“Married Wings for Morons”

This is cracking me up! I laughed out loud yesterday, even though I was home alone. smile.gif

Yesterday, while checking the stats here on my blog site, (I have the ability to look at all the search terms used that bring people to my site) and one of the search phrases I saw yesterday was, “married wings for morons.” hysterical.gif  lol.gif   biggrin.gif

I actually coined that phrase some years ago after I “discovered” my new, proprietary method of handling wing quills in January 2006. (It was sort of an accident as I recall). This technique also works for goose, turkey, bustard, swan, teal, barred wood duck, or any combination thereof, when using those materials to build married wings and tails. It is not on my first DVD, Tying Classic Wet Flies, 2004, because I didn’t develop this method until 2006 as noted above. It is included in me second wet fly DVD, Advanced Classic Wet Flies. This DVD is available for purchase on MyFlies.com. Here is a direct link to the merchandise page:


Initially this post started on: classicflytying.com and was meant to be a short humorous post, but as I got into it, writing and feeling “inspired” as my fingers moved over the keys, and ideas popped into my brain, (I know, that can be dangerous) I just let loose and decided to also write this post as a married wing tutorial.

The reason I initially made the analogy that is the title of this post is in part because of my occasionally off-color sense of redneck, politically incorrect humor, (I despise political correctness – don’t get me going), but mainly it is a realistic assessment of the ease with which, once trained in this method, it becomes pretty easy for anyone who has tied a few wet flies to learn how to assemble the feather slips required to marry wet fly wings. This is because my method totally eliminates any possibility of accidentally mixing up left and right slips or feather sections, and it also eliminates the possibility of the narrow two or three barb wide slips used in married tails or wings from inadvertently turning ninety-degrees when the wider butt end of the barb section is grasped with a vertical finger pinch. Up until I discovered this method, I had learned to always rotate my right hand that was holding the next quill section to be added at a right angle so that the barbs on the piece to be married to, would be in perfect vertical alignment with the barb section in my left hand which was held vertically as well. Overall, this method enhances the efficiency of technique required to put together feather barb sections from different feathers, even different kinds of birds, and assemble married wings.
In particular, this method greatly simplifies the task when assembling those multiple section married tails as on the Golden Doctor, Fletcher, Kineo, Cassard, Denison, King of the Woods, Grasshopper, F. G. Simpson, Matador, etc. Which in the end makes the process of marrying wings and tails far easier than ever before, hence the term, “married wings for morons.” Not to infer any disrespect, of course. shades.gif

This technique greatly simplifies and speeds-up the process of tying married wing flies of any type, even when “splits” are used in combination with a whole feather wing or previously mounted married sections. And this method is even beneficial when tying any wet fly pattern with quill section tails or wings, even if the wing is a single color, such as slate (natural mallard wing). Quite often when I demonstrate the method, people are surprised at how simple it is and they express amazement at why no one ever though of it before. I can not explain that.

I am pretty certain that I mentioned that phrase on my newer wet fly DVD, Advanced Classic Wet Flies. In that DVD this method is clearly demonstrated. I still am amazed when I think that in over 150 years of assembling married wings, every single fly tier, writer, or fly tying instructor, has always done this process in the same time-honored, traditional way, by isolating, snipping, and detaching the individual barb sections, lining them up on the tying bench, keeping (hopefully) left and right slips separated and organized, and then beginning the (in some cases like Kelson-style salmon fly wings) laborious process of picking these sections up, one by one, to assemble or marry them in order to each component. My method detaches the barbs with a scissor snip, but they are then left in place on the feather stem, held secure only by the barbules of the single adjacent uncut barb. The stem of the whole feather then becomes your “barb dispenser,” and gives the fly tier a large, easy-to-hold, and secure “handle” for the next steps. When using multiple colors, simply make your snips, and lay the feathers down without removing the cut barb sections. They will lie in wait until ready, and not blow off by the breeze of a fan or a suddenly exhaled sigh of exasperation. Have your quill sections ready for the wings. Pick them up one by one and make your snips until all barb sections are cut and ready for marrying.

Once this is done, when married wing or tail section assembly begins, start by picking up the feather by the stem that has the bottom barb section for the wing in progress – this is the first section or slip placed in position when building wings from bottom to top – and then, using the whole feather as a handle, holding it by the stem, the cut barb section is inserted very near the tip end into the opposite hand, then clasped at the tip with an index finger and thumb grasp. Pinch lightly and simply pull the cut barb section out away from the feather. Usually I accomplish this by holding the left hand still while the right hand removes the feather “dispenser.” Lay down the feather or taped-together pair of wing quills as I have all my quills, from which the cut slip had been removed. Next, repeat this with the next barb section to be added, picking up the whole feather as before and aligning the tip of the second snipped section in place with the first, which is now held in your opposite hand. Repeat the pinch and pull procedure. At this point as you have two barb sections in your hand you may wish to do the slight up-and-down wiggling and / or lengthwise stroking action that brings the barbules into action (marrying), or you may continue to stack additional barb sections in place, waiting to marry the wing until three, four, five, even six barb sections are all dropped in place, and then make the marrying maneuvers.

For example, on my version of the Silver Doctor trout wet fly, with five colors / sections in the wing, once the sections are cut on the five pairs of matched wing quills (on a size #6 hook, 3 barbs of each color), I can then easily complete the marrying and assembly of both wings in one minute or less. I usually demonstrate the first wing by marrying the barb sections one at a time, and the second by stacking all five sections together in my left hand finger pinch and then marry them together all at once.

