Tying Shank-style Intruders

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Intruders can be tied on tubes or on hook shanks (or on any wire shank that fits the purpose). The extra steps, materials, and rigging techniques required to tie and fish shank-style Intruders make them highly impractical compared with tubes. So why would anyone bother to tie on shanks? I can come up with some weak arguments regarding the practicality of shank-style Intruders, but they are not terribly convincing, even to me. Call it inertia or nostalgia, but my preference for shanks is most likely based in my lack of experience. It’s only been one year since I took the plunge (see Intruder Alert) and I still have the exuberance of a newbie. But I love the way they fish, in spite of the extra effort they require.

Thankfully, the most important techniques outlined here will work on tubes without much, if any, translation. So here’s my first attempt at sharing the steps and details that were first gifted to me by my friend and mentor, Monte Ward.

Special Tools
Besides your vise, bobbin and scissors, here are the basic tools you’ll need:

Dubbing loop tool, heavy
Toothbrush
Needle-nose pliers
Hook file

Materials
Gearing up for Intruders can cost hundreds, even thousands of dollars if you intend to prepare for every potential variation and color combination. But over the last year, through considerable trial and evolution, I’ve developed a basic Intruder that embodies all of my favorite attributes with materials that can be found at most fly shops. Here’s what you’ll need to get started:

6/0 UNI-Thread, red
Partridge 45mm Waddington shanks
Lead eyes (small, medium or large, depending on application)
Holographic tinsel, large
30# Maxima monofilament
Florescent orange or red chenille, medium
Eumer arctic fox tail, 2XL, in red and black
Jungle cock cape (nails if you don’t have a cape)
Ostrich herl, black
Lady Amherst pheasant tail, matched pair (left and right handed)
Copper wire, small
Saddle hackle, hot orange
Grizzly hackle neck

Steps

1) Prepare your shank: I use a highly modified Waddington shank. The way I prepare these requires that the shanks are not hard-tempered—they need to be soft enough to be bent, clipped and filed without breaking. Gently bend the longest end of the Waddington until it sticks out at about 45 degrees from the main shank. Clip the long end to ¼” and file it smooth. Using your pliers, bend it back to its original position. Straighten the other end of the Waddington—huge pain in the ass—then put a tight hook-bend on it to fit in your vise.

intruder fly tying

Monte makes his shanks from piano wire. Others use long-shanked hooks which they later clip and file. Use any hook or shank that fits your needs.

2) Add eyes, tag & mono loop: Tie in lead eyes underneath the shank, close to the eye, leaving enough space for a standard thread head. Wind the thread back 1 ¾” and tie in holographic tinsel. Build a thin layer of thread over ¼” of the shank, then wrap tinsel tightly over the thread to create a tag. It’s important for the tag to taper slightly, getting thicker toward the front of the fly.

Clip off a 5” section of 30# monofilament and put a hard bend in the middle. Use this to tie in a small mono loop, about 1/8” long, then wrap thread over the mono all the way up the shank to the lead eyes. Clip off ends, and wrap thread to the back. Bend the mono pool forward so that it sticks up at a 45% angle to the shank. Your tippet will go through this when you rig the fly.

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3) Create the butt of the fly: Tie in two wraps of chenille, one behind and one in front of your mono loop. Keep them tight, trim and tie off.

Next comes the first of six dubbing loops that make this Intruder such a time-consuming fly. Tie off a loop of about 6” of thread, creating a 3” dubbing loop. Lightly wax the loop. Cut a small bunch of black arctic fox tail. Remove the guard hairs and trim to 1” long. Insert the fox fur into the dubbing loop such that the tip-end is slightly longer than the butt end, then spin it up. Once tightly spun, the fur will be clumped up badly. Brush vigorously with the toothbrush, forwards, backwards, and from all angles. After a minute or so of brushing, you’ll see that each strand of fur is cleanly separated and ready to be turned onto the shank. Fold and wrap tightly, keeping each turn as tight as possible to the previous turn. Tie off neatly and brush the finished “hackle” of fur forward, back, and forward again until it stands up straight. Wet your fingers and pull the fur hackle back so it is out of the way.

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Tie in the “eyes” of the Intruder. These are jungle cock feathers tied in over the fur hackle so they flare out at roughly 45-degrees. Look at the fly from behind. If you’ve done this step correctly, the eyes should be staring at you.

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Clip six strands of 2 ½” to 3”black ostrich herl. Pinch them between your thumb and index finger, holding the butt end. Wet your other hand and slick the ostrich fibers together, then tie in over one of the eyes. Repeat on the other side.

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Clip five strands of Lady Amherst tail fibers, same length as the ostrich, and tie over the ostrich on one side. Clip five identical strands from the other of your matched pair of tail feathers and tie in. The idea here is for the natural curve of the fibers to be symmetrical on the left and right of the fly. The fish probably don’t care about this, but I do.

Wet all the fibers and slick back so they are out of the way.

