Twas before Christmas and I was looking for a place to order honey bug material when I came across this discussion. The things have been in my fly box since I was 10, which would make it 34 years and counting. Also, the material makes a great sucker spawn. But my reply is prompted by a desire to comment on a few of the other comments and spread the gospel of Paul Berger.
Regarding the old kits Mr. Berger (of Trout Run, Pa., if memory serves) used to sell. They came in a little clear plastic box about the size of an index card, and about an inch deep. They included everything: hooks, some white floss, instructions and, of course, a relatively small sampling of Mr. Berger's infamous invention, honey bug chenille. The directions instructed that what was needed for a size 12 bug was a six-inch length of the appropriate thickness of chenille (it comes in what I call regular, thick and thin; regular would be the stuff for a size 12). Strip off about half of the fuzz to expose the four inner cotton strands. Remove one of the four strands and then tie the remaining three, starting at the bend, as you would the thread for a standard fly. Wrap the chenille on the hook, ending near the eye, and tie it all off with a piece of floss. My dad and I always presumed this was a way to get you to use more material as six inches is enough for at least two bugs using standard tying methods and white thread. But Mr. Berger was something to watch when he tied the bugs himself. Using the method outlined in his kit, he could pump out a bug about every 30 seconds, and they looked as tight and well constructed as any fly you could buy in those days. I had the good fortune to see him at work at the Harrisburg outdoors show (in the Cow Palace) at a time when he was shilling his latest addition to the honey bug invention: two and three-colored bugs. Two colored would be the color of the chenille, with the belly turned lighter by swabbing it with a needle's eye full of bleach. Don't use too much, though, or you'd just bleach out the whole bug. He had devised a special formulation so the bug wouldn't bleach out to pure white, but a cream or off white. Tri color bugs started out with a kind of spotted chenille and their bellies would be similarly bleached to add the third color. Mr. Berger had, I recall, a light bulb in a wooden box with a screen on top for drying his freshly bleached bugs. The 11-year-old version of me that tried this at home made an adult-sized mess. Plus, the caustic soda in the bleach tends to rust hooks prematurely, resulting in too many lost fish.
That's OK, they're deadly enough without the fancy bleaching. In those days, I presumed it was simply that most of the fish I pursued were fresh out of the hatchery and poop on a stick would have worked every bit as well as cotton chenille on a hook. But as I got into my early teens and found the honey bug to be my fall back fly, I found it worked just as well on wild trout as on hatchery fish. And stocked trout that had become well educated fell prey to it fairly easily. Similarly, you can catch bass and sunnies on them as well. When I looked for a reason by submerging true honey bugs and similar flies made with synthetic chenille (of, say, the green weenie variety) I made a shocking discovery. Though the cotton chenille looks drab and ordinary when it's dry, or even when its wet but out of water, when it's submerged, it takes on a translucent quality, much like you see when you look at a squirming grub or maggot, a fresh salmon egg (not those pickled ones in the Uncle Josh's jars) or even a chunk of raw chicken meat. In other words, the stuff, either on purpose or by accident, has the look of living flesh when it's under water. By contrast, the chenille used for green weenies doesn't look nearly as good under water as it does when it's dry.
Thus, over the years, my dad and I began making not only regular honey bugs, but also sucker spawn using the thin variety of honey bug material. Pooh-pooh these if you will, but suckers, carp, gizzard shad and any number of other fish are spewing their hopes for a new generation all over most streams and rivers of the east coast each spring, and trout are very fond of fish eggs. And I'm not just talking about rainbows. Brooks and browns like them just as well as their west coast cousins. Similarly, when we started going salmon fishing in the Great Lakes tributaries a few years back, our trusty honey bug sucker spawn proved to be a consistent producer (and yes, angry spawning salmon do strike flies, even though they're not feeding, just like hopped-up shad pounce on darts and spoons when they're spawning and not thinking of food).
In any event, E. Hille Anglers' Supply still stocks a sampling of the stuff, but if anyone knows who has Mr. Berger's old franchise — I understand it's changed hands at least three times in recent years — please let me know.