Ever since I started fly tying, I’ve been fascinated by wings on artificials in one way or another. As I slowly progressed through the ranks of fly-tying expertise I learned that wings were supposed to catch fishermen, not fish, and I happily did away with even trying to incorporate wings in my flies, generally taking pleasure in all those folk who still struggled with wings in their own patterns. In The Netherlands we don’t have trout, only indiscriminate coarse fish, for whom wings may indeed be less important than for trout. During the late 1980s, I started to reinvestigate all those ‘traditional’ patterns including wings, discovering that wings sometimes do make a difference, if not in fish-fooling ability, then at least in aerodynamics, making flies alight on the water’s surface more gently, or making them ride right side up.
Extended tube-body Mayfly pattern
Hook: Size 10 or 12 dry fly hook for an E danica Mayfly pattern, size 10 to 12. For smaller upwinged flies, substitute a proportionally smaller hook size. Any good dry fly hook type will do, such as the TMC 900BL, or the Partridge Captain Hamilton dry fly hook. I prefer to crush the barb on a barbed hook before putting it in the vice.
Thread: 8/0 for tying in the wings; 6/0 flat unbonded thread for the rest of the pattern (such as Danville’s Flymaster, or Gudebrod 6/0).
Wings: One large symmetric duck flank feather. For Mayfly patterns, pintail feathers offer nicely marked wings of an appropriate size.
Tails/abdomen: A Mayfly tube body 2cm to 2.5cm long. To make your own tailed Mayfly tube bodies, see www.globalflyfisher.com and search for tube body. An appropriate Mayfly body is made with moose mane hairs for tails, and cream camel or Fly-Rite dubbing for the body.
Rear thorax: Dark olive seal’s fur.
Front thorax/hackle: Large CdC feather fibres (from approximately three feathers) spun as a fibre hackle in a split thread, or dubbing loop.
I decided to focus on wings and winging styles. Eager to have some interesting winging styles to demonstrate, I investigated and came across the Wallywing, a new and innovative style of making imitative Mayfly wings from a single fowl feather, invented by one Wally Lutz from Canada, a person with whom I was vaguely familiar.
I was so taken by the ease with which this technique yielded life-like Mayfly wings that I immediately decided to adopt it. My selection of wing styles included feather-fibre bunch wings, feather-tip wings, burnt wings, wonder-wings, loop-wings, and Wallywings – all effective winging styles, with their own peculiarities. Due to the shape, aspect, and size of the Wallywing, I find it a particularly effective style for use with extended-body Mayfly patterns. I recently created an extended tube body Mayfly pattern using a CdC fibre hackle from pieces of patterns I saw other people tie.
Wallywing: background and technique
Frederic Halford, in his book, Dry-Fly Fishing in Theory and Practice, told us, over 100 years ago, “In fact, it appears that the effect of education on the fish, or, in other words, the continual presence of fishermen plying their art over them, is to make them far more suspicious of the artificial fly or of any little mistake, and far more shy of gut, but far more tolerant of the presence of man and the gleam of his accompanying rod.” We see this problem in heavily fished waters is not new but with innovative construction methods like the Wallywing that articulate life-like qualities such as silhouette, translucence, colour, and sizes we can use it to dispel suspicions. Include innovative body construction, shapes, and imitative footprints in the meniscus, and we complete the list of tools available to dismiss doubt. Now combine this list into a fly and we have something that exudes feeding triggers that tempt fish into activity. This, for me, is the essence of fly-fishing; creating our own imitation of a natural trout food and then enhancing it by presenting it with the fly rod. We can craft our fly’s behaviour in the fish’s habitat to induce a feeding response. The rest is a variation on a theme that can never be definitively inclusive.
Historically, the development of dry fly wing types saw William J Golding’s ‘Wonder Wing’, as the first innovative use of a feather pulled back against the natural direction of its barbs for the purpose of winging a dry fly. This presented finicky trout with a fly that has a very natural visual profile. Golding published his technique in the April issue of Outdoor Life in 1953. In August of that same year The Fishing Gazette brought to its readers Golding’s winging innovation. The Wonder Wing added translucence to Mayfly imitations of the time that predominantly utilised classic quill segment wings, with rolled wings, hair-wings and fan-wings as other options for the tyer. At about the same time Catskills tyer Harry Darbee developed his own application for the reversed barb technique with its use as an extended body on his dry fly – the ‘Two Feather Fly’. Darbee’s upturned extended body dry fly enhanced the footprint and the profile that fish see just before they take an imitation off the surface.
The Wallywing, or peeled feather, is the next step in the evolution of these techniques that impart life-like illusion to our artificial and bring them to the next level of imitation. The technique was the result of the accidental destruction of a beautiful feather that I lamented at first but then turned to my advantage by using the peeling qualities of various kinds of feathers to build a better dry fly wing.
This lucky accident occurred while tying a Swisher & Richards extended body Stillborn Emerger. While preparing a pheasant’s church window feather I pulled it apart along the stem and the feather’s barbs were bunched back against the butt of its centre shaft, by the excessive force I used while grooming the feather prior to attachment on the hook shank. Peeling the feather’s barbs off the shaft had rendered it useless for further use as an extended body. The peeling, which extended for a considerable distance along one side of the shaft, had curled up with the tips still secured in my finger tips. It inspired me to try to duplicate the peeling at will, for possibly a fly’s wing. From disaster came inspiration and the innovation which enhances the artificial’s visual profile, which is a fish-feeding trigger. Peeled feather wings increase the translucency of your fly’s wing and the ease of constructing, once mastered, gives us a silhouette-enhanced dry fly.
