The bullet head on a dry fly
There are two basic methods for creating a large buoyant head on a dry fly:
And there are good arguments supporting each type of head.
The best argument for the flared-hair head is that it's tough—the hair is secured at the hook and free at its ends, so trout teeth, or anything else that might tear the hairs out, simply pass through leaving the hair intact and the head unharmed.
The best argument for the bullet head is that it's a quick cinch to tie compared with the flared-hair head.
Yes, the bullet is the more fragile of the two, but if made right, it's tough enough.
The key to making a bullet head right is to make it out of the right hair—elk, not deer.
Most tiers probably turn to deer without thinking whenever buoyant pocketed hair is called for, but deer is soft and somewhat fragile; elk is stiff and tough.
The point is, if your bullet heads have quickly shredded in the past, they were probably made of deer—in the future, make them of elk.
Another concern is choice of thread—you'll need strong thread to tightly bind the elk and flare its tips. I suggest you use at least 3/0, and I wouldn't hesitate to use size-A rod-winding thread or flat waxed nylon on a big fly.
The hair-tips of most bullet heads flare out to suggest insect-legs.
Some tiers trim away the hairs from the underside to expose the body and, perhaps, to make the leg-effect more distinct. But as with all aspects of tying flies, bullet heads have their variations.
The Madam X for example: its head is kept entirely atop the hook so that the hair-tips form not legs, but a wing. The legs are formed of rubber-strand, bound at the sides of the thread collar securing the head.
The Goldenrod and Salmonrod, stonefly imitations developed by my friend Rod Robinson, have short hair-tips, short enough to lie neatly down at the sides.
Rod has two ways of creating the legs:
Options—fly tiers love them.
We've all heard fly fishers say they are using a "Woolly Bugger" or a "Parachute Adams," and then, as we inspect a sample, add,
"Of course I changed the body a little..."
"You can see I used olive synthetic dubbing and a rib instead of the orginal body."
There is nothing whatsoever wrong with this.
So the bullet head makes sense on imitations of big-headed insects; but since lots of flies are "attractors," flies that imitate nothing in particular, the bullet head has a lot of other potential uses.
Step 11. Complete all other parts of the fly except for the bullet head (it usually comes last); leave about one quarter of the hook's shank behind the hook's eye for the bullet head.
Step 22. Push your finger straight towards the eye—the result will be that the hair flares out from the eye, each hair to its respective side.
Step 33. Stroke the hair firmly back along the body and hold it. (My friend Rod Robinson pushes back the hair with the tip of a plastic drinking straw, as shown here.)
Step 44. Wind two turns of thread around the hair and pull the turns tight.
Step 55. Add head cement to the whip finish.
Step 66. Some tiers prefer to trim away the hair-tips beneath the fly in order to expose more of the body, as shown here.
...and that is how you tie the bullet head.