"Green Highlander"
Text and Photos by Maxwell MacPherson, Jr.

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Fly Tying Terms

Green Highlander

The first mention I could find on the Green Highlander in old literature is in Francis Francis' "A Book On Angling"-1885. Actually the fly is described there as the "Highlander", without the "Green". Francis says: "I have included this fly in the list of Ness flies, though I think it is better for the Carron and some of the Ross-shire rivers than the Ness. It is the best fly you can put on the Carron."

In George Kelson's book "The Salmon Fly"-1895, that author attributes the derivation of "The Green Highlander" to a Mr. Grant. There are slight changes as the fly evolved from author to author, but the colors yellow and green stayed the same right to the modern-day pattern. For the full dressings of both the Francis and the Kelson versions, please consult their books.

The version seen here as The Fly of the Week is from T.E. Pryce-Tannatt's book "How To Dress Salmon Flies" -1914. This book has been reprinted in recent years and can be bought at a number of the major fly fishing stores. I consider it to be the 'bible' of salmon fly dressing. It lists about a hundred salmon fly dressings in all of the various types of classic flies.

The Green Highlander is certainly one of the most famous of the classics, up there with the Silver Doctor, Durham Ranger and Jock Scott. I am including the dressing for the Pryce-Tannatt version below so you will be able to acquire the materials necessary to dress the fly yourself. The procedure for the Green Highlander follows the dressing.

Dressing of The Green Highlander

For the tag I have taken the liberty to change it from one of flat silver tinsel to one of silver thread and yellow floss. It is my opinion that the fly is more attractive when dressed in this manner. Most modern-day dressers make the fly in this way.

Materials List:

Tag:  Silver thread and yellow floss.

Tail:  A topping and barred Summer Duck in strands.

Butt:  Black herl.

Body:  First quarter, golden yellow floss; remainder, bright green floss.

Ribs:  Oval silver tinsel.

Hackle:  A grass-green hackle.

Throat:  A lemon hackle.

Wings: : Mixed-tippet in strands; "married" strands of yellow, orange, and green Swan, Florican, Peacock wing and Golden Pheasant tail; "married" narrow strips of Teal and barred Summer Duck; narrow strips of brown Mallard over.

Sides:  Jungle Cock.

Cheeks:  Indian Crow; a topping over all.

Horns:  Blue & Yellow Macaw.

Head:  Black with silkworm gut eye.


1.  Lash your twisted silkworm gut that has been doubled with a loop formed in the front end to the underside of your blind eye (tapered shank) hook. Secure the gut well with at least fifty turns of thread.

2.  Tie in a length of silver thread (fine oval or round silver tinsel) at a position over the barb of the hook. Bind it down to the rear a distance of about one-eighth inch, then come forward with the tying thread to the original tie-in point. Wrap the tinsel in four or five nice tight turns so that no black shows through the turns. Let the free ends of the tinsel extend up as far as the head area of the fly.

3.  Now with the tying thread hanging just at the right of the tinsel that you wrapped, begin binding the free ends of the tinsel to the bottom of the hook shank up to a point about one-quarter inch to the right of where you left off with the turns of tinsel. Go back and forth with the tying thread over this one-quarter inch section to take out any uneven points in that part. End up with the tying thread at the right end of the one-quarter inch section.

4.  Here you will tie in a section of single strand yellow floss about eight to ten inches long. Tie it in so that the short end extends up to the head area (the tinsel and floss that extends up to the head area will serve a function that will become apparent later). With the long end wrap the floss in nice, close even turns to the left toward the tinsel. Do this so that no black shows through but also so that you don't build up any unnecessary bumps by overlapping. Once you reach the tinsel reverse the direction of the floss and carry it toward the original tie in point. The object here is to make this part of the tag perfectly smooth so that it almost looks like it was painted on. Once you reach the tie in point tie it off there with two or three turns of thread.

5. The next step is to prepare a Golden pheasant topping for tie in. The fibers on the topping want to be stripped so that the quill is bare except for about one inch. Check out the picture here. You will see that the part of the quill that has fibers on it extends to the left about one inch. Once prepared tie it in on top of the hook shank with two or three turns of tying thread. Now adjust its plane so that it is directly on top of the hook shank and projecting to the rear at a position about equal to the bend of the hook or a little more.

6. Now take a section of barred Summer Duck (most of us use barred Wood Duck today) about one-quarter inch in width and fold it so that the good side of the feather faces out on both sides. Bring it up into position so that it extends about a half inch up the tail. Tie it in at this point with two or three turns. You may need to do some adjusting to make it look like the picture. Take your time and try it several times until you are happy with it.

7. Next you want to strip off a fiber from a black Ostrich plume. This is tied in by the butt end and wrapped with four or five successive turns (nice and even and showing no gaps) and then tied off.

8. Take a length of medium oval silver tinsel of about eight to ten inches and tie it into place under the hook shank just to the right of the butt. Let one free end extend up to the head area. Take the long end and hold it out of the way to the left for the next couple steps (some people use a spring wrapped around the vise to hold materials out of the way). Bind down the short end of tinsel to underside of the hook shank and come back to a position about a quarter the length of the shank to the right of the butt.

9. Tie in a piece of golden yellow floss (four strand or fancy silk floss) about six inches long. Let one end of it extend to the head area. With the longer end start wrapping to the left until you reach the butt. Reverse the direction and end up at the original tie in point. The object here is to do this in a smooth, even fashion.10.  For the next step you need to prepare a grass-green hackle by 'doubling' it. This is done by bending the hackle fibers with the right thumb and forefinger after wetting them with some spit. If you hold the tip of the saddle hackle between the left forefinger and thumb it helps the doubling. The object here is to force the hackle fibers so that they form a 'V'. This is not easy, especially for the novice. Don't get discouraged if you can't do this perfectly at first. I've been doing it for 20 years and I still have trouble!

