I use the term Tuft ’N Tail to describe a style of fly rather than any one particular pattern, although there are numerous, well-known and effective patterns that fit the category. I guess you’d call them emergers but I’ve found them to be most effective fished right down near the bottom as opposed to near the surface. They work especially well in the smallest of hook sizes, say 20 and below, and typically include a tail, a thin tapered abdomen, a tuft of fluff to represent a budding wing and an enlarged thorax which usually helps to support the wing. Beyond that, the choice of materials and colors is really up to the tier.
When tying in such small sizes, good quality light, and plenty of it, is mandatory. Even with it, us old guys will most likely still have to strap on magnifiers. A vise with midge jaws also makes getting in and around these teeny hooks much easier.
I like to keep things as simple as possible so use wood duck flank feathers for both the tuft and the tail. To change the color of the fly, I’ll use different colors of thread - light olive, rusty brown and black all work well. I’ll then use plain old rabbit fur dubbing in a complementary, often darker shade to form the thorax.
Here I’m going to use a Dai-Riki #310 emerger hook in a size 22. Begin by mashing the barb and getting the hook firmly secured in the jaws of your tying vise.
For thread, I’m going with UTC 70 Denier in light olive. Start your thread on the hook shank behind the eye and take wraps rearward before snipping or breaking off the tag. Continue taking wraps all the way back to the start of the bend.
As I said earlier, I like wood duck for both the tuft and the tail, and prepare a feather by pulling down the lower fibers, and then separating out 8 or so from the herd. While keeping the tips aligned, snip or strip the fibers free from the stem. I think the fine markings on wood duck really add to just about any pattern.
Measure to form a tail a hook shank in length and transfer that measurement rearward to the tie-in point. Lay the fibers diagonally against the near side of the hook and take 2 or 3 thread wraps to bring them up to the top of the shank. If they’re too long, they can still be shortened at this point. Continue taking wraps to bind the fibers down, all the way to about the 1/4 point on the hook shank.
Pulling the fibers back and taking wraps over top of them helps to build up the body a bit. You can then snip the excess butts off at an angle. Take thread wraps to start building a little taper to the abdomen. When you reach the base of the tail, give your bobbin a counter-clockwise spin to uncord and flatten the thread. This will allow you to apply a thin coat of wraps and smooth out any lumps or bumps. End with your tying thread at that 1/4 point.
Strip off about 1/4” of fluffy fibers from the base of the wood duck feather. I like to leave the little curlies on as they act as a real nice tie-in anchor. Take thread wraps to secure the fluff between the 1/4 point and the back of the hook eye. If you’ve got any wayward curls that stick out over the eye, they can easily be snipped off.
To complement the light olive abdomen, I’m going to use dark olive rabbit fur dubbing for the thorax. You really don’t need much. Dub a short, very thin noodle on your tying thread. Take a wrap or two in front of the wing followed by 1 or 2 immediately behind it to keep it propped up. Try to get the dubbing to end right behind the hook eye.
Do a 3 or 4 turn whip finish, being sure to seat the knot well at the end. You can then snip or cut your tying thread free.
The final step is to trim the wing bud, a little more than a hook gap in length usually looks pretty good. Try different materials and colors to find out what works best for you, but do keep things on the small side. There’s something about teeny, subsurface flies that include a tuft and a tail that trout just can’t seem to resist.