Yes it's been a long time coming and I've no one else to blame but myself,
Ben: "I'll photograph the whip finish this week"
Ben: "It'll be wonderful"
Paul: "Sounds good"
Ben: "Oh shit, I've actually got to do it now"
But in the face of adversity and several camera malfunctions it's finally done.
Oh Not Again
Step one. Take your bobbin, place it in your bobbin holder and either suck or pull the thread through the tube. Now before I carry on I'd like to point out that whilst threading your bobbin by way of sucking may seem clever, bobbin tubes can, over time, acquire a generous filling of all manner of offensive materials. If you enjoy a nasty after taste then by all means, suck away. If not, I would simply advise that you, "suck at your own risk”
Starting The Thread
Not a lot to say about this; winding thread doesn't seem to inspire much of an exciting introduction other than, "to finish we must begin", so there you go. To liven things up a little you could try petrol soaked thread over a lit candle. :-))
- Take a hook and place it in between the vice jaws, ensuring the area where the bend finishes and the point begins is completely covered and the hook is snug.
- Take the bobbin in your right hand (unless you're a lefty), place the tag end in the other and hold the thread against the front face of the hook.
- With the bobbin hand take the thread over the shank, then down the other side to form a V shape.
- Still with the bobbin hand - whilst keeping tension on the tag end - wind the thread up and over the shank encompassing the previous wrap and continue winding down over the tag end in neat touching turns.
- After about six or seven turns trim the tag end and continue winding down towards the area where the shank ceases to be straight. Done!
A good point to make at this stage is that some people hide the point between the jaws to prevent clipping it during tying; I don't do this and feel it better to work around the point, why? Well some hooks don't like their tips clamped and have a tendency to break. Think about it; a hook point tapers, it will be held in place by its thickest point with half to two thirds remaining in limbo. One tug to many and the hook -hanging by a thread so to speak - will spring or snap from the jaws only to be found six months later residing on the underside of your sock. The vice jaws will have invaded the gape a little more than is necessary and will subsequently prove more restrictive than the hook point ever would. Learning to work around problems such as this will increase your versatility as a fly tier.
You are now ready to apply your first material, unless you're on fire.
The Pinch Loop Method
In my opinion this little manoeuvre is by far and away the simplest and most useful fly tying technique in existence, it is used in the construction of practically every fly going and will undoubtedly play a major part in every fly you yourself create. To fully appreciate the relevance of the pinch loop method we must first look to what happens in its absence. Tying in a tail for example: select your chosen material and hold next to the shank, now attempt binding it to the hook by way of winding the thread over the top of the aforementioned item. Bearing in mind that we want our material laying firmly on the uppermost side of the shank. What has happened? Yep, the material has been pushed around the hook, leaving it in no fit state to be called anything but a mess.
Enter the pinch loop (sounds like a casting fault :-))
- In the case of a tail, take your selected material and line it up along side the top of the shank allowing the tail to project out over the bend.
- Once you're happy with the tail's length, use your left hand and pinch either side of the shank holding the material in place. This should leave the area of which the tail is to be tied down fully encompassed by your fingertips.
- You don't need to pinch too tightly yet, just hold the material in place and raise the thread up between your loosely pinched fingers, and into position directly above the tie in point for the tail. Now (wait for it), pinch, firmly locking the thread in between your finger and the near side of the hook.
- Keep those fingers pinched!! You can now let the above thread relax and go slack, along with yourself if you like. Take the slack thread over the shank forming a loop, whilst simultaneously pulling it down and back through your pinched fingers. You will feel the loop close over the material firmly binding it to the shank.
- Once is often not enough so repeat the procedure (for security), and remove your fingers. The tail should be fixed both neatly and firmly in place along the topside of the shank. Done! Now you can breath out.
The pinch loop method is obviously not just for tails; most materials will slide around when met by thread so this method is invaluable for fixing any material in any position you choose.
