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!

Lady Killer

I just received my invitation to participate in the 22nd Annual International Fly Tying Symposium the other day. The dates are November 17 and 18, 2012. In the package there was also the usual fly donation request for the beautiful frame that Ted Patlen, fly tier and fly framer extraordinaire of Lodi, New Jersey, puts together each year as a raffle item to raise funds for kids fly tying programs. The deadline for fly submissions is September 10th.

Rather than procrastinate as I occasionally do, I pondered, “What to tie and send to Ted?” Not too long though actually. Initially I thought about sending Ted an already tied Parmacheene Belle, the Henry Wells version, a la 19th Century original recipe, of which I have eight or ten in sizes #2, #4, and #6 lying around. But within minutes my thoughts turned to Carrie Stevens and one of her beautiful patterns. Besides, I did announce here some time ago that I would be eventually starting a Carrie Stevens Pattern Dictionary anyway. So why not start now? To begin with I created a new blog Category – Carrie Stevens Pattern Dictionary. For the first fly I chose a pattern that I had not previously tied, wanting to add to my portfolio of experience tying her patterns. Hence the Lady Killer:

Lady Killer – Carrie Stevens Pattern. Hook is size #1 – 8x Gaelic Supreme Martinek / Stevens Rangeley Style Streamer.

Lady Killer

Tag: Flat silver tinsel

Tail: Red hackle fibers

Ribbing: Flat silver tinsel

Body: Red floss

Throat: White hackle fibers

Wing: Two yellow hackles flanked on each side by one white hackle

Shoulder: A chicken breast feather dyed red

Cheeks: Jungle cock

Head: Four equal bands in sequence – black, red, black, red.

Note: as per a photo of a Carrie Stevens original Lady Killer in the Hilyard Carrie Stevens book, 2000, the band sections are listed from the rear of the head forward to the eye.

You’ll note that I also used narrow tinsel for the tag and wider for the ribbing. If a pattern lacks a tail, then I use the same  section of tinsel for both tag and ribbing, winding both at once after the body is completed. While I was at it I tied two, one for Ted and one for me.

A pair of Lady Killer streamers, Size #1 – 8x.

I took a macro of the rear end of the body:

Lady Killer – macro of rear of body area.
A little over a year ago, I started to adopt Warren Duncan’s pull-over floss “keeper” method that he used on salmon fly floss bodies where there was no tag, tail, or ribbing to reinforce the floss body. His method forms a shell back of sorts that effectively locks in the rear of the body, which if not done, would not be stable or durable at all. This is the same method that I explained in my first DVD, Tying Classic Wet Flies, 2004, when tying in floss tags. On this Lady Killer, there is a short section of red floss tied in on top of the body with a pinch wrap after setting the tail and attaching the ribbing, and before winding to the head to tie in the body floss. When the body construction begins, two wraps of the body floss, four strands used here, are made, and then the “keeper” is pulled forward and tied in and wrapped over with the body floss. This provides greater reinforcement to the rear of the body and binds in every last strand of floss. And why do I bother to do this, you ask? Start looking real close at macros of flies with floss bodies on line. Even some of my work in Forgotten Flies, which was completed thirteen years ago. Even a tinsel ribbing does not effectively secure every last strand of floss. You can often see a few to many strands that slipped out of place at the end of the bodies. I know, it’s a detail, but “attention to detail is what separates good and other classifications of really ‘well-tied flies’ and excellently tied flies. Been saying that in my classes for over a decade. This little “body keeper” technique adds another 25% to 30% of the hook shank circumference where the floss gets locked into place beyond that provided by the ribbing alone. I also believe that as fly tiers, we should never be content with less than the best of our capability. And, this technique does increase the durability of the pattern for fishing flies.

Lady Killer – head macro. In replicating Carrie Stevens (or other tiers original patterns) I believe we should tie with attention to detail. Personally, for me when tying Carrie’s patterns, that means that I replicate her style of elongated heads. My cement used here is Sally Hansen’s Hard As Nails, and nothing else. About 5 – 6 coats. I used to favor the Wapsi Gloss Coat, but discovered that when thinned with regular lacquer thinner, the heads get a malignant-looking grayish ‘blight’ on them, which developed about 8 to 10 weeks later. Not good. I thought using the Wapsi Gloss Coat Thinner would solve the problem, but no. The heads still went blotchy-gray after a couple months. Unacceptable. I do love Wapsi Gloss Coat for any head that will be finished off with Black Pro Lak, because one application of that cures the disease. Note: the jungle cock nail was repaired on the rear side with Flexament. The splits are still visible, but they are bound together.

Wing cement used is Elmer’s Rubber Cement. No bleeding. Instant bonding. Durable. Holds when soaked in water and shaken, hard – not stirred. See: https://donbastianwetflies.wordpress.com/2012/03/06/carrie-stevens-streamers-cementing-wings/

I have already explained in my other blog posts why I am replicating Carrie’s banded heads. I did it for a little while in the mid-1980’s and then stopped and did not do it for over 20 years. I started doing it on a few Gray Ghosts that I tied up for collector’s packages. Then in a conversation with another tier last summer we discussed this and at that time I decided I would once again begin using Carrie Steven’s banding method to finish her patterns that I tie. Initially I was using colored cements and nail polish. Then I developed my own method of using only the tying thread to accomplish the bands. Fly tiers do not normally make substitutions on other pattern ingredients and still consider the dressing complete to the original specifications. I believe her head bands are part of her specific pattern recipe. And as detail-oriented as we tiers often are, I do not believe this infringes on her signature. Carrie’s sister, Elizabeth Duley, duplicated the banding when tying her sister’s patterns. Wendell Folkins of Tamworth, New Hampshire, who bought Carrie’s business in December 1953, was expected by Carrie to continue using her banding method, which he did. This is something that Carrie specifically, not randomly, integrated into her patterns.

I will be developing and expanding my Carrie Stevens Pattern Dictionary as time passes. I will integrate existing Carrie Stevens streamer patterns on my blog into this Category. This will take some time, so please bear with me. For now, this is the first entry and eventually, if you use the search tab, you’ll be able to locate any post in the Category. I want to try and keep the Carrie Stevens Streamer Pattern Dictionary limited to photos of flies, recipes, fishing experiences, and tutorials. Thanks for your support everyone!