Underwire Support: The Secret to a Shapely Body by Russ Forney

Articles, Fly Patterns, Step-by-Step Tutorials — By on September 16, 2009 3:13 pm

Sorry Victoria, the secret is out: underwire support is the key to a flattering figure. Strategically placed and properly fashioned, short segments of wire are an excellent foundation for the broad, flattened abdomen characteristic of large nymphs. The shapely bulk of underbody wire makes an attractive chassis for subsurface flies, providing just the right visual cues to tempt feisty trout.

As with the allusion to a shapely figure, achieving the proper shape for a fly begins with a well-proportioned underbody. From the very first thread wraps until the final knot is tightened, shaping the fly is a continuous process. Fly bodies are progressively contoured during the tying process: tapering the cut ends of hair wings, smoothing the transition between wings and tail, and building a solid base to give structure to the finished product. The same holds true when counter-spinning tying thread to flatten wraps underlying a slender abdomen, avoiding excess bulk on a minuscule Tricorythodes or late-season olive pattern. The tier’s task is to blend each thread wrap and material into a body trout find irresistible.


Wire is an excellent material for adding heft to a fly. Some recipes involve spiraling wire around the hook shank, often under the thorax or midsection of a pattern. An alternate approach, mounting strips of wire laterally along the sides of the shank, not only adds weight to the hook, but is also the underpinnings of a broad, tapered abdomen. With a solid wire foundation in place, other materials used in the pattern can also be incorporated into the underbody design. The end result is a firm base that supports and defines abdomen; a key element when imitating the robust, laterally-flattened body of stonefly nymphs.

Underbody shape is infinitely adaptable to complement specific hook sizes and fly proportions. Whether you want to enhance curves or build a flat abdomen, underbody construction greatly influences a fly’s final appearance. Every material in the recipe is used to augment body shape and structure.

The accompanying tying sequence features a stonefly nymph built on a wire-weighted frame. A short segment of wire mounted along each side of the hook shank makes a stout platform for the large fly. The nymph’s undercarriage is further accentuated with waxed dental tape, an inexpensive material tailor-made for shaping large flies. Dental tape is pliable and adheres loosely to itself, greatly aiding placement and repositioning. Tape wraps can be lightly flattened with a pair of flat-nosed, non-serrated pliers and the finished underbody is easily colored with permanent markers. Silk or rayon floss also makes an excellent underbody covering and colors can be selected to enhance contrast when visible through gaps in the segmented abdomen or when viewed through an overbody of clear monofilament or microtubing.

Wiring the underbody is not limited to lateral placement, an additional piece of wire lashed to the top of the hook shank increases the thickness of the abdomen as well as further weighting the pattern. Lifelike symmetry is achieved by tapering the ends of the wire toward the tail of the fly. Whether mounted along the sides of the hook or tied to the top, flattening the ends of the wire segments before mounting them to the shank gives a realistic taper to the overall body shape. Lead-free wire is soft and malleable, readily molded and crimped with tying pliers. The flattened ends are easy to anchor to the hook with tying thread and a thin coat of clear nail polish over the thread-wrapped bundle makes a bulletproof substructure; sturdy construction is important for weighted patterns destined for the rocky bottom of a fast flowing stream.

The featured pattern is finished with solid black plastic microtubing mounted along the top of the hook shank, top-mounting the material complements the thickened appearance of the abdomen and firmly anchors the plastic tubing. Many variations in color, texture, and materials are possible for finishing the stonefly abdomen and tiers can refine the pattern to meet their needs.

A short piece of wire added along the top of a curved hook also helps define the underbody shape of scud patterns. The extra weight drops the fly deeper into the water column and a slight thickening along the back of the fly accentuates the humpback appearance characteristic of drifting scud. Flattening both ends of the wire results in a double taper for the underbody and provides a stable platform for finishing the fly. Recipes for weighted scud patterns abound, the most recent example to cross my tying desk was Gary LaFontaine’s Rollover Scud, recreated in Al & Gretchen Beatty’s book LaFontaine’s Legacy. If you fish weedy spring creeks, lightly weighted scuds are an excellent investment for an evening at the tying bench.

The defining visual elements of a fly pattern are not limited to the outside appearance, successful imitation begins with a firm foundation and a well-shaped underbody. The right blend of materials and techniques makes an alluring package for hungry fish. If you want to enhance the look of your patterns, underwire support adds a seductive shape that trout cannot resist.

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5 Comments

  1. Roberto says:

    Nice! I think it’s the best stone nymph I’ve seen.
    Was looking for a pettern like this. Thxs !

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  2. Russ says:

    The stonefly nymph also looks good tied with a clear vinyl rib over a floss body, adds color and depth to the pattern. Monofilament works just fine as a substitute for clear microtubing; see George Grant’s nymphs for the ultimate patterns using a clear overbody.

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  3. Tom Gibbons says:

    Hi Mr. Forney,
    As allways, your tying and improvisations on a theme are outstanding,particularly this nice stonefly. On the advise of another tyier in this site, I went to Michaels and purchased some ‘Stretch Magic”, the clear in a small size{this material is avalable in numbered sizes]. really good for that depth mentioned above. Thanks again for a wonderful tie.Tom.

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  4. scott fairbank says:

    Dear Russ, Great article!!! How about a video tutorial??????? thanks scott

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  5. Chris Patterson says:

    Amazing! Thanks for a great tutorial. I’m a novice tier and articles like this are really inspiring. I’ve picked up several new tricks from this one recipie :)

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