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Split Decision, A Guide to Dividing Tails

Tail End Charlie (Callibaetis)
Designed by Phil Rowley

Hook:  Curved scud pupa (#10-#12) or standard dry fly (#12-#14)
Thread: Tan 8/0 or 70 denier
Tail: Blue Dun Neck Hackle
Body:  Frog’s Hair or UV2 Fine and Dry Dubbing, Callibaetis
Wing: Widow’s Web, Smoke
Hackle: Grizzly or grizzly dyed dun

Tying note: Vary the hook size, body and hackle colors to match a variety of mayfly species.

The tails on most dry flies intended to imitate mayfly duns or spinners serve two purposes.  Suggest the tails of the natural insect and serve as outriggers, stabilizing the fly when sits on the water.  There are a number of tying techniques you can use to create a set of split tails.  Some are dictated by the pattern but in most instances the fly tyer chooses a technique they find easy or provides a specific look to their fly.
 
Building a fan tail is one of the easiest methods to split or flare tail fibers.  To form a fan tail build a small thread ball at the rear of the shank just before it transforms into the bend.  Touching your thumbnail to shank and winding the thread tight against it helps create a focused thread ball.  As the tying thread hits your thumbnail it slides down on top of the previous wrap concentrating the wraps.  Another method involves leaving a thread tag after initially winding the tying thread onto the hook.  As you wind the thread back to the point where you want to form the thread ball lift the tag up on an angle keeping it under tension.  Like the thumbnail, the tag forms a thread ball as you wind against it.  Once the thread ball is complete, pull the tag over top of the ball, lock it down directly in front and then trim the excess.  The finished thread ball shouldn’t be large, so don’t overdo it.

With the thread ball complete, tie in the tail material at the midpoint of the shank.  Secure the tail material back to the hook bend.  As the tail fibers push up against the thread ball they naturally flare creating a realistic looking tail that supports the fly as it sits on the water.  This technique also works well on wet flies and nymphs, essentially any pattern requiring a splayed tail.

Empty dubbing loops can also be used to split tails into a pronounced V.  This technique works well to suggest the pronounced divided tail of a spent mayfly spinner.

Begin by forming a thread dubbing loop at the midpoint of the shank.  After closing off the loop rotate the loop to the top of the shank using your forefinger.  Secure the loop strands down each side of the shank to the hook bend.  Securing the dubbing loop along each side of the hook keeps the strands apart helping to dividing the tail.  Tie in the tail material on top of the shank and secure it back to the bend.  Work the thread loop between the tail fibers dividing it into equal two groups.  Tying in an even number of tail fibers eases this process.  With the tail fibers divided, pull the dubbing loop forward under tension to further split the tails.  Pinch and hold the dubbing loop in place forward of the tails.  Tie off the dubbing loop, remove the excess and complete the balance of the pattern.

One of the most common tail dividing methods involves splitting the tail fibers around a small dubbing ball.  With the tying thread hanging at the rear of the hook twist on a tiny amount of dubbing, just enough to cover the thread and change its color.  Build a tiny dubbing ball by winding the dubbing onto the hook one wrap on top of another.  Dry fly specific dubbings work best as these fine blends twist easily onto the thread helping form a small proportional ball.  With the dubbing ball complete, tie in the tail material at the midpoint of the shank. Secure the tail material back down the shank towards the dubbing ball.  As you secure the tail toward to the dubbing ball the fibers begin to flare. Guide equal amounts of tail material along either side of the dubbing ball to create an even divided tail. Continue securing the tail to the base of the dubbing ball.

Neck hackles also form durable divided tails.  Build a small dubbing ball at the rear of the hook.  Using a hackle gauge, select and size a neck hackle one size larger than the hook.  For example, for a #12 hook select a hackle for a #10 hook.  Hold the neck feather so the concave or least prominently marked side of the feather faces up.  Pinch the tip section of the hackle and using your other thumb and forefinger stroke the fibers down to expose the stem just in front of the pinch point.  Hold the fibers in the swept down position.  Moistened fingers help this process.  With the tip section pointing out past the hook bend tie in the feather slightly onto the swept back fibers just in front of the dubbing ball.  Wiggle the tip and butt sections to position the feather. Add additional securing wraps to push the stem up onto the dubbing ball. Trim the butt section any errant fibers forward of the tie in point.  Save the remaining feather. A single neck hackle can be used to form multiple tails. Using scissor points or a bodkin, isolate and pull down two or three individual hackle fibers on each side of the hackle stem.  Carefully reach between the isolated fibers and nip out the remaining tip section forming a neat, durable divided tail.
 
Proportional split tails are a key feature on any mayfly adult pattern, both in function and form.  Experiment with these tail splitting methods during your next dry fly tying session.

Tying Instructions

1) Cover the hook shank with tying thread.  Form a small dubbing ball at the rear of shank. Using a hackle gauge, select a blue dun neck hackle that is one size larger than the hook.  Position the feather between your thumb and forefinger so the concave or less prominently marked side of the feather is facing up.  About one quarter down from the tip stroke the fibers down to the base of the feather. Hold them in a swept down position by pinching them between the thumb and forefinger.  Moistening your fingertips helps this process.

2) Still holding the prepared neck hackle between your thumb and forefinger, place it onto the shank a directly in front of the dubbing ball so the tip section points out behind the fly.  Using two securing wraps tie the feather in place securing the swept down portion of the feather down so the individual hackle fibers don’t spring out from the thread.  Adjust the feather so it sits up on top of the shank.  Once you are happy with the feathers position add a few more securing wraps.  Snip the butt section of the feather forward of the tie in point.  Trim any errant fibers.

3) Carefully pull down and isolate two to three fibers from each side of the remaining tip section right where the butt section of the feather fibers where just tied down.  Once isolated use fine point scissors to snip out the remainder of the tip section to form the split tails.

4) Tie in a shank length wing at the one thirds mark back from the hook eye.  Lift the wing. Stand the wing by building a small thread ramp right in front.  Stagger cut the remaining butt section of the wing material to help form tapered underbody back to the tails.

5) Dub a slender tapered body to the mid portion of the shank.  Tie in a saddle hackle feather at the midpoint dry fly style with the dull or concave side of the feather facing forward.

 

6) Dub the thorax of the fly forward.  Begin winding the hackle forward by making one complete wrap of hackle at the midpoint.  Continue winding the hackle forward over the thorax using open turns, three wraps behind the wing and three wraps in front.  Tie off the hackle and trim the excess.  Build a neat head and whip finish the fly.

7) Holding the scissors perpendicular to the fly just forward of the hook point trim the hackle tips just below a line with the hook point.  Make a second trim of the hackle below the hook point by pointing the scissor tips at the hook point creating a small 'V' opening in the hackle below the thorax.  This practice ensures the fly always lands upright when it hits the water.

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