If you are planning on targeting any large predatory fish in the world, having a good assortment of Sempers in your fly box is essential. This guide will not only teach you how to fish a Semper fly but also take you through the step-by-step procedure on how to tie one yourself.
During my guiding days in Seychelles, I’ve had the privilege of experiencing some incredible giant trevally fishing. One of the things that have always intrigued me as both a fly fisherman and a fly-tying fanatic, is the huge difference a well-tied fly makes.
You can have two tan and white Sempers tied onto two 12-weight rigs and cast to the same fish. One Semper tied badly and with poor materials, and the other tied properly using quality materials. 9 times out of 10 the fish will eat the well-tied fly.
This article will take you through the process of tying, what I believe, is the perfect Semper.
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- Difficulty Level: Medium
- Tying Time: 5 minutes
- Materials: Hook, thread, bucktail, schlappen, ostrich plume, grizzly saddle hackle, flash, marabou, and UV resin
- Hook Size: 1/0 – 8/0
What Is A Semper Fly?
A Semper is a generic fly pattern that can imitate a range of different lifeforms. I call it the Wooly Bugger of saltwater fly fishing. That being said, it also makes an excellent fly for large predatory freshwater fish.
The Semper is made, mostly, out of natural materials which include, feathers and bucktail. These materials give the fly incredible movement underwater. It’s also relatively easy to cast, compared to other large synthetic patterns.
Fish that you can target on a Semper include (but is definitely not limited to):
- Trevally species such as Giant Trevally, Jack Crevalle and Bluefin Trevally
- Golden Dorado
How To Fish A Semper Fly
A Semper represents a sort of bait, such as a baitfish or squid. When casting to a piece of structure or presenting the fly to a fish in a sight-fishing scenario, remember that bait swims AWAY from predatory fish.
With that in mind, plan the retrieve of the fly so that the fly “swims” away from the fish. It also does so at a rapid pace. Make use of an under-arm retrieve or fast, long strips.
One of the most important things to keep in mind when fishing in these scenarios is that when the fish eats your fly, keep stripping and don’t set by lifting the rod. Strip until the line is tight and the fish will hook itself.
Materials You’ll Need To Tie A Semper Fly
The following materials are needed to tie a Semper.
Sempers are used to target strong predatory fish. As the hook is the primary connection between the fish and the angler, this is one area where you cannot afford to skimp on. Buy the best hooks that you can afford, it will be the difference between catching that once-in-a-lifetime fish or having your soul crushed (ask me).
Hooks that I recommend for Sempers are:
A flat-lying thread that is extremely strong should be chosen. Having a waxed thread does help as the bulk of the material will cause non-waxed threads to slip.
Depending on the size of the fly any 210D to 240D thread will be perfect. Match the color of the thread to that of the fly.
Recommended 210 Denier Fly Tying Thread:
→ Danville’s Flat Wax 210 Denier Thread
The inclusion of bucktail into the fly is purely to provide structure for the tail. It prevents the feathers from fowling around the hooking during casts. Match the color of the bucktail to the color combination of the Semper.
Recommended Fly Tying Hair:
→ XFISHMAN Bucktail Hair Assorted
Schlappen Or Strung Saddle Hackle
Feathers make up the bulk of the fly’s tail. Usually, a base color such as white, olive, or black is used together with an accent color such as red, chartreuse, and orange.
The feathers should be at least 5 – 6 inches long and preferably straight.
→ Hareline Schlappen Assorted 5-7″
The inclusion of flash into the tail is purely optional. On fisheries that see many rods passing through I would suggest tying a couple of Sempers that have no flash at all.
Any long flash material can be used, such as Flashabou, Krystal Flash, and Lateral Scale.
The color can be varied, but in general, match the color of the flash to that of the overall pattern or create suitable accent colors.
Recommended Flash Material:
→ Phecda Sport 10 Pack Colorful Fly Tying Flash
Recommended Assorted Chenille & Flashabou:
→ Croch Fly Tying Materials Kit
Grizzly Hackle (Optional)
To create a lateral line along the Semper’s profile, a single grizzly saddle hackle feather is tied in on each side of the fly. This is purely optional as these feathers can be costly or hard to obtain.
→ Introductory Hackle Pack – 4 Assorted
One of my favorite materials to include in a saltwater pattern’s tail is ostrich plume fibers. Individual fibers should be long and taper to a thin point. These fibers add incredible movement to the fly. I buy mine from our local arts and crafts store.
Recommended Ostrich Plume:
→ Wapsi Ostrich Plumes
Marabou is palmered around the hook shank to create the body of the fly. The colors can be varied as you wish. When buying marabou to tie Sempers, make sure they have flexible stems and long and perfectly shaped fibers.
Recommended Marabou Feathers:
→ Creative Angler Marabou Assorted Colors
UV resin will be used to seal the exposed thread after the fly has been finished.
Recommended UV Glue / Resin:
→ Loon Outdoors UV Clear Finish
Tools Needed To Tie A Semper Fly
You’ll need the following tools to tie a Semper:
Let's Get Started!
