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Cockroach Fly Instructions - Saltwaterflies.com

Tying the Cockroach Tarpon Fly

Article and photos by Blake Davis

The Cockroach

Tarpon - the "Silver King" - is one of the most impressive gamefish that swims, and this incredibly strong and wary fish lures fly fishermen from all over the world to the warm waters where it is found - good tarpon habitats can be found in Florida and around many islands in the Caribbean, on down to Mexico, Belize, and Costa Rica. The west African coastline also hosts large fish. Tarpon (taxonomic name Megalops atlanticus) can reach eight feet and length and the giants among them can weigh more than two hundred pounds - a bulk they display with the most dramatic kind of aerobatics when hooked. The capture and release of even an average sized tarpon on fly is one of the ultimate trophies in saltwater fly fishing.

The Cockroach is a classic pattern that evolved in the Florida Keys fishery in the days before the modern era of synthetic fly tying materials. Tied to imitate shrimp and other crustaceans, it is dressed sparsely, tied mostly with natural materials and constructed on a very strong, sharp hook. The "original" dressing often called for a collar made of bucktail or squirrel hair, but this version uses rabbit fur & hackle for the collar for added life & movement. The Cockroach can be used anywhere tarpon are found, but it is an especially important pattern for casting to tarpon in the clear water of the Florida Keys and the Gulf of Mexico.


While each fly only requires four tail feathers, I recommend having at least twice that many on hand, selected and cut to length - about three inches when pressed flat - before you begin. Some tail feathers will refuse to cooperate with the tying process, and using another feather is often the easiest solution. The following materials are to make the fly in its original form; however this pattern is often made using other color schemes.

    Hook - Varivas 2600V/990C #2/0 (similar hooks include the Owner "Aki", Gamakatsu SC17, and Tiemco 600SP - all dark colored hooks, but many anglers also choose the silver colored Gamakatsu SC15 and SL12 hooks for this fly)
    Hackle - Natural grizzly Schlappen hackle or similar large, webby hackles
    Bunny Strips - Natural gray colored rabbit fur strips for palmering
    Bucktail - Natural Brown bucktail
    Thread - Red 140 Denier Ultra Thread or similar product
    Tail Feathers - High quality grizzly saddle hackle with very straight, stiff feathers
    Flash - Grey Ghost Krystal Flash (similar products include pearl Polarflash or Pearl Flashabou)
    Coatings - head cement, Loon Hard Head / 30 minute epoxy

Tying the Cockroach (Steps 1 to 5)

Cockroach Step 1

Step 1: Beginning at the middle of the hook shank, make base wraps of thread towards the rear of the hook, stopping your base wraps at the end of the straight part of the shank, just before the hook shank begins to curve.

Cockroach Step 2

Step 2: Cut a bundle of natural brown bucktail about the thickness of your bobbin tube, and attach it to the rear third of the hook shank. This hair can be found on the backside of a white bucktail, preferably near the tip where it is finer and easier to control.

The bucktail should rest on top of the hook shank and angle up slightly at the rear. This will help prevent the tail feathers from fouling. Adding a drop of penetrating head cement or super glue (Dave's Flexament, Zap a Gap, or similar) to the thread wraps at this point will increase the durability of the fly.

Cockroach Step 3

Step 3: Prepare six or eight nice, straight hackles from a grizzly neck or cape. Cut each feather to about three inches in length (for a #2/0 fly). The finished fly has only four, but having a few extras on hand will help by giving you some alternates if any of the hackles you are tying in won't "behave" during the tying process. Secure the first hackle for the tail on top the bundle of bucktail with four or five tight wraps. Unlike a deceiver, the feather should splay out slightly, with the concave part facing you.

If the feather torques or rolls to one side, try tying the feather to the side of the bucktail bundle instead of the top. This step can take some patience. If the feather still refuses to stay upright, try using another.

Cockroach Step 4

Step 4: Attach a second feather to the opposite side of the hook with the concave part curling away. Secure it with four of five tight wraps of thread. It helps to be able to rotate the top of the fly towards you to inspect your progress - viewed from above, the two feathers should be splayed out equal amounts to ensure the fly tracks properly and does not twist the leader during fishing.

Cockroach Step 5

Step 5: Attach the third and fourth feathers to either side of the hook using the same method. The feathers on each side should mesh, and when viewed from overhead, appear to be two feathers splayed out. Firmly secure all four feathers with thread wraps and add a drop of head cement. Make sure that your thread wraps at this point don't travel back further to the rear than any previous wraps - this can force the feathers into a downward angle. The feather tails should remain pointing straight back, or just slightly upward in relation to the hook shank. Failing to pay proper attention to this detail can result in a fly that will not "track" properly in the water when fishing, and may also twist the leader during the cast.

Go to steps 6 to 11...

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