Thursday, December 10, 2015

Ed Haas Tying Technique: The Weitchpec Witch

One man and his tying technique has managed to intrigue and fascinate me for years.  His technique has been practiced by many, yet so few have mastered it.

The late Ed Haas was considered a master fly tier and his technique is simply genius.  He left the civilized grid to live in a cabin in the woods with no electricity, running water nor modern luxuries after careers in investments, bartending, gambling and bookmaking to become the best commercial steelhead fly tier in Pacific Northwest history- perhaps America.  It is further said that Haas never took a fly tying lesson nor stepped one foot inside a fly shop.  Fascinating indeed.  Ed passed away in 1987.

Unlike the common practice of finishing a fly with a wing,  Ed Haas devised and mastered tying the wing in first.  This was accomplished by trapping the butt ends of hair between the returning loop wire with the hair tips facing out and over the eye then secured with thread wraps.  Once the wing was secured in place the fly would then be tied in the normal manner with the exception of the hackle.  The hackle feather is tied forward, wrapped in reversed back over the stem and the thread was then woven through the hackle fibers.  This practice not only made the hackle nearly as indestructible as the wing, but keep the thread wraps to nil or one at the base of the wing!  The final step after the tail, body and hackle were tied in place was bringing the wing back over the fly and securing with minimal wraps of thread.  The result was a virtually indestructible wing and a small neat head.  How indestructible?  Haas guaranteed every fly for life!

There are a few other advantages to tying the wing in the this manner.  First, slick or hard hairs such as squirrel or bear can be tied in without fear of pulling out.  Next, the wing can be set to a desired angle when finishing the head.  Think of the possibilities...

I'll do my best to repeat history with Ed's technique.  How exact I am is left unknown as I never met the man and there are not many that watched Ed tie.  However, I was shown this technique in the late 1980's and further researched it over the years.  I believe it to be true, correct to the best of my knowledge and welcome any feedback.

Again, I'll keep it simple for those interested in learning this phenomenal technique. As you gain confidence in this style of tying branch out and try different patterns and materials.

The Weitchpec Witch

The town of Weitchpec rests at the confluence of the Klamath and Trinity rivers in Northern California's steelhead mecca were this fly first tied and fished in 1949


Thread:  Black.  Use the smallest thread you feel comfortable with.  (10/0 Veevus is pictured)
Hook:  Any hook with a return wire loop.  I am tying on vintage Mustad 9002 which is similar to the hooks Haas had made to his specifications.  You'll find the turned down eyes the easiest to tie on.
Tail:  Golden pheasant tippets
Body:  Chenille or vernille, black (vernille is pictured)
Hackle:  Black saddle hackle
Wing:  Orange or Fl. Orange Arctic fox

Step 1:

Place hook firmly in vise.

Step 1a:

Warning: use caution during this step.

Open/Loosen the return wire.  Haas used a pocket knife to accomplish this.  He maneuvered the knife blade between the wire and pushed the blade to the eye.  When the knife was withdrawn a space between the shank and return wire resulted.  The hair would be inserted and then secured with wraps of thread effectively tightening/closing the loop. Although the taper of the knife's blade is generally sufficient to open the eye, avoid any prying motions unless you are absolutely sure of the hook's temper.  Not all hooks have the same temper. Some will be stronger than others, but most of the newer carbon steel hooks tend to be on the weak side. Again, use caution.

There are other tools that will work if you're not comfortable with a pocket knife, e.g., needle-nose split ring pliers.  However, I have grown accustom to working with one at the tying bench and felt it best to demonstrate Haas' technique for historical purposes.

I cannot ascertain Hass' true intent of opening the wire, but being a commercial tier, he may have done so to speed up the tying.  While this is an extra step, opening the wire loop does allow for easier introduction and securing of the wing- especially when the wing is brought back over the body to form the head.  Additionally, the butt ends of the wing rests parallel with the hook shank allowing for a more evenly tapered body.

Haas, by all accounts, was a very intelligent man.  Whether this was his intent or not, the technique is simple yet pure genius

Top view

Step 2:

Start thread inside the wire loop and make a few wraps rearward as shown

Step 3:

I have never been able to ascertain if Haas used a hair stacker or evened the tips by hand, but after seeing many of his flies, it appears he stacked more often than not. (If you can tell me about this missing piece to this puzzle, please let me know.  I am all ears!

