How to Tie a Gray Wulff
The Gray Wulff was the first in Lee Wulff’s “Wulff Series of Dry Flies”. It was originally designed to imitate a Slate Drake and to float well on the fairly rough waters of New York’s Ausable River. This fly brings back fond memories for me as it’s one of the first dry flies I fished, many years ago, on the St. Regis River, north of the Adirondacks, back when I had a few less gray hairs.
For a hook I’m going to use a Lightning Strike DF1 in size 10. Begin by getting the hook firmly secured in the jaws of your tying vise.
For thread, I’ve loaded a bobbin with a spool of tan UTC 70 Denier. Get the thread started on the hook shank, leaving an eye-length space behind the eye, and take a few wraps rearward before snipping off the excess tag. Keep taking thread wraps down the shank until your thread hangs at about the hook point.
This step isn’t essential but I like to take a small pinch of Adam’s Gray beaver fur dubbing from the packet and use it to create a very slender dubbing noodle, approximately 1 1/2” in length, on my tying thread. Begin wrapping the noodle so the dubbing starts right at the hook bend. Then take touching wraps forward all the way back to the initial tie-in point. End with your tying thread about 1/3 of the way down the hook shank. This thin layer of dubbing will help to grip the slippery deer hair that gets tied in next. Again, it’s helpful but not essential.
The hair for both the wing and the tail of this fly comes from the brown side of a bucktail. Tails without a black tip generally work better as they have more usable hair on them. The hair from near the tip of the tail is the most desirable. Just pull an ample clump up to vertical and snip it off close. A kind of unruly mass is absolutely fine. Strip the shorter hairs free from the butt ends then place the hair, tips first, into a wide mouth stacker. Give the clump a real good stacking to align the tips. With the tips pointing toward the front of the fly, remove the hair from the stacker, while keeping those tips aligned. It’s ok if the alignment isn’t perfect.
Measure to form a wing a full hook shank plus the eye in length. Transfer that measurement forward to the tie-in point. Give your bobbin a healthy counter clockwise spin so the first wrap of thread will want to jump slightly rearward and end up right at that 1/3rd point down the shank. Take a few more wraps to further secure the hair then start taking touching wraps rearward. Don’t let go of the butt ends with your left hand. Instead, lift them slightly up and snip them off at a shallow angle.
Move your tying thread forward so it once again rests right at that point 1/3 of the way down the hook shank. Pull the hair back and kind of crease it with your thumbnail a couple of times. Jam a significant number of thread wraps in at the wing’s base to help prop the hair up. Then, divide the hair into two equal clumps and take cross wraps between the clumps to separate them. After taking a full wrap around the hook shank to save your work, go from behind the wings around to in front of each one. This will further separate them as well as pull them back. Again take a turn or two around just the hook shank to save your work.
Although the wings look ok at this point, it’s a good idea to continue separating them with a couple of figure eight wraps, then a couple of posting wraps around each wing. With the wings well separated and corralled, start taking thread wraps rearward to bind down the snipped-off butt ends. End with your tying thread right at the start of the hook bend. If there are any wonky hairs, now’s a good time to snip them out. Take thread wraps forward to just in front of the hook point.
Snip a smaller clump of bucktail free from the same area as before. It should be about 1/4 the amount that you snipped for the wings. Here, too, remove the short hair from the butt ends then give the hair a good stacking. This time, open your stacker with the tips pointing rearward. Remove the hair from the stacker and measure to form a tail that extends from the back edge of the hook eye all the way to the hook bend. Transfer that measurement rearward to the start of the bend. Sneak in with your tying scissors and snip the excess butt ends off square. Give your bobbin a good counterclockwise spin so your first wrap of thread will want to jump rearward and catch those snipped-off ends. The idea here is to create a somewhat gentle slope down to the tail. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect, corrections can be made later. Take thread wraps forward then back to fill in any low spots. End with your tying thread at about the hook point.
Again, reach for the beaver fur dubbing and this time, pull an ample clump free from the packet. Use the dubbing to create a lightly tapered noodle on your tying thread, about 3” in length. Start taking wraps with the noodle so the dubbing begins right at the base of the tail then take touching wraps forward to create a nicely tapered body on the fly. Try to have the dubbing end with a good amount of space left open behind the wings.
Although a feather or two from a medium dun cape is traditionally used to hackle the fly, I simply couldn’t resist using a feather from this beautiful barred dun badger cape instead. I’ll guess on hackle length first, then measure the feather on a hackle gauge, here, a perfect size 10, before plucking the feather free from the skin. With the shiny side of the feather facing you, strip off the lower webby and fuzzy fibers, then strip a few more from just the top side of the stem. While keeping this orientation, lay the bare stem against the near side of the hook and take thread wraps to secure it. Snip the excess stem off in line with the back edge of the hook eye. Next bind the stem to the shank, up to the eye then back to the dubbed body. Pull the hackle feather forward to give the stem a little crease.
Although the next few steps aren’t essential, I do feel they help with getting the hackle to wrap correctly and contribute to the overall look of the fly. Pull just the smallest amount of the same beaver fur dubbing free from the packet and use it to create a very slender inch-long noodle on your tying thread. Start taking wraps with the noodle to cover up the thread wraps first behind the wings then in front of them.
Get hold of the feather’s tip with hackle pliers and start taking touching wraps forward with it. The shiny side should face forward. You might find it helpful to gently preen the wings forward before taking the wraps behind them. Sneak in as many wraps as you can, first behind the wings then pull the wings back and take wraps in front of them. You certainly don’t want to crowd the eye but the more fully hackled a Gray Wulff is, generally the better it will float. When you reach your tying thread, use it to firmly anchor the feather’s tip then pick up your tying scissors and snip that excess tip off close.
Get hold of your whip finish tool and use it to do a 5 or 6 turn whip finish, seat the knot well and snip or cut your tying thread free. If there are any wayward hackle fibers, now’s a good time to trim them out. To increase the fly’s durability, apply a drop of head cement, or here, Sally Hansen Hard as Nails to the exposed thread wraps behind the eye. Once the adhesive sinks in and dries, there’s no way these wraps will come unraveled.
And that’s a nice big Gray Wulff, ready to use on a tumbly river or stream near you. With support provided by the tip of the tail, the bottom of the hook and the numerous hackle points, a Gray Wulff will stay afloat through just about anything, even with a weighted dropper attached.