How To Tie a Semper
Follow the step-by-step procedure below to learn how to tie a Semper. The exact materials that I am using in this procedure are listed below in the Semper Recipe.
- Hook: Gamakatsu SL12S size 6/0
- Thread: Veevus 240D chartreuse
- Tail (part 1): White bucktail
- Tail (part 2); Long white and chartreuse schlappen or strung saddle hackle feathers
- Tail (part 3): Two long grizzly saddle feathers
- Tail (part 4): White ostrich plume fibers
- Flash: Chartreuse flash
- Body: White and chartreuse marabou
- UV resin
Step 1: Place The Hook in The Vise
Tying large saltwater flies often requires putting considerable strain on the thread and materials. For this reason, the hook must be secured properly.
Place the desired hook between the jaws of the vise and lock the cam. The hook shank needs to be level.
Step 2: Lock in The Thread
Lock the thread in place about 1/3 the hook shank length behind the eye. Do this by holding the tag end in your left hand and making a couple of wraps in the forward direction around the shank.
Then run the thread over the wraps to lock it in place. Cut off the excess tag.
Step 3: Lay a Thread Foundation
Run the thread forward with touching turns until you reach the eye of the hook. Run the thread rearwards and stop about ¾ down the shank.
The thread foundation will provide a surface for the material to be seated on.
Step 4: Tie in The Bucktail
The bucktail provides a base for the rest of the tail. It also prevents the feathers from wrapping around the hook when casting.
Cut a clump from the longest hair fibers of the skin. Pull out any short hair and tie in securely. Make on or two wraps under the bucktail as well.
Step 5: Tie in The White Schlappen
Select two long, similarly shaped white schlappen feathers. Tie them in on opposite sides of the hook shank at the base of the bucktail. The feathers should splay outward which will add movement to the fly when it’s retrieved in the water.
The tail length should be approximately 2.5 times the total length of the hook. Once tied in, cut off the excess.
Step 6: Tie in The Chartreuse Feathers
Select two similarly shaped feathers of equal length. Remove any off-colored fibers if necessary. Measure each feather against the white feathers that have already been tied in, they should be the same length.
Secure the chartreuse feathers on opposite sides of the hook shank splaying outward. Tie them in and trim off the excess.
Step 7: Tie in The Flash Material
The idea with the flash is to add something that reflects light from the tail, but don’t overdo it. I recommend adding no more than 3-4 flash fibers on each side of the tail.
Cut 3 fibers of your chosen flash material and tie it in on one side of the white and chartreuse tail. The length should be the same as the already tied in feathers. Repeat for the opposite side. Cut off the excess.
Step 8: Tie in The Grizzly Saddle Hackle
Select two similar and long grizzly saddle hackle feathers from the skin. Each will be tied on the side of the hook shank.
The length should be the same as the white and chartreuse feathers already tied in.
Step 9: Tie in The Ostrich Plume Feathers
Cut 4 extra-long ostrich plume fibers from a feather. Tie in one at a time, at different places around the hook shank.
The length can be slightly longer than the rest of the tail. Trim off the excess
Step 10: Cover The Exposed Material
Cover the remaining exposed material with thread and create a tapered thread base for the body that will follow.
At this stage, you have a bushy looking tail. This is exactly what you want as it will create a lifelike movement for the fly underwater.
Step 11: Tie in The White Marabou Feather
Select a marabou feather that has long, uniform fibers and the stem of the feather is flexible. Remove any off-colored fibers from the base of the feather and tie in by the tip.
Cut off any excess. Advance the thread forward.
Step 12: Palmer The Marabou Feather
Palmer the marabou feather forward. It’s not completely necessary for touching turns, but make sure that you don’t trap any fibers.
Once you reach the end of the feather, secure it with thread and cut of the excess. With a comb, brush out any trapped feathers.
Step 13: Tie in The Chartreuse Marabou Feather
Select a chartreuse feather with long fibers and a flexible stem. Remove any off-colored fibers from the base of the feather.
Pull back the fibers so they stand perpendicular to the stem, and tie the feather in at the tip. Cut off any excess.
Step 14: Palmer The Marabou Feather
Palmer the marabou feather forward ensuring that no fibers are trapped. Use a comb whenever necessary to assist. Once you reach the end of the feather, secure with the thread and cut off any excess material.
If the one chartreuse feather hasn’t covered the body completely, repeat steps 13 and 14 by adding another feather.
Step 16: Apply UV Resin
Apply a coating of UV resin around the thread head of the fly. Ensure to coat all the exposed thread.
The UV resin will help make sure that your fly is well-sealed and will last as long as possible. Once you’re happy with the amount of resin, cure the head with a UV torch.
The Semper Fly
Now You Know
How To Tie a Semper
I hope that you guys enjoyed the step-by-step guide of tying a Semper. It’s an amazing feeling seeing your own-tied fly disappearing into the mouth of a large predatory fish.
Remember that if you’re struggling to tie the fly, don’t get disheartened. Keep going, the more you practice the better you’ll get
Please share this guide with your fellow fly tiers and fisherman. If you have any questions, leave them at the bottom of the page. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments.
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