How to Tie a Joe-Stack

October 29, 2020

For some time now I have been fishing this fly called a Joe-Stack

…and have had amazing success with it.  Lately I have had some folks ask for the recipe and a few said they can’t find it in the fly shops or catalogs.  To set the record straight, I asked Joe Odierna to tell you first hand the story and how he ties it. 

How it all came about – The Joe-Stack

By Joe Odierna

I had been fly fishing the Ausable River in the Adirondacks for a few years and using a large March Brown with some success.  The fly shop at the Hungry Trout Resort recommended a March Brown Comparadun with a March Brown wet as a dropper.  It is a killer combo in late spring.  

When up there I like going into the various fly shops in the area and frequently visited Fran Betters’ Adirondack Sport Shop.  Fran was a staple in Adirondack fly fishing and tying lore.  One day I stopped in, Fran was tying at his desk, and I asked if he had any Ausable Wulffs. He told me to wait a minute. 

He tied up 1/2 a dozen while I watched.  I gave some to the guys I was fishing with and kept one for safe keeping.  I still have it to this day.  I enjoyed watching him tie, but I had not yet started to tie flies myself. 

Fran Betters tied Ausable Wulff

At a Long Island Trout Unlimited meeting, back in the days when we had meetings in person, they had a demonstration on fly tying.  Sol Harz helped me tie a Woolly Bugger and I was hooked.  After that I went immediately to Paul McCain’s RiverBay Outfitters and bought my first tying vise. 

So now I have the bug to tie flies and a history of catching fish with March Browns, so I figured the first fly I wanted to tie would be a March Brown.  I picked up what I needed including some large hooks and dubbing that was close to the color of the March Browns I was using on the Ausable. It was a pack of Poul Jorgensen Seal-Ex in Golden Amber.  Once home, the color just wasn’t right for a March Brown.

Seal-Ex Dubbing – Hard to find Golden Amber

  I will trade a dozen Joe-Stacks for a package of Seal-Ex Golden Amber

So as not to waste the material, I looked up Fran Betters’ flies: The Ausable Wulff, the Usual, and something called a Haystack.  I thought the Haystack was close enough to a Comparadun March Brown and the color I had kind of looked like what Fran had used, so I thought I’d give it a try.  I was never quite able to get the proper positioning of the deer hair to be able to officially call my tie a Haystack. I tied up a few for my next Ausable trip.

At the pool behind the Hungry Trout

…Restaurant (a fabulous place to eat by the way) one of the guys I am fishing with asks me what I am using, since I am catching fish and he isn’t.  I told him it’s my version of the Fran Betters’ Haystack.  He instantly replies “It’s a J-O Stack” (Jay-Oh) – J-O meaning Joe Odierna.  I said, “No, but maybe a Joe-Stack.” 

That is how the name came to be.

I tied up a bunch and gave a supply to my fishing partner Tom who was amazed at how effective it was.  He has made it a rule that each time he fishes, no matter where or when, he ties on a Joe-Stack and catches fish.

He asked me to dig up the best Joe-Stack I had and to send it to him. 

Unbeknownst to me Tom was submitting this fly to a couple of guys who were assembling a monumental book that was to be released soon, America’s Favorite Flies.

America’s Favorite Flies by John Bryan and Rob Carter with David Watterworth and photography by John Henley 2017

It is a collection of 224 fly fishers from across America

…who submitted stories about their favorite fly.  Tom chose the Joe-Stack. AND IT WAS ACCEPTED!  I was humbled.  Imagine, me, a no name fly tier, who barely can tie a fly, being immortalized in a book that has stories and flies in it by people like: Gary and Jason Borger, Joe Brooks, President Jimmy Carter, Bruce Corwin, Robert Hewitt, Lefty Kreh, Craig Matthews, Jim Misiura, Dave Whitlock, Joan Wulff, just to name a few.  To this day I am still in awe when I look at the book and see the Joe-Stack in there.  If you ever get your hands on a copy, turn to page 479, yes 479 (there are 656 pages) and you can read the story submitted by Tom.

America’s Favorite Flies, Pg. 479

I have had good success with the fly and Tom has had more fish on it than me.

I tie the Joe-Stack the following way:


  • Size 10 standard dry fly hook (you can go as small as you want, but 10/12 seem to catch the most fish)
  • Red 6/0 thread.
  • Deer hair for a Comparadun wing, about a shank’s length long and ½ a pencil in diameter
  • Originally a Deer hair tail though I am now using woodchuck as this was one of Fran Betters’ favorite materials.  Fairly thick and long to help the float.
  • Originally Seal-Ex Golden Amber dubbing if you can find it.  Now I use Universal Poly-Dub in Amber.  These are very wire-like dubbings, like an Ice Dub, but not quite.


Poly Dub in Amber
Comparadun Deer Hair


Step 1

I wrap the hook shank with four layers of red thread (up to the point of the hook and back just short of the eye) to help hold the deer hair wing in place. 

Step 2

I then stack the deer hair and tie it down about three eye lengths back and cut the excess off at an angle.  Leave a healthy amount of deer hair stub there to help the fly float.  Tie it down good.  (I used to have lots of trouble with the wing spinning and thread breaking at this point, it takes practice to get the right amount of thread pressure without breaking off while not so much that you spin the deer hair.)

Step 3

I put 10 wraps of thread, jammed in front of the deer hair, to help stand the wing up.

Step 4

I used to use deer hair for the tail, but I found that it would flare out too much so now use woodchuck hair.  About a shank’s length.  I do not stack the tail material, I always like it uneven.  Tie it in to come as close to the deer hair as you can to try and make a smooth body. 

Step 5

Next take a healthy amount of dubbing, make a carrot out of it so the thin end is at the tail and dub the shank.  As you get closer to the stems of the tail fibers the body should be getting thicker, but not tapered.  Thinner at the tail and thicker at the base of the wing. 

Step 6

With a little excess dubbing, cross the wing and jamb it to make it stand upright while making a small tapered head.  Be careful not to cramp the eye.

Step 7

Add a thread hot spot and whip finish the fly.  I use four whips and then an additional three.  

Step 8

Flare the wing so it fans out about 180 degrees. 

Here is Jim Misiura’s YouTube video on his version of the Joe-Stack.



(Note: I always have a few in my box -Tom)


Joe Odierna on the Neversink

If you have a question for Joe, or some Seal-Ex Dubbing to trade, drop me a line and I will pass it on.

If you tie some up, send me a photo with your info and I’ll try to post it in the future.

Let’s start a Joe-Stack Nation!

Note: This fly could be a version of a Haystack or comparadun or sparkle dun or probably a few other established flies as the story tells you. The idea here is to enjoy fly tying and friends; to have some fun and God knows we could all use a bit more fun these days. So all you fly identification experts out there can lighten up and smile more.  No harm, no foul. Tom