Welcome to Beginning Fly Tying

Part Sixteen


Fan Tailed Gray Dun


An Introduction to Fly Tying:

Split Tails, Wings and Thorax Flies

By Al Campbell


Using the basic dry fly we learned last time as a reference pattern, we will expand on that learned skill to fan tails and split tails. We'll also tie our first wing this week. Each fly is a stepping stone to the next fly. Each fly will add a new dimension to your tying skills.

I mentioned split tails last time. The advantage to split tails is increased buoyancy and balance. They also look a lot like the split tails that occur on mayflies. A twist on split tails is a fan tail. Our first fly this time will have a fan tail. Otherwise, it's the same fly as the one we tied last time. We're just adding to what we already know.

You are also going to learn how to use a rotary hackle plier. Nothing matches a rotary hackle plier for speed and control once you've learned how and when to use one. I've tried several models of rotary hackle pliers and like the Griffin one far better than any of the others I've tried. It just holds the hackle better and rotates smoother than the rest.


I believe I mentioned before that I'm a little unconventional at times. Last week you learned the conventional method of wrapping hackle. This week we'll try something new. Rotary hackle pliers are a little unconventional. Our second fly this week uses a method of wrapping hackle that's even more unconventional. Hey, don't run away just yet; it isn't all that bad. Like I said before, I'll try to pass on several ways to do the same thing if I can. Who knows, you might like the unconventional methods more than the conventional ones.

On with our first fly, a fan tailed gray dun. Of course, you can change colors to match a blue wing olive or Hendrickson if you wish; the steps remain the same. That's the beauty of fly tying; you can often just change the materials to make a different fly. It will look different, but the steps used in tying it will be the same. Somehow, I think this puzzle just got a little easier to solve.

List of materials: Fan Tailed Gray Dun

  • Hook: Standard dry fly; Mustad 94840, Tiemco 100, Eagle Claw L059, Daiichi 1180. Size 10 - 22.

  • Thread: 6/0 to 10/0 Gudebrod or equivalent, color to match body or black.

  • Body: Angler's Choice pure silk dubbing, mink under-fur, muskrat under-fur, or any other synthetic or natural fine dubbing. Color to match the body of the insect you want to imitate.

  • Hackle: Quality neck or saddle hackle, webby parts removed and 1/16" of the remaining stem stripped of barbules. Color to match natural insect or any pattern you want to tie. (In this case, a gray dun.)

    Tying steps:

  • 1. Start the thread and dub a small (very small) ball of dubbing on the back of the hook where the bend starts.


  • 2. Measure and tie in your tail materials, keeping a slight upward pressure on the tail until you reach the dubbing ball at the hook bend; then let it fan around the ball trying to keep it even on both sides of the ball. Don't let the tail spin to the bottom of the hook. If it does, straighten it by pulling up on the wayward fibers.

  • 3. Dub a smooth body about 2/3 of the hook shank long. (Just like you did last time.)


  • 4. Tie in a prepared and measured hackle feather just like you did on the first dry fly. Move the thread to just behind the hook eye, leaving room for the head.


  • 5. Twist a little more dubbing around the thread and taper it back to where the hackle is tied in. This will simulate the thorax. (Real mayflies have a pronounced thorax where the wings are attached, so why not our imitation?) Leave the thread where the hackle is tied in.


  • 6. Grasp the hackle with the rotating hackle pliers and wrap it evenly over the dubbing to just behind the hook eye, leaving room for the head. Notice how fast you can wrap the hackle with rotating pliers?



  • 7. Keeping tension on the hackle with one hand, bring the thread forward and over the hook in front of the hackle, then over the hackle to tie it down. Tie the hackle down with several wraps of thread.



  • 8. Trim the hackle, whip finish and cement.


    Notice how the tail is fanned in this top view?


    If you prefer a split tail, just clip the barbules in the middle of the tail even with the dubbing ball. Now, that wasn't too hard was it?

    Most fly tying books take you through a myriad list of standard dry flies before they look at thorax flies. I do things a little different. Thorax flies are relatively easy to tie, and they work wonders on the stream. With that in mind, let's take a look at a thorax fly.

    You'll notice that I leave a lot of options open to you when it comes to material selections. The important thing is to learn how to do the steps, not how to match some particular pattern. You can pick up pattern books almost anywhere. They usually assume you know how to perform the steps and list the materials to match a particular fly. Here, you'll learn how to perform the steps, and you can select the materials based on the things you have handy or the particular pattern you want to match.

