The Cream Variant is an oldie but a goodie that works especially well as a searching pattern in late spring and summer when sulphurs, light cahills and cream cahills are out and about.
To start, pluck a long, nicely tapered hackle feather from a white or cream colored neck. Strip the fibers free from both sides of the stem. You don’t need to do the very tip or butt, which can be snipped off. Place the quill in a warm water bath for a few minutes to soften it. Having a bunch ready to go will definitely speed the tying process.
For a hook, I prefer something with a fairly short shank, like a Dai-Riki #305 in size 14. After getting the hook firmly secured in the jaws of your tying vise, load a bobbin with a spool of cream colored thread, here, UTC 70 Denier. Start your thread on the hook shank leaving a very full eye length space behind the eye and take a few wraps rearward before snipping or breaking off the tag.
For the Variant’s long, stiff tail, I like fairly light colored Coq de Leon fibers rather than ones from the cream colored hackle neck, but the choice is yours. Pull 8-10 fibers down, perpendicular to the stem, and strip them off while keeping their tips aligned. With the fibers in the fingertips of your right hand, measure to form a tail a full 2 hook shanks in length and transfer that measurement rearward to the start of the hook bend. Using a pinch wrap, secure the fibers to the top of the shank and continue taking touching thread wraps all the way to the start of the hook bend. Once the fibers are secured, use your tying scissors to snip the excess butt ends off close.
Retrieve one of the stripped hackle stems from the water bath. Place its tip end against the near side of the hook and begin taking thread wraps to secure it. Continue making nice, smooth, even thread wraps up the hook shank to about the 2/3rds point. Once there, snip the excess tip end off close. Get hold of the hackle stem and start making touching wraps with it up the hook shank to create a wonderfully segmented thin body. When you reach your tying thread, use it to secure the stem to the hook shank and then snip the excess off close. If you want to increase the durability of the body with head cement or thin UV cure resin, now would be a good time to do it. I’m going to leave this one au natural.
Go back to the same hackle neck you used before, and select a feather with fibers a full hook size larger than the hook you’re using. Once you’ve identified an appropriately sized feather, pluck it free from the skin. Prepare the feather for tie-in by holding it with the shiny side facing you and stripping the lower webby fibers free from the stem. Then remove a few extra fibers from the top edge of the stem, like so. You can then snip the excess butt end off leaving a small amount of space for tie-in.
Lay the stem against the near side of the hook and take thread wraps to secure it. Try to keep the area flat and smooth as this will allow the hackle to wrap correctly. Start making touching wraps with the hackle, up the hook shank, to your tying thread, making sure to leave ample space behind the hook eye. When you reach your tying thread, use it to secure the hackle with 2 or 3 tight turns. You can then reach in with the very tips of your tying scissors and snip the excess hackle off close. If there are any wonky fibers left, now is a really good time to snip them out.
Once things are looking tidy, do a 4 or 5 turn whip finish, trying your best not to trap hackle fibers in the process. Seat the knot well and then snip or cut your tying thread free.
It’s important to get the geometry right with this fly, so it rests correctly on the water’s surface and can be skittered along without sinking. If you can set it down and have the tip of the tail, the bottom of the hook and the tips of the hackle all in the same plane, you’ve pretty much nailed it.