Beautiful results may be attained with grouse, partridges, and pheasants when using the peeling method. Some upland bird feathers do tend to be on the fragile side; I use them but favour waterfowl or pheasants, in that order, for more durable results. Waterfowl feathers have a higher ‘peel-ability’, as the shafts strip easily, especially from freshly harvested birds. The mid-section of a feather is most desirable because of its higher level of durability. Rule of thumb: use feathers with shafts that are no larger, at the tie-in point, than your hook shank in diameter. The tips of larger body feathers tend to be more robust, but the barbs start to space themselves widely toward the tips of the shaft which is good for translucency. Select feathers that have barbs equal in length and bulk, on either side of the feather’s shaft; this facilitates uniformly sized fly wings.
Quill segments are difficult to mount on the shank without splitting the barbs apart. Quill segments can be a frustration to place together with tips evened and then mount to the hook shank at the correct height for proper fly proportion and balance. They are impossible to adjust for proportion if not accurately mounted the first time; the adjustment requires removal to attempt the wing positioning again, to ensure proper balance. However, the peeling procedure allows easy adjustment to correct proportion and fly balancing after the fly is completed. A simple snip of the tying scissors removes any of the excessive height without any sacrifice to the overall appearance. This makes it easier to have dry flies that land upright in the cocked position – a nice advantage over quill segment wings.
Overly large wing-to-hook proportion on any dry fly is the primary cause of fly spin and leader twists during casting. The old standard measurement for best wing height is still a wing that is equal to the hooks’ shank length. For those not sure of the correct wing proportion for a dry fly; draw a vertical line from the barb (not the point), to the shank above, from this intersect it is the distance to a point located just behind the hook’s eye. Do not include the eye as part of your measurement for the wing’s height. If the fly tips over when tossed onto the bench out of the vice, the wings are very likely too tall or may also need separating. About 30° or more of separation between the wings improves the balance of the fly. Your wings may incline too far forward over the eye of the hook and require adjustment to a vertical position to balance the fly.
Another cause of leader twist can be mounting wings on the shank in a skewed position, not fully squared vertically to the hook bend. Merely twist the wings into position on top of the shank to correct this deviation. Wings mounted too far forward on the shank are another hindrance to a well-balanced fly. Adding palmered hackles to the mix can create more problems, but twisting a strand of tying thread and the hackle together before palmering can remedy problems beforehand. The thread causes slight disarray in the barbules of the hackle which otherwise would spiral symmetrically when wound, and cause the fly to spin like a propeller; the asymmetry of the hackle twisted with thread will help alleviate fly spin and leader twist.
10 easy steps to a peeled feather dry fly – the Wallywing
1. Peel the fluff off the stalk of a waterfowl or upland bird body feather.
2. Groom the feather’s barbs back against its stalk in the opposite direction of their natural position, but leave a vee. Soak for ten minutes or more, even overnight (I’ve left feathers soaking overnight and found it doesn’t harm them at all; if anything, they are very compliant).
3. Keep the feather wet while doing the final grooming before mounting to the hook shank. When brushing the feather’s barbs back against its stalk be careful to have them all stacked side by side in their natural sequence against the stalk. One end looks like a little canoe in your fingers.
4. Now mount the feather to the top of the hook shank. It is important where you mount the wing on the shank: if it’s mounted too far forward the wing will imbalance the fly and it will land nose down; mounting the wing back from the eye at a point about one third of the shank length away from the eye or a good marker is the mid-way point between the eye and the point of the barb.
5. Take a bottom barb in your fingers from the vee at the tip of the mounted feather. Any side to start with. Gently pull down along the stalk toward the butt of the feather, peeling the barbs off the stalk right down to the tying thread. Repeat for the other wing on your side of the fly.
6. Cut off the excess feather that points out toward the bend behind the wing; make a gentle slope toward the shank with a scissor cut. Alternatively, rather than clipping out the husk of the remaining centre stalk, you can pull it back between the wings and secure behind the wing. This will reinforce the feather’s barbs with the cover of a tough stem, and will also separate the wings. When tying a smaller fly, size 16 and under, the feather selected has a fine stalk diameter and doesn’t really aid in separating the wing in this case, or in reinforcement. I usually just clip out the stalk from between the wings.
7. Clip off the barbs that are sticking out on the top of your wings.
8. Stand up the wings together and secure in that position with a couple of loops of thread around the base or in front of the wing with a touch of dubbing on the thread. A good pair of broad point tweezers are handy for any final primping the wings may require.
9. Now, if the wings are too tall, clip off the top few barbs of the wing to bring it down to the right proportions, (hook shank length). Pull out the extra barbs after adjusting wing size. For a better-balanced fly separate the wings further with the aid of finger pressure between them. A figure-of-eight of tying thread around the wings can be used when making a spent wing or using a Water Walker style of hackle.
10. I know it’s frowned upon to allow cement or glue to seep into a wing and that’s de rigueur for show tying but not fish tying. Use a small drop of instant glue or tying cement at the base or the tie-in point and allowing the glue ever so slightly to seep up into the wing base – the glue dries quickly and adds strength and a little stiffness to the wing base at its weakest point. I can then separate the wing by merely pushing it apart with a bodkin at first and then if needed my finger. The ends or tips of individual feather barbs on small feathers can be frail, and these ends at the tie-in point are most likely to be the first to break after a few fish are caught. Apart from adding durability to the fly, the glue also provides a post that we can tie parachute hackles onto without using a gallows tool and without using excessive thread wraps.
Lance Taylor, aka Ranger Bob, friend, fly fisherman, and astronomer/photographer, is responsible for the ‘Wallywing’ namesake. Upon introducing him to my flies, I was required to demonstrate its construction method. It didn’t have a name other than ‘My Mayfly’ at that time, and he dubbed it the ‘Wallywing’.