by Fly Fisherman

Perhaps I seem derisive when I touch on the old-fashioned cut wings from flight feathers of the duck, the starling, etc., but I am convinced they’re on their way out. They do look quite prepossessing when tied correctly even though they are opaque, which the wings they are supposed to imitate are not, but after one fish has clamped down on those wings they look more like the result of an all night session in a rough mixing bowl.

Only a miracle technician could resurrect them to their original appearance. However if the fly tier insists on staying with this old English custom of cut wings from flight quills, follow this procedure. Secure your wings in matched pairs and use only the primary flight quills numbering two to six from each wing, mating the left and right pairs. One can also secure the matched duck quills in pairs from material supply houses. This applies also to the white or domestic duck wing quills. Before I leave this subject I want to strongly suggest that the fly tier try the hackle tip wings or the mallard and woodduck flank plumage wings in place of the above. First, they are more easily tied, secondly, they resemble the natural wings equally as well or better and they are not opaque—they permit light to filter through as does the real wing and they are much more rugged and lasting in use.

The finest winging material of all is the lemon woodduck. The American woodduck is protected in nearly all states so this plumage is quite rare. The mandarin from China is almost a perfect duplicate and this is procurable albeit somewhat expensive. The next in preference is well-dyed mallard in lemon woodduck tint. This wing is used on the popular Cahill flies, Gordon Quill, Hendrickson, Blue Honey Dun, Pale Mayflies and some Ginger Quill patterns among many others. Next in line is the regular undyed mallard, widgeon and teal flank feathers. The mallard, which is most desired, can be secured in natural, dyed woodduck, light blue dun, drake yellow and other colors or tints.

White breast feathers from both wild and domestic duck are used for the popular fan wing flies and for the “Wilson” tied patterns.
Hackle tips, a wing subject which I’ve managed to inject periodically throughout this treatise, is not new in practice but comparatively new in an almost over all winging method for dry flies. These are the tips of fine, generally light blue dun, ivory or buff and grizzly hackles, although many others are used, There are other quills used for wings such as turkey, woodcock, pheasant, crow, grouse or partridge, coot and more, but the major wings and plumage covered above will serve admirably for the better known fly patterns.

An increasingly important wing material is hair. This can be bucktail, impali or calf tails, squirrel tails, capras or goat, woodchuck, monkey and baboon, mouse deer, polar bear, skunk, badger and many others. Hair is rugged and if securely fastened to your hook will stand much wear and abuse. Maribou, or stork plumage, is much used in the building of pan fish flies and streamers, principally. It can be secured in natural white and in brilliant colors or tints.

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