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Tutorial: Toppings (one way to get the "cascade")

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#1 Jeff Dickey

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Posted 22 August 2013 - 04:33 PM

HI all,

Was finishing a fly last night and thought I would take some pictures as I went through the process of putting on a topping.  I have seen a lot of posts over the years about how to get that cascade effect of the topping fibres that looks so good.  I have tried pretty much everything and for a long time was very unsatisfied with the results.  I am pretty happy now with the method I have worked out, and it really is a lot simpler and easier than you may think.  The bottom line - I let the wing do the work.

 

Remember, this is NOT the "right" way.  This is a way that works for me.  Use or discard any or all points as you find them useful.

 

First, there is no soaking and drying and picking out of fibres going on.  Just not worth it, and IMO, ultimately the topping looks a little forced if you go through all that.

 

Second, the only firm rule of thumb is that the rachis of the topping must be as close to absolutely straight (laterally) as you can find.  Curve is ok, but not left-to-right curve or twist.  The top of your wing is a straight line (viewed from the front) and the topping follows that and must be straight as well.  Soaking and drying curved toppings *can* straighten out the rachis sometimes, but if you do that to try and salvage wonky toppings, don't mess with the fibres.  Soak the and lay them flat and hope for the best.

 

On a typical good quality GP head there are usually only 10 - 20 suitable feathers for toppings, long and short.  When I buy crests, all I look for is straight, root to tip.  Color, curve, red tips, etc. are all secondary bonuses.

 

On to the tutorial (numbers correspond to the pictures in order)

 

1. Measure your fly.  The arc of the wing is longer than the shank, but this will get you in the ballpark.  You will need to add .5 - 1cm or so from straight line distance to compensate.  In this case, fly is about 6cm long, so I know I will need a 6 - 7cm topping.  NOTE - I always trim my wing butts and do a preliminary finish on the head before topping and horns.  The wing butts will interfere with the stem of the topping and make everything more difficult.  Best to get them out of the way and have a clean area to work in.

Attached File  ruler.JPG   26.22K   964 downloads

2 - 3. Get your toppings out.  I know many sort by head or color.  I can't be bothered and find the color differences between topping and tail either negligible or so great you can tell easily, so move on to another feather.  I pluck all my heads, sort out the straight feathers, measure, and put them in a box corresponding to the general length.  GET A LOT OF HEADS - more choice is better than a few choices.  For me this makes finding the right topping much faster. (and yes - the box is mislabled, it should say 6-7 CM, not mm)

Attached File  topp1.JPG   43.47K   1199 downloadsAttached File  topp2.JPG   42.99K   1204 downloads

*IF AT ALL POSSIBLE, I want to tie the topping in by the very root of the feather, for a few of reasons.  One, you will probably have to add some curve to the first third of the topping (unless you are tying a mixed-wing fly or put very little curve in your wings).  That part of the stem shapes easily and does not create "topping horns" with the short fibres.  If you try to curve the back 2/3 of a topping with the long fibres, you will get those for sure and then you are throwing spit everywhere to slick them down (I have been there!) and it effects the look.  The idea is to manipulate the feather as little as possible. Two, I want to strip as few fibres as possible and use the whole feather as it is.  Three, the root of the feather flattens easily and is much easier to tie in.

 

4 - 5. grab topping by the root, catch the end on the wing tip, and lower it over the fly.  You can quickly tell if it is too long or too short, and get an idea of what it will look like on the fly.  I like keeping the topping as close to the wing as I can, but that is me.  I have shown this with a more curved topping that would sit higher off the wing as well.

Attached File  topp3.JPG   28.55K   1220 downloadsAttached File  topp5.JPG   29.45K   1211 downloads

6. Here are a few that are the right length and I know any of them will work.  Note none of them look very impressive.  That is ok.  They have everything they need to look great on the fly.

