Fly Tying Materials - Part One

Bob Newman - 01/03/18

Peacock Herl

Natural tendencies

How often do you look at your materials, looking at the structure of the feathers, hair, or dubbing and how you can use it to your advantage while tying? Over the years I’ve looked at a lot of materials to enable me to construct the fly in the easiest manner without fighting the material to tie the fly.

Let's look at feathers. How about peacock herl, a material that all of us use. If you look at the full peacock tail feather with the color side towards you, the herls come out from the stem. If you take a single herl and look at it closely you will see that the lower side of the herl stem will have longer fibers than the other and the back side of the herl will have a visible rib. A herl from the other side will have the longer fibers on the opposite side (duh !).

As fly tyers we can use the construction of this feather to our advantage. If you want the herl on the fly body to lean forward or backward, say if you are tying a Royal Wulff, use only herl from the appropriate side of the peacock stem to define the mid body section on the fly. If you want a nice fluffy body on other flies like a Carey Special, tie the herl to the hook with the long side of the herl towards the bottom of the fly and wind so that the long herl is on the outside of your fly body. This will work even if you wind the herl around the tying thread.

Ostrich Herl

Ostrich herl is built the same way except that the herl is even on both sides of the herl and the rib is very prominent which can be used to your advantage if you tie butts on steelhead flies for example. Always tie and wind ostrich herl with the rib to the front of the hook. That way you can have a very dense butt or body on the fly.

Take a look at your tying materials and you will discover many ways to incorporate the natural tendencies of them into your tying.

- Bob Newman

  • Bob Newman - Fly Tier 50 plus year award winning fly tyer and commercial tyer