Warren Duncan was a legend in the Atlantic-salmon world, and for many years he owned a fly shop in Saint John named Dunc’s Fly Shop. In her 1991 book The Atlantic Salmon Fly – The Tyers and Their Art, Judith Dunham quotes Duncan on his creation of The Undertaker:
I came up with the Undertaker in 1979. My friend Chris Russell was fishing the Nashwaak, without success. He saw a chap upriver who landed a fish and lost it, then landed another fish. As the man fished, he broke off the point of the hook on a backcast. Chris saw him change flies, drop the damaged fly, then continue fishing. When the man left, Chris picked up the fly and brought it home. We couldn’t find anything like it in the fly tying books, so I started playing with the pattern. I didn’t like the black wool in the body and substituted peacock herl. I used gold for the rib because the Rats use gold and I love the Rat series of flies. I tied up three or four Undertakers in size 2 and 4 doubles. The first time I used it, on the Hammond River, I caught a twenty-four-pound salmon.
As Tim Flagler of Tightline Productions notes at the beginning of this great tying video, the pattern has also become a favorite for steelheaders. Tim walks you through his tying process which is all about durability. One problem with flies that have a tip and a tag (or two) is that the materials can slip, ruining the fly’s profile. Tim demonstrates several tricks to ensure that everything stays in the right place, even after you’ve caught a couple of fish on the pattern.
Hook: Classic salmon hook (here a Daiichi 2139), size 6.
Thread #1: White Veevus, 10/0.
Tip: Gold oval tinsel, small.
Tag #1: Green Glo-Brite fluorescent floss.
Tag #2: Red Glo-Brite fluorescent floss.
Thread #2: Black Veevus, 10/0.
Rib: Gold oval tinsel, small.
Body: Peacock herl.
Collar: Black hen neck feather.
Wing: Dyed-black fox-squirrel tail.
Adhesive: Head cement (here, Sally Hansen Hard-as-Nails).
Tools: Whip-finisher, hackle pliers, thread wax