Fly Fishers' Republic

Traditional Dry Fly Tail

June 22, 2006

by Raif Killips

Traditional Dry Fly Tail

What I term the traditional hackle dry fly tail, refers to what for many is the ‘showcase’ style of tailing. It uses cock hackle barbs, tied in-line with the hook shank. For best results, the barbs should be reasonably straight and have no webbing at or beyond the tying in point. The hackle tail should be similar in length to that of the hook. A few patterns using this style of tail include the Blue Dun, Greewell’s Glory, and Ginger Quill.

Tying instructions:

Toggle sequence Left/Right Handed ↔

Stage 1 starting thread on hook shank

1. Start the tying thread on the hook shank leaving sufficient space for tying in wings and hackle according to your chosen pattern. The wraps should be touching but not overlapping, and they should stop in front of the bend.

Stage 2 aligning hackle barbs

2. Choose a suitable cock hackle feather [1]. Stroke the barbs back so they can be gathered. Tease a small bunch of barbs so their tips meet. (There are other methods for obtaining aligned hackle barbs, not least those employed by A.K. Best and Skip Morris, however, I’ve always found this adequate.)

Stage 3 pinching the hackle barbs

3. When the bunch of gathered barbs are perpendicular to the feather stem, pinch the hackle barbs about their tips, and then release the feather from the grip of your opposite hand. Make the pinch parallel to the feather stem, NOT transverse.

Stage 4 cutting the hackle barbs

4. While still holding them in a pinch, cut the hackle barbs close to the stem. Their butts will spring together. At this point they can, if required, be easily transfered to the pinch of the opposite hand ready for tying in.

Stage 5 points in securing hackle barbs

5. Hold the hackle barbs on the near side of the hook, angling their butts down 45 degrees [2]. Hold the barbs as close to their tying in point as possible without obscuring your view. Make the first wrap of thread, catching them between point 1 and 2, and progressively increasing the thread tension from 2 through 3.

Stage 6

6. This action will roll the hackle barbs up on top of the shank. Providing the thread base is even and the securing thread wraps do not fall towards the bend, the tail will be gathered and sit firmly on top and inline with the hook shank.

Stage 7

7. Wrap the thread firmly and evenly toward the eye. These wraps will further gather the tail and secure it in position.

8. Dress the remainder of the fly to produce something like this Dry Gold Ribbed Hares Ear.

Alternative tailing style

As an alternative you can raise the angle of the tail above the line of the shank by forming a slight hump with the tying thread at the end of the base wraps, then following with the steps 1-7 above. The hump will cock the tail, and slightly spread it. The securing thread wraps should be at the hook eye side of the hump.


[1] The best and easiest hackles to use for tailing are either large spade hackles from the sides of a neck cape, or better still, coq de Leon saddle hackles. The more straight the feather barbs and the more stiff they are, the easier it is to control the dressing and to produce a neat end result.

[2] The more hackle barbs you use the more easily they will roll. Also the more elastic the tying thread the more easily the tail material will roll around the tying in point. And the greater the difference in thread tension between the catching in point and the remainder of the thread wrapping process the more the roll. With that in mind you’ll see that the 45 degree indicated here is a guideline only. Whatever you vary in the process of dressing, remember to make securing wraps of thread by taking the thread close to its breaking point.