I've been playing around this week with a winging technique
with which I was unfamiliar. I found it in a book from 1902
called Salmon and Trout, a section of which
can be found on-line. It's called it "reverse winging," the
idea being that you tie a flank feather on backwards, with
the tips out over the eye of the hook, then reverse the
entire wing and bind it down to form a conventional wing.
This technique is one that works particularly well for
fishing flies. By fishing flies I mean the ones you're
going to take out to the stream and fish with, not those
flies that you're going to display, put in a museum, or
frame for posterity. If you want to do gorgeous, showy
flank feather wings, you need to find gorgeous flank
feathers, ones having just the right qualities of size
and web that will enable you to cut slips from them just
as you would mallard quill feathers. These feathers are
hard to come by, and expensive when you do find them.
With the technique I'm going to show here however, you
can make very serviceable fishing flies, ones that catch
fish and look presentable as well, with very ordinary
mallard flank feathers.
I've caught a good number of brown trout with wet flies
like the Light Cahill and Blue Quill, but they weren't
flies that I ever wanted to show anyone. The wings always
seemed rather "straggly" looking, and were laid over the
body lower than I would have liked. I could never get
these flies looking the way I wanted by tying a bunched
or folded flank feather over the top. I like the look of
these flies done with the reverse method. The angle of
the wing is completely controllable, and the presentation
is quite satisfactory. The only downside is a slightly
larger head, but I'm working on that. Here's a Dark Cahill
done this way, step by step.
Here I've tied the tail in first, then gone to the head
and tied in the wood duck feather. It's best to use wood
duck or mallard feathers with "square" tops. The text of
Salmon and Trout says to tie it in "convex
side up," but the drawing shows it tied in concave side
up. If you want the bunch all together, as in a "tips
together" wet fly, tie the feather in concave side up.
In order to get the proper length wing, tie three wraps
of thread toward the eye over the stem with medium tension,
then draw the end of the stem toward the tail a bit at
a time, folding the feather back as you go, testing the
I've now built a taper and dubbed the body up to just
behind the wing, leaving room to wind the hackle.
I've wound the hackle here, and pulled it down. All that's
left to do now is fold the wing back and anchor it in place
with the thread. The best method I've found so far to do
this is to take the thread right up to the eye of the hook,
and hold the flank feather in its final position with the
left hand. Now, work your way back gradually, binding the
fibers as you go, building a head at the same time. This
is the tricky part and takes some practice. You may also
take hard wraps back from the eye a bit, and then try to
cut the remaining "bulge" of fibers between these wraps
and the eye, but this method has not worked well for me.
In theory it should, but it doesn't.
Here is a finished fly. The tips of the wing are reasonably
even and the angle of the wing is what I like to see, around
45 degrees. This is arbitrary, of course, and you can set
the wing at any angle you wish, and that's the beauty of
this method. To quote Salmon and Trout:
"As it is no harder to make the reversed or turned-back
wing, than the [plain] winged flies, and as they have a
much better appearance, we will begin with that style of
I do like the appearance, and plan to do more of these
for my spring fishing needs. Here are a couple more
Tail: Gray mallard
Credits: Salmon and Trout by Dean Sage,
C.H. Townsend, H.M. Smith and William C. Harris;
eFishingBooks.com; Flies by J. Edson Leonard;
Trout by Ray Bergman; How to Tie
Flies by E.C. Gregg. ~ EA
Wing: Grey Mallard.
Body: Yellow mohair ribbed with silver and gold tinsel.
Legs: Yellow hackle, wound from tail to shoulder.
Head: Black Ostrich (conventional head shown, as eyed
hook was used). Ray Bergman's version also has red hackle in
front of the wing, as does J. Edson Leonard's.
Tail: Wood duck flank (brown hackle used on more modern versions).
Wing: Wood duck flank.
Body: Dark gray dubbing, muskrat traditionally, or mole as I've used.
Tail: Wood duck flank (ginger hackle used on more modern versions).
Wing: Wood duck flank.
Body: Red fox belly fur (cream).
Tail: Brown Mallard.
Wing: Brown Mallard.
Ribbing: Gold tinsel.
Body: Brown dubbing.
I started fly fishing as a teen in and around my hometown
of Plattsburgh, New York, primarily on the Saranac River.
I started tying flies almost immediately and spent hours
with library books written by Ray Bergman, Art Lee, and
A. J. McClane. Almost from the beginning I liked tying
just as much as I liked fishing and spent considerable
time at the vise creating hideous monstrosities that
somehow caught fish anyway. Then one day I came upon a
group of flies that had been put out at a local drug store
that had been tied by Francis Betters of Wilmington, N.Y.
My life changed that day and so did my flies, dramatically.
Even though I never met Fran back then, I've always
considered him to be one of my biggest influences.
I had a career in music for twenty years or so and didn't
fish much, though I did fish at times. The band I was with
had its fifteen seconds of fame when we were asked to be in
John Mellencamp's movie "Falling From Grace." I am the
keyboard player on the right in the country club scene in
the middle of the movie. Don't blink. It's on HBO all the
time. We got to meet big Hollywood stars and record in John's
studio. It was a blast.
So how did I wind up contributing to the Just Old Flies
column on FAOL? I'm not sure, it was something that I simply
wanted very badly to do, and they let me. Many of the old flies
take me back to the Adirondacs and my youth, and I guess I get
to relive some of it through the column. I've spent many happy
hours fishing and tying over the years, and tying these flies
brings back memories of great days on the water, and intense
hours spent looking at the flies in the fly plates in the old
books and trying to get my flies to look like them. And now,
here I am, still doing that to this day. ~ EA