Combined Beginner’s and Advanced Fly Tying: Dubbing Tips and Techniques

View our instructional video for this lesson. This video includes several chapter markers so you can easily jump to the section you wish to view — visit our YouTube channel to easily jump to the chapter of your choice. Written instructions are presented below.

In this session, we have decided to focus on a tying technique rather than tying a specific fly pattern. As such, the class will focus on the application of dubbing (i.e., material used for the bodies of artificial flies, especially fur or wool on unwaxed silk thread) which is used for creating the abdomen on many variations artificial flies. While the steps for applying dubbing to tying threads are quite basic, the particular type of dubbing material and intricacy of applying the dubbing differs when tying nymphs, wet, and dry fly patterns. Participants will also gain a more in-depth understanding of the terminology used in packaging dubbing materials (e.g. natural, synthetic, with or without antron, etc.).

Have you ever wondered why the abdomen of a standard dry fly is relatively thin and smooth, whereas a typical nymph or wet fly pattern has a ‘spiky’ and somewhat more rotund abdomen? If you haven’t noticed, are interested in getting answers to this question, and generally enhancing your fly tying skills, you won’t want to miss this session.

Step-by-Step Instructions

This set of tying instructions provides fly tyers (beginner to advanced) with basic guidance in the construction of mayfly abdomens.

  • Materials
    • Abdomen– dry fly dubbing – preferably beaver or other small animal (e.g. weasel) (fine with no guard hairs)
    • Tail – neck hackle fibers
    • Wing – wood duck or mallard flank feather tips
    • Collar- neck hackle feather

Tying Steps

  • (Wing) Start thread approximately ¼ distance behind the hook eye and tie in wing material e.g. tip of mallard flank feather, with the tip of the feather facing forward over the hook eye. Grasp the feather tip and lift up 900 from the hook shank. Make several wraps in front of the feather to secure in an upright manner. Advance thread behind the wing feather. Clip the feather butts at an angle creating slope in the feather butts. Then make thread wraps over the feather butts creating a sloped base for the abdomen
  •  Advance tying thread to the bend of the hook, and tie in the tail of the fly, preferably fibers from a neck hackle feather. The fibers of the tail should be = hook shank length
  • Once the tail is secure, advance thread forward stopping about 1/3 shank length.
  • Dub thread with fine dubbing creating an extended dubbing noodle which tapers at both ends. Allow ~1/8” bare thread above the dubbing to where the bare thread intersects the hook shank.
  • Wrap the dubbed thread initially to the rear of the hook stopping above the hook barb and then wrap forward the remaining portion of the dubbed thread creating a thin extended and slightly slopped abdomen.
  • Secure the dubbing just short of the wing (already tied in).
  • Tie in a size-selected neck hackle fiber by the stem of the feather and ‘crack’ the stem by pulling the tip of the hackle feather forward. Then wrap the hackle 3-4 turns around the shank behind the wings and then 2-3 turns around the shank in front of the wings.
  • Secure the feather with several thread wraps at the forward part of the fly, behind the hook eye. Half-hitch or whip-finish the thread wraps, cut thread.

Tying the Abdomen of a Wet Fly

  • Materials
    • Abdomen – coarse blended dubbing with guard hairs (e.g. rabbit, squirrel, opossum)
    • Tail – saddle hackle fibers
    • Wing – mallard or wood duck flank feathers (or equivalent)
    • Segmentation – fine gold, copper wire
  • Tying Steps
    •  Start with bare hook and advance thread to the hook bend
    • Secure small bundle of hackle fibers for the tail just short of the shank length of the hook
    • Tie in gold wire at mid shank and wrap thread over the wire toward the tail stopping above the hook barb
    • Apply dubbing to the thread in a counter-clockwise direction creating a 1 ½’-2” long dubbing noodle
  • Wrap the dubbing first toward the bend of the hook and then forward (creating a expended ‘football’ shaped abdomen, stopping ~1/4” behind the hook eye.
  • Tie in a section of wood duck or mallard flank feather length not to go beyond the length of the hook shank.
  • Secure the wing feather with several thread wraps tapering the head of the fly.
  • Clip the butt ends of the feather and complete the fly with ½ hitches or whip finish.

Creating an Abdomen of a Nymph (using a dubbing loop)

(Approach) – construction of a mayfly nymph here employs a “dubbing loop” rather than direct application of the dubbing to the tying thread as in the dry and wet fly above)

  • Materials
    • Tail – partridge fibers
    • Abdomen and thorax –  coarse blended dubbing with guard hairs (e.g. rabbit, squirrel, opossum) containing antron fibers (e.g. Haretron or equivalent)
    • Wing case – raffia or equivalent
  • Tying steps
    •  Start thread on the bare hook ¼” behind the eye and advance thread to the bend
    • Tie in a short bushy tail, returning the thread to the hook bend
    • Form a dubbing loop in the tying thread, as illustrated in the tying video and prewax one strand of thread loop.
    • While keeping the loop open, insert course dubbing containing guard hairs into the loop and proceed to twist (spin) the dubbing loop to create a ‘rope of twisted course dubbing’. (At this point the closed dubbing loop should be ~1/8” forward of where the tail is tied in, with about 1/8” of bare thread showing below the hook shank). 
    • While holding firmly onto the dubbing loop (at the far end) begin wrapping the dubbed thread to the rear 1-2 turns, which should bring the dubbed portion against the tail of the fly and at the bend of the hook. Then proceed to wrap the spun-dubbing loop around the shank of the hook moving forward toward the hook eye.
    • Stop the dubbed abdomen approximately ¼ to the rear of the hook eye and secure the dubbed abdomen with 1-2 half-hitches.
    • With the abdomen secured, tie in a short section of (prepare in advance) medallion sheeting (or other wing case material) immediately to the rear of the hook eye. Make thread wraps toward the rear of the fly over the medallion sheeting until the thread wraps butt up against the dubbed abdomen.
    • Apply course dubbing to the tying thread and wrap the dubbing forward around the hook shank toward the hook eye creating a bulky thorax. Secure the thorax again with 1-2 half-hitches.
    • Pull the wing case material forward over the dubbed thorax and tie off the thread with several thread wraps followed by several half-hitches. Cut the tying thread.
    • Use a dubbing brush tool to rough up both the thorax and abdomen of the fly.    

By Don Fine