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Split Decision, A Guide to Dividing Tails

Tail End Charlie (Callibaetis)
Designed by Phil Rowley

Hook:    Daiichi 1130 #10-#12 or 1170 #12-#14)
Thread: MFC 8/0 or UTC 70, Tan
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.

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