Learn Your Wings – Fly Tying with John Hey – Looking at Methods

Hackle Tips Adams and Irresistables.

Tying Wings on your Dry Fly Patterns

Quill Wings - Traditional
Quill Wings – Traditional

With John Hey

When I first started tying my own flies, wings on dry flies were too difficult, so any dry fly that had wings I bought. Then after a while, I began to tie in easy wings such as mallard flank feathers used in the Kakahi Queen, and hackle tips like Adams and Irresistible.

Now, some of you out there might be saying that a dry fly doesn’t need wings, and you may be right, but you can put wings on a dry fly. There are some patterns out there that don’t look right without them, so I decided to find out the trick to putting a quill wing on a dry fly, and yes, there are some basic rules to follow. It is much easier to show someone in person or on video, but in print it is challenging, so here goes.

Mallard Flank - ideal Kahahi Queen
Mallard Flank – ideal Kahahi Queen

Let’s say we’re tying a size 10. It’s easier to start on a large hook. You need a pair of mallard wings, and taking a quill from each wing, turn it over so that the shiny side is facing you. You will notice that from the butt end in closeout towards the tip, there is a dark line running the length of the feather. If you tie your wings using that, you will get a bad pair of wings every time as it is triangular in shape and stiff, and will split on you.

At the butt end, the fibres are softer and flat, you may only get four or five wings out of a quill. Having chosen your quills, you decide the width of your wings by the gap of the hook. Take one from each quill and lay them with the natural curve out. I like my wings to be a little longer than the length of the hook shank. Now holding them firmly in your fingers, lay them on top of the hook and about a quarter of the way along the shank from the eye, allowing your thread to hang from this position.

Calf Tail - ideal for Wulff patterns.
Calf Tail – ideal for Wulff patterns.

Now if you wind your thread over the wings you will roll them, so take a loose loop over the wings and through your fingers. Once you have taken your thread down without pulling your loop out, you are doing well.

Pull down on the wings. What you are trying to do is to lay the fibres one on top of each other. You will notice the wings make a slight move forward, so without letting go come up with your thread, and holding
the wings gently, slide back your fingers so you can see to tie down the butts without moving the wings, then wind back to the wings. Take your fingers to the front of the hook and take the wings and carefully set them upright by hinging your fingers and make three wraps around the wings, then make a figure of eight between them. You should have a perfect pair of wings.

Hackle Tips Adams and Irresistables.
Hackle Tips Adams and Irresistables.

I normally tie the wings in first then the tail. A trick I learnt for tying in a calf tail wing as in the Royal Wulff was that once you have divided the wing, wrap each wing individually around the wing as much as six or seven tums each. How many times have we been among a spent mayfly hatch and not had a pattern good enough to fool the trout? Well, there’s a synthetic material called poly-wing. It has been around for a while and used a lot in the making of doll flies in varying colours. Well tied in and figure eight style pulled flat and teased out, is a great imitation for the spent fly.

I hope that wasn’t too painful to read, and I probably could have shown you in half the time it took me to write it down, and like everything it takes practice.

Spend Spinner tied Poly-wing.
Spend Spinner tied Poly-wing.

Trout, I believe, don’t take a fly because they see the whole fly, but are attracted to some part that has triggered off something that they recognized as food, be it the size or colour or even the wings, as they are reflected in the trout’s window.

When tying the smaller dries on sizes 14 or smaller, you might like to use starling wings for the wing, being softer and more in size with the hook, and using grouse or hen pheasant wings, which have good mottled shades like the Red Tip Governor. My favourite dry fly is a Greenwell’s Glory Light. That fly just wouldn’t look right without wings.

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