Fall Success Provides Great Fly Tying Materials

February 5, 2009 by  

Our Outdoors
Nick Simonson

A nice muskie caught while fishing at night

A nice muskie caught while fishing at night

Fall not only represents a time to return to the field, but also a time to restock fly tying and lure making materials for the winter. From partridge and grouse in the early season, to ducks, pheasants and deer as cold air sets in, the bounty of nature on the wing and hoof can help you land a number of finned species next spring.

The feathers of the Hungarian partridge, particularly the barred soft feathers of the chest and back, are popular soft-hackles for forming collars on wet and nymph flies. The Partridge and Yellow and a variety of similar soft hackles from England, dubbed “Spiders” get their attraction from the subtle undulations of the partridge hackle fibers. Sharptail grouse and ruffed grouse also have an abundance of soft hackle feathers that can be used for a change of pace in wet hackle patterns as well.

The most popular upland game bird in the upper Midwest is arguably the ringneck pheasant. The vibrant coloration of the male ringneck also makes it a well-liked bird among fly tyers as it is so versatile at the vise. The tail feather fibers are a standard in many nymph patterns, which imitate the underwater phase of a variety of insects. In fact the Pheasant Tail Nymph (PTN) is a basic pattern which is tied with just the tail fibers and a couple turns of peacock herl to imitate immature mayflies. The tail fibers can also be knotted to form leg imitations on many popular grasshopper flies. The variety of rump, chest and back feathers of the ringneck pheasant are great on soft hackles and can also be tied up to make some flashy streamers. Save the skin and tail of a ringneck for a productive winter at the vise.

Time in the blind or on the X can help you stock up on popular waterfowl feathers for fly tying as well. Mallards, a popular pursuit in the sloughs and on the lakes of the upper Midwest, provide a bevy of materials for fly tying. Mallard shoulders and flanks provide great feathers for streamers that are popular for salmon as well as a variety of nymphs and wet flies.

A turkey tag also opens you up to a world of possibilities, as wild turkey quills are a staple for fly tying. Wing cases on nymphs and wings on wet flies, and the elongated wings of grasshopper imitations can be fashioned from the durable fibers of the wild turkey quills.

Big game, especially whitetail deer, provide a great source for both fly tying and lure making materials. The most popular deer material for both fly tying and standard lure dressing is the tail of the whitetail deer. In the natural colors of brown and white, or died in a variety of attractor colors such as red, yellow, chartreuse and purple, the bucktail fibers make a pulsating attraction when tied on to the collar of a standard jig or on a streamer hook.. Don’t forget to dress up the standard treble hooks on spoons and crankbaits with a little red bucktail as well.

The body hair of the whitetail deer is a very buoyant material, and should be saved for beetle patterns, as well as a number of high-riding trout flies for fast water. It can be died and spun into the bodies of popular bass bugs, such as frogs, mice and poppers. It also makes a great wing and doubles for elk hair in a pinch, for those Midwesterners who can’t make it to the Rockies or draw a once-in-a-lifetime tag.

These common game animals, along with the less common ones, like moose, bear, elk and antelope, provide a variety of materials to use in standard patterns, or to experiment with throughout the long winter. Save a patch of fur and feathers from each species you pursue to help fill your fly box this winter and dress those jigs and spinners for springtime walleye and pike, but only after enjoying a successful set of fall seasons…in our outdoors.


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