Attached File  topp6.JPG   78.84K   1240 downloads

7. Flatten the stem with some pliers at the tie-in point.  I will also put in a 90 degree-ish bend in the stem at my tie-in point.  Note - I have not stripped anything off this feather.

Attached File  topp7.JPG   43.79K   1259 downloads

8. Add some curve (if necessary) to the rachis.  This will be a trial and error process until you get that first bit of the stem the same shape as the curve of the wing.  I prefer toppings with a lot of curve near the root so I will have very little work to do here.  I grab the root in my right thumb and forefinger, catch the topping between my left thumb and forefinger (top side up from the thumb) and pull the part of the stem I want to add curve to down over my left thumbnail. If you want to take curve out, turn the feather over (which is how I get my tails to spread a little)

Attached File  topp8.JPG   21.88K   1308 downloads

9. Tie the topping on - 1 or two wraps.  If you look closely you can see the tiny bit of stem at the front - this is not cut.  I use the whole feather.  you can see that this is not a very inspiringly "cascaded" feather right now.  For the first wrap I have the feather stem tip in my right hand and make the wrap with my left.  Then I use my bodkin to nudge the stem into the center if it is off a little.

Attached File  topp9.JPG   31.09K   1355 downloads

10. Lift up the feather and put it on top of the wing - starting to look pretty good!  The wing takes some curve out of the feather, and as you take curve OUT of a topping, the fibres separate and create a cascade.

Attached File  topp10.JPG   31.38K   1351 downloads

11. Use your bodkin or a needle to pick the fibres onto the correct side of the wing.  Toppings, like all feathers, have a left and right side.  The fibres should go on the left and right sides of the wing, with the rachis following the ridge of the wing down the middle.  This also makes the fly much less fussy - the topping now hugs the wing on each side.  It does not want to go anywhere.

Attached File  topp11.JPG   30.65K   1280 downloads

12 - 14.  The topping complete - left, front, and right sides.  At this point I will throw on another wrap, add my horns (use the wraps for your horns to further secure the topping) and either trim the stem or cover the rest with thread.  No spit, no soaking, just a straight feather and a wing.  With the pictures, this whole process took me about 20 minutes (it helps to have the toppings sorted by size ahead of time)

Attached File  topp12.JPG   36.72K   1291 downloadsAttached File  topp13.JPG   21.2K   1278 downloadsAttached File  topp14.JPG   26.46K   989 downloads

And that is it.  In this case, I just wrapped forward on the head until the stem was gone, no trimming.  Because it was the root and flattened, it was soft and just tied in over the head.  Will show the completed fly in another post when the varnish is dry.

 

Hope this is useful to someone.  Note, if you do not want the topping so close to the wing, it is the same process.  Put a little less curve into the rachis at the "hump" of the wing, or get a topping with more curve in the last 1/3 of the feather, or both.  Everything else still applies.

 

 

 



#2 S FONTINALIS

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Posted 22 August 2013 - 04:45 PM

Great tutorial, Great looking toppings.

 

Thanks Jeff.



#3 Ronn Lucas

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Posted 22 August 2013 - 04:50 PM

Most excellent tutorial Jeff!!!!!!!!


Happy Trails!
Ronn


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APPLE FRITTER BANDIT

#4 angler andrew

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Posted 22 August 2013 - 05:03 PM

I never did like messing with toppings on glass ect,if it means taking along time to find one then so be it. Great tutorial Jeff.
another possible inductee into the slackers club

#5 dave08

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Posted 22 August 2013 - 05:16 PM

very helpful Jeff, thanks for posting


David Elzea

#6 BSH

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Posted 22 August 2013 - 05:46 PM

Great tutorial! Thanks for sharing Jeff!   ... great set of feathers in the box btw!!!



Cheers,
Bogdan Shivrinskiy

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#7 arkle

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Posted 22 August 2013 - 07:13 PM

That's an epic piece of work sir, you have my greatest respect for the amount of work that went into it. Thank you ever so much for this refence standard work that deserves to be pinned.



