The Economy of Wraps in Fly Tying

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

The hallmark of well-tied flies is natural proportion.

This is never more true than when tying tiny trout flies. Trout are visual feeders and there are three primary criteria that a fly must meet to elicit a positive response. It must match the natural in size, color and profile. Of these three, the hardest to match in tiny flies is profile.

There are several elements to a fly’s profile. It must have the appropriate style of wing and the right size hackle, for example, but where most of us miss the mark is in the proportion of the body. Primarily because most tiers, often including myself, use too many wraps of thread.

Using too much thread builds bodies that are too thick and often lumpy and awkward. It always matters but when tying patterns smaller than size 16 every wrap is critical. Using too many wraps to secure a material will cause awkward lumps in the tiny profile which make the fly look unnatural. That can cost you a discerning fish.

Here are some techniques that will help you tie more natural flies by sparing the thread.

Make a plan

It’s easy to become task oriented when tying. When you focus only on the material you are tying in, you end up doing repetitive tasks. Plan ahead. Think of the fly as a whole and take a minute to think it through before you tie. You can often catch in several materials with a single wrap each, then secure them together as you wrap up the hook shank.

Catch materials in early

Materials like ribbing wire can be caught in as you first wrap your thread down the hook shank. This conserves an entire layer of thread. There’s no need for a thread base to tie the wire into, because once it’s wrapped around the body, it can not be put under enough pressure to be pulled free.

Lock materials with alternating wraps

Once you’ve wrapped a hackle or body material it’s common to use too many wraps to secure it. The most effective way to lock material in is by alternating thread wraps on top of, and then under the material. There are two ways to do this. When tying the abdomen of a fly, with pheasant tail for example, wrap the material up the hook shank and secure it with two wraps. Then lift the waste end of the material and take one wrap around the hook shank tight against the material. Then bring the waste end of the material forward and take two more wraps. Weaving the material between the thread locks it for keeps.

When finishing the thorax of a fly, where a little more bulk is appropriate, you can secure materials like wing cases and hackles by taking two turns over the material then pulling the waste end back over the body and wrap back over the first two wraps. That’s a secure connection.

Use superglue for extra hold

When you need to lock in a slippery material or material that you expect to take some stress you can get extra hold by applying superglue to your thread. Use the super glue with the brush applicator and coat a bit of your thread before wrapping over the material. Two glued wraps are as good as six unglued.

Whip finish with superglue

You can save wraps when whip finishing by applying superglue to your thread before you whip finish. The superglue is drawn into the whip finish for a foolproof finish. Three turns is plenty. On super tiny flies I often skip the whip finish all together by coating the thread with superglue and simply taking a few glued wraps. Just let the glue dry before trimming the thread. It does hold.

Form your head as you whip finish

Save the last few wraps by building the head of the fly with your whip finish. On tiny flies it’s all you need.

Use light thread

Don’t be intimidated by fine thread. You can put a surprising amount of pressure on materials with 17/0 thread. Just be cautious of nicking the thread with the hook point. That’s what usually breaks thread.

One of the cleanest tyers I’ve ever seen is Scottish tyer, Davie McPhail. Davie never wastes a wrap. You can learn a lot about the economy of wrapping and many other great tying techniques from his videos.

You can buy his book, “Modern Flies and Fly Tying Techniques Volume 1” HERE

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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16 thoughts on “The Economy of Wraps in Fly Tying

  1. Davie’s youtube channel is fantastic. I would also add “tightlinevideo” to your subscriptions as well. Tim’s videos are always great quality, and do a excellent job of describing proportions that have helped me tremendously in my tying.

  2. Great topic. I’m teaching my 10 year old daughter to tie, and she constantly wrapping extra wraps. I always tell her to tie in her material, and then let her bobbin hang. If she had bobbin in hand, she would do what I call “thinking wraps.” She would just add wraps as she thought about how to attach the next material.

    I also agree wholeheartedly with not having to lay down a base of thread before beginning. It’s necessary sometimes, but not all the time. Great write up.


  3. ooops, I guess i’m not so skilled; my flies are almost made of tying thread. Especially for fish with teeth; several midway knots and varnish…
    Love the Northern midge pattern!

  4. Great post. I like your connection between less bulk and locking-in, which is a common reason for excessive bulk when not done properly.Locking in is so important to durability of the fly, and slippage around the hook of any part of the fly can unbalance the fly or ruin the profile. Happens too often with bought flies… another good reason to tie your own.

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  7. As one who started tying in 1948 (10 yrs old) with mom’s sewing thread and feathers from birds shot with my BB gun, I love tying with today’s materials. Advise; keep trying the new ideas and materials.

  8. Excellent points EXCEPT use of superglue. A very good guide for steelhead in Pulaski told me he never uses glue of any type anymore – and for good reason! His proof? Take a fly tied with superglue and place it in a clear polystyrene plastic box. Close the box. You will see a fog develop on the poly showing fumes that emit. These fumes are apparent to fish – to some degree. I never use a glue of any type now (head cement, Sally Hansen etc) and concentrate on tying better, tighter, and less wraps (when possible) as the article suggests. Some of these glues transmit fumes after they have dried and been re- wetted with water. Why take the chance of fumes? Just concentrate on better tying technique!!!!

  9. Davie is my tying hero. I watch his videos literally every night. He has taught me alot in the past 5 years, now i sell flies to dozens of people across the United States from my kitchen table. Cheers to Davie and Gink!!

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