Oh the fan wings! What memories they hold! Memories of
twisted leaders, fishless days, and going nuts trying to
tie those wings on straight! Still, when I saw some
recently on-line in an old 1925 Ogden Smiths catalog, I
just had to tie a few. This article was originally going
to be just one fly, the Sunset, from the Mary Orvis Marbury
book. Once I tied that one though, it was so pretty I just
wanted to tie more. So I present seven here, and even have
some tying tips from Ray Bergman and yours truly if you decide
you'd like to try your hand.
I never had a lot of success fishing these as a kid, but
there was a day on our Mad River here in Ohio where I would
have killed to have one. It was one of those late summer days
when nothing much was doing on the river, and I was bored and
just sat down to observe for awhile. I hadn't seen a rise all
day. I noticed that there were a considerable number of white
winged moths or butterflies around, and beyond that not many
insects at all. I was overlooking the river from a high bank,
and I saw one of the butterflies land on the water. I followed
his journey down river for quite some time and then BANG! He
disappeared in a swirl, big white wings and all. So there were
fish in the river after all! I never saw that fish rise again,
but I think in retrospect that if I had just had one of those
McSneeks, or even a Fan Wing Royal Coachman, I might have gotten
him. So this fly has a place, especially at night when the moths
The Sunset is a fly that was designed specifically to be fished
at sunset. It comes from Minneapolis, Minnesota by way of
Mr. W.P. Andrus, who says:
"This fly has 'done me proud' on several occasions when I
have been fishing in Wisconsin, about sunset; hence the name.
I sometimes use a yellow hackle in place of a white, as in
this instance; also tip the body with peacock herl instead
of green chenille."
I've done the same with mine.
Another fly that really caught my eye is from Ray Bergman's
Maybe it was the name that attracted
me more than the fly, The McSneek. It's an interesting
variation on the Royal Coachman theme, and most of the
other fan wings pictured in Trout were
variations on this theme as well. Bergman says this about
tying fan wings:
"If the wings are not straight when you put them on,
nothing you do will straighten them. Either you didn't
set them straight to begin with, or else the quills of
the feathers are flat on the wrong side and so won't
set straight, in which case you might better get another
set of wings and start over again.
I found these things out the hard way when I tried to
tie the Fan Wing Grizzly King. The Ogden Smiths version
I wanted to do clearly had teal wings. On the other flies,
I had entire birds to work with, and could get very nicely
matched pairs, in a single "clump." I didn't have a teal
however for the Grizzly King, just a big bag of feathers.
It was all I could do to come up with two feathers that
were even close. So if you want to tie these, get a wood
duck for the white feathers and a mallard for the mottled
ones, it makes a big difference.
To me the worst task in putting on fan wings is the
selection of the feathers for uniformity in shape and
equal size in a pair. As a rule it is best to take two
feathers that are together on the bird."
One other tying tip that I discovered involves the tendency
for the fronts of the wings to angle together, forming a "V."
You can avoid this by holding the wings vertically with the
left hand, and wrapping three soft wraps over the butts
toward the eye, two back (the second one behind the butts),
then grab both butts and take them toward the bend (rear),
as if you're going to tie them onto the SIDES of the hook.
The near butt will go to the near side, the far butt to
the far. Now bind them with HARD wraps of thread,
three or so. This will help prevent that "V" from forming.
And as Ray says, if you don't get these straight right away,
try another pair of wings.
I've included some other classic fan wings here, the Fan
Wing Royal Coachman of course, the Fan Wing Cahill, an old
Fan Wing Green May (female) that I think is used for Green
Drakes, a Europa, and a Grizzly King. I remember all kinds
of flies being tied in the fan wing style, but was hard
pressed to find them in the literature that I have. It's
very strange to me that a fly which seemed incredibly popular
when I was growing up could just disappear from the scene
completely, but it is a leader twister, and I'm not sure
that anyone had a good idea of what it was supposed to
imitate. Yes, there has been some things written about
imitating the big drakes, as well as moths and butterflies.
Many of the large drakes are gone though, and how well
these flies actually imitate them is debatable. That said,
these are a blast to tie, and I've had a lot of fun this
week. Here are some recipes if you'd like to give fan
wings a shot:
Recipe for the Sunset:
Butt: Green chenille or peacock herl.
Body: Yellow floss.
Hackle: Yellow or White.
Wings: White fan wings, wood duck works well,
and so does mallard or Canadian goose.
Tail: Black hackle wisps.
Body: Black dyed peacock herl, silver tinsel
center (I used black ostrich because it was there.)
Wing: White fan wings.
Fan Wing Royal Coachman
Tail: Golden pheasant tippet.
Body: Peacock herl, scarlet floss center.
Wings: White fan wings.
Fan Wing Green May Fly Female
Tail: Brown mallard.
Body: Yellow floss, red rib, gold tip.
Hackle: Brown, grouse front (partridge used here).
Wings: Pale mallard dyed pale green.
Fan Wing Grizzly King
Tail: Red hackle barbs.
Body: Green floss.
Rib: Gold tinsel (I used yellow floss, which
is what appears to have been used in the catalog)
Fan Wing Cahill
Tail: Wood duck.
Credits: Ogden Smiths Fly Catalog, at Overmywaders.com;
Favorite Flies and Their Histories by Mary Orvis Marbury;
Trout by Ray Bergman; Flies by J. Edson Leonard.
~ Eric Austin