Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Split-thread vs.Touch Dubbing

I am often asked by other fly tyers why I prefer touch-dubbing with wax over other methods of applying dubbing when tying flies that call for a buggy appearance on some part the fly. Primarily, I use this technique on the thorax of many of my dry caddis flies. I also employ the method on many of my soft hackles, and on some nymphs. The question I get is, “Why not use the split-thread method to get a buggy fly when that technique is so much easier?”

First off, I’m not sure the split thread method is any easier or harder to do than touch dubbing. Like all tying techniques, the more you use one, the easier it becomes.  And, depending on the particular tyer, some techniques suit their style better than others.  In the end, do what works for you as that's the only thing that matters.  
The split-thread method is fairly straightforward. First, you flatten a section of the thread between the hook shank and the bobbin by untwisting the thread and then running your thumb nail down the thread.  Next split the thread in half with a bodkin or dubbing needle, and while holding the separated/split thread open you insert carded (aligned) dubbing in the opening and then release the thread so it closes on the dubbing before twisting the thread and dubbing into a buggy chenille. The key producing a good dubbing “brush” is to use a very sparse amount of dubbing in the split thread. This dubbing “brush” is then wrapped around the hook shank to form the body, or more often, the thorax of a fly.

The touch-dubbing method of creating a buggy body or thorax on a fly is also fairly straightforward, too. First, you apply a thin coating of very tacky wax to 2-3 inches of your tying thread between the hook shank and the bobbin. Then you take very small portions of carded dubbing and gently press them transversely onto the waxed thread - the fibers stick to the tacky wax coating. Again, the key is to use only a very sparse amount of carded dubbing – it should be transparent along the thread. Once you have the dubbing applied to the thread, you then wrap the dubbed thread around the shank and the thread traps the dubbing fibers against the shank creating a very buggy body or thorax.
Of course, you can also get a buggy appearance using other methods, but here we are taking about techniques that minimize bulk and create flies that will consistently float.  In fact, the split-thread method is often done with CDC, which produces a high floating dry fly.     
Okay, now that we have gone over the techniques, I'll explain why touch-dubbing is my preferred method.  First off, for me, it is easier than splitting the thread, holding it open and then inserting dubbing in the gap.  All I do is apply some tacky wax to my thread, apply (touch) the appropriate dubbing on the wax, and then wrap the mess where I want it on the hook.  Secondly, the end result creates what to my eye is the perfect buggy appearance - for dries I will use hare's mask as it has lots of guard hairs in it that act to provide surface tension and the appearance of legs.  Finally, touch-dubbing with wax creates a semi-waterproof thorax or body, and because the wax repels water, small air bubbles form within the touch-dubbed area when it is submerged.  These air bubbles provide buoyancy and also diffuse light, which I think gives the fly "life".

Give it try, it may work for you, too.  Here's a video which shows clearly how to touch-dub a thorax on a caddis dry - at the 3:10 mark.  If you have any questions, email me and I will be happy to try and help you out. Above all, have fun.

Sharpen your hooks.


RKM said...

What tacky wax to you recommend? By the way, your tying videos are exceptional.

Matt Grobert said...

RKM, I use Loon High Tack wax. It is very sticky, and works great, just use it sparingly. Matt

Mr. Q said...

I agree with everything you said in this post, that is unusual, huh....anyway, I use just plain old wax, It isn't extra sticky, and it works just fine....
The hardest thing I find with the touch dubbing is keeping proper thread tension so it doesn't spin the dubbing to the bottom side of the thread, not a big deal as it works anyway, but it works better when the thread wraps on top of the dubbing on the first turn....which way do you spin your dubbing?!?!?!

Anonymous said...

The split thread just gives me the impression that this technique is seriously creating weakened durability. The splitting causes the tread to be compromised. Maybe this technique is a viable option for midge/micro sized designs as it minimizes bulk?

Matt Grobert said...

Anon - I had that very conversation with someone last night - it does seem that splitting the thread would weaken it. If I need to make a buggy body that has bulk from dubbing, I use the loop method, which is very strong - two full strands of thread.

micah said...

Axe me to show you my style of this next weekend