Dumbbells, Barbells, Hourglass, and Bead Chain Eyes – The Complete Review of Weighted Eyes for Fly Tying

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Photo Caption The hand full is something like fifty packs of dumbbells, barbells, and hourglass eyes that Chris sent me to examine and research. Ha ha ha ha ha. I’ve been tying with these puppies for decades, although to be sure some of these products are new within the last three or so years. But I’m no stranger to these beauties.

A knock at the door recently announced the arrival of a USPS Priority mail package from Chris Daughters at the Caddis Fly Angling Shop. Small package, but very heavy for its size. I opened the box carefully, because I knew exactly what I’d find inside.: over five hundred weighted eyes for fly tying. Five hundred, and these represented something like half the eyes that are currently available to fly tyers today.

Chris sent the package with an invitation: he asked me if I was interested in trying to make sense of the madness; if I would be willing to tackle these dumbbells in a series of blog posts.

“Sure,” I said.

A task like this offered to anyone with the slightest hint of OCD is like, well, ………..

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Photo Caption The wide angle is my at the bench showing just how I felt when I realized the magnitude of Chris’ request. Instead of simply tying flies with these dumbbells, I had to accurately describe them, measure them, compare and contrast them, and transform the analytical data into recognizable information bytes.
Not child’s play, let me tell you.

Img pt 1 a
Photo Caption. This is but a small peek at the array of weighted eyes that I laid out and began weighing and describing for this chapter/post.

Four weeks later, I’m done. Not really done-done; but I’m finished enough to set my figurative pen down, put the scale away for awhile, and report my thinking and observations.

Here is a list of the topics I’ll cover in this chapter.

1. Introduction: Dumbbell, Bead Chain, Barbell, and Hourglass Eyes – weighted Eyes for Fly Tying
2. Hareline Double Pupil Lead (and Brass) Eyes: Complete Review
3. Hareline Lead Eyes: The Economical Choice for Fresh and Saltwater Flies
4. The Weight of Lead Versus Brass Dumbbell Eyes: Is the Difference Significant?
5. Aquaflies Intruder Eyes Versus Hareline Brass Eyes: Complete guide and review
6. Guide to Choosing Weighted Eyes for Hooks, Shanks, and Tubes in Fly Tying
7. Durability of Dumbbell Eyes – Does a “Toughness” rating make sense?
8. Hook Size Guide for Hareline Double Pupil Eyes for Fresh and Saltwater Flies
9. Size Guide for Glue-on Eyes to use with Hareline, Aluminum Sea Eyes and Sunken Brass Eyes
10. Master Chart of Weighted Eyes for Fly Tying

1. Introduction: Dumbbell, Bead Chain, Barbell, and Hourglass Eyes – weighted Eyes for Fly Tying

Most fly tyers these days will refer to dumbbell eyes and apply the same term to eyes that have what I consider very different shapes, This is ok, but the serious tyer is well aware that weighted eyes are not all dumbbells, and holds strong but not necessarily universal personal opinions regarding the proper application of various types of eyes to different hooks, shanks, and tubes.

So, I decided to start by laying out my three categories of weighted fly tying eyes. These are
• Dumbbell
• Bead chain
• Barbell
• Hourglass

Img pt 1 a
Photo Caption. As examples in the photo above, from left to right, I have lined up dumbbell eyes, bead-chain eyes, hourglass eyes, barbell eyes, and Aluminum Sea Eyes.

Img pt 1 b
Photo Caption. Close-up view of dumbbell, barbell, hourglass, eyes, and Aluminum Sea Eyes.

Img pt 1 c
Photo Caption. Close-up view of bead chain eyes (Chicone’s Stealth Bead Chain).

What is the base metal of weighted fly eyes?

Short story here – the vast majority of the eyes we use on our flies are composed of a core that is either lead, brass, stainless steel, titanium, or Aluminum.

Want to know which is which? Here you go, check out the table below.

SS pt 1 a

Why Fish Weighted Eyes on a Fly?

All of these weighted eyes cause a fly to fish and swim in a different manner than a fly tied with lead wire or beads. ‘specifically, weighted eyes are sure to cause a fly to swim with the hook point up, rather than down. In addition. Weighted eyes, when properly sized to the hook, will cause the fly to dip up and down in the water, an enticing action. And finally (ha ha) the upward positioning of the hook attitude simultaneously reduces incidences of shagging rocks logs and leaves, keeps the hook point sharper longer, and increases the percentages of solid hook-ups.

