Fly fishing

From Wing to String: Using Highland Bird Feathers to Fly Tyin

If you’re covered in feathers and looking to evolve your passions, tying flies to your upland bird feathers is a great way to pass the time waiting for opening day. (Photo by: Chris Ingram)

Ask any avid upland bird hunter what they love most about bird hunting, and aside from good dog work, many are likely to respond in one way or another. chasing, searching or hunting for birds. Fly fishing is not so different from bird hunting. It’s a hunt in itself, just in a different place with prey swimming instead of flying, but it’s the pursuit of a bird or a fish that triggers our trigger. In this way, it’s no surprise that many bird hunters double up as fly fishers during the off-season, taking the thrill of rope wing hunting. For many of them, tying flies with bird feathers bridges all the gaps between the two hobbies.

Now you don’t have to become a fully-fledged fly tier and an avid fly fisherman to start enjoying your birds feathers after the hunt. There are hunters who simply enjoy hanging out in the vise and tweaking flies for fun, and the end result can become an art form in its own right. If you’re looking for something to hold you over from the last day of the season to opening day, you might want to consider spending some time on the fly tying bench.

Fly the feathers

Although fly fishing and fly tying came first for Craig MacDerment of Essex, Vermont, he soon added bird hunting to his list of hobbies when Dewey, a Black Mouth Cur, entered the scene. Dewey’s drive to hunt upland birds and small game led the pair into the woods on a new pursuit. As his passion for fly fishing and bird hunting grew, MacDerment eventually found the perfect way to marry these favorite pastimes, in what he describes as a natural evolution. “I never had a blister moment; it was still there. I was spending time in the fly shop looking through the flies and seeing the tying materials and then it just clicked once I started hunting birds and had a steady supply of my own fastening materials.

tie a fly to the bench using pheasant feathers
Tying flies with your own bird feathers is a fun way to combine your passion for fins and feathers. (Photo by: Chris Ingram)

Find your feathers

Whether you’re new to tying flies or just need a friendly refresher, MacDerment first suggests don’t get too hung up on replicating the exact patterns of flies you see in a book or the insects you see in nature when you tie your own flies. . “Colors appeal to anglers,” he adds, and goes on to mention that shape and profile are more important than color and exact size. “I started flipping rocks and taking pictures of bugs, then I went to my feather pile and started doing something that looked like what I had seen. You didn’t you don’t have to replicate things perfectly you want to try to match them as best you can It’s not about copying three rounds of this and using this feather here on a #18 hook or you don’t won’t catch fish, so if you like the look of something and are confident when you cast it, go for it.

With that in mind, MacDerment reveals that nearly all of the upland bird and waterfowl feathers we take across North America have vise-like feathers, each serving their own purpose based on their physical properties. . Once you start working with different feathers you will better understand their specific attributes and how they can best be used when tying different flies.

grouse fan feathers and pheasant tail feathers for fly tying
It’s easier than you think to start tying flies, and you’ll have a lifetime of flies in a handful of feathers. (Photo by: Chris Ingram)

“There’s no right or wrong way, but there are certain things one feather will be better at than another,” he explains. “For example, most of the soft, webbed feathers with the little barbules that you’re going to see on most birds, are ideal for soft hackle on nymphs and streamers, and are used as wings and legs on flies because “they are soft. and move through the water. The stiffer tail feathers of a rooster, for example, make great tails and wing cases; think of the “pheasant tail” fly, but these stiffer feathers stiff can be used on dry flies as well.And sometimes you can even use a single whole feather for the color pattern it has, like one of my favorite flies, the “feather set changer”, with spots that look like the eyes of a minnow.

MacDerment offers one final pro tip, in that fur or hair from big game like deer or small game like rabbits and squirrels can also be used, especially for fly body material, too known as “lining” – and in a major pinch, a tuft of your dog’s fur makes excellent lining material.

Easy to tie flies with bird feathers

If you’re looking for a few simple patterns to start with, MacDerment lists a few that aren’t too intimidating for beginners.

walt worm fly
Walt’s Worm Fly is one of the easiest for beginners to start. (Photo by: Chris Ingram)

The “Walt’s Worm” the fly uses dubbing or pheasant tail feathers wrapped around a hook – about the easiest fly to tie. Don’t worry about it looking asymmetrical or uneven. There are no wings or tail and it looks very “buggy” and it works.

french fly
The “Frenchi” fly is another easy model for new riggers. (Photo by: Chris Ingram)

The ” French ” is another easy to tie fly. It is essentially a “Walt worm” body with pheasant tail feathers as the fly’s tail and wire wrapped around the body. Have fun with this pattern and try different colors of lining and yarn wrapping, and experiment with various feathers as tail material.

pheasant tail fly
The “pheasant tail fly” is composed entirely of a rooster tail feather for all its parts. (Photo by: Chris Ingram)

The “pheasant tail” is a fly that uses pheasant tail feathers for all of its parts, including the body, tail, and wing bump. This one has a few extra steps to properly position the wings and to make a tight wing case, but you’ll have a lifetime supply of feathers to try this fly with a day limit of roosters.

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Take care of your feathers

If you think some bug twirling is in your future after this fall, MacDerment has some helpful tips to make sure your feathers will be in peak condition when it’s time to tie, and it all starts with good habits right after the shot. . “Especially the tail feathers, if you can keep them long and straight, that’s the best,” he adds. “As long as you take care of your feathers in the field, they will last a lifetime. It starts with how your dog handles the birds and how you wear them in your vest, but even if the bird comes home messed up, you should be able to salvage some feathers from it. Once you’ve dried them, store them in bags to keep out moisture and bacteria and to avoid spreading germs to your other feathers. I like to bag and freeze my feathers for a few weeks to kill everything.

If you’re the industrious type and can afford it, MacDerment suggests that combing a bird may be the best way to preserve the natural structure and shape of the feathers and allows you to strategically use the different sizes and types of feathers. feathers. “It’s so much better than pulling tufts of feathers, and the yield of caping will allow you to use all that bird,” he advocates.

ring-necked pheasant for fly tying
Caping a bird will provide the most efficient way to store and use feathers to tie flies. (Photo by: Chris Ingram)

let it fly

MacDerment says catching fish with flies he tied with feathers from the bird he killed with his dog is a very rewarding experience. “It’s such a great use of the resource and these wild bird feathers have much more muted and natural tones and mottled colorations that are more like insects in the wild – you just won’t get that with synthetic materials.”

Whether you’re looking for a new off-season hobby or a creative way to evolve your combined passions, tying flies with bird feathers you’ve caught can be a rewarding way to keep birds in your brain all year round. . But just like mountain hunting and dog training, fly tying and fly fishing can be a bit daunting and create several barriers to entry. But we are a tight-knit community and most of us are ready and able to help a newcomer who demonstrates a willingness to learn.

MacDerment encourages anyone interested to find someone who links or join a linking group for help getting started. And he shares that if you really want to make friends fast, donating your bird feathers to local riders could quickly lead to help with the vise or an invite on a fishing trip. Even a single bird can provide enough tethering material for several lifetimes, so if nothing else, consider sharing your feather stash with others to get the most out of your birds and provide a generous gift to the feather maker. passionate flies.