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Fly Tying Techniques and Hints from Davy Wotton

Notes taken by Mike Weigand

If you attended the fly tying session at the September 9, 1998 meeting with Davy Wotton you saw some of the best tying we have had. This is not to say that we have not had good tiers - we have had many great tiers - each with something important to add to any tying repertoire. It's just that Davy showed his 30-plus years of experience - many of which were as a commercial tier. Can you imagine tying over a million flies? You have to have good technique and many shortcuts to do that.

It was hard keeping up with what Davy was demonstrating. Many times I was trying to watch and write at the same time missing things here and there. And, because of his dexterity from playing the banjo, he was quick, real quick. ("Can you show that again?")

Davy demonstrated the techniques on traditional Salmon Flies, but they can be used on any fly.

 Tie Tinsel or Ribbing on the Bottom of the Shank

Sometimes just getting tinsel or some other material tied in at about the point you want it is a challenge, much less making sure it is on the bottom of the shank. But why the bottom'? Because it gives a much better appearance. And the body of traditional Atlantic Salmon Flies are suppose to have five wraps of ribbing!

Wrap the thread to within a few turns of the starting point of the ribbing. With the bobbin hanging to keep tension on the thread, hold the ribbing material behind the thread and spiral it back under the thread. The tension from the weight of the bobbin on the thread will hold it in place. Trim the butt piece which is the end pointing forward and add a few more wraps of thread. You can gently pull the tinsel so the trimmed butt is completely covered by the single layer of thread to give a very smooth tie in point. Continue wrapping the thread to the where the ribbing will start.

Bobbin Control

Davy developed his techniques before a lot of the gadgets came on the market. He recommended keeping control of the bobbin with the ring and small finger of your tying hand while using the thumb and first two fingers to work the material with the "free" hand. Don't just let the bobbin flop around and get in the way - Control it!

Ostrich Quills Are Flat and Not Even

Look at the ostrich quill before tying in. The fibers may not be even on both sides. Because the quill shaft is flat, you can tie it in so that the longer fibers will stick out from the hook shank when you begin to wrap it. Also, the fibers are curved and will bend forward or backward. Determine how you want the fibers before you tie the quill to the shank.

Dubbing Techniques

Preparation Davy was adamant about preparing the dubbing before twisting it on the thread. Take a moment and tease the fibers to run in the same direction, along the length of the "noodle". This is the same technique used by our grandmothers when preparing wool or cotton for spinning into thread. Parallel fibers will bind on to one another and give a stronger body. It is possible to pick up the long "noodle" and place it where you want it - either on the thread for twisting or between the two threads of loop.

Twisting Dubbing On the Thread Twist the first part of the "noodle" on the thread then take a couple turns. This locks the dubbing to the hook and acts as an anchor for twisting the rest of the dubbing on the thread. In this way it is possible to get the dubbing very tight if needed. (This is similar to what Dave Whitlock demonstrated - twist the first part of the dubbing on the thread, wrapping a couple turns, but then wrap the thread and dubbing together. This gives a looser body, better for nymphs.)

Dubbing Loops Davy demonstrated twisting dubbing loops by hand and with a loop spinner. But for both techniques he demonstrated the need to lock the dubbing loop on the shank by passing the bobbin back and over the two thread to hold them in place.

Prepare the dubbing as described above before putting it in the loop. While holding the loop open, lay the "noodle" on the bottom thread and hold it in place with the top thread. Whether using a loop spinner or using his hand, he demonstrated holding the loop at the bottom of the dubbing and spinning or twisting the thread below the point you are holding. By controlling the pressure as you release the thread, you can control how much the dubbing loop twists - giving a loose or tight loop. Added twists gives an even tighter loop.

Fluff or Tighten the Dubbing As You Wrap It When tying a nymph or dry with a loosely dubbed body, fluff the dubbing on each turn; somewhat pulling more dubbing to the "outside" of the thread. Do just the opposite if you want a tight body. Give an extra twist of the dubbing with each turn to keep it tight. (Something very easy and quick for a banjo-playing tier)


Wrapping Hackles: On wet flies, such as the salmon flies he was tying, Davy would work the fibers of the hackle to the direction needed to give the best shape to the fly. for comb collars, "comb" the fibers from both sides of the quill to the rear - giving a fuller collar.

Cutting off Hackles: When tying small dries, some tiers wrap the thread behind and in front again of the hackle and then snap it off. But what about large hackles on big wet flies'? Before cutting off the quill off large feather, such as marabou, twist the butt end of the hackle to smash it to a smaller diameter, then cut it off. Cut Off: after twisting the hackle, pull it forward, lay the scissors behind, and bring the quill back to the blade of the scissors. This will give a much neater cut because of the small diameter of the quill, and you can form a neat head.

Untwist the Thread for Building Heads: When using multi-stranded thread, untwist the thread by spinning the bobbin "anti-clockwise". This will allow each filament to lie fiat and give a neater, smaller head.

Now your ready to tie a couple hundred dozen. Enjoy!'


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