Wet Fly Wings – A Few Notes

I’ve been saying this for years…marrying wings properly is ALL ABOUT MAINTAINING UNIFORMITY OF TEXTURE with whatever material is being used. And this fact becomes even more pronounced when tying the wings in, rather than having difficulty merely when just marrying the fibers (properly called barbs) together. Too often, barb sections will marry, but if they are not properly matched, they often separate & collapse when tied in. Therein lays the real significance and need for tiers to recognize the necessity to “maintain uniformity of texture.”
Even with duck wing quill sections; the bottom portion near the butt of the stem is the softest, slightly increasing in stiffness of texture in the mid-section, and most significantly so nearer the tip of the feather. On most wing primaries, only 1/2 to 2/3 of the feather is actually usable. You can literally cut the tip sections off the quills; they aren’t much good for wet fly wings, however for resourceful fly tiers these sections can be used in situations where you want a finer equivalent of goose biots for use on nymph components such as tails, feelers, legs, etc.

So even when tying a married-wing wet fly like say, the Kineo, with three colors of duck quill, in both the tail and wing, it’s best to select ALL sections for both components from matched pairs of duck quills AND take the barb sections from relatively the same location from each pair of feathers. This means you are selecting the different barbed sections from about the same location on each pair of feathers; hence, you are “maintaining uniformity of texture” in the process of selection of your quill barb sections to be used in the wings. If one were to use goose shoulder for wings, the location of where the barbs come from on each section is not as significant, because goose shoulder, as body plumage, is naturally softer than wing feather barbs, and it doesn’t have the wide variation in difference of texture from butt to tip of the stem that wing quills do.

I always use the softest barbs near the butt end of the stems almost exclusively for tails whether the fly I’m tying has a single color quill tail or a married tail.

Getting duck flank to marry to colored sections is actually very easy, provided you know what to use. Once again, the uniformity of texture rule applies. Wood duck flank, I am sorry to say to those who struggle with it, is a piece of cake to marry, but NOT TO DUCK QUILL! It marries well, sweetly, nicely, and superbly to BUT only to, goose shoulder sections or nazurias as they are sometimes known.

To tie patterns incorporating barred wood duck in the wings and tails, such as the Cassard, Denison, Holberton, or McAlpin; use barred wood duck (matched left and right feathers – very important), and goose shoulder, and be sure to keep the sections matched as left-to-left, and right-to-right for both the wood duck and goose shoulder. If this is not done properly you will end up with failed marriages.

For further reference, I suggest anyone interested in learning more about wet fly winging methods, whether single color or married, refer to my article, Traditional Wet Flies in the print edition of Hatches 2010. At almost 5000 words the article is a double-feature and it is a heavily-focused, technical, and very detailed dissertation on marrying wings. I’d say, without conceit, merely stating the fact: this is my first-ever written treatise on wet fly wings. This piece is just about the best written instructions you can find anywhere on wet fly quill wings. Better wet fly winging instructions can only be experienced by watching a skilled fly tier who knows these techniques well, performing live or on a video DVD.