Welcome to Beginning Fly Tying

Part Nine



An Introduction to Fly Tying:
SHWAPF (swept hackle, wingless, all purpose fly)

By Al Campbell


If you could only have one fly pattern in your fly box, what would it be? Would you choose a dry fly or a nymph?

If that pattern could be modified to match many insect hatches, or if it could be fished as a dry, wet, nymph or streamer; would it be more likely to be your pick? What if someone designed a fly that would fit almost all occasions with only a slight modification in size, hook or materials, but the tying steps remained the same? Would that earn this fly a place in the hallowed halls of your fly box? In my case, it earned this fly the right to its own fly box.

Shwapf Fly Box

This pattern was featured in the fall 1998 issue of Fly Tying Magazine from Frank Amato Publications. It's called a SHWAPF (swept hackle, wingless, all purpose fly). It's a simple fly to tie and a simple fly to fish. You can change any number of materials to change the looks and attributes of the fly and still tie it with the same simple steps. It can be a salmon fly, a dry fly, a wet fly, a streamer or a nymph depending on the length, size and style of hook or the materials used.

You can add a bead head, change the body materials or hackle materials and still use the same simple steps to tie a shwapf that looks very different than the one you tied the last time. That's the key to this simple fly, it's adaptable enough to match almost anything you want it to match. That's why it's called an all purpose fly.

I first designed this fly to chase brookies in my native Montana waters. It was so easy to fill my fly box with fish catching flies in very little time, that it became a favorite of mine. That gave me more time to fish and freed me from the tying bench more often. I like that idea! Need a caddis, mayfly or ant imitation? I've used the Shwapf for all of them. Royal Shwapf? Yup, that one too.

I've been using the Shwapf and teaching it in my fly tying classes for fifteen years. It's a local favorite for several reasons. First, it catches fish. Second, it's so easy to tie and modify to most occasions; even a novice tyer can master the endless variations it offers. Third, since it's so versatile, it fills many gaps in the fly angler's arsenal of flies.

Don't be afraid to experiment with new materials when tying this pattern. I tie it with dozens of materials in sizes 2 through 22. Just change the colors or materials to match any insect or water critter you want to match. It's just that simple. And, it simply catches fish; from bluegills and trout to salmon and pike. Simple fly, simple tie, simply productive.

List of materials:

  • Hook: Dry, wet, nymph or streamer hook. Your choice for the type of fly you want to tie. I often use a dry fly hook.

  • Hackle: Squirrel tail hair, badger hair, krystal flash, antron, ..again your choice.

  • Back: Same material as the hackle.

  • Body: Rainy's No-Dub, punch embroidery yarn, glass beads and dubbing, coarse or fine dubbing... again it's your choice.

  • Thread: Match the thread color and size to the body color and hook size.

    For the first fly we'll use:

  • Hook: Dry - Mustad 94840, Tiemco 100, Eagle Claw L061B or equivalent.

  • Hackle and Back: Fox squirrel tail hair.

  • Body: Rainy's No-Dub, glazed carrot color.

  • Thread: Gudebrod 3/0 orange or equivalent.

    Tying steps:

  • 1. Select a small clump of hair from a squirrel tail (about 12 to 20 hairs). Trim the tips of the hair and tie it down, tips first, to the bend of the hook.

  • 2. Tie no-dub to the hook. Again, tie this material down all the way to the hook bend.


  • 3. Leaving the thread to the back, wrap the no-dub forward, leaving room for the head of the fly.

  • 4. Bring the thread forward in front of the no-dub, over the hook, then over the no-dub to tie the no-dub off. Make several wraps of thread before you trim the no-dub.

  • 5. Pull the hair forward over the back of the fly. Tie the hair down behind the hook eye. A slight upward pressure on the hair will keep it on top of the fly as you tie it down.


  • 6. Tie the hair down to the hook right behind the hook eye.

  • 7. Fold the hair back with your thumb and fingers. Try to get the hair to flair completely and evenly around the fly.

  • 8. Build the head up slightly and trim or tie down any loose strands of hair.

  • 9. Finishing building a small, even head. Whip finish and cement.

  • 10. Trim the hair behind the hook bend.


  • 11. Your finished shwapf should look like Figure 11.

    If you decide to use dubbing for the body, that's OK. Most beginners make the mistake of using too much dubbing and not twisting it tight enough around the thread.


    When you dub a body, select half the amount of dubbing you think you will need, cut that in half, and then you'll only have twice as much dubbing as you need to twist around the thread. Keep the dubbing sparse and add more as needed. Dub the body to the same point you wrapped the no-dub. Finish the rest of the fly in the same manner you did the last one.

  • To tie a Shwapf imitation of a blue wing olive mayfly, change the hair to badger hair. Select olive or gray Anglers Choice silk dubbing or a fine muskrat dubbing. Use less dubbing to create a fine, dubbed yarn around the thread just slightly thicker than the thread.


    Dub a thin body to the same place on the hook as before. Pull the hair over the back and finish the fly as before. Notice the different color the badger hair provides? Changing where you select the hair from on a skin or tail will often change the color or shade of the hair and the resulting fly.

    Experiment a little with different types of hackle and body materials. If you use the same tying steps, it's still a Shwapf.


    For instance, I tie a Shwapf with a pearl Krystal flash back and hackle, and a peacock body to imitate backswimmers (water boatman), those little aquatic bugs that look like they have oars on the sides of their bodies. I also use glass beads and dubbing to create flies that work as egg and flesh fly imitations.

    You can fish this fly almost any way you wish. I often fish it wet with a down and across approach. Sometimes I grease it up and fish it dry. I've added gold beads to the head of many Shwapf's to use them as nymphs. In lakes I fish it with a slow twitching retrieve for trout, bluegills, perch, carp and crappie. In larger sizes I've caught walleyes, catfish, bass and pike.

    The Shwapf is a versatile fly that offers endless possibilities. It will keep you busy for weeks creating new matches for that fly you've always wanted to match. Just let the creative juices flow and enjoy the simple way it ties and fishes.

    See ya next week. ~ Al Campbell

    Beginning Fly Tying Archives



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