Floss “Body Keeper” – A Step-by-step Tutorial

I’ve already fielded several questions from my readers on my Lady Killer post:  https://donbastianwetflies.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/lady-killer/  and have tried to explain to the best of my ability, my technique of using a mini-version of Warren Duncan’s floss body “keeper” technique to help secure the rear of floss bodies on streamers and wet flies. It will be a while until I can shoot, edit, and post a video, so I went for the next best thing: a step-by-step photo tutorial. I just finished it. It was done quickly, on a fly in progress in less than ten minutes as I was working on another Carrie Stevens pattern, the Artula. I’ll just comment on each photo in the steps. Hopefully this will clarify the method somewhat.

Those of you that have taken a class from me in the last year-and-a-half have been exposed to this trick on wet fly bodies. I have been teaching the use of a body-length floss keeper on wet flies, as New Brunswick fly tier Warren Duncan employed on his floss body patterns, before his untimely passing in 2007, which occurred at his vise while working on a commercial fly order. I have yet to teach this method for floss bodies on streamers. The reasons are described in the photos on the Lady Killer post. Here are the instructions, quickly photographed as I stated; my camera was hand-held, and I futzed with the lighting and shutter speeds until I got something suitably decent. Due to the orange and digital camera automatic color reading they aren’t the best. But hopefully they are clear enough to present the steps and procedure with clarity.

Step 1: Tag and tail are set and secure. Only one wrap is used to secure the tail before adding the keeper. The “keeper,” two short strands of Danville’s No. 7 orange floss have been tied in with two wraps of the working thread, Danville’s 3/0 monocord. The funky lighting and automatic camera lens default settings interaction makes the floss and tail look yellow. You can see the clipped butt of the tinsel tag. The next step is to advance the tying thread to the front of the shank where 4 strands of floss 12″ to 13″ long for the body are attached with a top pinch wrap. The working thread is then wrapped back over the floss as it is held taut, lashing it to the top of the hook shank. Return thread to rear of body as in next photo.

Step 2: Working thread has been returned to the rear of the body, lashing the floss to the shank after being attached at the head. The body floss has been securely tied in. The tinsel ribbing has also been tied in. With no photo, proceed with the next step by advancing the tying thread to the head. I stop winding to spin my bobbin counterclockwise a few times as I go to keep the thread flat. You’ll note I used open wraps of the thread to get forward quickly.

When wrapping floss fly bodies, the most important part, and the most critical point in the process to achieve good results, is to properly start your first wraps. By nature of its multiple strands, floss cannot be attached at one small point on the shank of the hook. To accurately describe this, envision the circumference of the hook shank compared to a 360-degree circle. The floss cannot be attached at one narrow spot where it may only occupy 5 degrees or less of the hook shank surface. About the minimum we can expect is 25% coverage. 40% to 70% is the norm.

When any stranded fly tying material separates during winding, whether it is peacock herl, antron yarn, or floss, the reason this occurs is because uniform tension is not being maintained on all the fibers. Floss is most difficult of stranded fly tying body materials to get under control. It must be properly setup before the first wrap in completed. If this is not done, then the problem of separation of fibers only exacerbates as you continue.

First, elevate the floss perpendicular to the hook shank. Then using both hands, employ a thumb and finger tip stroking action, alternating from right to left hand as you do this. This action tightens the fibers. Then, while continuing the two-handed stroking action, begin to advance the floss, all the while still using both hands, stroking the floss as the wrap is advanced; three o’clock, five o’clock, 6, 7, 8 o’clock positions about the hook shank.

You only need to be concerned with, and concentrate on two-and-a-half to three inches of the floss fibers, because that is the portion that is actually wound and wrapped about the shank of the hook. If tying a wet fly using six inches of floss, or a streamer using twelve to fifteen inches of floss, the procedure remains the same.

If you elevate the floss perpendicular and do not gain proper tight tension of every last strand, then what happens is, remember the percentage of the hook shank covered by the attached floss, the fibers on the leading edge will sag, while the fibers on the trailing will tighten.The floss fibers that occupy the space between the leading edge and trailing edge all do this to a varying degree relative to their placement in the floss bundle on the hook shank.

What you must do! Tighten all the floss fibers before you being to wrap, , then simply advance the floss, continuing the two-handed thumb and finger stroking on just three inches of floss to maintain uniform tension of all the fibers, and this is very important for you to understand, it bears repeating:  maintain uniform tension of all the fibers as the tension of each individual fiber relative to the tie-in point on the hook shank changes during the initial rotation. It is unnecessary to stroke the entire length of the floss being used.