If you’ve never tied flies with weighted eyes and this doesn’t tempt you to give it a try, you must be a fanatic Euro nympher, content with catching hundreds of trout at will. In that case, I wish you well.

2. Hareline Double Pupil Lead (and Brass) Eyes: Complete Review

These eyes are, without a doubt, my dumbbell of choice when tying Clousers on regular and 60-degree jig hooks. There might be times when I’m tying Clousers on larger 2/0 and 3/0 hooks, I often prefer to use nickel plated lead eyes, but only then because I like the shiny nickel for many of the baitfish patterns I fish offshore.

Available Colors:
• There are ten color combinations available.
• All eyes have black pupils.
• Five eyes emphasize black outer eye with contrasting inner eye color.
• The remaining color themes are – Hot orange; Hot pink; Chartreuse; Yellow; Red

Listen up all you fanatic tyers of Clousers, Sculpins, streamers and such forth.

With literally hundreds of weighted eyes on today’s fly tying materials market, the process of figuring out which eye to match with which hook. If you can be patient, I think this blog post and several that will follow will earn a place on your fly bench. In fact, I’ve created tables to summarize my best guidance so you can print it out and lay it close at hand when you are ordering materials and assembling your next creation.

I decided to focus on listing the hooks I prefer to fish and the sizes that match-up with Hareline Double Pupil Lead Eyes. These are, without a doubt, my dumbbell of choice when tying Clousers. The only exception is that when tying Clousers on the larger hooks 2/0 and 3/0, I often prefer to use nickel plated lead eyes.

Img pt 2 a
Photo Caption. Hareline Double Pupil Eyes in lead (chartreuse) and brass (hot pink).

Dumbbell Eye Weight
I weighed ten dumbbells of each size  to arrive at these figures and there was surprising little variation.

Dumbbell Eye Weight (lead)

Lead dumbbell weight observations
XL – 49 gr
L – 21 gr
M – gr
S – 10 gr
XS – 8 gr

Best application.

I tie with these Double Pupil Lead Eyes on hooks, shanks, and tubes. These dumbbell style eyes are superior to Hourglass eyes when tying on tubes or heavy shanks like Waddington Shanks or large shanks that have a return eye that is not tapered. The best use of various shapes of weighted eyes will be discussed further in another section of this post/chapter.

Best hooks and hook sizes for Double Pupil Lead Eyes

SS pt 2 a

 3. Hareline Lead Eyes: The Economical Choice for Fresh and Saltwater Flies

Most versatile and Economical Dumbbell Eyes for Fly Tying
From X Large to Midget these are excellent dumbbells for your fly tying needs.
The most versatile lead eyes ever!
• Economical
• 10 eyes per pack
• Reasonably durable
• Fresh and saltwater applications
• Trout nymphs
• Streamers
• Clousers for all species fresh and salt
• Finish: plain lead, painted black, and nickel plated

Img pt 3 a
Photo caption. The trout nymphs above are tied on TMC 3761 hooks perfectly matched with Hareline Painted Dumbbell Eyes: XS with #6 hook; Mini with #8 hook; Micro with #10 hook; and Midget with #12 hook. These flies are an example that shows showing how nicely the right dumbbell eye fishes on nymphs in sizes that range from #6 to #12.

Img Pt 3 b copy
Photo caption. Double Pupil Lead Dumbbell Eyes matched with the proper size Gamakatsu SC-15 hooks. The XL dumbbell is matched with sizes #2/0 hook and the XS is matched with the #4 hook.

Hook Size Guide for Hareline Lead Eyes
Remembering that these lead eyes are the same shape and weight as the Double Pupil Lead Eyes, the hook size recommendations will be identical – but I wanted to show these two hook size tables in order to –
• Include many hooks that I might not have noted in the size chart for double pupil eyes
• To show hooks appropriate for use with mini, micro, and midget eyes that are not available in the double pupil style of eyes

DB Chapt pt 3a
Photo Caption. Size comparison of Hareline Double Pupil Lead Eyes and Hareline Lead Eyes. Note that the somewhat plainer lead eyes offer three sizes smaller than the double pupil variety.