For the most part, I prefer to even the tips by hand which presents a natural flow of hair.  This is accomplished by pinching the bottom portion of the butt ends and then pinching and pulling out the longer guard hairs near the tips. I also remove quite a bit of the under fur with a mascara brush preferring to  have a little more fullness to the wing.  Save that under fur for dubbing! 

Measuring the wing will be the most difficult step for the first-time reverse wing tier.  Haas' wings extended to the end of the bend or slightly past (there were a few exceptions).  It takes a little practice to nail down, but here's a helpful hint.  Take a quick generic measurement by placing the wing over the shank.  The tips of the wing are roughly even with the eye and your your thumb at the bend. Now slowly shorten the wing by pulling the butt ends through the pinch point of your thumb and finger and measure again.  This time place the tips even with where you intend finish the head of the fly. (Haas left plenty of room behind the eye.)  Use your thumb as a guide as you insert the wing between the wire and make a few tight wraps of thread.  Once the wing is reasonable secured between the loop with a few wraps of thread, the length can be tested and adjusted to length.  To test the wing length grab a few fibers from the top of the wing (this will become the bottom of the wing when reversed) and bring them over the shank.  If satisfied, make a few more tight wraps to further close the wire loop.

Step 3a:

With the butt ends under the hook cut them parallel them to the shank.  This will create a tapered appearance.

Step 3b:

Advance thread with tight wraps to approximately the hook point.

Step 4:

Select 10 to 15 golden pheasant tippet fibers and secure with rearward thread wraps stopping at the position shown. (Remember to estimate the width of the chenille or vernille.)  The tail length is approximate the hook gap width.  To make things more aesthetically pleasing, I have placed the second bar of the tippets even with the hook bend to equal the sections of the orange areas.

Step 5:

Prepare the chenille or vernille by stripping approximately one half inch of material away from the core and secure to the top of the shank.  (see Beginner's Guide)  At this point Haas would apply head cement or lacquer to the hook shank and wind the chenille forward.  To save time, I skip the application of head cement and utilize super tough vernille for the body

Step 5a:

Wind chenille or vernille forward and secure (see Beginner's Guide).  Note the position of the thread being next to the body

Step 6:

Tie in saddle hackle forward with concave side facing up.  The thread is advanced forward and returned in front of the body.

Step 6a:

Lift the hackle straight up and wrapped rearwards back over the stem.  The thread is then advanced firmly through the hackle locking it in place.   The thread position shown is three quarters through the hackle.  Once the thread is completely through the hackle no additional turns are required.  The hackle tip can be plucked (or cut) away.

Step 7:

Collect the wing and bring back over the fly.

Step 7a:

Tie wing down with tight yet minimal thread wraps- enough to cover the head.  Complete a three or four turn whip finish, snip thread and add a coat of head cement.  Additional coats of head cement may be required or until desired aesthetic effect is achieved.  Allow head cement to thoroughly dry between applications.



  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Thank you for the kind comment Jeff. Unfortunately, I hit the wrong dang button! Hope you get a chance to make it south for a fishing trip!

  2. Hi Jeff. I watched Ed tie and I have about ten dozen of his flies. Whether or not he used a stacker depended on the hair. Uniformity of the patterns and the tips of the hair would dictate the choice. He reverse cleaned before stacking to ensure uniformity.
    You did a fantastic job here!

  3. I have a few Ed Haas flies left. I started working at Orvis in 1987, which was when Ed passed away, and he had tied flies for the Orvis San Francisco store along with a few others. I used to teach an Orvis Fly-Fishing for Steelhead class at Otter Bar Lodge on the Salmon River near Forks of Salmon and that's the area where Ed lived. One of the guides at the lodge had learned to tie steelhead flies from Ed and he said that Ed would set out the wings in little paper cups (like you see hospitals put meds in) with the tips up before he started tying. And I can tell you from the thousands of his flies I've seen and handled, I wouldn't be surprised if he counted the darn fibers in the wings. Every single one looked identical. He was a meticulous tier.

    We boxed up all the Ed Haas flies we had left when we moved the Orvis store in 1988 from the Maiden Lane store to one on the corner of Grant and Sutter streets. A number of years later we sold the remaining hundreds of dozens of his flies to a gentleman from the East Bay. Most of us at the store bought a couple of dozen of those before the balance were sold to the one gentleman.

    When I first saw your fly, I thought it was one of his. The head and the head placement are perfect as are the proportions throughout. The only suggestion I would make would be to say to use less material in the wing. He didn't use nearly that dense of a wing, perhaps half that or less. Still, that's a beautiful tie and very good explanation of Ed Haas' tying method. Very nicely done!