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It’s knot difficult

By Bill Logan

Bill Logan demonstrates how to finish your flies with a hand whip-finish

It's knot difficult

  • 1


    To start: you’ll need a hand’s length of working thread extending between bobbin and fly. Lay your fore and index fingers against the thread and begin to place a loop around them.

  • 2


    Shift the angle of your fingers upward to roughly 45° as you complete the loop. Notice the blue half is now parallel to the hook and laying over the orange.

  • 3


    To set up for the first wrap, curl your index finger just a little to keep the blue side from sliding off …


  • 4


    ... as you roll your fingers (and the loop) over

    For beginners, the toughest part of tying this knot is sliding the base of the working loop up against the hook. You must do so to succeed. Don’t worry if you feel clumsy to begin with. This is after all, a practice session!

  • 5


    Study photo 5 carefully. Do you see that I’ve pulled back on the bobbin while at the same time keeping my fingers spread to maintain a good loop size? Both actions combined have drawn the small portion of thread originally between the hook and my loop’s base (you can see it in photo 4) into the loop itself. This in turn has brought me in contact with the hook.


  • 6


    The move continued, simply lays the orange half of the loop right over the blue half and hook as well, leaving my fingers facing me in the bottom of the loop.

    We’ve just made our first wrap and we’re a breath away from having made a Half Hitch! If you want to see how to complete the latter, skip ahead to photos 12-14. Should you wish to continue on with the main event, stay the course.

  • 7


    In this photo, I’ve rolled my fingers over in the loop so their backs face us. Now I’m set to make my next wrap. 

  • 8


    Photos 8-11 are no more than a repeat of what occurred in photos 2–5, the only difference being that I’m already on the hook and am laying my second orange wrap right beside my first.

  • 9


    Each additional wrap can also be made in exactly the same fashion.

  • 10


    Over goes the orange...

  • 11


    ... and back under, and repeat working towards the eye.

  • 12


    Now our knot must be drawn tight by pulling the remaining thread in our loop under its wraps. To keep the loop from twisting and tangling, remove your forefinger from it, as I’ve done in photo 12.

  • 13


    Notice also that I’ve pinched the loop between my thumb and index finger. I’ll maintain my grasp while I pull back with my bobbin, reducing the loop. In the last moment (seen in photo 13), I’ve rolled my index finger out of the loop before it became trapped.

  • 14


    In photo 14, our neat, very competent head knot is cinched down and oh so lovely!

    Now tell me the truth; this isn’t so hard at all, is it?

Do you even remember struggling to tie your shoes? We have all come such a long way since that grand moment of success, pride and independence. My mom showed me how to do the deed while telling me that a rabbit, when chased around a tree dives into its hole. I tie one fine bow now and sometimes even double my knots. Oh let me tell you, where the mechanics of knots are concerned, bold initiative is often called for.

It’s especially true this month. In the last issue, when I kitted us out for tying flies, I left you literally hanging by your thread having no tool to tie off with. Let’s jump right back in and learn a simple head knot. All you’ll need is two fingers! Mount a blank hook in your vice, tie on and you’ll be set for a short practice session. It won’t take long to master the moves and like the very first knot you ever learned, this one will set you free and serve you reliably for the rest of your life.

What I’m going to show you is the very same knot a whip finisher ties. The idea is basic; one half of a loop is wrapped around or over the other several times, after which, the remainder of the loop is drawn under the wraps, tightening them. That’s it, and I must confess, I’ve never really understood why the whole thing doesn’t just come apart. It seems like it should, but if you tie a Whip Finish correctly, it never does. Such a mystery, such magic but hey, a bit of either (or better yet both) seems only fitting in anything to do with fly fishing!

Knot to be overlooked
Once you’ve learned to whip finish by hand, you’ll quickly discover you’ve gained enormous versatility and precision. This is especially welcome where tying off would otherwise be awkward, if not close to impossible. I can’t explain this well in words and pictures but trust me; once you get the feel of this (it will happen quickly), you will discover you can slide wraps in and around daunting obstacles or even back under the overhanging parachute hackles you used to dread.

Here are a few handy tips:

  • Why not apply wet cement to the first 4-5 centimetres of your working thread before tying a head knot? Do so and the final result will be neat, clean and permanent. 
  • With small flies, you can get away with a head knot of only three wraps, assuming they’re well cemented. Generally, I lay down 5-6 wraps.
  • If you’ve ever tied with foam, you know successive compression is a problem. Each additional wrap further cinches the material. This can result in loosened, even slack, previous wraps. Sound familiar? Where such a situation threatens, tie off with 2 or 3 two-wrap head knots. The end result will be tight and again, if cemented, quite secure. 
  • Should you wish to lock down an already completed portion of an otherwise unfinished fly, throw in a Half Hitch, which is really nothing more than a Whip Finish of only one wrap. Folks tying very complicated flies (such as full-dress salmon flies), regularly secure their work in stages. Whenever you feel as if you’re just one step ahead of a fly coming undone, or have had a hard time getting something like feather wings positioned and cinched down just right, yet again an added Half Hitch will allow you to lean back and relax for a moment, happy at having regained the upper hand!
  • Many fine tyers actually prefer finishing off with a series of Half Hitches rather than a full-blown head knot. Single wrap knots are very easy to control and place exactly, especially on peewee flies or if faced with a cramped head.

Notice that I’ve coloured each side of the single loop of thread in the accompanying photos a different colour! This is to encourage you see the loop as having two distinct halves. Although your fingers (and the loop) will be moving around a bit, the fundamental idea is that the orange half of the loop always over-wraps the blue!

I should also note that my photos portray right-handed tying. If you’re a lefty, just switch hands!

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