Frank Reilly demonstrates the secret behind ‘cloaking’ a Dabbler with bronze mallard.

Tying Dabblers
Ask anyone fishing the Irish loughs and the likelihood that they use a Dabbler will be almost a certainty. Such is the popularity of the fly and such is its extensive appeal that all anglers in Ireland come across it – or one of its myriad variants – time and time again.

From my base on the Corrib, I use a lot of Dabblers. I seem to be tying them all the time, so I’ve developed my own system of tying them. Now there’s nothing very unusual in the Dabbler pattern in terms of tying technique, until it comes to applying the ‘cloak’ of bronze mallard. I’ve seen massive variations in people’s interpretation of this term – anything from a few fibres of bronze mallard as a fibre-wing, to a neat wet fly slip-wing, to an irregular ‘hackle’ of fibres. None are really what the fly is about: the aim is to get a ‘half roll’ or semi-circular ‘roof’ of fibres over the body of the fly – it’s this that helps the fly ‘dabble’ in the water. In addition there are also some more bronze mallard fibres to add as a false hackle below the shank.

So how do you accomplish this? Over the years I’ve been asked to demonstrate the tying technique many times, as it seems the majority of anglers have a problem with it. Of course, I’ve come to modify my own technique to make it a quicker, neater and easier tie (well, I’ve had a lot of practice!), and this is as described here.

How to wing a Dabbler
With the rest of the Dabbler body complete, the fly is now ready for the final operation; the addition of the overwing and underwing. Once you have removed your wing slips from the bronze mallard feather, prepare them both by folding them in three, ie lie the slip good side down; the first fold – equal to one-third of full width (and the ultimate width of the completed wing) is made inside to inside, which leaves 33% of inside feather slip still uncovered; the second fold is made by bringing over this inside section to cover and envelope the first fold.

Now position your top wing so it extends just past the bend of the hook, then, just as you would a wet fly wing make three (count them!) turns to catch it in. Now invert the hook in the vice (this makes another extra turn of thread on the top wing) and position the folded underwing slip so that it is shorter than the top wing and extends well into the hook gape. Now make your 5th, 6th and 7th turns to secure the underwing.

Re-set the hook in the vice. Now, gripping the hook, top wing and underwing (just as you would when you do a pinch-and-loop), unwind the seven turns of thread you have made to secure both top and bottom wings. Then, keeping the pinch on, make one and a half loose loops of thread around the bronze mallard feathers, just as you would when spinning deer hair. As you draw down on the fibres, this will cause them to roll around the shank.

Having completed the first ‘spin’, check the fibre tips aren’t catching on the hook bend or the vice; then re-pinch the fibres, unwrap two turns, then repeat the spinning technique.

After two turns the bulk of the fibres will be to the sides of the fly – this is a good finish for a normal Dabbler or Sedge style of Dabbler. At this point use the flesh part of your fingertips to make minor adjustments to the distribution of fibres on the hook shank. Unlike deer hair, the fibres won’t flare. If you want practice on a bare hookshank to get the feel of what’s happening before tying a real fly.

A third spin operation should get a more even distribution with a heavier bunch of fibres on top – classic Dabbler style. The fibres will now have rolled the complete circumference of the shank, only the fibres are now more evenly and symmetrically distributed.

Make two to three more turns to secure before releasing your pinch grip.

Now trim the butts at an angle to help with shaping a head. Form the head, whip-finish and varnish.

Getting the best Dabbler from your bronze mallard
The first rule of tying Dabblers is not to skimp on the material. Yes, bronze mallard maybe expensive, but it’s also important. Also, don’t skirt around the edges of the really good bronzy mallard on the feather in the hope that you get some extra flies from the feather. Be hard – go for the best bronze on the feather. And don’t under-use it. Having said this, I shouldn’t really need to say that you should select the best bronze mallard feathers you get hold of.

If you follow the above criteria you will find that you can produce about one and half flies per bronze mallard feather … not many, but they will be good ones!

Before cutting the mallard slips from the feather, tease them gently at right angles to the feather quill, as this will even up the tips. Don’t over handle them, as they can easily part and become ragged. Use very sharp scissors to trim the bases of the fibres from the quill to prevent distortion of the fibres at this time.

Proportion of both the wing and underwing of the Dabbler can lead to problems in the finished fly. This is best solved right at the start when you select your initial slips. Basically, if your top wing section is 100% then your underwing section should be about 80% of the top one.

Once you have removed your slips of bronze for both the top and bottom sections of your Dabbler you will find that you also have some nice bronze fibres towards the tip of the shoulder feather. Keep these, as they will come in handy for other smaller flies.