Tying an "Emu Squid"

by Richard Carter

The original Emu Squid fly was developed while I was working in Whyalla SA. Most of this work was with the millennium bug project for BHP's computer systems. The real reason was the great fishing in the area. Salmon, King George Whiting, Snapper, Yellowtail Kingfish and many other species - the only reason I took the job in the first place.

As with most places I move to for a computer contract, I usually start fly tying classes for those brave souls who ask what the hell I am doing with a fly rod in saltwater (not as much these days as the profile of saltwater fly fishing has increased significantly). On my first visit to the local tackle store, when asked if they had any fly tying materials. They answer me with "why would they when trout where at least 5 hours drive away". So eventually, as always, I manage to convert a few heathen bait anglers into disciples of the fly.

On one of those tying evenings, one of the guys brought along some emu feathers (road kill?). Along with the question "What can we use them for?" In trying to stimulate their creativeness, we experimented for the next few hours. After a few "on water" trials and a few more tying sessions, the "Emu Squid" was the result.

Emu feathers come in two prime types for a fly tiers use, fluffy barbules and hard pin type barbules. The pin type barbules of the feathers make great antennae for insects (Goddard caddis antennae) and prawn patterns. The fluffy barbules are like marabou but shorter and stiffer than marabou. Though they still offer a great subtle movement on the retrieve. The fluffy part of the feathers is half way down some of the feathers below the pin type barbules. Most feathers also had a darker tip section. These fluffy feathers make great collars and bodies (which can also be trimmed to shape).

At the time of year of all this fly tying experimentation, there were a lot of cuttlefish hatching and plenty of small arrow squid in the top end of the Spencer Gulf. The other flies I used in the past for squid representations patterns ('Bomber Squid" and "Glove Squid" mainly) just did not suit the small sizes these baby cephalopods came in at time (using sizes 6 and 8 long shank hooks as the base for the Emu squid).

Top: Glove Squid (4/0)

Middle: Bomber Squid Floating (2/0 long shank)

Bottom: Bomber Squid Intermediate (2/0 long shank)

The first few patterns tried using the Emu feathers where very simple. Just tie in 4 to 8 feathers with black tips hanging over the hook bend. Tie in some large bead chain eyes at the feather tie in point and then tightly palmer all the feathers at the same time along the hook shank from the bead chain eyes to the hook eye. The bodies where not the best and it proved difficult to get the barbules to stand correctly when palmering several feathers at once (see below). It caught fish, but the style of fly could be improved (it was one "fugly" fly as seen below) 

I had the month before sent for some medium quality Spencer saltwater hackle capes, their arrival was timely for the next "improved" version of the fly. These capes are genetically modified saddle hackles - long, even and thin, hardly any fluff between barbules. Rejects for dry fly hackles, but perfect for saltwater fly use. In this fly's case far better for tentacles then the Emu feather tips. We could sill make used of the fluffy base of the Emu hackles to form the body of the fly.

I like to use long shank stainless hooks for this pattern. Mustad 34011, 34049NPSS or a straightened 96208. The long shank hook selected to provide a longer body. The main materials of the fly are standard Emu flank feather for the body. Long thin white genetic saddle hackles for the tentacles and large gold bead chain for the eyes. Three basic materials to make a killer fly.

The Emu Squid in various sizes has proven itself on saltwater species such as Mulloway, Australian Salmon, Tailor, Bream, Flathead, Yellowtail kingfish and several tuna species.

Emu Squid Recipe

Thread: White Uni-thread

Hook: Mustad 34011, 34049NPSS, or a straightened 96208

Tentacles: White genetic saddle hackles 2 long ones and 8 medium length ones

Beak: White chenille (helps flare the tentacle hackles)

Eyes: Gold Beadchain

Body: Emu flank feathers

Tying Sequence
Lay down a full hook shank length bed of thread and advance thread to hook bend. Tie in two long thin saddle hackles on top of hook shank. Add two or three wraps of white chenille (or white wool) at hook bend to form the beak (which later helps to flare the tentacles)

Tie in 8 or so medium length hackles behind beak. Wrap thread right up toward the chenille beak which will cause the medium length saddle hackles to flare.