This idea came to me like a bolt of light, on a January Monday morning right after I had just concluded two back-to-back weekend fly tying classes at Fishing Creek Angler in Benton, Pennsylvania, back in 2006. All I can remember that morning is sitting at my tying desk, looking at a pair of wing quills and wondering, “How can I make this easier for those people who have difficulty identifying feathers?” This thought occurred because out of 15 students in attendance, 3/4 of them had never hunted ducks, grouse, woodcock, or pheasants as I did growing up, therefore they were unable to identify a left whole wing feather from a right feather, and much less so when one begins cutting and removing individual barb sections from the respective feathers. Some of these fellows could not recognize right from left; barb slips, that is.

One fellow seated next to me was struggling and after a couple minutes said, “I can’t get this.”
I replied, “You need to make sure you have a matched pair of quills.”
The man held up a red duck wing quill feather and a yellow duck wing quill feather and emphatically stated, “Look here! I have a matched pair of quills!”

When the others in the class saw what he had done, there was a sudden outburst of uncontrolled mirth and jocularity. It took a couple minutes before the laughter settled down enough for me to say, “You have a red and yellow feather, (and I felt like saying, ‘You moron!’ because he is also a close friend, and you know the friendly barbs traded between friends, but I refrained myself from this temptation). I informed him, “They are both lefts! That is not a matched pair!” the sheepish look on his was, as the commercial says, priceless. That was absolutely hilarious! I always tell that story in my classes ever since.

Since developing this method, every fly tyer I have ever asked, and there have been many, some well-known, well-read, knowledgeable individuals in my surveys, has always indicated that this method is completely new to them. Believe me, there is no comparison in the ease of this technique when using this method as opposed to the traditional routine.

I am always happy to demonstrate and detail this method, but it is not complicated. I have endeavored to explain it to the best of my ability here in writing, but there is still no substitute for seeing this in action. I believe most of my students taught after January 2006 (after the release of my first DVD in November 2004), use this technique.

I recently made several updates on my blog, including a quick and easy e-mail subscription tab, and also a search tab. When searching my site, just type in a topic or phrase and hit “enter.”

Thanks everyone, I hope this is helpful This is the first time I’ve ever made an attempt at writing this proprietary method as a tutorial.

Adirondack Fishing Report

I just got an e-mail from my customer, Rich Peters.

If you go to my search tab and type in “Adirondack” you’ll find the older post with the photos of him & his wife from this summer.

The Cupsuptic wet fly he refers to was a size #6, and the Gray Ghost was dressed on a Mustad 8x long, #94720 size #2 streamer hook; it was almost four inches long.

Here is the message I got from Rich today:

Hi Don, Hope all is well, a quick report. Fishing was slow, still too hot, but as usual your flies managed to drum up a few brookies; caught one 15″ on the Cupsuptic, and another 18″ on the big Gray Ghost. Unfortunately due to weather and slow fishing we decided not to trek to the secret pond, but heading up again in a few weeks and will let you know how it goes. Thanks again for all the wonderful flies, RP.

Just a note to remind folks that these classic patterns still catch fish.

Four Methods of Hackle on Traditional Wet Flies

This is the Hemlock wet fly. The accompanying photo is similar to the one in my Hatches Magazine 2010 article, Traditional Wet Flies. The Hemlock is a simple pattern with only three ingredients; body, hackle, wing. Starting in upper left:

1) A beard style or false hackle, made with a pinch of barbs some from each side of a hen feather, placed together bottom side (concave) of barbs facing in.

2) A palmer-style hackle, wound over the body. Typically the Hemlock does not have a palmered hackle, but I did it for the article to demonstrate the style and make my point. One side of a palmer-wound hackle is usually stripped, but this one was not, because it is from an older hen neck, not as heavily barbed as many necks currently sold.

3) A wet fly collar hackle, wound on before setting the wing. The hackle is divided and slightly pulled down and a few fibers are trapped by the tying thread to allow room for the wing.

4) A collar style hackle applied after setting the wing. This style gives the fly a full collar, and makes a combination soft-hackle and winged wet fly.

All of these are perfectly acceptable methods of applying hackle to wet flies. Methods 3 and 4 are folded and wound in place.

And finally, not wanting to sound egotistical, but Hatches 2010 is still available. I suggest if you haven’t read my article, Traditional Wet Flies, it may help you to obtain a copy. At nearly 5000 words and lots of photos, there is a lot of how-to wet fly tying info there, primarily concentrated on hackles and wings. I still have a few copies for sale, I can mail them within the US and Canada, signed, for $8.50 including postage. Paypal accepted. Contact me via e-mail: dwbastian@chilitech.net

Schlappen fibers can be used for the false hackle, and I also often use the tip of schlappen feathers for types 3 & 4. I have found the tips of schlappen feathers useful and even favorable when tying larger wet fly patterns, such as the old 1800’s style bass and lake flies when dressing patterns on size #4, #2, #1, #1/0 and larger hooks.

I hope this helps those who have questions about wet fly hackles. Thanks for your time!

Hemlock wet fly illustrating four styles / methods of hackle.

By the way, the Hemlock is also a good fishing fly, it is usually a good practice when fishing a cast of two or three wet flies to insert at least one dark-patterned fly; the Hemlock fills this need and also catches trout. Tight lines everyone!


Thread: Danville Flymaster 6/0 white may be used for the body, black for the head. This is because I prefer white thread as my working thread under all colors of floss except black.

Body: Dark gray floss

Hackle: Brown

Wing: Mottled brown turkey

Head: Black