Basics of Tying Extended Bodies

Tying Extended Bodies

If you can make simple mayfly imitations, it is time to step up your game. Extended-body flies look more realistic and are easier to tie than you think.

[by Mark Halperin]

COCKED UPRIGHT ON THE WATER, an extended-body fly rides so naturally, it’s easy to see why a trout would mistake it for a real insect. Even on the dry land of a tabletop, such a fly also succeeds in catching the fly fisher’s eye.

When we’re trying to entice strikes from finicky trout, we often pause and survey our stock of flies with care. After selecting the correct size, how common is it to think of matching the color of the natural insect? We forget that the spectral ranges of fish and human beings differ, but when it comes to shape, fish see what we see: a fat thorax, a tapered abdomen, and splayed tails.

Tiers have traditionally used the rear portion of the hook for tying the tails and abdomen, the front for the thorax, wings, and hackle. The extended-body fly uses the hook only for those last three components. On such a fly, the abdomen is an extension that protrudes from the hook bend, curves up gradually, and thins toward emerging tails. And the extended body offers at least one other advantage: If you’re attaching only an abdomen, you don’t need so much metal for your hook. Think of the weight savings.

Among the many techniques for making extensions, one is better for tying narrower, smaller bodies, and another is more suited for making larger flies. Some extended bodies are delicate, some are stiff, and others are flexible. They appear more lifelike than flies with abdomens tied using the hook as a base.

Why aren’t all dry flies tied with extended bodies? Tradition may have something to do with it. Then there are trade-offs such as appearance for durability; a body tied on the hook shank might create a stronger fly. Finally, constructing such a fly seems more time consuming, and handling it requires additional care. Despite the challenges, I think more tiers would try making extended bodies if they better understood the process.

Buying a premade extended body is the simplest way to tie this style of pattern. Look for Tube Bodiz, available through such distributors as Rainy’s, and X-Bodies, made by the Montana Fly Company. Both products come in a wide range of sizes and colors. In addition to mayfly bodies, these companies make bodies for constructing adult caddisflies, stoneflies, and even nymphs. One manufacturer describes them as “quick and easy to use” and claims that its products result in “a realistic-looking fly that is very durable.” Most of us, however, would rather make our own.

A stock of needles is the only equipment you’ll need. It’s handy to have several different sizes; you can purchase inexpensive variety packets of needles at your local craft store. Your vise will hold a needle most securely if you first put a 90-degree bend in it just past the eye. Heat the area you will bend with a lighter, and bend the needle using pliers or hemostats.

And finally, a word about hooks: short-shank hooks are the best choice because there is no need for space to tie abdomens. You can use regular hooks, but the extensions will be partially masked by the longer shanks.

Varieties of Extended Bodies

One of the simplest extended bodies is made using a flank feather. The feather should suggest the color of the natural insect. Bear in mind that a mayfly is lighter on the bottom than on the top. This type of extension is relatively flat when viewed from the side, but it looks fine from underneath. This technique is best suited for making small, lightweight extensions.


Hook: Dry fly hook, size 16 or smaller.
Thread: Black 8/0 (70 denier) or 6/0 (140 denier).
Abdomen: Hungarian partridge or mallard flank feather.
Thorax: Tan dubbing.
Wing post: White Antron.
Hackle: Brown.

Making a Flank-Feather Extended Body

Make the largest extended bodies using wrapped deer hair. Some of the earliest extended-bodied flies were Hexagenia mayfly imitations. Deer hair is buoyant and, with a little practice, easy to use. This buoyancy and the relative stiffness of the extensions also make them ideal for tying smaller flies for fishing rough water.


Hook: Standard dry fly hook, size 12 or larger.
Thread: Black 6/0 (140 denier).
Tail: Moose mane hairs.
Abdomen: Deer hair.
Wings: Partridge fibers.
Hackle: Grizzly.

Hair-Extension Extended Body

I considered leaving furled extended bodies out of this article because of the difficulties I encountered when adding tails to them. None of the patterns in Ken Hanley’s book, Tying Furled Flies, have extended bodies. Ian Mouter, in his book, Tying Paraloop Flies, and Darrel Martin’s Fly Tying Methods offer methods for adding tails, but I was unable to duplicate their results. But the ease of making a flexible furled abdomen made me continue experimenting until I came up with a comfortable way of adding tails.


Hook: Curved-shank emerger hook, size 14.
Thread: Black 8/0 (70 denier) or 6/0 (140 denier).
Tail: Four inches of 5X or smaller tippet material
left plain or colored with a permanent marker.
Abdomen: Polypropylene yarn.
Wing post: White Antron.
Thorax: Gray polypropylene yarn.
Hackle: Grizzly.

Making a Furled Extended Body

Porcupine quills (American, not African, quills) make fine semirigid extended bodies. They are the right diameter for crafting abdomens for flies in sizes 20 to 12. Quills don’t absorb water, and their taper creates an exceptionally lifelike appearance. They are also very lightweight.


Hook: Curved-shank emerger hook, sizes 20 to 14.
Thread: Black 8/0 (70 denier) or 6/0 (140 denier).
Tail: Moose mane hairs.
Abdomen: American porcupine quill.
Paraloop post: White Antron.
Thorax: Gray dubbing.
Hackle: Grizzly.

Making the Semirigid Extension

Making extended bodies using dubbing and glue is a relatively new method. This technique requires using a waxed needle placed in your vise. Wrap dubbed thread on the needle, and coat the dubbing with cement. In one of his fly tying videos, Norm Norlander, the inventor of the Norm Vise, demonstrates a variation that eliminates the thread, but you must have a vise that is capable of spinning. (To see all of Norm’s Norlander’s great instructional videos, search Norlander touches some loosely gathered dubbing to a rapidly rotating waxed needle. The dubbing wraps around the needle to form a tapered abdomen. Norm coats the dubbing with cement and later removes the body from the needle.


Hook: Curved-shank emerger hook, size 16 Or smaller.
Thread: Black 8/0 (70 denier) or 6/0 (140 denier).
Tail: Moose mane hairs.
Abdomen: Gray dubbing.

Making a Glued-Body Extension

There are other ways to construct extended mayfly bodies; no doubt some are closely guarded secrets. This survey covers the basics and will get you started.

Mark Halperin is a talented tier and regular contributor to this magazine; his name has appeared in these pages many times. Mark lives in Washington State.