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Wulff / Humpies

Royal Wulff and other Humpy Flies

The Humpy fishing fly does a great job of representing, as respected guide and author Randall Kaufmann put it, “nothing and everything”. Humpy patterns not only pass for aquatic insects including caddis, mayflies, midges and stoneflies, but also land-dwelling winged insects such as beetles, katydids and flying ants. In short, it just looks like some sort of flying bug – and trout love it! Probably the most well-known Humpy pattern is the Royal Wulff.

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More about the Humpy fly pattern

If they were forced to resort to fishing just one fly during the Summer season, many experienced anglers might pick the Humpy: a type of ‘hair wing’ design (meaning that deer or elk hair is used to simulate the insect’s wings). Exactly which North-Western (or perhaps Canadian) fly-fishing pioneer posterity should give credit to for the design concept is debated, but it is generally agreed that the Humpy first became notable during the late 1930s and early 1940s in Montana and Wyoming.

The Humpy’s great strength is its versatility: not only can it imitate different species of adult dry fly as well as winged ‘terrestrials’, but it can be cast in both slowly and rapidly flowing streams and rivers to represent an insect that has fallen onto the water’s surface and is floating fairly high. Unlike some other flies, the presence of a hatch (or indeed any other insects) nearby is not necessary.

More about Wulff flies and the ‘Royal’ Wulff

All of the patterns referred to today as ‘Wulff’ flies are variants on the ‘hair wing’ approach to tying, and arise from a series of patterns that were conceived and refined throughout the 1930s by fly fishing legend Lee Wulff. Wulff was a modest man, who had to be persuaded by collaborator Dan Bailey to rename the six dry flies in this series to take his name, and who always advocated for experimentation with and variations on the theme he pioneered rather than just following his approach to the letter.

Whilst Wulff himself was an originator of what anglers today call the ‘Royal Wulff’, there is consensus among fishing historians that a man called Q.L. Quackenbush also independently thought of modifying the existing ‘Royal Coachman’ (a mayfly / flying ant pattern) by using animal hair for the wings and tail, to create a less delicate fly that could then be cast into rougher and faster-flowing water. Two of his initial three patterns bore his name: the ‘Quack Coachman’ and ‘Quack Special’. However, after Wulff’s other patterns became more and more well-known, and his name became deservedly famous, the pattern (one of the most popular over the last half century) gradually ended up taking his name alone.

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