A couple weeks ago Mike Townend called me out for recommending a pair of scissors to trim feathers with. He suggested that he & I do a bit of a step by step how we wrestle oddly shaped feathers. So, here's mine.
I chose to tie a big fly from the very beginning, at the tip so you can see all of what is going on. This hook is easy 11/0 or 12/0 and is 5 1/4" long from the tip of the tail to the tip of the gut eye. The main wing is one of the big wing coverts of a Kori Bustard. Big feathers and many small ones have barbs at the base of the shaft that grow out at a 90' angle from the shaft. Many of these feathers barbs lay at a shallower angle as they near the tip. This makes things difficult if one wants to use most of the feathers as I do. Some I can leave the fluff on but others, not.
A couple disclaimers before I continue. Up until recently, I never or rarely used wax other than what is on waxed thread. I switched to an unwaxed thread lately so of course there are times when wax is almost essential. What wax does is lock things in place by crossing one or two turns of the waxed thread. The first two or three turns if done as tightly as the thread will allow is usually sufficient to hold most materials including any type of wings. If those first turns aren't tight, piling on a dozen more turns will not hold any better. The old timers knew that because they used much bigger threads so the "bulk" issue was something they had to be mindful of. I have also come to find that placing a small dab of softened wax under the wing tie in point helps to really lock it into place. This may be more important to my flies since I often tie very large flies so the feathers are also very large and have thick and pronounced curves that can exert tremendous leverage on a tiny area. In this case that area is no more than 3/32" wide! The next challenge with these and a great many feathers is the diameter or maybe a better word is circumference of the shafts is more descriptive since they are never round. So, the shafts will bulge out on both sides of the shaft and anyone who's tried tying a full featherwing fly knows there can be challenges in keeping the feathers together and mounting shoulders and sides afterwards. I guess the simple thing to do here is suggest you go to my website and in the tying lessons look at the last one. I describe this in greater detail and have illustrations than I want to here.
On some or even most of these problematic feathers I will grind some of the bulk off at least on the bad side of the feathers. If need be, I will use a little hot glue on the feathers right at the base of the feathers. NOT to glue them onto the fly!!!! the wax will do that. This is described in detail in the other lesson. This is important, I will do what ever I must to be able to use the many beautiful feathers we have available to us. So, let's get going!
I hope this will work out . I tried to copy and paste all of this text here but for some reason that wouldn't work. Also, I would like to be able to put the photos of each item right with the item but I don't know how that's done on the forum. I will have each item numbered and will upload each photo in the order they would appear on a word document. Hope this works. If not, we'll have to go to plan B!
1. Here I have selected the hook and wing feathers. the hook is an honest 11/0 but could also be a 12/0 by some standards. It is my Kelson hook found in his book "tips".
2. I try to use as much of the feathers as I can. I pulled back what will be waste on this feather even though I often even use much of that part. For this discussion and what I want the finished fly to look like, doing this reveals the "problem area" that I have roughly outlined. I did not want the wing to have a pronounced "forehead" so the reason to eliminate it. The lower area is also very problematic. Sure, you could leave it on but that wouldn't be attractive and it would hide the body.
Again, if you haven't, look at the full featherwing lesson on my website to see more about this. One solution some tyers employ but that I find to be not such a solution I would ever employ. That way you would strip all of those interfering barbs in those areas, it would leave a sizable void above the body that one would have to make sure to cover with something else, not always an option. Also, that void would not support the other materials so some of the void may become visible at some point. Stripping the top barbs opens a can of worms I don't even want to ponder.
3. At this point I want to select a topping for this fly. This is topping 1. I temporally tied in the two wing feathers. At various steps of my tying a fly, I will either hold up the to the hook or tie it on like this to make sure everything is coming together as I want it. You can see that some of the top front of the wing will need to be trimmed to use this topping without manipulating it. It was a given that the bottom of the wing will need to be trimmed.
4. This is topping 2. This is it's natural shape believe it or not. As you can see with this topping the wing would need vary little trimming to accommodate it.
5. this is topping 3. the wing would require more trimming than the other two. At this point, I am only considering numbers 1 and 3. I just don't like the shape of #2 and the eventual shape of the wing if I used it. It is a reject at this point.
6. The wing and toppings are set aside for now. Here, the tip is I=tied in and the thread advanced to the top of the bend. Since I will be using a glass bead on this fly, I can't put the gut eye on for now. If this fly was not to have a bead on it, I would have applied a continuous underbody from the tip to the head.
7. Here I have built up the under tag. You will notice that the taper will also be under the tip so there won't be a step up from a tip just on the shank and the taper of the tag.
