to cut out the final outline shape. You can do this by eye, or make a mockup of paper, or thinner plastic until you feel you are satisfied with the size and look. I'm going to use a dome shaped head piece I formed using the nozzle of the hot glue gun on a blank artificial finger nail and I am going to Crazy Glue the piece directly down on the foam thorax underbody of the fly. I also glue the body to hold it in position.
Use a strong pair of scissors to cut the thorax piece out. It will destroy a good fine pair of scissors almost immediately so I use a small Fiskers scissor. They are strong and cheap. Next I tweak the legs into position giving them a permanent set or tweak using a tool fashioned from a set of store-bought tweezers. This tool makes a permanent crease in the Mono but does not completely sever it. Some tyers use heat. I've tried but it just didn't work for me, and this creaser does. But you must coat the legs with paint or acrylic to seal them after they are creased. This maintains the set.
Your rear legs, mid-legs, and forelegs all are the first creased close to the body. Start on the front legs first and on the right side. Next the mid-leg. You have a slight space down from the body, then a right angle, a space (in proportion to your model) and another right angle. Then a hook or claw.
Next your rear leg. Except that is at a slight rearward pattern, and a break in section 3 with the change in direction. As I add the finish coatings to the legs you will see what is happening more clearly. Turn the fly around and repeat on the left side.
For finishing, I start with the legs first. Make a small paint pool with your acrylic. I use black. I use just common acrylic paint found in small plastic containers at any craft store. It's water-soluble, fast drying, flat in sheen, odorless, and nonflammable. It is however, not completely waterproof. That's why I finish it with a clear satin acrylic (non-yellowing) finish as the final topping. I usually try to set up an assembly line process when I'm doing Beetles so I can paint and finish several, maybe 12 at one time. This speeds up the process. I even underscore the body with the blade of my X-Acto knife to give the appearance of body segmentation. The surface is somewhat soft even when it is dried.
With a toothpick or bodkin, I dip the tip in and run the paint over the entire positioned legs. Then I come back and add more paint to parts 1, 2 and 3. I continue with this until I have put sufficient paint on them to show a decided difference in the leg structure where there is a definite structural and proportional change. It usually takes four or five coats on the upper portion 2 or 3. The paint dries quickly. Coat the second portion and then a taper to one coat. Your eye will tell you. You can always strip them and start over re-positioning the legs. Look at your model or picture, as this will keep you straight.
For the head and body, I use a brush, but before I do, I turn the bug over and float more material on the underside using a matchstick to really pile the paint on. I normally paint in eyes and position antennae and/or add paint to them also. You can also decide what additional color you should add if any. If you are creative you can dry brush it, or give it some color markings. You can get the back a stipple texture or combed look. The choices are endless. Just experiment along the way. At the end, I spray paint satin clear acrylic. I use three coats for both sides. This waterproofs the bug and seals the loop of the hook at the head.
I may have overlooked something. It seems I always do. But I have given you a pretty good overview of my techniques and materials. All you need is practice. Start somewhat small it first then build up. I favor Blister Beetles and Flower Beetles, and Longhorn Beetles as these are out and about and more mobile. I also think they are more buggy to the fish.
Buy yourself a reference book, Beetles by Charles White. It's an softback and a great source for reference. Do some serious trials, I think you will like the results.