How To Tie A Rainbow Warrior: A Step-By-Step Guide

Join me in exploring the Rainbow Warrior's role and learning to tie this effective fly for successful adventures.

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About the Pattern

The Rainbow Warrior is one of my favorite go-to flies in the winter. At the time of this article, it’s  January…it’s freezing… and a big snowstorm is right around the corner. 

I love using this fly in the winter for a few particular reasons. I use it on the smaller end, say an 18, a 20, or even a 22 in the wintertime to replicate hatching midge.

Sure, this fly is considered an attractor pattern. It’s got a very pretty color. It’s got a lot of flash to it. 

But if you think about a midge pupa and what’s happening when they’re shedding skin under the water, they’re releasing gas bubbles which can catch the light, especially UV light, and give off a flash. Fish will key on said flash.

In the summer, this is also one of my favorite flies to fish during a caddis hatch. If the fish are keying on caddis pupa and not necessarily the nymphs or the adults, this Rainbow Warrior is also a very, very good go-to pattern. 

In the summer, it’s a similar story..the caddis pupa sheds skin in the water releasing gas bubbles. These bubbles flash in the light/UV light. The flash from the sun or the UV light attracts the fish. 

In the summer. I will fish this one a little bit bigger. We’re talking somewhere between 12 and 16 depending on the size of the caddis.  Sometimes an 18 or 20 is necessary for those little, tiny,  summer black caddis. 

Learn To Tie Flies:

The Rainbow Warrior is not a difficult fly to tie. You’ll only need a few pieces of equipment and a few choice materials. Here’s what you need:

The Equipment/Materials List

For this tie, we’re featuring the Aventik Riverruns Colorado Fly tying vise. It’s a portable vice with a nice weighted base, fully adjustable jaws, a locking mechanism on the back, 360-degree rotation ability, and it comes with a bobbin cradle as well. 

It’s a very nice fully functional design. You can adjust the tension on the rotation as you like. Check it out here!

I’m also using the Eupheng C&R Nymph Hooks 0031 for this pattern. If you would like to check out any of that gear, click the links! 

Eupheng Fly Hooks

Materials Needed

  • Eupheng C&R Nymph Hooks 0031. For winter, 18-22…for summer, 12-18. Today, I’m using a #14
    • Eupheng C&R 003 are available in sizes 8 – 18. 
  •  2.4-millimeter silver bead. 
  • Red thread, 8/0 or 10/0
  • Small pearl tinsel 
  • Silver Ultra Wire 
  • Coq de Leon (CDL), medium pardo. Other materials lists call for pheasant tail or similar but I prefer CDL.
  • Adams Gray Wabbit dubbing from Montana Fly company. Other materials lists call for rainbow Ice Dub. Compared to the standard rainbow Ice Dub, Adams gray is a less intense color pop. It’s a lot more buggy-looking as well.
  • Scissors 
  • Whip finisher 
  • Small razor blade – optional but nice to get in and makes very precise cuts behind the bead and other tight spots
  • Head cement (optional)

The Tie

Step 1

Start with the size 14 Euphenig 031 Nymph hook. Add the two-millimeter silver bead with the small hole first.  Push the bead up to the hook of the eye. 

The small hole in the bead should be facing the eyelet, the larger hole pointed back toward the hook shank/bend. Secure the hook in the vise.

Step 2

Take the red thread and give a nice few dozen wraps to secure the thread to the hook shank. Trim off the excess tag. Make sure to lay a nice base of thread as we want our materials to touch the thread, not the hook.

Wrapping up the hook with a red thread

Make sure the majority of the hook shank is covered from the bead back to where the hook begins to bend downward. In this step (or in step 4 below) make sure to wrap the thread up tight behind the bead to hold the bead in place up against the eye of the hook.

**If the materials contact the metal of the hook, everything will start spinning around. Laying a nice base will keep all the materials in place. Don’t make the body too thick, however. We still need to add materials and a thinner body will look/work better on this pattern.

Step 3

Grab the CDL (Coq de Leon) for the tail fibers.  select just a few strands, say 3-5 fibers. 

Lay them across the back of the hook. Get a nice capture with the thread and, make sure they’re nice and secure.

Laying the CDL Tail Fibers to the hook

Make sure that they’re not twisting around the hook and that they’re gonna lie straight down the back of the hook shank.

Hold these tail fibers together and evenly wrap the thread backward down the curve of the hook. You’ll want these tail fibers to curve and point downward close to a 45-degree angle. Be careful with the hook point as you’re doing these wraps as it can easily scrape/fray your thread. 

Trim off the front (excess end) of the CDL overhanging the body/eye of the hook. 

Step 4

Cut and secure a section of ultra wire to the body.  The ultra wire goes in first because it’s going to wrap over the top of our flat pearl tinsel. 

