Mastering Married Wings
Married wings are beautiful but tough to tie. Learn the keys to perfecting this advanced fly-tying skill.
by Dick Talleur


One of the first fly-fishing books I acquired many years ago was Ray Bergman’s Trout. This classic volume, which was first published in 1938, contained colored plates of many great trout flies. These illustrations were not photographs, but were renditions painted by Dr. Edgar Burke, a noted fly fisherman in his own right. All the flies were positioned with the hook eyes facing to the left, as though they had been made by a left-handed tier, which perhaps they were. Many of the patterns dated to the historic Eastern brook trout era, which made sense because there was still a lot of pretty good brookie fishing in northern New York State and New England in the mid-1930s. Some of these patterns were gaudy attractors and resembled no natural insects. I was particularly intrigued by the flies with married wings, so I bought some dyed feathers and tried tying my own. I purchased duck wing quills, which aren’t the easiest to make into married wings, but I managed to turn out some fairly presentable flies.
     One thing I learned was that it was just about impossible to emulate the exact shape and positioning of the wings. This was because Dr. Burke could paint images that a tier couldn’t replicate with real flies. I wrote this off to artistic license, and did the best I could.
     Enter William F. Blades and his fine book, Fishing Flies and Fly Tying. Blades was a transplanted Brit, and this was reflected in his tying style. I studied the color plates of Atlantic salmon flies in this book and attempted to tie them—with my duck quills, of course. It was a hopeless task and I soon gave up, but the flies continued to intrigue me. Next, I acquired a copy of How to Dress Salmon Flies, written by another Brit, T. E. Pryce-Tannatt. The flies were beautifully tied and the illustrations much clearer, but I was still unable to make even a mediocre replica.

   One day I had the good fortune to meet Bill Hunter, the original proprietor of Hunter’s Angling Supplies, which was a famous New Hampshire fly shop that recently closed its doors after many great years of operation. Bill was an excellent tier of salmon flies, and he ran weekend classes at his store. I attended two of his tying classes, and gradually all was revealed: the proper materials, the techniques, and the little tricks that make things work. And so, with time and practice, I became reasonably proficient at tying the classic patterns.

Parmachene Beau
Hook: 2X-long wet-fly hook, sizes 14 to 10.
Thread: White or yellow 8/0 (70 denier) to tie the body; black 8/0 (70 denier) to finish the fly.
Tail: White hackle fibers topped with red hackle fibers.
Butt: Black ostrich herl.
Rib: Narrow flat silver tinsel.
Body: Yellow floss.
Throat: Mixed red and white hackle fibers.
Wings: Married feather strips: white, red, and white.
Cheeks (optional): Jungle cock.
 

Practice Makes Perfect
We’ll use two flies for our tying exercises. For starters, we’ll make a three-strip wing for a handsome fly named the Parmachene Beau; this pattern is still fished in some of Maine’s brook trout haunts. You may be more familiar with the Parmachene Belle, but I chose the Beau because it incorporates a couple of items that are commonly found on Atlantic salmon patterns. Please note that there are several accepted dressings for the Parmachene Beau; I’ve selected the one I prefer, but you might find others in various pattern books.
     Next, we’ll take a quantum step and tie married wings for a full-dress salmon fly. I’ve chosen the Green Highlander, which is a great favorite of mine. Again, I am using one of the accepted classic dressings, but you might find others. Please note that this is not an article about how to tie an entire Green Highlander, but how to fashion and mount the married wings. As is customary in this magazine, I am listing the ingredients in the order in which they are tied to the hook. Make the tail and body of the fly, and then you’ll be ready to add the married wings and complete the Green Highlander.