    Fly tying is all about the ability to create something with your own hands that will fool the fish. If you learn the skills it takes to tie a particular type of fly, you can use those skills to tie any of the others that fall into that category, and you can also create a few patterns of your own design. In that sense, a thorax fly is a thorax fly, and a dry fly is a dry fly, etc.. Keep it simple, life's too short to make things more complicated than they already are. This is supposed to be fun.

    This next fly is a somewhat different type of Hendrickson thorax, although you can modify the materials to match almost anything you want to match as long as it's a mayfly. This is a good fly to learn some tying skills on.

    Thorax flies get their name from the pronounced thorax the flies have. Hey, we already know something about that, don't we? The wing and hackle are tied closer to the middle of the hook on a thorax fly than on most standard dry flies.


    Although the very first thorax flies used a fully rounded hackle, I like to trim the hackle flat or in a V on the bottom of the fly. This increases the amount of hackle that comes into contact with the surface tension, and theoretically increases the buoyancy of the fly. It also places the body of the fly in or near the surface of the water, something that's more natural in appearance than standard dry flies. Thorax flies are usually tied with a V-tail. We'll do that too.

    Materials:

  • Hook: Standard dry fly; Mustad 94840, Tiemco 100, Eagle Claw L059, Daiichi 1180. Size 10 - 22.

  • Tail: Hackle fibers, moose hair, any other fine, stiff hair, synthetic tailing material. Color to match the natural insect you're imitating or the hackle. (Hackle fibers work best.)

  • Body: Angler's Choice pure silk dubbing, mink under-fur, muskrat under-fur, or any other synthetic or natural fine dubbing. Color to match the body of the insect you want to imitate.

  • Hackle: Quality neck or saddle hackle, webby parts removed and 1/16" of the remaining stem stripped of barbules. Color to match natural insect or any pattern you want to tie. (In this case, a gray dun.)

    Tying steps:

  • 1. Start the thread, leave the tag end of the thread about 4 inches long. Wrap thread to the hook bend with the tag on top of the hook.


  • 2. Select some hackle fibers for the tail and tie them to the hook as you did in the standard dry fly tail. Grasp the tag of thread and pull it up through the center of the tail fibers and forward over the hook shank. Tie the tag of thread down to the hook shank securely.


  • 3. This will split the tail into two even tails.


  • 4. Select a wood duck flank colored feather from a Hungarian Partridge skin.


  • 5. Strip the fuzz from the bottom of the feather and secure it where the wing will be tied in (about 1/3 to 2/5 hook shank back from the hook eye) with a couple of loose wraps of thread.


  • 6. Slip the wing feather through the loose wraps until it is the right length for a wing (1 1/2 times the hook gap). If you need to measure this, use a piece of paper or mark the feather stem with a marker before you tie it in. Tighten the thread wraps, finish tying the stem down and trim the stem. Secure the butt of the wing feather with more thread wraps.


  • 7. Lift the wing and pull it back toward the hook bend. Make about a dozen wraps of thread in front of the wing to hold it upright.


  • 8. Wrap the thread around the base of the wing a few times to keep the wing bunched together. You don't need to pull the thread too tight or it will slip off the wing. Wrap the thread just tight enough to secure the wing base. (This is also how you secure the wing post for a parachute fly, except you wrap the post several times for a parachute wing.)


  • 9. Your wing should now look like this.


  • 10. Dub a body forward to behind the hook eye. Notice how the body is thicker near the wing? This is true in real mayflies too.


  • 11. Tie in a hackle feather, dull side forward, at the front of the body.


  • 12. Wrap the hackle back toward the hook bend with a standard hackle plier until it's about the same distance behind the wing as it is in front of it; then wrap it back toward the hook eye. Practice wrapping the hackle evenly so you get the same amount of hackle behind the wing as you have in front of the wing.


  • 13. Tie the hackle off and trim the hackle feather. By wrapping the hackle this way, you build a hackle that supports the fly evenly, preventing it from tipping on the head or settling on the tail.


  • 14. Build a head with the thread, whip finish and cement the head.


  • 15. Trim the hackle flat or in a V on the bottom.


  • 16. I usually trim the hackle flat on the bottom rather than forming a V, but it's your choice.


    Practice these techniques, we'll build on what you learned next time. Experiment a little with wing materials, tail styles and body colors. Remember, you can change the body and wing colors to match any number of mayfly hatches you want to imitate. Have fun and remember, this is your fly, you can tie it with any method that works and you want to use.

    See ya next week. ~ Al Campbell

    Beginning Fly Tying Archives



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