Cut and tie in a piece of the pearl tinsel. make sure it’s nice and secure,  and continue wrapping…working back down toward the bend in the hook shank all the way back to where the tail hits the body securing both tinsel and ultra wire together.

Wrap the thread forward, keeping the body as thin as possible but wrapping with even,  consecutive wraps. Stop shy of, or wrap backward from the bead because there needs to be a little room to build the dubbing thorax. 

Step 5

Move the thread out of the way and place it on the bobbin rest.

With a curved hook, it’s not always easy to use the rotary mechanism for wrapping so, for this tie, I prefer to just wrap manually.

Grab the tinsel and make sure it stays in place as you evenly wrap it forward toward the bead. Overlap your wraps just a bit..about half the width of the tinsel…to make sure the whole body is evenly covered with the tinsel and no bare thread is showing.

Capture the tinsel with the thread. Placing the thread in the bobbin rest requires a bit of thread length outside the bobbin so, for capturing materials, shortening (wind some thread back on the spool) the thread, it’ll be easier to get precise capture/placement.

Make sure to get a few good captures on the tinsel and trim the excess. Rotate the vise a bit (or look all around the fly if you don’t have a rotary vise) to make sure your wraps are even and the body is well covered with tinsel.

Pay attention to which way you wrap the tinsel. Because I wrapped the tinsel toward me, I’m going to go the opposite direction with the ultra wire. 

Step 6

Grab the ultra wire and wrap evenly spaced around the body in the opposite direction you wrapped your tinsel. 

Step 6 of Rainbow Warrior

This helps keep the tinsel in place and gives your fly a nice, even body segmentation. Capture and tie then cut off the ultra wire. If you score it just a little bit, you should be able to twist the wire right off. 

Step 7

Grab the Adams Gray Rabbit dubbing and again, I like this one better than the Ice dub. It’s a bit more buggy and not quite so over-the-top colorful. 

You can spread a little dubbing wax on the thread if you want to. Sometimes I just get a little saliva on my fingers and dampen a couple of inches of the thread.

Step 7 of Rainbow Warrior

Pinch a small bit of dubbing out of the package then twist it onto the thread (with dry fingers). Don’t add too much. Many newer tiers tend to use too much dubbing. 

You want it to lie fairly tight to the thread.  Spread it on the thread, twist it with your fingers, and then get a few wraps in. If it seems too fuzzy, twist the dubbing a little bit tighter. If you added too much dubbing, it’s easy to pinch off the excess off the thread with your fingers before you make more wraps.

Step 8

Grab your whip finisher and do a double triple whip finish (two triple finish knots). Gently pull the thread nice and snug. Cut the thread close to the body behind the bead head. Scissors will do or using a small razor may be easier.

Step 8 Rainbow Warrior

If your dubbing is a little bit fuzzy, rotate the fly around and trim off the erratic hairs to form a nice, concise ball for the thorax.

You still want to look kind of leggy or buggy… like a wing case is popping out..but you don’t want it to be too puffy and erratic.

Step 9 (optional)

You can put a little bit of head cement on your last thread wraps/whip-finished area. Be careful, however, as  You don’t want to put head cement on the dubbing.  

Tips for a Good Tie

  • As mentioned above, make sure your thread body doesn’t build up too thick.  The body will become much thicker quickly as the tinsel wraps start to overlap and build up. 
  • A curved hook isn’t necessary but makes this pattern much more interesting.
  • Add a lengthwise piece of tinsel over the thorax for a “hatchback” style emerger
  • Make sure the bead head is secured well with thread so it doesn’t spin, wiggle, or slip backward over the thorax/body of the fly.
  • Secure materials like the tinsel and the Ultra Wire down with a few thread wraps over the top, pull the material back, and add a few wraps over the front. This gives a “double lock” to the materials and helps keep them from pulling loose when fishing. 
  • After each whip finish, pull the thread a touch to snug the knot down a little better. Don’t pull too hard or the thread could snap.
  • As mentioned above, wrap your ribbing (Ultra Wire in this case) in the opposite direction as the body material. This helps lock things into place. I suggest the same when wrapping most body materials like midge tubing, pheasant tail, etc.

Final Thoughts

This pattern, although categorized as an attractor pattern, is a widely useable fly and an absolute must for any complete fly box. It’s definitely earned a permanent bin in my personal and guide arsenal. 

Final Step Rainbow Warrior

Fished at the right time this pattern is an absolute killer. During heavy hatches or when nothing seems to be happening and you need a bit of an attention-getter, make sure to give the Rainbow Warrior a good long opportunity to produce some takes. 

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Born and raised in Billings, MT, Nic was blessed to be brought up in an outdoor-minded family. Fishing and hunting were a part of his familial culture. Blame it on my Aquarius birth or some divine design but, from as early as he can remember, he had to be near or in the water. Guiding since the early 2000s, Nic has thousands of hours of fly fishing and guiding experience and has helped hundreds of people get into the sport of fly fishing, or better their skills as anglers.

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