Published Mar 22. 2015 - 8 years ago
Updated or edited Aug 8. 2019

Taming the Humpy

The Humpy might be the greatest surface fly ever devised, but it also has a reputation of being difficult to tie. Learn to tame it here.

Red belly - It might seem an odd color, but a red bellied Humpy can work very well
Step 12 - wrap other hackle -
Martin Joergensen - Martin Westbeek

In Tying Dry Flies, Randall Kaufmann notes that the Humpy is "arguably, the greatest surface fly ever devised. It represents nothing and everything ... depending on its construction, the Humpy can represent caddisflies, stoneflies, mayflies, midges and terrestrials."

But the Humpy also has another reputation: as a difficult, frustrating pattern, a fly you ask your friends to tie if you want to see them struggle. And over the years tiers have come up with various ways to avoid the problem of building a body, overbody and wing of one clump of deer or elk hair.

So: perfectly fine reasons to see if we can tame the Humpy! And the added bonus is this: master the Humpy and you'll learn a lot about material, sizing and tying technique.

a fly you ask your friends to tie if you want to see them struggle

Dense hackle - One of the reasons for the Humpy\'s great ability to float is the dense hackle. Another one is the deer hair tail, body and wing
Humpy water - The Humpy is a perfect search pattern for fast water
A rough water fly
Martin Joergensen
The humpy and the materials - Thread, deer hair, hackle
Fly and materials
Martin Westbeek
Pattern type: 
Dry fly
Daiichi 12-18
Fine and strong: Veevus 14/0 or Textreme 8/0. Color of choice; my most successful ones are made with yellow and chartreuse thread
Deer, elk or moose hair
Deer or elk
Whiting Grizzle and Grizzle dyed Coachman Brown
Skill level/difficulty: 
A little difficult

A word on materials: choose elk or deer hair that does not flare too much. Early season or summer hair is a great choice. For thread: you'll need to tie quite a bit of material on to a hook. For that reason many folks choose 6/0 thread. My advice: go thinner. A thin but strong thread such as Veevus 14/0 or Textreme 8/0 bites into material much better than a thicker thread, which helps you make fewer and much more effective wraps!


Start the thread at the halfway point. This point is important because it is the reference for the start of the body and front of the hump, later on.

Step 1: start the thread

Step 2 - tail

Step 3 - the hair!

Step 4 - the hump

Step 5 - Divide the wing

Step 6 - far wing base

Step 7 - near wing base

Step 8 - post wings

Step 9 - front thread base

Step 10 - tie in hackles

Step 11 - wrap top hackle

Step 12 - wrap other hackle


Tie in your tail, length should be the length of the hook shank*. Start with very tight wraps and decrease thread tension to firm wraps to avoid flaring. Keep the tail on top of the hook shank. Return to the halfway point.


This is the critical step. Get this one right and you'll have an easy ride; get it wrong and you're in for a fight ;-).
Clip a bunch of deer or elk hair from the skin. Carefully remove all short hairs and all underfur from the hair. Any short hairs remaining will stick up at places you don't want; any underfur makes it impossible to stack your hair properly. Don't use an overly big bunch of hair. If this is your first Humpy it's ok to count the hairs: 30 hairs will give you enough volume for a nice hump and two visible wings. I know, counting hairs sounds more than a bit OCD but do it once and it will give you an idea of the volume of hair you like to work with.

Stack the hair and clip to size. The length of the hair should equal the length from the eye of the hook to the tips of the tail. With a #12 Daiichi 1180 hook the length of the hair is 2,4 cm.

Tie in the hair at the halfway point. Wrap from tight to firm as you progress. Carefully place your wraps next to each other to make a level body. Pull the hair slightly upwards when wrapping: that helps keeping them on top of the hook. Advance thread to the last wrap that secures the tail and make one extra, tight wrap. This extra wrap ensures that there will be no thread showing between the end of the hump and the start of the tail. Take the thread back to the halfway point.


Pull the hair forward to make the hump and wrap down with three tight wraps. Again, pull the hair slightly upwards while you wrap to keep it on top of the hook. Lift the hair and make one or two anchoring wraps around the hook shank only, and continue wrapping the hair until you reach the point where the wing should start. About halfway between the hump and the hook eye.


Divide the wing by a figure-of-eight wrap.