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4) The body: Most of the time I just wrap holo-tinsel from the butt to the thorax. Keep it simple. But a palmered saddle hackle looks super sweet, so when I’m on a roll and feeling like blowing another 10 minutes on a fly that is already gonna take an hour and a half, I go for it. Just tie in a few inches of copper wire at the back, holo-tinsel the body with tight enough wraps to mold the tinsel to the body, and wrap a nice hot orange saddle feather from front to back, counter wrapping the copper wire to lock it all down.

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5) Wow, you’re halfway there! Now let’s get serious about dubbing loops for the next 30 minutes—or the next hour, depending on how things go…

Heart of the fly
Your next dubbing loop is going to create the live, beating heart of your kick-ass new Intruder. You could pick any color or material for this, but since you’re following my personal pattern, you should try hot orange or red arctic fox tail. Clip a generous chunk of red arctic fox, about 1 ¼” long. Remove the guard hairs, and dub in a nice big loop. Before you spin it up, make sure the fur is spaced out nicely, evenly, and that the tip ends are slightly longer than the butt ends. Spin tightly, then brush the living shit out of it until the core diameter is barely thicker than spun thread—in other words, pick out every tangled strand of fur until your dubbing loop resembles a hackle. Wrap the fur as tightly as possible, folding and wrapping, with each wrap pulling snug to the wrap before. You’re getting the idea that these dubbing loops are different from the others you’ve done. Here you are creating a base that will hold the shape of your Intruder when it swims through strong currents.

Once a fox tail dubbing loop is tied off, it needs more brushing. This step has been the source of much ridicule for me among my closest friends. In an already geeky world of steelheaders, I am endowed with the distinction of the “brusher of dollies.”

“Oh, that’s just Rob, brushing his little dollies,” they say. But it’s the only way to hackle arctic fox, or any other dubbing. The more you brush, the better the fly turns out.

intruder fly tying

Your Intruder’s heart can also be made with spun deer hair of the same color. This creates a formidable flare, and adds buoyancy, in case you prefer a lighter fly. I’ve heard stories about the use of polar bear body fur for this step. Apparently it hackled quite nicely in a dubbing loop. I wouldn’t know anything about that.

Okay, let’s burn to the finish line. You’ve got these super-tight dubbing loops down. Cut a small chunk of 1 1/2” black fox tail. Pull all the guard hairs, space out nicely, spin and brush. Fold and wrap. Brush some more, backward and forward, then slick back out of the way for the next one.

intruder fly tying

intruder fly tying

Your next dubbing loop is going to be a little weird. Wax the thread loop, then cut a ½” section of Lady Amherst pheasant tail fibers from a tail feather. They should be nice and long, like the ones you used at the back. Place them in the dubbing loop, pull the dubbing tool tight, and place your index finger under the tail fibers. Holding it all tightly, separate the fibers with a bodkin, or with your scissors. The pressure of your fingers will hold them in place as you spread out the fibers until they expand to twice their original width—about 3/4.”

intruder fly tying

Now, the only way this is going to spin up is if you keep tension on it. If you give it a hint of slack it will drop out and you’ll have to start over. So keep tension, pinch the base of the loop with your free hand, and spin the dubbing loop tool with the other hand. When the thread is spun really tight, release your pinch, and let the Lady Amherst spin. This is how you spin long feather fibers. Pinch, spin, release. As long as your fibers were lined up properly, the fibers will spin up beautifully, creating the coolest hackle you’ve ever seen. Brush if needed, then hackle with tight wraps and tie off.

intruder fly tying

Cut a ¾” section of black ostrich herl, the same length as used in the back—2 ½” to 3.” Use a dubbing loop to hackle the herl, as in the previous step. Once hackled, wet and slick back.

Tying intruder style flies

Tying intruder style flies

At this point, you want to have only a tiny gap between your last hackle and the lead eyes. Your final dubbing loop will be a 1” section of black fox tail, spun, brushed, folded and wrapped in a figure-eight over the eyes, then tied off tightly.

Tying intruder style flies

Tying intruder style flies

Tying intruder style flies

6) Wings: Many people are comfortable tying in their hackle tips and finishing their fly quickly. I was taught to tie flies that last. And Intruders are a special breed of steelhead fly that can last for years, catching dozens of fish. If they are tied with care.

So we’re going to tie these wings in…in reverse. This sucks. The feathers are unruly, requiring some trial-and-error. Take them one at a time, and carefully tent a pair of 2 ½” grizzly hackle tips as wings. If they aren’t right, start over. You’ve devoted a lot of time to this fly, so another five minutes is warranted to get it right.

tying intruder flies

tying intruder flies

Give the fly two six-wrap whip-finishes and varnish with super glue.

tying intruder flies

Once the varnish is completely dry, remove the fly from the vise. Pull the rear-end materials back and hold them so that the hook-bend is clear of all fibers. Clip with your needle-nose pliers’ wire cutters, about 1/8” past where the holo-tinsel tag ends. Don’t let go. Take your hook file and file the end of the wire smooth.