#8 michaeltownend

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Posted 22 August 2013 - 08:03 PM

hi jeff

welcome back i like the thumb nail trick a bit like i use

mike



#9 BCBound

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Posted 22 August 2013 - 08:07 PM

Good stuff right ther!


Scott Norris

The sunken pool is nice and cool....

#10 Dale A. Darling

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Posted 22 August 2013 - 08:11 PM

Hi Jeff,

 

So good to have you back!

 

Thanks - cool fly.

 

dale


Dale "Fly fishing: a pleasantly addictive affliction"

My website here: http://www.riverforkpress.com
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#11 Thebugman

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Posted 22 August 2013 - 08:56 PM

thank u so much..so thrilled your here posting again


Kenny


#12 Bruce Derington

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Posted 22 August 2013 - 09:38 PM

A nice and straight forward explanation, very nice



#13 Robert Verkerk

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Posted 22 August 2013 - 09:46 PM

Hi Jeff,

Thank you for a wonderful tutorial. You have a unique feel to your flies that I like very much. I still haven't figured out what I want with my toppings. At some point, I liked flies without toppings better, it gives them a tough look. But you managed to preserve that tough look by making the topping a part of the wing. Ironically, that is how the masters of old intended them to be used.

I have one question, how did you get that awesome cascade in the tail?

Robert

#14 Jeff Dickey

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Posted 22 August 2013 - 10:02 PM

Hi Jeff,

Thank you for a wonderful tutorial. You have a unique feel to your flies that I like very much. I still haven't figured out what I want with my toppings. At some point, I liked flies without toppings better, it gives them a tough look. But you managed to preserve that tough look by making the topping a part of the wing. Ironically, that is how the masters of old intended them to be used.

I have one question, how did you get that awesome cascade in the tail?

Robert

Hi Robert,

Thanks for the kind words.  For the tail, use everything I said above, but use the distance from point up to shank as your measure for the height of the tail and turn your little topping feather upside down to take curve OUT of the first 1/3 or so on your thumbnail.  Must have a straight rachis.  The little feathers are fussier than the big ones, but a little practice will allow you to manipulate a lot of feathers in a small way with the same technique.

 

I have a couple boxes of straight tail feather from plucked heads as well - same as toppings, but just broken up in a "regular" box and a "big" box.  Toppings are 5-6cm (3/0 and below), 6-7cm (4/0 - 5/0), 7-8cm (6/0 - 7/0), 8-9cm (big), and 9cm+ (only a few of these rare birds for really unusual things like a giant Traherne or something).

 

Thanks,

Jeff



#15 mikegarland

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Posted 22 August 2013 - 11:59 PM

Thanks you Jeff, the perfect tutorial. You guys that can tie so well should get together, get in contact with the books for dummies people, write a book with everything from hook choice, what side of a feather for what side of the fly, bronze mallard roofs, how to set wings, and ofcourse the above post. put it in a nice cover and send me a copy for however much you would want for it. If things were broke down like this I wouldn't make so many mistakes,lol.

Mike



#16 Robert Verkerk

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Posted 23 August 2013 - 05:07 AM

Thanks, Jeff.

Much appreciated.

All the best,
Robert

#17 lukas

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Posted 23 August 2013 - 05:38 AM

Jeff great stuff just notice i posted my reply to this thread in your Highlander post but appreciated

John


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#18 ruhan

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Posted 23 August 2013 - 05:39 AM

Excellent tutorial Jeff...did you come back with a bang or what!



#19 phil j

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Posted 23 August 2013 - 09:07 AM

nice one jeff 

 

  phil



#20 Luc

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Posted 23 August 2013 - 10:02 AM

Thank you Jeff for this excellent tutorial! Through the generosity of tyers like you, this site is the best resource available for people looking for detailed instruction, bar none! That box of topping looks mega! Luc





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