SI Vault
The Dedicated World of the Fly-Tier
Sparse Grey Hackle
August 31, 1959
Artificial lures are easy to make, but once the bug hits you, you are real gone
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
August 31, 1959

The Dedicated World Of The Fly-tier

Artificial lures are easy to make, but once the bug hits you, you are real gone

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4

As we walked out together I remarked, "That girl is really a cupcake, isn't she?"

"What girl?" demanded the fly-tier vaguely. "Gee, I hope that guy remembers to send me those clippings. What a body!"


This will give you an idea, although real fly-tiers whom I have known are far worse than that. And that is a curious thing, for there is really nothing to tying a fly.

Simply, the tier clamps the bend of a bare fishhook in a little vise so that he can work on the shank of it. He waxes a piece of fine silk thread—about one-quarter as thick as your size A sewing silk, lady—to make it stiff so that it is easier to handle, and sticky so that it won't slip. He lashes one end to the hook with a few turns and then he winds that silk back and forth along the shank to the various points to which he attaches the parts of the fly; the whole fly is tied together with that single strand.

At one point he ties on a couple of little slips of feather for wings; at another he ties on a few long fibers of feather for the insect's tails. Where the body is to begin he ties on a piece of colored wool yarn, or a narrow strip of gold or silver tinsel, or a piece of silk with fur twisted onto it until it resembles a miniature cat's tail. Then he winds the silk ahead to the point where the body will end, winds the body material in close turns to that point and fastens it securely with the thread.

At the right place he ties in one end of a rooster's neck feather—a hackle—and then winds the feather around the "neck" of the fly like a ruff, so that the bristling fibers resemble the legs of an insect. (He thinks so, anyway.) Then he ties down the other end of the feather with his silk and finally winds on a lump of it to form the head of the insect. A hitch to secure it, and a drop of varnish, and he has an artificial fly for catching trout.

It's a cinch; any 5-year-old kid can tie a fly, and I have the evidence to prove it. The only real stunt is getting the materials, particularly hackles. The good ones come not from just any rooster but from certain tough old geezers which happen to have just the right color, stiffness and freedom from center web in their neck feathers, a mighty rare combination and, needless to say, even rarer to find in the only place where chicken carcasses occur in quantity—a poultry market. The right roosters seem to have a genius for staying away from poultry markets—any I ever go near anyway.

So why doesn't someone raise the right kind of feathers for the market? Well, friend, how are you on Mendel's law, the fundamental law of the geneticist? Because these characteristics I have mentioned are not dominant but recessive. If you mate a cock and a hen, both with feathers of just the right blue-gray (the most desired but rarest color) hue and springy, clean texture, you will get a bunch of black, white, green, purple, spotted, striped and ring-straked monstrosities, among which the unusable colors will have fine glassy-fibered hackles and conversely the usable ones will have soft, webby hackles useless for dry flies, which have to float on the tips of clean, stiff fibers.


Continue Story
1 2 3 4