The Scarlet Ibis

Scarlet Ibis – photo credit Sandy Cole, Wikipedia. Used by Permission. Note the black-tipped feathers are only a few of the outer primaries, so you have a verifiable position of where the quills I used for these flies came from on the bird.

Back in the 1800’s nothing restricted the types of bird plumage that could be used for fly tying. The scarlet ibis was just one of the many exotic birds whose feathers were used for fly tying. Scarlet ibis plumage was used to create the wet fly of the same name. A good number of other patterns also used the wing or body plumage of this beautiful scarlet colored bird. The color scarlet, by definition, is a red tending more toward orange. Crimson on the other hand, is a deep red, tending more to the color of fresh blood. I thought the photo of this bird would be of great aid in making this post. Thanks to Sandy Cole, who also requested me to post this link along with the use of her photo:

More information on the scarlet ibis bird may be found at:

At the Pennsylvania Fly Fishing Museum Heritage Day Event in Boiling Springs last June, a man inquired of me if I were interested in tying some Scarlet Ibis trout flies from authentic scarlet ibis feathers. Of course, I replied in the affirmative, having never seen real scarlet ibis feathers before, and I was quite excited about the prospect. We made an agreement for him to send me the feathers and that was that. It was not until the Somerset, New Jersey, Fly Fishing Show in January of this year that he stopped by my table with the feathers; two pairs of scarlet ibis wing quills as shown in the next photo. The deal was I tie two flies for him, one snelled wet on a blind-eye hook, and one 20th century version, and in return for me tying these two flies I would keep the second pair of quills. A sweet deal for sure. I tied and included the Bass Fly version as a special surprise for my customer.

Authentic scarlet ibis primary wing quills, before the barb slips were cut for these flies…

So I tied a blind-eye version, using Mary Orvis Marbury’s 1892 book, Favorite Flies and Their Histories, and the second pattern was sourced from Trout, 1938, by Ray Bergman.

Scarlet Ibis – trout fly version from Mary Orvis Marbury’s book. The hook is a size No. 7, Mustad 3370 japanned, blind-eye. The gut snell is post-war Japanese. The oval tinsel tag and ribbing were wound all in one shot after I wrapped the floss body. The wing is tied tip-down as was customary during the 1800’s.

Scarlet Ibis – the version in Ray Bergman’s Trout. The hook is a size No. 6 Mustad 3399. Both the tail and wing were cut from the scarlet ibis wing quills, and the wing was tied tip-up as Dr. Burke’s paintings in Trout were accurately depicted painted from actual samples.

Scarlet Ibis – antique Orvis Lake Fly version on original 1800’s card packaging. The hook was about a size #2. Note the elaborate, ornate logo design on the packaging. The Tomah Jo is visible at left. Note all three flies have bite guards on the snells.

The above photo of the antique Scarlet Ibis fly was made possible through the courtesy of my friend and fellow tier from Sydney, Maine, Ed Muzzerol. Ed is also one of the contributing tiers for my current book project, Favorite Fishing Flies – 1892, The Whitefish Press. Hopefully the book will be released sometime in 2013. Ed and I had coffee Friday evening between my obligations at the L. L. Bean Spring Fishing Expo in Freeport, Maine, March 16 – 18, where I was one of the Featured Fly Tyers. Besides delivering his finished flies for my book, Ed had brought along some antique flies to show me because he knew I’d be interested. As I ogled the flies, I suddenly remembered I had my camera in my pocket. “Can I take pictures of these?” I asked Ed.

“Sure,” he replied.

The photos above and below are the results.

Scarlet Ibis – Orvis original Bass Fly version 1800’s. This photo was taken by me on a table in the 1912 Cafe at L. L. Bean in Freeport, Maine; hand-held, no flash.

Note the extra components beyond those of the trout fly version. This Bass Fly version has a two-part tag of tinsel and floss, a married tail, a peacock herl butt, and an oval tinsel rib (tarnished on the antique fly). The name label was on a piece of paper barely 3/16″ wide, impaled onto the hook point to designate the pattern since often different flies were mounted on these cards. The fly above the Scarlet Ibis is unknown, the other side had a Tomah Jo on it. Both the red section in the tail and the wing are authentic scarlet ibis feathers. I am not sure about the hackle.

Scarlet Ibis – Bass Fly

Tag: Flat gold tinsel and yellow floss

Tail: Scarlet ibis and white goose, married

Butt: Peacock herl

Rib: Oval gold tinsel

Body: Scarlet floss

Hackle: Scarlet

Wing: Paired scarlet ibis body feathers, back-to-back

Head: I used red wool over red thread. The antique appears to have black thread, though it looks like dark red (I zoomed it in to check, inconclusive).

Scarlet Ibis Bass Fly version – tied by Don Bastian. I placed the white strip on top of the scarlet ibis quill section in the tail; I think it looks better there than having the red strip right below the wing. The hook is a Mustad 3366 Size No. 2; a modern fly version of this historic pattern on an eyed hook for conventional fishing use. The wing is made from two paired feathers of Whiting American Hen Cape dyed red – a pretty good scarlet color for this fly. The hackle also came from the Whiting hen cape and was wound as a collar. Two strands of peacock herl (wound simultaneously) taken from near the eye were used to get long barbs of herl for the butt. A red wool head gives the fly a vintage appearance. I can’t wait to try this fly on some lake, pond, and river in Maine this spring and fall.

Group shot of Scarlet Ibis flies tied by Don Bastian – Orvis patterns, both trout and Fancy Bass Fly versions, and the version listed in Trout by Ray Bergman (bottom center).

Scarlet Ibis flies and wing quills. Note the exact perpendicular cuts of the slips relative to the barbs taken for the wings – always cut perpendicular to the run of the barbs, never parallel to the stem. This provides for better accuracy in the visual measurement of your scissors tips when cutting straight across the barbs.

