Posted on 6 Comments

Fly Dressing (Update)

An English old-timer named Frederic Halford literally wrote the book on tying dry flies back in 1886 – yeah, published 136 years ago – in his book titled Floating Flies and How To Dress Them.

I often thumb through the electronic archive copy over at Recently, however, I discovered that there have been some modern re-publications of his books and I now have a copy on order. Little did I know, the seller is shipping it from Australia. Talk about a slow boat from China …

A while ago I created a webpage based solely on the chapter in his book that depicts fly-dressing, Halford-style, in great detail. Recently, I added another section that shows a technique he developed called the Improved Method of Winging Upright Duns. Notice how the wings are tied on with the tips pointing rearward. You can read the rest over at my Fly Dressing page

What I really like about the technique is that it allows you to tie on the wings fairly close to the hook eye (necessary on small hooks) without the difficulty of trimming the wing feather stubs so close to the eye itself. It’s really an ingenious improvement to his original “ordinary” method.

One of the finest fly-dresser in the world today, Davey McPhail of Scotland, demonstrates this exact technique in one of his 700+ YouTube videos and it’s definitely worth a look. Saying that the guy is a master is actually an understatement. Here he spends the first few minutes talking about using hen hackle on a dry fly so you can skip to the 2:05 mark to get right to the fly-dressing.

Tying a Hen-Hackled Dry Fly (Greenwell’s Glory) with Davie McPhail

What a beautiful dry fly. Between the two of them, we fly-dressers can learn A LOT from their work. They are truly two of the best.

6 thoughts on “Fly Dressing (Update)

  1. Interesting post and I agree with everything said about McPhail. He is such a talented tier. I’ve always struggled with the style of wing shown here. Split wings in general have not been my favorite. They look great though and perhaps I need to revisit them.

    1. My biggest issue with McPhail (aside from translating what he says) is that he makes it look SO easy. I think having very high quality mallard quills like he does also helps a lot. Good luck!

  2. In that figure 45 it also looks like they tied by going under the hook shank and then over top toward the tyer – if you are right handed. Just how it looks to me in that figure. I think the English may tie that way instead of over the top and around and coming under the shank toward the tyer… then looping over top again. If one were to look head-on at the eye of the hook as it is being tied – that figure 45 looks like they are tying the thread on counter-clock-wise. And, at least I am accustomed to tying in a clockwise fashion from the same perspective. Interesting post Darrell! UB

    1. I’m pretty sure you are right about the direction the tying-silk is being wrapped in the figures. There are several others that show the same thing. I’m also pretty sure they just used a length of silk back then, without the use of a bobbin to hold the spool. I can’t think of a reason why the direction would matter though.

      1. I agree that the direction doesn’t matter – the thread tension, a different story. As long as tension is maintained, I guess one could tie in any dimension they wanted to. Of course if someone was try to tie to a certain historic method – then maybe direction matters. But I don’t really give a hoot about it as I don’t tie trying to represent historic flies or technique. (more power to those that do, I’m not poo-pooing the idea) 🙂 UB

      2. Thanks for your input, UB. I actually DO give a hoot about the historic techniques (folding the wing stumps back, winding the hackle from front to back, heavily-waxed silk thread, etc.) but I’m still going to use a bobbin and I’m STILL going to wind my thread the “right” way.

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