8. Tip applied and flatten the tip tie off.
9. Tie in the ribs and floss and flatten them all. I've gotten into a habit of applying my floss from the back to the front. The reason is that I tie so many huge flies that even going one direction requires often three feet or more floss and I don't want any more than necessary dragging on the floor. That's a lot of floss and lots of chance to damage it and that does happen from time to time. I do overlap the turns of floss by one half so the finished floss on the fly is the same thickness as if I tied it in forward and went back and forward.
10. I've applied the tag floss and ribs and am flattening the top and bottom so there are no elevated areas behind the tail and tag veil. This is the flat platform I so often speak of.
11. I've applied the tail and veil. I almost always want the tail to be an extension of the hook shank. This hook has quite an abrupt beginning of the bend so determining the top of the bend is easy. On curved shank hooks it is a compromise. You just have to imagine a straight line running along the hook shank. I never pay attention to where my tags are in relation to the hook barb or point and I like longer tags than most tyers. My way not THE way! Here you can see that I intentionally made the area ahead of the tag large and tapered. This is got the bead to set on and support the rear of the bead. The tail/veil mounting platform is clearly visible.
12. The bead is glued in place! YES GLUE! I want the bead in a certain position because they are hand made and all are a little different all around them. For the gut eye I use monochord thread because it is very strong and I can get it very tight to keep it in position. I use the most tension as I can without breaking the thread as I tie the fly and at the head where you have often many parts to tie on and every tight turn of tread there can force the gut off the shank if any layer is not tight. I've had that happen and it ain't fun!!!
13. The gut is tied in here with very tight turns of thread and it is covered with a coat of head cement.
14. Here the underbody is built up and notice that I am also building up the head as well. There is a slight taper because after applying most of the other materials, the head will get bigger. Some guys put a elongated taper on their bodies but I prefer a level one. I do find the more tapered bodies attractive but still do it my way. Someday maybe I'll do it differently but for now I like this. The joint is applied over the underbody. I've roughly marked where the three colours of floss will be.
15. I want to see if I want the hackle to be a full body one or partial body. This hackle is Kori Bustard as is the wing.
16. This is two segments and the one I went with mostly because the full length one would cover more of the bead than I want.
17. The ribs are tied in and the first floss segment of floss applied and the hackle is tied in.
18. All three floss segments are applied.
19. The floss has been burnished and the ribs applied.
20. Flattening the head and forward most ribs. Notice that all of the materials are tied off below or on the side of the shank. Note also that the red segment is a little longer than the other two. Since this fly has a hackle and not a full feather throat, the applied hackle will cover some of the body/red floss making all three segments more equal. If I were using a full feather throat, that head must not be any wider than it is cause it is the head and wing mounting platform. The whole floss body would be visible. So, this is where many tyers sometimes get overly long heads. I maintain that herl and wool heads even on the classics were done to cover long heads. Early on I came up with the same thing to cover long heads that were that way due to my poor planning. Now, I am planning several steps ahead so I minimize potential problems later. This is meant in this discipline as "crowding the eye". My opinion.....take it or leave it.
21. Hackle applied.
22. Head built up and head and front of body flattened which gives you the flat platform to mount the wing on. You must have a level spot to tie the wing onto and no bumps of other materials behind the platform to kick the wing up when it is tied on. Also, if the platform is slanted forward, you will end up with a head that looks like it is falling forward. That is exactly what will happen too if with each turn of thread the wing will pull forward. Frankly I think it is poor technique when this happens. I am very careful to try and have all of my heads with straight up and down heads. Some tyers use what is called the "Z" bend to overcome a pile of materials directly behind the wing tie in. I NEVER have to resort to using the z bend.....maybe almost never but I can't recall the last I had to.
23. Final selection of the topping.
24. Topping is selected. The Amherst is too short for this wing.
25. Final trim and fit of the wing.
26. Wing tied in. You can clearly how the wing hugs the top of the body. You can just see a little bit of the wax next to the head that is exposed. I wasn't sure if it would show later so I went back and removed it. Just one of those things.
27. Flattening and twisting the side. Notice that I used saliva on the side so they would better hug the body. I usually trim these because when they are dry they will come apart if they are moved about. I just wanted to show two ways to get a feather to hug the body.
28. I'm sorry for the lousy photo but I didn't see it until the fly was done. Here I am curving the feather because the feather shaft of the wing bulges out some so curving the back side of the rest of the materials will help make them hug the wing.
29. Side tied in.
30. Completed fly, back side.
31. finished fly front view. The wing hugs the body and I’m happy with it.
In closing let me say that this is my way of tying my flies and is NOT the only way. Take what you want and leave the rest. and by all means.....have fun tying!
I sure hope all the photos line up in the right order!!!!!!
Well, they don't! I tried everything and they still don't line up. If you want, I can email a word document with text and photos all in order. I tried. you can email at ronn(at)ronnlucassr.com NO PM's for this please.
Here is the link to Townend's way of doing it. http://www.classicflytying.com/index.php?showtopic=51687