Scarlet Ibis – Orvis Version

Tag: Oval gold tinsel

Rib: Oval gold tinsel

Body: Scarlet floss

Hackle: Scarlet

Wing: Scarlet

Head: Scarlet wool if desired

Scarlet Ibis – Bergman Trout Version *

Tag: Flat gold tinsel

Tail: Scarlet duck quill section(s). It was customary to use just a single quill section on tails; somewhere along the line in the 20th century tail slips from matched pairs became popular; and that is my preference so perhaps that has also influenced fly tiers in their wet fly tying.

Rib: Flat gold tinsel

Body: Scarlet floss

Hackle: Scarlet

Wing: Scarlet duck quill sections

Head: Black thread, or scarlet wool of desired.

* I wish to clarify that the “Bergman” version of the Scarlet Ibis in Trout is not Ray Bergman’s personal pattern of this fly. Like all of the more than 400 wet flies in his books, Ray merely published popular and standard pattern recipes of his day as they were commercially produced and most commonly available. Ray originated only one wet fly, the Quebec, published in his last book, With Fly Plug, and Bait, 1947. I have several Bass Fly Scarlet Ibis patterns tied up.

22 comments on “The Scarlet Ibis

  1. Kirk Dietrich says:

    Beautiful and Exquisite! Both the flies and the bird and I must say the flies do the bird justice and the donor of those quills would be proud that he went to such good use.

  2. Absolutely Beautiful! I wish that many of those who came before us had taken more time to consider the impact they made on other species. Then more of us today could appreciate the birds, as well as the ability to tie and view flies like the scarlet ibis.

    • Don Bastian says:

      Thanks Chris;
      You are correct in your assessment of the impacts of the use of our resources. Thank you for your comments of approval on my tying! I appreciate it! I really enjoyed making this post…I have wanted to do this ever since I too the photo of the antique Scarlet Ibis fly…I was chomping at the bit, but I have been busy tying…mowing…taking care of stuff, working…thanks again!

  3. Bill says:

    Wonderful stuff, Donnie.

  4. John Larsen says:


    They are fabulous. It would be a privilege to work with those feathers. I was wondering about the difference between scarlet, crimson and wine. You explained the scarlet and crimson well. I would assume that wine would be a red leaning towards purple, much as the scarlet is a red leaning toward orange. Great job on the flies and the donor must have been thrilled with the results.

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hi John, thanks for your comment! It was a privilege to work with these authentic feathers.
      I forgot to mention that the customer wanted the feathers back that I use for the flies; he was mounting everything together in a frame.
      When I first saw them I was kind of surprised by the black wing tips, but I had never even seen a photo of the real bird…all these years…I first heard of the Scarlet Ibis wet fly when I was 12 years old…took almost 50 years for me to actually think of and have a reason to research and see what the bird looks like.
      Wine and claret are both pretty close – shades of red, deeper, tending more toward purple, or as you would think, matching the color of a nice Merlot or Cabernet. Mmmm, that makes me want a piece of rare prime rib…with a glass of course…
      Thank you for your kind words and comment!

  5. Kelly L says:

    Don, this sure was a treat. I never really thought about tying the flies with the rare feathers like that. I knew I would never be able to obtain the feather for them. After seeing this blog this morning, it makes you wish you had some of those feathers. Zoos cannot give you rare feathers like this? (they are not for sale of course) This is done with the bustard. The lake fly version was my favorite. Stunning work.

  6. Steve Dean says:

    Mother nature sure is good at her job, and you ain’t so bad yourself there Mr. Bastian. 😉

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hi Steve;
      Thank you very much for your comment and compliment on my work. Though I’d have to bow of course, to acknowledge that Mother Nature possesses far more talent than us mere mortals. Thanks very much! 😉

  7. Norman Plourde says:

    Beautifully crafted! Your blog has become my favorite site to follow. I enjoy all the info you give. It’s very informative and helpful. Keep up the great work. I look forward to your postings. Not a problem with being identified as a “lefty”. Liked the pointers you gave during the fly tying.

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hi Norm;
      Thanks so much for your comment and for your observations. I really appreciate your support and I’m so glad you enjoy my blog. Thanks, “Lefty.” 🙂 Keep tying!

  8. fishingwithflies says:

    Don, What a beautiful set of flies. Glad you got a group shot. Gorgeous as always. Nice to see Kirk Dietrich’s name above as a poster. I don’t know him, but remember his name from the “old days” of the forum called the Virtual Fly Shop. We called it a “bulletin board” at the time. I’m talking about 10 years ago.


    • Don Bastian says:

      Hi Peter;
      Thanks for your comment and compliment of my flies and photos. I appreciate that very much! That Fancy Lake Fly version is a real sweet pattern eh? I love it. Thanks again, nice to hear from you!

  9. Paul says:

    I found some of these (and others) in my great great grandfathers fishing wallet. I’ll send you a pic if you would like.

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hi Paul;
      Thanks for your comment! Of course I’d love to have photos of your great-grandfather’s flies. I love that stuff, and I’d like to share the picture with my readers as well! Thanks for the offer!

  10. Paul says:

    Where can I find your email address?

  11. […] check out the Don Bastian post – The Scarlet Ibis for more […]

  12. Gary says:

    This is a wonderful history and heritage on this classic fly. I doubted I would find a photo or a dressing list for the pattern when I looked online and found this rightful homage instead. Well done! 👌

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hi Gary;
      Thank you for your compliments! The Scarlet Ibis was actually shown both as a Lake Fly and Trout Fly in the Charles Orvis book of 1883 that preceded his daughter’s book in 1892. I like both patterns.
      Thanks again!

Leave a Reply to Don Bastian Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s