11. Once you have the hackle 'doubled' you bring it up to the other side of the hook shank with the open part of the 'V' facing you. Give the hackle a couple turns of tying thread at the point where the doubling starts. As you lash the hackle to the hook shank (just at the right of the golden yellow floss) the open part of the 'V' will turn toward the rear of the hook. That's OK. If, however, the open part of the 'V' faces toward the other side of the fly or toward the front of the fly, you will have trouble when you go to wrap the hackle. Once you have it right carry the thread to a position about one quarter inch to the left of the very end of the hook (where the looped, silkworm gut eye is).

12.  All of the materials that you let extend to the head area of the fly can now be bound down to the underside of the hook shank. The reason we did this is so that there will be no unsightly bump near the butt where you might have cut off all these materials. End up with the tying thread about one quarter inch to the left of the eye.

13. Tie in a piece of grass-green floss about ten inches in length...right near the tip end. Wrap the green floss back to the hackle tie in point (so that it meets the golden yellow floss). Reverse the direction and wrap to the tie in point. Tie it off. Again, as with other floss wrappings, do this smoothly and evenly. Now wrap the oval silver tinsel that was left off to the side in five evenly spaced turns the last of which ends at the front end of the green floss. Now wrap the green, doubled hackle behind the turns of tinsel and tie off at the end of the green floss.

14. Now you're ready for the yellow hackle throat. It is prepared in the same manner (doubling) as the green hackle. It is tied in and then wrapped so that it will occupy about one half of the what is left of the hook shank. See the picture for the relative tie in and wrapping points. Then tie it off. Now you are ready for the wing!

15.  The first thing here is to cut off some strands from a Golden Pheasant tippet feather. They should be about two inches in length or should extend to the butt of the fly when tied in. Simply gather the strands together and tie in at the head area so that the tippet strands do not stand up straight but lay close to the hook shank. These serve as an underwing for the married part which comes next.

16.  The married sections for the two halves of the wing are made up from segments from the various parts in the dressing. Those components for the wing facing you should not be mingled with those for the far side of the wing. The two sides of the wing should be identical in width and in the sequence of the segments. Each segment should have three or four strands each. By doing this it will make both sides equal when ready to actually tie the wing into place.

17.  Starting with the yellow for the side facing you the strands should be taken off the left side of the appropriate feathers. Those for the far side of the fly should be taken from the right side of the feathers. AND these two sides must not be intermixed!!! Start with the yellow and then add the orange and green in that order from bottom to top. Next comes the Florican followed by Peacock wing and finally ending with Golden Pheasant tail.

18. To 'marry' the segments bring them together edge to edge and stroke them together between thumbs and forefingers until they adhere to each other. When you do this make sure that the tips are just a bit longer to the left as you add segments on up the married section for each side of the wing. Remember that the segments for the near wing (facing you) are taken from the left sides of the feathers and for the far side from the right sides of the feathers.

19.  Once you have the two sides to the married wings prepared they need to be 'humped' to give them the proper curve. This is done by bringing the butt ends and tip ends toward each other so that the top of the sections are convex and the bottom concave.

20.  Now you're ready for the actually tie in. Bring the section for the far side up on the other side of the hook and line it up so that the tips of the married part extend to just below the tip of the tail of the fly. Hold it in position with the left forefinger at the head tie in point. Now bring the wing section for the near side up into position so that it matches the far side. Grasp both sections between the left thumb and forefinger and pinch it. Now with the right thumb and forefinger push down on the butt ends of the sections. Regrasp the compressed point with the left thumb and forefinger and give the married wing a couple turns of the tying thread. Adjust the setting of the wing so that it lays right down the middle of the top of the hook. You may have to try these procedures several times before you are happy with your work. Don't give up. It can be done!

21. Next you need to take a section of Bronze Mallard from a feather with the brown part on the left side. Take a piece off that is about one quarter inch wide. This will be folded over the top of the married wing and extend to the rear so it comes to the position over the butt of the fly.22. Take one eighth inch sections of both Teal and barred Summer Duck (again use Wood Duck) from the left side of the appropriate feathers and marry the Wood Duck to the top of the Teal. These sections should be about an inch and a half long. Do the same from feathers using the right side of them. This will be for the far side of the wing. Once these two sides are prepared they can be attached so that they lay in the middle of the married wing and extend back to the butt.

23.  Next your Jungle Cock goes on. These should be over the married Teal and Wood Duck sides but reaching back only about half the length of them.

24.  The Indian Crow goes on next extending back about half the length of the Jungle Cock. This should be done on both sides of the married wing.

25.  A topping is now prepared and measured so that it follows the contours of the top of the fly and the tip of it just touches the tip of the tail. Once you have it measured nick the quill of the topping with your hackle pliers at the proposed tie in point and bend the butt end of the quill up so it can act as a handle. Bring the topping into position and give it two or three turns of tying thread. Adjust the plane of the topping so it fits just right. Give the tie in point a couple more turns of thread to the right of the last turns. Now clip the butt end of the topping that extends to the right of the tie in point.

26. The last materials to be added are the horns. One fiber for the left side and one for the right. The blue side of the horns should face out on each side. They should extend back over the top of the fly to a point over the butt.

27.  The final task is to form a good head with the tying thread, whip finish and then lacquer and let dry over night.

Viola! It probably sounds quite hard to a lot of you, but once you have mastered these techniques they will transfer to other flies using different ingredients. Good luck with your dressings of classic salmon flies and go out there and catch a fisherman!

If you have any questions on tying this or other Atlantic Salmon flies feel free to send me an email, or stop by my website. ~ Maxwell MacPherson, Jr.

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