Tie in eyes behind hackle tie in point at beak. Tie in first Emu flank feather tight in behind the eyes/

Wrap feather around hook shank very close to last wrap. Stroking feather barbules towards eyes while wrapping feather to ensure none trapped under next wrap of hackle.

Tie in next Emu flank feather.

Fill hook shank with palmered Emu feathers. Tie off thread at hook eye.

And there you have an effective baby squid fly.

Different Eyes Styles.
There are a couple more eye styles you may wish to try. Each for assisting the fly to hold at different depths. The standard bead chain is good for medium depth applications, the 3D prism and lead dumbbell eyes for very deep presentations, the stemmed dolls eyes for top water applications. You can build several eyes before starting tying the Emu squid flies. What follows are the instructions on how to make the two other eye types. (good for other eyed patterns too, like 3D wool and "Pilchard Head" flies.

3D eyes on lead dumbbell
File off flat the ends of a lead dumbbell. Then place a 3D eye on some Blu-Tac for support and placing a drop of epoxy on the surface before adding dumbbell

Add another drop of epoxy to the other eye and add it on. There you have it, very simple and now  ready for use on the Emu squid fly or any other pattern that you can think of.

'Dumbbelling" of stemmed dolls eyes
File away half the stem at an angle

Make two of these at the same angle and join with superglue

Give extra strength by binding with thread and a little more glue. They are now ready for tying onto the hook shank. I normally buy the stemmed eyes in bulk (from Spotlight, boxes of a 100) and make up the lot while just sitting around talking with family and friends or watching TV.

Here are the finished flies using each of the eye types

Top: Emu Squid with joined stemmed plastic dolls eyes

Middle: Emu Squid with 3D prism and lead dumbbell eyes

Bottom: Emu Squid with bead chain eyes

Sourcing Emu feathers
It is very hard to get processed and strung Emu feathers in Australia, far easier to get them from the USA (figure that one out!). What is available in the USA though is a good range of colours for all sorts of purposes. The plain natural ones locally available are fine for this squid fly pattern. You can buy them in $50 bags, which hold enough feathers for a lifetime of tying. One emu breeder - High Country Emus, has a web site you can contact them through (well they used to exist). The USA origin coloured ones have good uses in leech, damsel and nymph patterns. If you have a mate, friend or even an enemy in the Outback, tell them to keep an eye out for a Emu road kill and get them to pluck a few feathers for posting to you. Point to remember is there could be National Park laws that could make this illegal. I know it is for other bird species (i.e. Frogmouth owl). From another angle of souring the feathers, understand this - I really hate going to animal parks with my kids, very boring stuff (as I could be fly fishing instead). Until I started to pick up a few bird feathers around the aviary sections and the Emu paddock (windward side of pen or aviary best). I ended up quite enjoying my last visit to a bird park because of the huge bag of feathers I came home with guinea fowl, emu, peacock, duck and more. Certainly covered the entrance fee for the wildlife park. So you too may think about a trip to the zoo or bird park the next time your kids, relative's kids or grand kids ask you to take them to one as they are a very good and cheap source of feathers.

Fishing the fly
As for this fly's use, I usually fish this fly deep on a fast sinking shooting head and short leader, but also on intermediate and floating lines and lately on my favourite estuary fly line a ghost tip (floating line with nine foot clear fast sink tip). It all depends on what fish you are after and where they are holding in the water column and the subsurface structure they are holding in or over. Using 'stop - start" retrieve with extended pauses. I use the larger eyed version for larger predators (kingfish, tuna etc). Estuary species, including bream and flathead primarily, love the bead chain version.

As a side story, I tied a few of these for the local tackle store at Whyalla and this local non-fly fishing flathead guru grabbed a couple. A day or two later he came back with photos of seventeen flathead to 3.4kilo he got in one afternoon session. Not fly fishing but on spin gear using a barrel sinker and the fly on the end of a one meter trace following it. Man! was everybody interested in how to make them after those photos were shown around.

Another fish that likes the flies are rat kings, small ones 5 to 12lb, that fill the Pittwater each autumn around Scot Island and the other headlands of the area. Had a ball targeting them on 7 weight rods last autumn past, got buried so many times in the kelp beds it was fortunate the Emu squid flies are easy to tie and very cheap to make.

Anyway, happy tying and hopefully - successful fly fishing!

Richard Carter

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