The White Wulff is a great fly to have for the Hex hatch that occurs annually. I’m always a bit cautious when I write about a famous fly. This is because all flies evolve over time and bit-by-bit small changes are made to the original dressing. Fly fishermen can be a bit of a pain by insisting that a fly is no good if it doesn’t have same materials as the original did, even if the dressing is decades old. These same fishermen are the first to add a red tail and call the fly a “secret version”. I like and respect the original dressings, but it’s time to admit that it is all right to make substitutions. We do this for lots of reasons: the original material may be no longer available or too expensive, the substitute material is easier to work with and wasn’t around when the original fly was developed and lastly, because the substitution catches more fish. While, to substitute or not is your call, the substitutions I’m going to suggest for the White Wulff will make a better fly. They’re not my ideas; however I’ve tried them and they work.
Recipe for the White Wulff
Thread – Black
Hook – Size 6, 2x long
Tail – White buck tail
Body – White wool
Hackle – White badger, heavy
Wing – White buck tail
Try these substitutions. First, use white calf tail for the tail (it’s just plain easier to use). Second, use white polypro yarn for the body because it doesn’t absorb water. Third, use chartreuse calf tail for the wings. This last suggestion was considered a secret a few years back but the secret has been out for a long time now so if you haven’t heard about it, give it a try. Some species of mayfly have a greenish tinge when they first hatch and the chartreuse wings seen through the white badger hackle imitate this color.
The badger hackle is used because the black center of the hackle feather creates a thorax effect without adding bulk to the fly. The original Wulff is usually tied with hackle sized to be one and a half hook gapes, which is long but works well in moving water. For a Hex hatch on still water, you should size your hackle to be just a bit over the hook gape. This will allow the fly to sit lower to the surface, more like the insect you are trying to imitate. In fact, more than one fly fisher (myself included) has been known to use their clippers on the water to clip off the bottom of the hackle to allow the fly to sit lower.
I use a 2x long hook for this fly to allow a very bushy hackle. Wulffs are a difficult fly to tie when you don’t have enough room for wings and hackle both so it’s worth it to use a long shank hook. It’s also closer to the size of the bug you’re trying to look like. For the wings, tie on a thick bunch of chartreuse calf tail. Then divide it into two wings using figure eight wraps and put a few wraps of thread around the base of each wing. A drop of cement at the base of the wing on the thread wraps helps me a lot. You’ll be able to bend the wings forward while you start the bushy hackle well behind the wings. Then you’ll be able to bend the wings backward to make room for a heavy hackle in front of the wings. If you’ve never done this before, practice this technique on a hook shank a half dozen times. It’s simpler and a lot less frustrating to get a method right when you don’t have a half finished fly invested just about the time you attempt the hard part.
Lee Wulff developed the Wulff series eighty years ago and it is still talked about today. Walk into any fly shop and look in the fly bins; you’ll see a lot of Wulffs. Use the Internet and search for “wulff fly” and see what happens. Lee’s fly and its many cousins are in a lot of fly boxes; you should have a few, too.