 

Hook size guide for Hareline Lead Eyes

SS pt 3 b

The bottom line for Hareline Lead Eyes?
I believe that these are the most versatile and economical dumbbell eyes available today. No fancy colors here, and the fly fanatic might quibble about whether the durability of these eyes is as good as another product. Although own favorite is the Double Pupil variety (I gravitate to the bright colors) but these Hareline Lead Eyes are my front choice for nickel plated saltwater eyes, and these are unmatched when I want to tie trout nymphs using dumbbells rather than beads.

Undoubtedly, these are great dumbbells that think are often overlooked since the new generations of fancy eyes have evolved.

4. Aquaflies Intruder Eyes Versus Hareline Brass Eyes: Complete guide and review

I’ve appreciated these relatively new-to-market Aquaflies Intruder Eyes since I first saw them. Doug Brutocaco was my guest at my family’s Pacific City cabin a few years ago (where does the time go?); he had several product samples with him and graciously offered me some of the first of these eyes that they took to market.

I loved the colors, the finish, and the possibilities for use with hook and straight shank Intruders. It was a year or so before I realized that there were many similarities between the Aquaflies eyes and the Hareline Brass eyes. So this section will lay out what I’ve found about the two products laid side by side.

SS pt 4 a Aqua vs brass

Img pt 4a

Photo Caption. This photo shows all 8 color options of the Aquaflies intruder Eyes.
• Light pink
• Purple
• Dark Blue
• Claret
• Hot pink
• Hot orange
• Yellow Chartreuse
• Light blue

    Shape and color variation

Please note that you may encounter variation in color and eye shape between production lots. This can be rather annoying and you might not notice it unless you are tying many many flies. because the variations tend to occur between production runs at the factory where the eyes are made. One production run of eyes might be 20,000 eyes: enough to fill 1,000 bags. I have seen thousands of packs of these types of dumbbell eyes over the last fifty years I’ve tied flies; the instances of product variation has become less common over the years.

    Application and limitations of “hourglass” eyes.

In my opinion, the Aquaflies and Hareline brass eyes reviewed here are best used on straight shanks and hooks. These eyes tie in nicely on the Aquaflies return eye and round eye shanks because both of these are a slender base for the hourglass shape of the eye to fit over.
These hourglass eyes are not well suited for use on tubes or bulky return eye shanks, because the broad surface of the tube or shank does not allow the narrow waist of the eye to “seat” snugly.

    Size Options.

As noted in the previous table comparing these two products, Hareline Brass Eyes are offered in four rather than three sizes. I prefer to use the three larger sizes for flies like Intruders that are tied on shanks with slender return eyes or straight hook or shank wire. I will tie with the smallest Hareline Brass Eye on micro shanks or smaller hooks and shank wire. This XS size is really quite fine and does not match well with many of the typical shanks and larger hooks (#2 and. up)

Img pt 4b
Photo Caption. Aquaflies intruder Eyes on left and Hareline Brass eyes on right.

This photo shows three Aquaflies Intruder Eyes (Chartreuse) alongside 4 Hareline Brass eyes in hot flame red. This photo s a reminder that Hareline eyes are offered in four versus three sizes as well as the existence in eye color and shape variation.

    Overall conclusion

The table below summarizes our data regarding Aquaflies Intruder Eyes versus Hareline Brass Eyes

SS pt 4 b Aqua vs brass overall

5. Lead Versus Brass Dumbbell Eyes: Is the Weight Difference Significant?

Composition of Weighted Eyes
Before debating the merits of lead versus brass eyes, let’s note that weighted fly tying eyes are predominantly composed of lead, brass, tungsten, aluminum, or stainless streel. The base metal used in the fly tying products that are most in use these days (2020) are listed below.