Your goal is to set up the floss, before winding begins, so that all the fibers are uniformly tight against shank of the hook, before you begin to wrap. I guarantee, if this is properly done as instructed, you will easily wind the floss smoothly and with no separation. Floss generally is wound by placing the first complete wrap on the shank, then each subsequent wrap is made by advancing the floss, placing 1/2 its width on top of the previous wrap, the front 1/2 onto the thread underbody.

If a tapered body, larger in front is desired, then decrease the pace of your advance. The more the floss is “held back” it begins to add bulk to itself.

Step 3: Two forward wraps have been made with the body floss. The keeper still hangs off to the rear. Hackle pliers grip the floss to hold it taut while I took the photo. Are you with me so far? The next step is to bring the keeper forward over the two established wraps of the body floss.

Step 4: The two short “keeper strands” of floss have been pulled forward; you can see they have formed a tiny shell back. Next, after making a partial wrap with the floss, switch your grasp on the floss to your left hand (opposite or right hand for your lefties). But just enough to trap the keeper forward. Grasp and pull the keeper taut with your right hand and then complete the third wrap with the body floss. It is when pulled forward in this manner, that the keeper adds more coverage to the floss body over the circumference of the hook shank at the rear of the body. This produces an additional gripping effect on the floss that secures it with more coverage than what is normally done by the ribbing alone. Carefully advance the floss forward, and try to maintain the keeper strands on the top of the hook shank.

Step 5: The body floss has been advanced about 2/3 of the way forward. You can see the butt ends of the two keeper stands protruding from the front of the body wraps. Continue wrapping the floss forward to complete the body. Sorry the photo is a little blurry. I stopped at The Trail Inn for a pint of Guinness on the way home from the bank. Actually the beer wasn’t the reason…you can blame the klutzy photographer. :mrgreen:

Step 6: The finishing thread for the head, Danville’s No. 7 Orange Flymaster 6/0 has replaced the white monocord. The ribbing has been wound. Carrie Stevens made her ribbing wraps rather close together, so on an 8x long hook, to adhere to her style, I’ll make 14 – 16 wraps. This hook is a #1 – 8x.

Once you have reached this stage you can secure the thread and start another body, or move on to attaching the belly, throat, and wing assembly to complete the fly. I hope these instructions clear the waters. Have fun!

24 comments on “Floss “Body Keeper” – A Step-by-step Tutorial

  1. Kelly L says:

    Don, that was so nice of you to go to all that trouble. It is much more clear to me now. Not crystal clear like I have it 100%, but I have a lot better idea than I did before. Your photo work and explanations are awesome. Some things I just learn better by watching and doing. (like I am knot challenged so bad it isn’t funny.) But if I see an animated video, it helps a lot. You did a great job here. I thank you for going the extra mile for your fans, and fellow fly tyers.

    • Hey Kelly;
      I did have you in mind, 😉 but at least two others questioned this technique and explanation as well, and it had only been a couple hours after I made that post. I think the preemptive strike in the form of the photos and detailed explanations will save me more work in the future. I’m glad it helped you!
      But aside from the tying, it took me longer to download and edit the photos than it did to actually take the pictures.
      Thank you for your comments and kind words!

  2. Jack Devlin says:

    Thanks for posting a step-by-step. I kind of figured out the process from your description but, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Jack Devlin

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hello Jack;
      You are welcome! Glad you liked the photos, even though they’re not the greatest. using a tripod, etc., would have taken me a lot longer. Thanks so much for your comment!

  3. John Larsen says:


    Thanks for the step-by-step. I think I had it from the previous post, but the detailed instructions and pictures have really cleared things up. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and techniques.


  4. Bob Vincent says:

    Thanks Don,

    Sure cleared up things for me. I am also one of those ” I got to see it to understand it ” persons.
    As I said in a previous post will try this on some “Ghosts” I am tying up for shadow box display.

    As busy as you are, sure hope you can find time to put all these little tips in a single DVD or two, I’ll be the first to purchase. One thing would be the proper creation of the band for Carrie Stevens heads, steaming feathers, straightening shafts and feathers, making great tails and throats, gluing up wing feathers Stevens style, folding roof feathers and wings. Hope others can add some ideas also.

    Bob Vincent

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hello Bob;
      Thank you for your enjoyment and interest of my streamer work! Thanks for the suggestion and encouragement on doing another DVD. I don’t know if that will ever happen or not, but I’ll certainly be expanding the information on the topic here on my blog. I’ve just recently been developing various ideas on Carrie Stevens flies, tying and so on. More to come! Thanks again for your comment and support!

