Guest Blogger: Michael Vorhis, author of ARCHANGEL suspense thriller, OPEN DISTANCE adventure thriller & more to come

There are multiple steps to tying flies that are potentially problematic, but one in particular resurfaces for me in numerous fat-bodied flies: The dreaded downramp.

Consider a fly body that increases in diameter from near the tail (Figure 1). Almost regardless of what you use to build up that base (yarn, thread, whatever), it fattens up as it extends forward toward the fly’s head. It may need to get fatter as a result of some underlying lead wire wound around the hook shank, or simply because the insect it imitates is fatter than a needle. Now, I’m not talking about fly bodies that look fat but are mostly air, courtesy of fluffy dubbing; I’m talking more about fly bodies substantially built up with a base.

Figure 1 – Built-up Base of Body

Over that body base is usually then wound materials that establish the “look” of the fly: dubbing noodles or dubbing-loop fluff, yarn, peacock herl, palmered hackle, wire or plastic tubing or D-ribbing…whatever. For simplicity we’ll call all that stuff “the works.”

The problem: Starting to apply “the works” from back to front, over the body’s base, is easy. “The works” easily climbs that up-ramp from thin to fat (from left to right in Figure 2), each turn laying close and nice to the previous turn, just like you want it.

Figure 2 – The Ramps

When winding “the works” up-ramp, there are no gaps, no body base peeking through to look sloppy and promote unravel during use.

But the trouble is that up closer to the hook eye the body’s base eventually comes to an end. It has to end to allow room for hackle or collars or the like. That’s the downramp, and it can be abrupt. And “the works,” when wound overtop, will reach that taper-down point and fall off the cliff, or tumble down the downramp, resulting in the afore-mentioned rattiness and risk of unravelling.

Even if we taper the body base more gradually, “the works” stands a good chance of tumbling down the “downramp,” turn after turn, when applied overtop the base. It becomes an expletive-soundtracked aggravation in what was up to then looking like a neat and promising tie. See Figure 3.

Figure 3 – Tumbling Down the Downramp

Realize that this issue will typically only occur in flies that build up the desired body shape using a material of some substantial structure, such as thread or dense yarn. So-called “thick” fly bodies that achieve their thick profile with bulky soft material applied directly to the hook shank (rather than with a thread base) won’t have a “ramp” to fall off of.

Also, while even wire will fall off a cliff or tumble down a downramp (making it less tight and more prone to moving and destroying the ‘segmented body’ visual effect), some “works” materials are worse than others when it comes to this problem.

Five Solutions I’m aware of:

I personally know of five ways to tackle the downramp issue, some of which are better than others:

  1. Don’t have a downramp at all. Build the body’s base (level or increasing) all the way to a point well forward of where “the works” will end, and then also wind any hackle overtop that body base, keeping it back from the cliff’s edge.  See Figure 4. Then when finishing off with a thread head (or a forward collar), build that head or collar from the hook eye backward and ensure it applies backward pressure on the body base, and also ensure that it limits any forward slide of the hackle turns.

Figure 4 – No Downramp at All

I don’t love this method because it forces the hackle stem to be wound upon something with a larger diameter than a thin hook shank. My results have been that the hackle stem itself becomes more prominent, more visible, more ratty-looking, and most importantly the hackle stem is much easier for trout teeth to cut…after which it instantly unwinds and the fly is useless, except for catching stupid or starving fish.

  1. If you started the fly by sliding on a bead, the body base can abut into the bead and doesn’t need a downramp. This is common, but not all flies want to be bead-heads. I rarely if ever use a bead, so it doesn’t help me. Also if the fly’s body base is fat then, again, any hackle will be wound upon something of greater diameter, bead head or not. The bead does admittedly protect against teeth.
  2. Whatever you’re winding on as “the works,” back-twist it before you wind it down the downramp, in hopes of getting it to want to “climb” backward up the descending ramp and lay alongside your previous turn…until the next turn holds it on the slope of the ramp.

I don’t love this method either, first because so many of the materials you’ll be applying are already twisted and you stand a good chance of untwisting them…and secondly because it still doesn’t work for abrupt down-ramps that are more like cliffs. I have read such advice but it has never worked for me…in fact it sometimes makes matters worse.

  1. What you need is something to hold “the works” from tumbling down the downramp, so before descending the ramp apply a temporary counter-wound piece of dense yarn from the hook eye backward, right up to where “the works” is standing ready to descend the ramp. This temporary dense yarn is reverse-wound; it touches the most recent turn of “the works” and can apply back-pressure on “the works” to keep it from tumbling down the ramp. Then with each successive turn of “the works,” you are actually applying a turn of the good stuff while taking a turn of the temporary yarn off. That yarn backs its way down off the ramp as “the works” descends.

While I managed to get this technique to work once, it took forever and was a balancing act to say the least. The back-pressure may or may not be sufficient. This method adds time, aggravation and struggle to the tie, and adds clutter to the zone you’re working. It’s not a technique I ever opt to go with anymore, although it could in theory save a fly that was planned wrong and finds itself at an impasse.

  1. And finally there’s my favorite method, and the one that best aligns with my nature: Cheat. Apply a tiny drop of clear super-glue or other fast-curing stickum onto the downramp, and after a dozen or two seconds, descend that downramp turn by turn with relative confidence. With a little care on how much glue is used and where it’s applied, it will never show, and it also makes the fly all that much more durable. Once you’re down the black diamond mogul field, you’re safe. If it’s practically a “cliff,” you can still descend it safely by having the integrity to cheat with glue.

I suppose all the above could have been addressed with the simple phrase “spot o’ glue” in a set of tying instructions, but then I wouldn’t have had the chance to make all those ridiculous diagrams, or to poke fun at advice I’ve heard and read.

Anyway, like corsets and mascara, glue is the invisible friend…ever on duty, never overtly acknowledged. Your challenging ties will be the belles of the ball, and no one need ever know.

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