Lead
Double Pupil Led Eyes
Painted Lead Eyes
Hareline Lead Eyes
Hareline Heavy Lead Eyes

Brass
Double Pupil Brass Eyes Hareline
Brass Eyes
Aquaflies Intruder Eyes
Balz-Eyes
I-Balz
Pseudo Eyes
• Real Eyes Plus
Brass Sunken Barbell Eyes
Bead Chain
Chicone’s Bead Chain
Senyo’s Bead Chain

Tungsten
Tungsten Predator Eyes
Tungsten Hourglass Eyes

Aluminum
Aluminum Hourglass Eyes

Stainless Steel
SS Bead Chain


Is lead significantly heavier than brass?
This is far from a trivial matter to debate. We know that lead is denser (heavier) than brass, but in the world of fly tying eyes, does the difference matter? After weighing these eyes myself and looking at the side-by-side comparison below, I would say – No, the weight difference is so slight that it is unlikely to affect the way a fly fishes, when taken in context with all of the materials that are lashed to the hook.

SS pt 5 wt of lead & brass eyes

6. Guide to Choosing Weighted Eyes for Hooks, Shanks, and Tubes in Fly Tying

Many of us tie flies on Hooks, Shanks, & Tubes, depending on the pattern, our mood, and sometimes because we are trying to expand the reach of our skills.

My opinion regarding weighted eyes is shown in the table below. Dumbbell and barbell eyes are far more versatile than hourglass eyes; Dumbbells and barbells can be used with all hooks and shanks, but hourglass eyes are best suited only for a bare hook or shank.

Shape of Weighted Eyes.
As noted previously, I classify weighted eyes as Dumbbell, Bead Chain, Barbell, and Hourglass shapes.

Application of Weighted Eyes to hooks, shanks, and tubes.
My opinion regarding weighted eyes is shown in the table below.

• Dumbbell and barbell eyes are far more versatile than hourglass eyes;
• Dumbbells and barbells can be used with all hooks and shanks,
• but hourglass eyes are best suited only for a bare hook or shank.

Form and Function.

This table below hows my opinion that Dumbbell and Barbell eyes can be used
with virtually all hooks and shanks; Hourglass eyes, in contrast, are only suitable for bare hook and straight shanks.
SS pt 6 Form & Funct sum

 

Imh pt 6 a Photo caption. Waddington Shank with dumbbell eye securely lashed on.

 Img 6 b

 Photo caption. Waddington Shank with dumbbell eyes at left and hourglass eyes to right, Clearly, the dumbbell eyes will fit more easily on the wide platform of the shank than hourglass eyes could. securely lashed on.

 Img pt 6 c

 Photo caption. Aquaflies tapered return eye in center left- OPST round eye shank at center right. The dumbbells at far left will fit best on the Aquaflies return shank, and the hourglass eyes at far right will fit better on the OPST round eye shank.

 

7.  Durability of Dumbbell Eyes – Does a “Toughness” rating make sense?

This is a common question that is shrouded with intrigue, opinion, and personal preference.

With years of experience fishing flies tied with most all of these products I certainly have my favorites. But overall, I think that all of the weighted eyes we tie with in 2020 are sufficiently durable and I use them all without hesitation.

Selecting weighted fly trying eyes for durability.
I tend to select the weighted eyes for the flies I tie based more on my perception of shape, weight, and color – far more so than by a ranking of perceived durability. I have seen fellow anglers fish the most beat-up, paint-worn-off eyes you can imagine –with great fish catching success,

Grueling hours on the water fishing flies tied with weighted eyes will prove that some eyes are a little more durable than others. Hareline Tungsten Predator Eyes are tough, they do not chip, and they have a pleasant modified barbell shape, But these tungsten eyes can break in half and fly off our fly (ha ha) when our fly smacks the side of an aluminum boat on a forward or back-cast.

Other weighted eyes that are painted or plated can lose their coating when they drag through sand and rocks, and all can be ruined by a poorly placed pair of pliers, when we are removing flies from fish mouths.

img pt 7b
Photo Caption. The eyes above were chipped right out of the package. You will see these messed-up eyes on rare occasion, but I’ve never seen this with Hareline Double Pupil Lead or Brass eyes.

When pressed on the subject, I constructed the table below, and present it here with the reminder that all of these weighted fly tying eyes are reasonably durable. Reasonably within the range of products and technologies with which I am aware of today.