7) The Bowl Test: As Ed demonstrates in Skagit Master, the final step to tying an Intruder is putting it in the water. Cut a section of 10- or 12-pound mono, tie on the fly, and submerge it in a big bowl of water. Soak the fly, then pull the line in a figure-eight. If your loops were tight, if you brushed enough, you’ll have a living creature swimming around in the bowl. Nice work!

tying intruder flies

8) Rigging: Shank-style Intruders require short sections of narrow tubing for their final rigging. The tippet runs through the eye of the hook, through the small mono loop at the back of the fly, then through a 3/8” section of tubing. A hook is tied on at the end, and the tubing is pushed onto the post at the back end of the fly. The final step is to pull the tippet tight and position the hook so it rides upside down as it swings.

Conclusion

Intruders tied in this way present a large, undulating profile, full of contrast, with bold eyes staring back at the fish.

tying intruder flies

They elicit a response from steelhead that I can only describe as “predatory.” Listen to Ed in Skagit Master—he says it all. It’s all about the grab!–RR

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23 Responses to Tying Shank-style Intruders

  1. Michael Webb says:

    Very nice. I have tied a dozen intruders lately, pretty similar ingredients, but considerably less finesse. I’ll try it your way, thanks.

  2. Billy McK says:

    Rob-

    Great write up! I can’t wait to try these out. I’m on it as soon as I get back from the Rose Bowl!!!! Great meeting and talking with you at the Caddis Fly Christmas Party…

    -Billy

  3. Jay Nicholas says:

    Rob, you are my Intruder hero. Sign me up. Place the order for a dozen Jungle cock Capes. A truck-load of ostrich. Fur. Pheasant. Flash. Whatever. Can I spin in some rubber legs? Got to get the grab!

    Thanks for a FANTASTIC instructional-inspirational.

    JN

  4. carl reisig says:

    Rob:

    There is fly tying, and then there is RR at the vise.
    Your intruders intrude into the realm of fine art.
    Thank you, for sharing with us.

    Carl

  5. Shahab says:

    The afternoon project, gonna incorporate some of your tips. Thanks!!!!

  6. Rob R says:

    One thing I’ll add to this already exhausting post: Since I prepared this article a week or so ago, I’ve been omitting the first dubbing loop of fox at the back of the fly–everything else stays the same. The result is a more transparent body, showing off the palmered hackle and heart of the fly. It’s a major step up, but now all my old ones look lame to me. So now I’m blazing to fill my box with the new ones. And instead of taking an hour and a half to tie, they only take an hour and twenty five minutes! Sweet, huh? FYI.

  7. glenn says:

    beautiful fly. looks like it would be a great bass fly – if it weren’t such a difficult tie….

  8. Tony T. says:

    SWEEEET POST!!!! Strong work Rob!

  9. Dave pinczkowski says:

    real nice and crittery cant wait to fish some of those this march .

  10. Mariusz says:

    Rob,
    I can’t believe you didn’t keep it a secret!!!
    Just kidding.
    You are a master my friend!
    M

  11. Rob Lewis says:

    Rob Russell, Thanks for taking the time to show the drooling masses how it is done!! Thank you!

    Rob

  12. Dan Salvi says:

    Great tutorial….can’t wait to try some out on the Salmon River NY

  13. G Hatten says:

    Awesome – in so many ways. Well done brother!!
    GH

  14. Dave Sabo says:

    Pretty cool , I’ve been tying for a long time , but I think I just learned a couple of new tricks , thanks dude . I am going to be using them right now.

  15. Bjorn says:

    What a fantastic looking fly… only about 8-10 too many steps for me to tie, but I’m glad someone is doing it.

  16. Clint says:

    Nice Intruder, it looks fishy.
    One alternative for the cost conscious would be to use a shank of a hook that has been cut off. You can still build the loop to guide the tippet at the back end and you do not have to “adapt” a Waddington. Regardless of structure, they do catch fish.

  17. C Potter says:

    Those aren’t looking too bad, RR. With a little more thought and effort you might really get ‘em figured out. Keep at it.

  18. That is a great article detailing and illustrating every step. I will have to tie some of these up this winter.

  19. Al says:

    This is a terrific tutorial: a well written, well illustrated, thorough set of instructions. I have an interest in the Intruder based solely on the fact it looks so fishy. Plus, I like the challenge of a more involved tie, something to keep me busy through a long, Yukon winter when the water is a bit hard. I have to confess though, I’m not a steelheader. I’m interested in the Intruder as a Coho fly—or spring cutties and Dolly. Do you have any evidence it works for Silvers?…or possibly a flashier (pinker/silvery/chartreusy) version of same?

  20. Wayne says:

    Rob, I fish with Monte, and the flies you tie look like his. Great Job!
    Wayne

  21. Oregon! I am not aware of this. I now adore the intruders! April Vokey, Rich Youngers, etc influenced me to hook this kind of pattern! Look forward to having this to my emails! Thanks

  22. Rich Johnson says:

    Thanks for taking the time to do great step-by-step photography and instruction. And don’t take the OCD stuff to hard. We all have our idiosyncrasies. Thanks to yours, I learned lots.

  23. nico_p says:

    Thank you so much for this step by step fly recipe. This pattern is wonderful: beautiful at the vise and in the water.

    Adding some bucktail, I tied larger versions of this for taimen in Mongolia and was very succesful.

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