When I first started tying saltwater flies, learning the techniques for a proper whip finish took a back seat to other fly-tying skills that produced more visible and appealing results. Let's face it, when is the last time you looked at a completed fly and thought to yourself, "Wow, what a great whip finish!"? Just as a fastball pitcher should also work on a good curveball and change-up to complete his arsenal, a fly tier needs to learn a good whip finish to complement his other fly-tying skills.
Before learning a proper whip, the only finishing skill I had in my arsenal was to simply complete the fly, add a drop of Super Glue over my final wrap and then snip the remaining thread. This method was very messy and would often ruin the appearance of what could have been a nice-looking fly. Finally, someone attempted to walk me through whip finishing with a tool. After about an hour of thread breaking and slipping, though, my teacher thought I was hopeless. He finally suggested just learning a single half hitch. It was quick, easy and somewhat effective, and that's exactly what I did for a long time. However, I repeatedly found myself tossing fly after fly in the trash due to severe unraveling problems. At this point, I knew I was going to have to shape up or ship out and whip myself into shape.
What is a whip finish, anyway? Essentially, (by my method) a whip finish is a series of half hitches strategically placed in succession. There are a couple of advantages to a true whip finish, especially compared to my old way of using single half hitches. The first and possibly the biggest advantage is that a true whip finish allows for a much tighter half hitch. The second advantage is that it really lets you be precise with the placement of these hitches, allowing you to taper the terminal end of the fly head. By placing them in succession you are actually able to bury the end of the thread, leaving virtually no tag end at all. The absence of a tag makes for a clean, store-bought look and provides a perfect canvas for epoxy or head cement.