IMG pt 7 a
Photo Caption. Double Pupil Lead Dumbbell Eye at right and Hareline nickel plated Lead Eye at left, Under practical fishing conditions, I have seen both of these eyes chipped and bent, but I believe that the Double Pupil eyes are slightly more durable, but not by much,

SS pt 7 a

8. Hook Size Guide for Hareline Double Pupil Eyes for Fresh and Saltwater Flies

Right Sizing Dumbbells. (Why be careful with proper sizing of weighted eyes?)
Of course we can lash many sizes of weighted eyes onto hooks, shanks, and tubes when we are tying flies on all of these platforms. That said, there are benefits and ill consequences that arise from improper size-matching these eyes. Too-small eyes will probably not turn the fly over to swim properly, and oversized eyes will likely interfere with hook-setting.

Img Pt 8 b
Photo Caption. The Clouser at top has eyes too small; the lower fly has eyes that are too large. The top fly might not swim with the hook up, the large eyes on the lower fly might interfere with hook setting.

Hook Size Guide for Hareline Double Pupil Dumbbell Eyes

SS pt 8 a

9. Size Guide for Glue-on Eyes to use with Hareline, Aluminum Sea Eyes and Sunken Brass Eyes

I will suggest the proper size of glue-on eyes for two weighted eyes.
• Hareline Sunken Barbell Eyes
• Hareline Aluminum sea eyes.

Size Guide for use of Glue-on Eyes with Hareline Sunken Barbell Eyes
This size guide will allow anyone to order eyes that will fit properly.

Size Guide for use of Glue-on Eyes with Hareline Sunken Barbell Eyes

SS pt 9a glue eye guide

Img pt 9a
Photo Caption. Hareline Aluminum Sea Eyes shown in the three sizes offered; XL, M, and S.

Img pt 9 b
Photo Caption. XL Hareline Aluminum Sea Eyes shown with 3/8’ super pearl stick on eyes properly seated.

Img pt 9 c
Photo Caption. XL, M, & S Hareline Aluminum Sea Eyes shown with 3/8”, 5/15” and 3/16” stick on eyes properly seated. super pearl stick on eyes properly seated.

10. Master Chart of Weighted Eyes for Fly Tying
This is a stand-alone chart; I recommend that the serious fly tyer execute a “screen-shot” of this table image. All of the most important data, information, and opinion presented in this chapter are summarized here. This printed page can then find a home at your fly tying bench.

SS pt 10 master table

Conclusion.

With somewhere between 600 and a thousand weighted fly tying eyes available at reasonable price, in 2020, there is more than enough potential for confusion and conflicting opinion regarding which dumbbells, barbells, hourglass eyes, and bead-chain are best suited to specific flies.

Still, I hope that any beginning fly tyer will be able to negotiate the ocean of technical detail with the information I’ve provided in this chapter/post.

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Photo Caption The closeup is the fear in my eyes when I realized how many brain cells the project would burn through.

Enough said. I hope you find enough information to allow your cup of knowledge to runneth over as you browse the Doctoral Thesis herein attached.

My apologies for the not-up-to-my-standards imagery, this is all cell phone stuff and macro images are not the forte of the iPhone. We are at war with the virus, so we do what we can and carry on, as the Queen instructed.

Be safe, have fun, tie them flies, and know what it means when the instructions say – add dumbbells/barbells, or hourglass eyes of choice.

Thank you for your patience, as always, and my best wishes to you all.

Jay Nicholas, April 8 2020

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5 Responses to Dumbbells, Barbells, Hourglass, and Bead Chain Eyes – The Complete Review of Weighted Eyes for Fly Tying

  1. Gordy Prudencio says:

    Too much time on our hands Lets get back too normal

  2. Stevie says:

    Jay, you failed one rule #1…don’t touch your eyes!

    Hee hee

  3. George Fetters says:

    Excellent. My only regret was I needed it over forty years ago. Charts are already printed. Thank you for your efforts. It is appreciated.

  4. Brad pepping says:

    Great article thanks. One thing I have found with lead eyes is that you can underweight quite considerably. This comes in when wanting to present a larger fly in shallower water.

  5. Edward Lee says:

    Jay,
    Great labor of love. Thanks a lot.
    Learned a lot from this marvelous dissertation.
    One tiny correction on the chart:
    ‘Hook Size Guide for Hareline Double Pupil Dumbbell Eyes’
    TMC doesn’t produce SL11-3H
    This Is Gamakatsu

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