The Devil Bug and patterns like it all kind of merge together in terms of how they’re constructed, named and who invented them. This version is pretty close to Gary Borger’s as far as materials and tying techniques go.
Although they can be tied on anything from a size 8 to an 18, I’m going to tie this Devil Bug on a size 14 Dai-Riki #300 dry fly hook. Start by mashing the barb and then getting the hook firmly secured in your tying vise.
For thread, brown UTC 70 Denier is a good choice. Start your thread behind the hook eye and take wraps rearward before snipping or breaking off the tag.
Snip a small clump of deer hair free from the hide, a half a pencil diameter or thereabouts is plenty. While holding the tips, strip out the short fibers and the fuzzies. Really getting the clump cleaned out well is worth the extra effort. Once things are looking good, place the deer hair in your stacker tips first and give it a real good stacking. Open your stacker and get hold of the hair by the very tips, trying to keep them aligned in the process. If there are any that aren’t properly stacked, pull them out. Measure the hair to form a tail about a hook shank in length. While keeping this measurement, take 2 loose wraps of tying thread around the clump and then pull tight to draw it down on top of the hook shank. Keep on taking wraps to further compress the hair. Now, gently lift the butts up and take a wrap or two around just the hook shank behind the eye. Then pull the butts back forward to their original position and take a couple more wraps around the clump. This procedure really helps to keep the deer hair from spinning around the hook.
With the clump firmly anchored, lift up on the rearward pointing deer hair and begin making open spiral wraps down the hook shank. These needn’t be overly tight, only enough tension to contain the deer hair. When you reach the barb, increase the thread tension for a couple wraps then pull down on your bobbin to expose about 4 inches of tying thread.
For dubbing, I like rabbit but any dry fly dubbing will work just fine. Bright colors seem to work best and I think it’s hard to go wrong with red. Create a fairly substantial dubbing noodle over the length of the exposed tying thread, but don’t begin wrapping just yet.
First fold the deer hair butts back over top of the hook shank and get a good grip on them with your left hand. Then, start taking wraps at the hook barb and continue wrapping forward to cover the folded over hair completely, all the way to just behind the hook eye. You can then pull the deer hair forward, over top of the dubbing, and past the eye. While maintaining the grip on the hair, use your left hand to make 2 or 3 wraps of tying thread. With the clump roughly secured, you can switch back to a normal tying position and make a few tighter wraps to further bind and flare the deer hair. Once again, it’s a good idea to lift the butts and take a wrap or two around just the hook shank, followed by some more wraps around the hair.
You can then get hold of your whip finish tool and, while pulling the hair back to expose the eye, do a 4 or 5 turn whip finish. Make sure to seat the knot really well before cutting or snipping your tying thread free.
Next, exchange the whip finish tool for your tying scissors and snip the deer hair butts off, leaving a small length protruding out over the hook eye. A drop of head cement over the wraps at both the front of the fly and the back will keep them from unraveling and further stop the deer hair from rotating around the hook shank.
Because the deer hair is so easily cut, these flies don’t last long. It’s just the nature of the beast. That said, they do work quite well with a few broken hairs. To keep your Devil Bugs from rapidly getting chewed to shreds, a light coating of head cement or Hard As Nails applied to the deer hair back will help to strengthen it somewhat. Ideally, the top half of the bug should be covered with deer hair and the bottom with exposed dubbing.
To me, one of the most attractive things about a Devil Bug is how many ways it can be fished. It floats like a champ and produces well when dead-drifted. For the angler, the light colored back is very visible on the water’s surface while the trout below see mostly the red underbody and the tail. It can be twitched to mimic the movements of a newly minted caddis fly struggling to get airborne or it can be pulled in longer strips to create a little “v” shaped wake which young brook trout, in particular, have a hard time resisting. This rainbow fell for an orange bottomed Devil Bug, dead drifted in the last little bit of daylight. Don’t be afraid to experiment with this pattern, you never really know what’s going to trigger a take.