The Whip Finish
Spoken of in hushed tones and responsible for many a good man being reduced to a mere shadow of his former self, the whip finish is considered by many to be the single most difficult fly tying technique to master. Why? Is it the tool? Is it the impressive appearance when done quickly? Or is it the fact that you could in theory make a meringue with it. I don't know, but whatever it is: ignore it; the whip finish is easy and can be mastered in the time it takes to boil a kettle. I'm not joking, which is why it still amazes me to find people who after having tied for so many years still remain defiant in even thinking about the whip finish, let alone having a go at it.
So what is the whip finish?
Ok, you have just tied down the last component of your first fly, the thread is now dangling just behind the eye of the hook and remains solely responsible for holding your chain of materials together. If allowed to unwind the chain will break forcing you to cry uncontrollably whilst swearing never to tie another fly ever again. How do we prevent such out bursts? Easy, we do as our parents taught us during long car journeys - "by tying a knot in it!"
- Take the whip finish tool in your right hand and place it behind the thread. Now take the thread under the bump of the lower arm whilst keeping tension.
- Still keeping tension, hook the thread with the tools upper arm.
- Now turn the tool away from you in a clockwise direction whilst simultaneously raising the tools handle up to a horizontal position. If your tool is of the rotatable kind it will work with you, simply turn over the tool by putting pressure on the upper arm whilst raising the handle. The tool will spin clockwise leaving the handle fully horizontal with the bumped arm uppermost and the thread forming an inverted figure 4. Not that I need to tell you this, but if your tool is not rotatable then twisel your fingers whilst lifting the hand. Pheww!! Good thing there are pictures with this.
- Keeping tension on the thread in your left hand whilst making sure it remains in line with the shank, raise your tool up (clockwise) 180 degrees - keeping that handle horizontal - around and back down the other side. The vertical thread coming off the hooked arm will have crossed over its horizontal counterpart leaving it trapped firmly to the shank. Keep winding up and over whilst moving forward towards the eye in neat touching turns. Numbers of turns vary but between four and six is the norm.
- To finish, slide the bumped arm slowly towards the hook eye whilst slightly raising the handle, slide it forward until the arm passes underneath the eye of the hook and the thread no longer forms an inverted figure 4.
- Now slip the bump out of the loop leaving it connected to the tools remaining arm. Slowly pulling the thread in your left hand will draw the tool closer to the shank; thus closing the loop. Keep pulling until you meet the hook, now take a deep breath and slip the tool out of the loop whilst simultaneously pulling (gently) on the thread in your left hand.
- That's it, your thread should now be firmly locked underneath itself. To finish just trim the tag end and varnish your head, but be warned, you'll probably go bald ;-)
If you're lost don't worry, the whip finish is tricky to explain but the pictures (thank God for digital cameras) should reveal all. One useful point to take note of is that a tool such as this can be used in several ways; whilst perusing two old fly tying books earlier today I realized that my style completely opposed theirs. I found it strange that even though I don't use a whip finish tool I'd interpreted its use completely differently to the original source from which I learnt it. So when you look at these pictures don't take them as gospel, you could start by using the hook arm and flipping the tool the opposite way or by incorporating different angles during any or all parts of the procedure - it's a personal thing.
There are of course things I've missed out: the half hitch in particular. Why? I don't use it, some people finish the fly with it but I don't, (it's crap, sorry) learn the whip finish instead. It's also worth pointing out that you don't actually need a whip finish tool to complete a whip finish, your fingers - as with all knots - will do fine. The tool is widely recommended for beginners due to its - supposed - ease of use. Ok a tiny bit, I'll give them that, but finger skills lie at the base of all good tying so please do give it a go, it's not difficult and you'll never look back.
Well there you are, sucked, pinched, thoroughly whipped and ready to go.
P.S. No Finnish people were harmed during the making of this article.
P.P.S. The finger whip finish *will* be coming to a screen near you later in the year.
P.P.P.S. Please do *not* attempt fingering any Finnish people in the mean time, they don't like it very much. Thank you.
Next Week: Ben, after being forced, kicking and screaming back to university will probably be found lying in a gutter somewhere after having destroyed a textbook.