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The Cat's Meow

Photographs and Fly by Ron McAlpin

In the first quarter of the Twentieth Century a 'cat's whisker' was the name given to the tiny wires that connected to the detector crystal in a crystal radio set. For a time this was also a colloquialism for the radio itself.  For Ron McAlpin the Cat's Whisker is "my 95%-of-the-time smallie fly."

Originally tied by English fly fisher David Train more than twenty years ago, the Cat's Whisker is a well known trout "lure."   The fly originally sported a lime green body with white marabou wing and tail.  It was tied on a long shank size eight hook with no chain bead eyes.  .McAlpin notes that he has seen a brass wire rib added to this pattern.  A popular variation consists of a yellow body with white marabou wing and tail.

The fly earned its strange moniker from the whiskers shed from Train's pet cat, which he tied in to stop the wing looping around the hook shank.  "I use Krystal Flash for the same thing and more. This fly was first published in Mike Dawes’ The Flytier’s Companion.  Ian Colin James also published it in Fumbling with a Fly Rod.  I published my version in the January ’03 Guadalupe River Chapter of Trout Unlimited Newsletter" says Ron.

Hook:  2x-long or 3x-long streamer hook, size 8 or 10

Thread:  to match body

Flash:  Krystal Flash

Tail:  marabou

Body:  medium chenille

Wing:  Arctic fox (or marabou)

Head:  bead chain (medium to large)

Hook: Size 8 or 10 streamer hook (I use Tiemco 5263)

Start the thread at the eye, and tie in 3 to 4 strands of Krystal Flash to tail length using a few wraps. Make a long loop forward by bringing the other ends back and adding to the tail. Leave the loop hanging over the eye for now.













Lightly pull the tail strands as you finish the base thread wrap to the back of the hook, wrapping over the Krystal Flash. For maximum flash, clip the tail strands to uneven lengths.

Tie in the marabou tail over the strand ends. (I cut 3 equal stem segments from the center of the feather, and twist these together. I throw away the bottom and save the tip for smaller flies.) Make 5 to 6 thread wraps on the marabou before you twist and clip the tag. Then wrap some more.

Tie in the body chenille. While your chenille wrap needs to be from the back forward, I start by bringing the thread forward, tie in the chenille, pull the tag back, and lightly cinch a length of chenille down the hook shank to add body thickness. Make 3 good thread wraps at the back and bring the thread forward again before you wrap the chenille forward. Tie off the chenille about 1/8-inch behind the eye, and trim.

Here, I turn the fly around to the bottom of the vise jaw to simplify tying in the wing. Pull the Krystal Flash loop back past the hook point and make enough thread wraps to hold it back. Trim it just behind the hook point.

Tie in a wing of arctic fox over the Krystal Flash. (I cut 1/4-inch or so from the strip and twist the fur.) Try to make the wing length close to the end of the tail. Don't pull too hard when you trim the tag or the wing will pop out from your thread wraps. (Here again, I turn the fly back to the top of the vise jaw to simplify tying in the bead chain.)

Tie a bead-chain pair on the outside of the hook shank using figure-8 wraps. Build up many wraps of thread in the figure-8's and behind the chain bead.

Whip finish behind the bead-chain. Apply head cement on all the thread.

"And in that line now was a whiskered old man, with a linen cap and a crooked nose, who waited in a place called the Stardust Band Shell to share his part of the secret of heaven: that each affects the other and the other affects the next, and the world is full of stories, but the stories are all one."
Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven

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