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hi Bob;
      I apologize that your comment escaped me posting a reply. Sorry about that! 🙂
      I am glad you found the photos and written tutorial helpful and informative. As far as you encouragement for me to do another DVD, I like the idea, but I won’t be able to afford to do that myself in the near future. It would be nice if a company like Bennett-Watt Entertainment that filmed my last two DVD’s part of their New Hooked on Fly Tying would take interest and make an offer.
      It would be good to have a DVD more specifically focused on streamer tying as you suggest. In the meantime, I’ll start making video segments myself and maybe start posting them on youtube.
      Thanks for your encouragement and support!

  5. Kelly L says:


    Don, that would be supreme. I would LOVE to see your work on You Tube. It helps us poor folk out. 🙂

    • Don Bastian says:

      Someday, I have a good camera that also takes good video, on a hi-res setting, and zoom capability. I actually have been developing some ideas to present some of my methods and techniques in a different way, rather than tie one fly from start to finish. One thing I’m thinking of doing, and this would work on standard wet flies, nymph, drys, and patterns that I can tie in a 5 minutes or less, would be to do two flies, not one.
      And another idea, is to practice certain songs, and then sing a capella while tying, the idea being to finish the fly and song simultaneously. For starters, the song about what a Scotsman wears under his kilt. Now that would turn a few heads. So much the better if it were a traditional Scottish Loch pattern…LOL! And a glass of Laphroaig on the side…

  6. Kelly L says:

    LOLLLLLL. Don, that would be fantastic, sign me up. I will hold you to singing a Scottish song while tying a fly or two. I love your sense of humor. I will sign up for all your fly tying videos. But I do expect at least ONE Scottish Loch pattern with a song about the kilt. 🙂

    • Don Bastian says:

      Uh-oh, cat’s outta the bag now! I guess I’m totally committed!
      I love working on and maintaining my blog. It’s an outlet for my creativity, at least one outlet. I’m glad you want a front row seat for the musical fly tying gig. :mrgreen: I never told you I used to play drums in a rock and in the ’70’s and sang the lead on Play That Funky Music. White Boy. And Walk This Way, and Same Old Song and Dance, Aerosmith, and Chevrolet, ZZ Top. Those were the days…

  7. Kelly L says:

    Now you’re talking. Go for it. That is my kind of music. 🙂

  8. Kelly L says:

    Okay, if you won’t do it for You Tube, you still gotta do it for me. I bet Truman will help you out, if you beg him hard enough. 🙂 You can copy it to a dvd and send it to me. LOL….this would be so awesome.

    • Don Bastian says:

      Oh, I’m definitely gonna do it. Just need to get the time to start practicing both singing and tying. Right now, sometimes tying along with music, I am belting out at the top of my lungs while setting wings, wrapping floss, preparing feathers. Why, just this morning I sang Lynyrd’s Skynyrd’s Gimme Three Steps, start to finish with a Parmacheene Belle. The song was done before the fly.
      “Hey there fella with the hair colored yella’,
      Whachoo trying to prove?
      Cuz I’m a man who cares and this might be all for you…”
      “I said, “Excu-u-u-se me…”
      Oooh! Gotta run!!!!! Dire Straits and one of my favorite songs of all, Money For Nothin‘ is up.
      Gotta sing about, “That ain’t workin’ – that’s the way you do it, money for nothin’ and your chics for free…”

  9. Kelly L says:

    Okay then, sounds like a plan! I can’t wait for this.

  10. Kelly L says:

    You edited your comment after my last reply. Well, at least you still like the old music, it will never go out of style. Good old classic rock ‘n roll. You need to be practicing that Scottish song, cause I am gonna hold ya to that one for sure. The rest is just a bonus.

  11. Don
    I would love to see some short videos (even on YouTube) showing techniques – so not necessarily an entire fly.

    If you were to produce another similar to your other excellent videos (and I MUST get the streamer DVD from you) I would certainly pre-order it:)


    • Hi Darrell;
      I’m actually thinking of doing some youtube video segments…just not in a place where I can get right on that, but they are coming. 🙂 Thank you for your support and for following my blog! I noted your request about quills, I have some now, not all colors, please send e-mail to my personal e-mail address, let me know what colors you need, and I’ll see what I can do. I may not be on my own computer for a bit, so my e-mail is better than LinkedIn. Thanks again!

  12. :mrgreen: !!!! Now I just might have you over a barrel Kelly, be careful what you ask for, because it’s me…you never know what you might get. 😉

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