Ultra violet fly tying materials catch fish, Q&A with author Reed Curry

For about the past year, a few of us at the shop have been experimenting with UV fly tying materials. UV dubbing and UV Chewee skin have been a big hit for trout on the Mckenzie and Willamette Systems, and I’ve been working UV Krystal Flash and UV Polar Chenille into my salmon and steelhead flies, and it’s definitely given me more confidence in the patterns, especially in low-light conditions.

UV Fly Tying Materials

Recently, Marcos from Hareline Dubbin turned us onto a book by Reed Curry, The New Scientific Angling: Trout and Ultraviolet Vision that really will boggle your mind. We did a Q&A with Reed, posted below.

When incorporating UV fly tying materials, do you want to use ALL UV in a pattern? Just some? Is there a mix you like?

I suggest using an amount appropriate to the natural. For example, use no UV reflective materials on a beetle or cricket pattern, since the naturals absorb 90% of the UV light; on the other hand, most mayflies should have UV reflective materials for the wing and head. Caddis flies should only have UV reflective bodies, not wings.

How much does the visible light color matter with UV materials?

I would want as close a match as possible to the natural in both visible light and UV. This is less important at dawn and dusk, when the UV predominates.

The book mainly deals with trout patterns… Have you had much experience with UV materials beyond trout?

Nope, but any other fish species which has no UV filter on the lens of the eyes should, in my opinion, receive the same treatment. In deeper, clear water this would be true as well as the river conditions that I covered in the book. I believe out your way that fluorescent materials are popular for salmon and steelhead. You will note in the book that, coincidentally, fluorescent materials usually are also highly UV-reflective.

Why are trout especially sensitive to UV materials?

Mature trout retain or regrown some of their UV-specific cones – they begin life seeing only UV – however, even were this not the case, trout have no UV filter to block the UV rays from striking their retina. The other cones have a secondary peak in the UV, so trout have that as well. Yes, at certain times of day, dusk and dawn, the UV sensitivity may be greatest. Many other fish also have UV vision, however, I didn’t undertake to document that.

Do certain materials hold UV better than others? i.e Platics? Yarns? Latex?

“Hold” is a confusing term for me. The UV is reflected immediately; when no UV light strikes the object it ceases to reflect UV. If you mean do some materials reflect UV better than others, it is a matter of the pigments in the dyes. Theoretically, the same percentage of Titanium dioxide (rutile) will reflect the same percentage of UV no matter what medium it is in, plastic, yarn, etc. Natural materials such as white-tipped Turkey quills may be much brighter in the UV than, for example, some white-tipped duck quills. And the feathers of a turkey that is old or in poor health will reflect a lower percentage of UV. This is because the UV reflectivity of the feathers is the result of the actual construction of the feather and not pigmentation. Fortunately, the genetic hackles we use these days are always from healthy, relatively young birds; so dry fly hackles should be very consistent in UVR. The same goes for our domestic turkey and geese.


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13 Responses to Ultra violet fly tying materials catch fish, Q&A with author Reed Curry

  1. Wow, fascinating stuff. I’ll have to get my hands on that book. Oh, and explain to my wife why I need to restock my tying supplies with UV …

  2. Rob R says:

    The book is on order–should have a few copies in the next two weeks. If you’d like the book, just place your order through the Caddis Fly and they’ll ship ASAP.

  3. Oregon Fly Fishing Blog says:

    There were 5-6 copies floating around the shop on my last visit. -MS

  4. Dan Nash says:

    I plan to tie UV trout patterns, Reed Curry’s book will save a lot of trial and error.

  5. Fishkamp says:

    I have been using that UV yarn with good success too. Can’t seem to get it to ball as nice as the McFlylon though.

  6. Karl Klavon says:

    I am going to post a link to a post I did on the pattern testing I did in 2010, concerning the testing of Reed Curry’s work with UV light and fly tying materials through the fishing of my Sheeps Creek Patterns. While these tests could hardly be classified as scientific research, I believe they represent the most systematic testing done to date about the effectiveness of UV-reflective, UV-absorbing and UV-reactive fly tying materials on fly patterns compared to normal fly patterns. There is a second link contained in the comments after the post that will connect you to photos of the Sheeps Creek Patterns viewed under normal daylight and under Black Light illumination, along with additional information provided in that thread as well. I am also putting this information up here because The Caddis Fly Shop is a Tenkara USA dealer, selling Daniel’s fine Tenkara rods…Karl.

  7. Greg Smith says:

    Hi there I have been looking for UV fly turning materials for some time and your web site is the first to show them. Would it be possible for you to send me a list of UV materials so I can start to get them.
    Thank you Greg

  8. Stephen Cook says:

    Colin J. Kageyama in his book “What Fish See”, pg 66-67, states that ” Except at the surface ultraviolet light will not affect the color of a fly in water. Second, even if ultraviolet light was reflected off a lure, it will be quickly absorbed by the water between the lure and the fish. Reflected ultraviolet light will only travel a matter of inches under water before it disappears.”.
    If that is true, what in the world are we doing with these UV materials? Is this another example of making something to catch fishermen rather than fish?

  9. Have you gotten a chance to play around with any of Loon’s UV Fly Tying products? They are pretty sweet, and have been well-received. http://www.loonoutdoors.com/products.html#fly-tying (toward the bottom of the page)

  10. Stephen,
    UVA actually is useful at greater depths than any visible light. Scientists have documented viable levels of UV at 600 meters deep in the ocean. But if you want a practical application of UV at depth, ask the SCUBA divers who have fluorescent patches on their wetsuits. The UVA wavelengths cause these patches to fluoresce – emit instantly visible light. There are videos on youtube.com showing divers at 270 feet deep in Lake Michigan, not the purest water, and their fluorescent patches glow brightly.

    Now, Infrared wavelengths don’t penetrate water very well, but UV packs more energy and gets deep. In certain bodies of water, for example heavily silted streams, the fine particles cause the UV wavelengths to be scattered. This however, provides a good UV background for the wet fly.

  11. M L says:

    While UV does indeed reach great depths in clear water, fluorescence is not a reflection of UV but rather a reaction in which the (invisible to humans) UV is absorbed by the surface causing it to emit light at human visible wavelengths. It is a form of luminescence and has nothing to do with reflecting uv. Thus comparing a diver seeing fluorescent colors at greater depths than non fluorescent colors to the distance at which a fish’s body reflects UV light is apples and oranges.

  12. Daniel D Holm says:

    I know there have been a lot of talk about Uv an fluorescent flytying materials so i have spend a lot of time reading up on these two. Here is a full video explaning what is what about Fl and Uv. Hope you can use it

  13. Gerald P. Mill says:

    This is directed to M L: please explain the relevance of your last sentence a copy of which follows.

    “Thus comparing a diver seeing fluorescent colors at greater depths than non fluorescent colors to the distance at which a fish’s body reflects UV light is apples and oranges.”

    How does the distance a fish’s body might reflects UV light inter into a discussion about whether UV reflective material improves the success of our flies taking trout? Sorry to be so dense.

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