Make four or five firm (not tight!) wraps up and around the far wing. Make another four or five wraps down and around the wing.


Take your thread over the hook (not under the hook or the far wing may be pulled forward) and repeat with the near wing.


Post the wing by placing three wraps right in front of the hair.


The big difference in diameter behind and in front of the wing will cause problems when you hackle the fly, so build a thread slope from the front of the wing towards the hook eye.


Tie in the hackles, dull side facing forward. Make sure that you have a little bit of stripped quill exposed. That will give you a clean start of the hackle.


Start with the second hackle you've tied in: make three wraps behind and three wraps in front of the wing and tie down.


Wrap the other hackle, three wraps behind and three in front of the wing and tie off.

Looks good? Congrats! You've tamed the Humpy! Take a beer and tie a dozen to fine-tune and help your fingers memorize this great pattern!

Skinny Humpy -
Skinny Humpy
Martin Westbeek

Humpies don't have to be bulky and obese. A Humpy tied skinny style won't twist thin leaders

In action - A well worn Humpy
It even works on lakes - the Humpy is an excellent dry fly for lake fishing
Humpies at work
Martin Joergensen

* I don't like Humpies with short, stubby tails so I tend to err on the side of caution. If your tail is a little longer, that's no prob. Just compensate for that extra tail length by shortening in step 3 the hair for the body/wing a bit.

Related articles


Thanks for your comm...

Thanks for your comments, Jay. Always nice to talk about details of a pattern.
* Smaller thread won't cut the deer and elk hair I use (of course delicate hair isn't the best choice for Humpies), as long as you untwist the thread after a number of wraps. Also, it's considerably more bulky than the Veevus or Textreme thread I use. In addition to that: if you tie with a thread tension just below the breaking point of the thread, three wraps of thinner threads are plenty strong enough to tie down larger amounts of hair if you like a bigger hump.
* Shorter or longer tails are a matter of preference, and I'm with you on shorter tails if you use deer hair, because this will flare less because we're tying down hair towards the tips, which is less prone to flaring under pressure. An advantage of a longer (or thicker) tail is that it adds some mass to counterbalance the somewhat heavier wing.
* Hair with short tips: yes! That's the reason I prefer Elk hair because it has a steeper taper towards the tips. Yearling and early season is an excellent choice. I have some early season cow elk from Chris Helm that works very well for this.
* Elk hair is indeed more robust than deer, but the Elk I use works well on Humpies down to #16 (that's the smallest size I tie them in.)

A few things I don't...

A few things I don't agree with Martin:

* A 6/0 thread isn't that bad an idea. Not because you need such strong thread, but a thicker thread (spreading the pressure over a wider surface) prevents cutting through the delicate deer hair when tying the hump. To get a nice round hump you need some more hair (I'm not talking about 'obese' amounts) than showed here a and quite some thread pressure to make a nice tight hump.

* Since the Humpy will float flush rather than 'stand up on the hackle tips and on the tail' a slightly shorter tail (about 2/3rd shank length) won't hurt. A shorter tail is preferable if you tie the tail using elk or even deer hair since this will prevent excessive flaring.

A few things about hair for tying Humpys:

* Hair with short tips is paramount here so the wing tips shows up well rather than disappear in a thin curly tip.

* Elk hair makes tying small (size 12 and smaller) quite difficult due to it's robustness. Yearling elk is an excellent choice if you prefer elk above deer hair.

Warm water Humpy...

I fish Humpy's as a surface/near surface fly for bluegill. While I know that's probably sacrilegious, they like it and I'm a rebel.

- I prefer a short tail with some flair, a skinny hump and wings with less hackle.
Here's why

- The fish jump the fly when it first lands, but often miss because they are "swatting" it with their fins/tail. This attempt to stun and submerge what they think is a bug drags the fly down, subsurface - where the fun starts.

- Tied slim, with less hackle, the "Slim-Fast Humpy" suspends near-surface, and I slow strip it like a wet fly. A twitching, then a slow figure-8 hand retrieve. Repeat.

- At some point, the fish get excited and grab the fly, very nearly snatching the rod from your hand.

I discovered this Skinny Humpy, subsurface connection by accident. In trying the pattern for the first time, that's just how I tied them.
I do add micro dabs of varnish and half hitches through the tying process, to add durability in the old school manner. Its probably not necessary, but bluegill can be hard on flies.


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