Fly Tying Materials - Part Two

Bob Newman - 01/16/18

Orange Duck Feathers

Natural tendencies Part Two

Let’s talk about duck feathers, typically used for collars on flies. If you look at the structure of the feather, there is a prominent stem on the backside of the feather on the side that was toward the duck. Many think that duck feathers have a round stem, really it is more of a trapezoidal shape, tapering from the tip towards the base of the feather and it is hard, most likely to help hold the feather into the body so that the duck stays dry. You can take advantage of this shape when winding a duck feather since typically you want the feather to sweep low over the body of the fly. Tie the feather in by the tip with the back side of the feather towards the fly and allow the tapered side of the feather stem to sweep the fibers backwards and use your fingers to fold the fibers back as you wind.

Chicken Feathers

Chicken feathers, like dry fly hackle, are shaped like an elongated oval and quite hard. As tied for dry flies you don’t really see the amount of stem shape like waterfowl feathers especially with modern genetic hackle. In the “old days” we were always told to wind dry fly hackle so that the concave side was to the front. That was because the hackle was stiffer with the concave side forward. Modern genetic hackle is so stiff and the stem is so narrow compared to the older hackle necks it doesn’t matter which direction you wind the hackle on the fly especially with genetic saddle hackle. Those long slim stems tend to twist more when you are tying them in than when you are winding.

Land birds like partridge, grouse, pheasant and marabou

Land birds like partridge, grouse, pheasant and marabou are like chicken feathers, an elongated oval. The real difference is that the stem is not hard, it is somewhat soft being easily collapsed as you wind it or tie it off. If you allow for a bit of the stem shape to take over you can get the fibers to sweep back like we want while winding on the hook.

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