August 09, 2022
By Kathy Buchner
Editor's note: Flyfisherman.com will periodically be posting articles written and published before the Internet, from the Fly Fisherman magazine print archives. The wit and wisdom from legendary fly-fishing writers like Ernest Schwiebert, Gary LaFontaine, Lefty Kreh, Robert Traver, Al Caucci & Bob Nastasi, Vince Marinaro, Doug Swisher & Carl Richards, Nick Lyons, and many more deserve a second life. These articles are reprinted here exactly as published in their day and may contain information, philosophies, or language that reveals a different time and age. This should be used for historical purposes only.
This article was originally titled "Fly Tier's Bench: The Humpy" in the February 1999 issue of Fly Fisherman magazine. Click here for a PDF of the print version of "The Humpy."
Humpies are wonderful flies. Because they are tied in so many different colors and sizes, they can suggest adult stoneflies, caddis, mayflies, beetles, and even grasshoppers.
So if these are such wonderful flies, why don't more fly tiers make their own Humpies? Some tiers complain that they "just can't get them to come out right," or that the body spins around the hook. Other tiers say that their wings always tum out too long, too short, or too heavy. Through many years of tying Humpies professionally and demonstrating them at fly-fishing conclaves and club meetings, I've decided that learning to tie a Humpy is like learning to make a beautiful pie crust. I can remember many frustrating attempts to make a beautiful, tasty, flaky pie crust. Actually, I didn't do too badly in the tasty and flaky departments, but beautiful-forget it. Then one day I watched my friend Donna making gorgeous, fluted edges around a sour cream peach pie. "Wait!"' I exclaimed, "Show me how you did that!"
"Did what?" she asked. She had never really thought about what she was doing.
She slowed her movements, thought about it, and then was able to explain to me the position of her fingers and how she moved them to flute the crust. Voila! The secret was in how she pinched the dough just between the thumb and forefinger of her left hand while pressing down the notch with her right forefinger. She had learned that little trick by watching her mother make pie crust. (I hadn't learned about making pie crust from my mother, because 1 was always too busy fishing with my father.) When I tried to learn on my own, I really struggled, because I lacked the advantage of having someone to show me the simple, but effective subtleties of proper finger position.
The same applies to tying Humpies. Fortunately, I learned to tie Humpies from my husband, Jay, and I learned right from the beginning the technique that make the fly easy to tie.
Unfortunately, for most tiers, it's just like trying to make fluted edges on a piecrust–you can look at a lot of pies, but unless you can watch someone go through each step of the process, it's difficult to get the finished product to come out just like the sample.
Like my pie-crust lesson, these instructions and photos should help make it easier for you to tie the Humpy.
Since so many people tie Humpies, there is wide variation in sizes and proportions. Some people prefer them with short, bushy tails; others tie them without tails. Some tiers prefer fat bodies; others want a thin profile. Obviously, the following instructions and proportions apply to the style of Humpy I like best.
Fishing the Humpy
Once you have a great supply of different sizes and colors of Humpies, how are you going to fish them?
As I mentioned at the beginning, Humpies are versatile. Size #4 Humpies are effective for Atlantic salmon. Trout go after size #6 through # 18 Humpies fished as mayflies, caddis, or adult stoneflies. A size #12 or#14 fluorescent green Humpy makes a good beetle in New Zealand. Small ones will imitate emerging mayflies.
You can fish Humpies wet as emerging caddis, or try them as attractor pattern. Use your imagination. The Humpy resembles so many different trout foods that it can be used for many different hatch situations, even though it isn't a match-the hatch pattern. It's truly versatile.
Try casting a Humpy into a pocket behind a boulder or in close to shore, next to a brush pile. You'll soon learn what I mean by versatile.
Buchner's Humpy Recipe
HOOK: Mustad 79570 or equivalent, # I 0-# 18; and#4-#8 for Atlantic salmon and larger trout.
THREAD: Waxed, single-strand floss for sizes down to #14 (3/0 Monocord can also be used); 6/0 Monocord for sizes #16 and #18. The thread forms the underbelly of the fly.
