The Shop Vac is a remarkably easy fly to tie but it also happens to be one of the most effective attractor patterns there is. I read somewhere that Craig Matthews from Blue Ribbon Flies in West Yellowstone, Montana was the originator of the Shop Vac, but I don’t know for sure.
Here, I’m going to tie one on a Dai-Riki #135 scud/pupa hook in a size 16. Although not necessary, plunger-style hackle pliers work wonders when it comes to hook handling. Begin by mashing the barb with needle-nosed pliers or in the jaws of your tying vise. Get hold of a gold 3/32” bead and slip it onto the hook point, small hole first. Secure the assembly in your tying vise and make sure the bead is all the way up against the hook eye.
Load a bobbin with a spool of black or dark brown tying thread, here UTC 70 Denier. Start your thread on the hook shank at the back edge of the bead and take a few wraps rearward before snipping or breaking off the tag.
Small copper Ultra wire is used for a rib. A 6 - 8” length will make multiple flies. Secure the wire to the near side of the hook and take thread wraps rearward, binding down the wire well into the hook bend. Return your thread back up the shank so it rests at about the hook point.
For the body of the fly, strip 6-8 natural colored pheasant tail fibers free from the stem. I like to snip the curlies off so they don’t catch on things as I wrap. Reorient the fibers so you’re holding onto the tips with your left hand and then snip 1/8” or so of those brittle tips off square. Lay the fibers on top of the hook shank and start taking thread wraps to secure them. Continue wrapping to that same place in the hook bend, as you did before.
Get hold of the pheasant tail fibers and begin making touching wraps up the hook shank to form the body of the fly. Wrapping behind the tying thread like I’m doing here helps to ensure the fibers stay together as you wrap, forming a nice, even body. You’re effectively pushing your tying thread up the shank as you go. When you reach the bead, secure the pheasant tail with a few tight turns of tying thread and then snip the excess fibers off close.
Now, get hold of the copper wire and begin making open spiral counter wraps over top of the pheasant tail to add segmentation and increase the fly’s durability. When you reach your tying thread, go around the copper wire to reverse the direction of your thread wraps so you’re counter wrapping to tighten and bind down the wire. After a few good wraps, once again use the wire to reverse the direction of your thread wraps back to normal. You can then helicopter the copper wire to break it off close.
I’m going to use white Zelon for the wing bud but white Antron, sparkle organza or even white poly will work just fine. With the Zelon, I like to snip a single full length strand free from the hank and then cut an inch-long segment from that. Center the segment right at the back edge of the bead and take 2 or 3 thread wraps over top to secure it. Pull both ends of the segment back and take thread wraps to bind the material down so it projects rearward.
Do a 5 or 6 turn whip finish, trying to keep the thread band fairly narrow. Then snip or cut your tying thread free. Some people like longer wing buds on their Shop Vacs but I like them to extend about halfway down the body, like so. Although not necessary, a drop or two of head cement or Hard as Nails applied to the thread wraps, will help keep everything locked into place.
It’s hard to believe that such a simple pattern is so effective. You can tie the Shop Vac in smaller sizes if you like but I rarely carry anything other than a size 16, because they just seem to work.