TAIL: Stiff, non-flaring, moose-body hair or elk hock.
BODY AND WINGS: Mule-deer body hair or elk body hair.
HACKLE: Grizzly and brown or variant for deer-hair Humpies; badger for elkhair Humpies. Saddle hackle is best for the larger sizes.
Tying Steps for the Humpy
1. Perhaps the major secret to tying a beautiful Humpy is getting the proportions of the fly correct. If the tail is measured correctly, and the body/wing hair is measured carefully from the tail, everything should come out just right.
The tail should extend beyond the bend of the book, the same length as the hook shank (from the eye of the book to the beginning of the bend). So the total length of the tail hair must be 1½ times the length of the hook shank, because one third of the overall length of the tail (which is equal to half the shank length) is tied on the hook, with the remaining two-thirds of the tail fibers (which is equal to the shank length) extending beyond the bend of the hook.
I have marked the blades of my scissors with the lengths of the more common dry-fly hook sizes. This makes it easy to measure the proper tail length.
Tie the tail down securely.
2. Now that you have the tail length, you can measure the body/wing hair properly. But first you must prepare the deer or elk body hair by removing as much of the fuzz or underfur as possible. A few strokes with a pocket comb will remove most of it. Align the tips in a hair stacker or evener.
Measure the body/wing hair, making it the same length as the tail and hook shank combined. Hold the clump of hair with your right hand above the hook (left-handed tiers, use your left hand), aligning the tips with the end of the tail. Then grasp the hair with your left hand so the ends of your fingers are right at the eye of the book. Clip off the butt ends of the hair at your fingertips.
3. Tie in the body/wing hair at the halfway point of the hook shank, directly over the tail hair.
To keep the hair from rolling around the hook shank, hold it tightly. Make two loose wraps of thread around the clump and hook shank, while holding the hair up off the book shank. Then pull straight down on the thread. Gradually move your fingers back, still holding the clump of hair up off the hook shank. When the hair is securely tied down, continue to wrap the tying thread or floss back and forth over the clump of hair, covering it completely. The thread becomes the underbelly of the Humpy.
4. To form the body, or the "hump," fold the clump of deer or·elk hair forward. The body hair will not get mixed up with tail hair because it is twice as long as tin tail and extends well back beyond the end of the tail. As you fold the body hair forward, pull it tight, smoothing it so that it lies evenly on either side of the hook.
Hold the tips of the hair up off the hook shank, and make a few loose wraps of thread just in front of the ledge made by the tail and the body hair. Again, if you tighten these loose wraps by pulling straight down on the bobbin while still holding the hair tips, the hair will not roll around the hook shank.
5. To form the wings, continue wrapping the thread forward with four or five more wraps, making a small platform for tying the hackle.
With the wings in position, hold the hair up and slightly back. Then bring the tying thread in front of the hair and wrap tightly back against the hair to make the wings stand up. Next, divide the hair evenly into two bunches and wrap the base of each once or twice to help stabilize it. End this step with the thread behind the wings.
6. Humpies should be heavily hackled, so choose two long, stiff-fibered hackles; saddle hackle is preferable for #12 or larger flies. Long, good quality neck hackle will work for #14 and smaller. The length of the hackle fibers should be 1 1/2 to 2 times the hook gap.
Tie in the hackle feathers dry-fly style (concave side forward) behind the wings, and continue to wrap the hackle butts in front of the wings too, ending with the thread at the eye of the hook.
7. Wrap the hackle (either one feather at a time or both together) making two wraps of each feather behind the wings and three or four wraps of each in front of the wings. As you wrap the hackle from the back to the front of wings, if you see a gap in the hackle under the wings, push the hackle under the wings and hold it in place with a thumbnail or fingernail while you make the next wrap of hackle. Holding the hackle with a fingernail is one of those tricks I use to help the look of the fly. Continue wrapping the hackle forward.
Tie off the hackle, whip-finish, and cement the head to finish the fly.
Kathy Buchner was currently the director of the Wyoming Council of Trout Unlimited. She and her husband, Jay, owned Buchner Fly Designs in Jackson, Wyoming.