 
Green Highlander
Hook: Your favorite classic Atlantic salmon hook in your choice of sizes.
Thread: White or yellow 8/0 (70 denier) for tying the body, and black 8/0 (70 denier) for completing the fly. The author prefers tying the body with white Uni-Nylon (70 denier), and then switching to black (70 denier). Uni-Nylon is a slippery sort of thread that minimizes the amount of torque when setting the wings.
Tip: Fine oval silver tinsel.
Tag: Lemon yellow floss.
Tail: Golden pheasant crest.
Tail veiling: A narrow strip of barred wood duck.
Butt: Black ostrich herl.
Rib: Medium or heavy oval silver tinsel; select a size to match the size of fly you are tying.
Rear body: Bright yellow or pale orange floss.
Front Body: Green imitation seal’s fur.
Body hackle: Green, wrapped over the front portion of the body.
Front hackle: Yellow.
Underwing: Two matched golden pheasant tippets.
Married wing (from bottom to top): Strips of yellow, orange, andgreen goose shoulder feathers; Florican bustard or a substitute; peacock wing; and, golden pheasant tail.
Married wing veiling: Barred wood duck over strips of teal flank.
Cheeks: Jungle cock.
Cheek veiling: Imitation Indian crow.
Topping: Golden pheasant crest.
Horns: Blue/yellow macaw.
Note: Florican bustard is not legally available, but Mr. John McLain creates an acceptable substitute by dyeing turkey feathers. The solid feathers don’t closely resemble Florican, but the married strips produce a very pleasing effect. John also has a limited amount of imitation Indian crow available. To learn more about these feathers, and a whole lot more about classic salmon flies and materials, check out his Web site at www.FeathersMc.com.


Feather Facts
The feathers I use to create the wings of the Parmachene Beau are called “goose shoulders,” but some of them are actually body feathers. They are sold in natural white and a wide variety of dyed colors. In order to make matching front and back wings, you’ll need matching left and right feather strips. Some feathers have centered quills, so you can snip left and right strips from the same plumes; other feathers are not symmetrical and you’ll need opposing pairs. For trout-size flies, which have shorter wings, such as the Parmachene Beau, it may not matter that the quills aren’t quite centered.
     You’ll also notice that the tip portion of a goose shoulder or body feather is sturdier than the base of the feather. Given sufficient length, these fibers may marry very well, especially in salmon fly wings where they are required to marry to bustard or turkey feathers, which have equally heavy textures.
     One common mistake is to make the strips too thick to create wings of the correct size. Here’s a tip: When cutting the strips, visualize the size—meaning the height—of the completed wing as if it were made from one piece of feather. When married, the strips should equal that dimension. For instance, if you wanted to add a married wing to a classic Hare’s Ear wet fly, the height of the married wing should equal the height of the standard solid gray goose feather wing.
     The strips must be exactly matched to create the front and back wings. After the wings are constructed and ready for the fly, place them together with the concave sides facing so that the two wings press together to create one flat unit.
     One thing that confused me the most when I was trying to tie married wings from illustrations was that the wings appeared as though the strips were married upside down; in other words, it looked like the feathers were pointing down when the narrow strips were cut. I was mistaken, and Bill Hunter set me straight on this. The strips are actually positioned as though the feather tips are pointing up, but the artful tier creates the graceful (and deceptive) downward curvature in the finished wings. I’ll show you how to do this in the tying exercises.

Feathers for Wing Veilings
What about the Green Highlander? Not all the feathers are goose shoulders, are they? Okay, let’s take a look at the feathers we’ll be using to create the wing veilings.
     The wing veilings are strips clipped from teal and wood duck flank feathers. Sometimes it’s hard to find teal feathers large enough to make salmon fly wings, and you may substitute with feathers from a wigeon. These types of feathers are tricky to marry, and even trickier to tie in place. Here’s a tip that makes the process much easier.
    First, marry together all the strips for one veiling. (Of course you can make up as many veilings as you wish, but you must repeat this procedure for each veil.) Lay the veiling on a piece of waxed paper with the convex side (the outside of the wing) facing the paper. Next, use fine tying thread to tie a simple overhand knot around the base of the veiling. Place a finger on the knot and slowly tighten the ends of the thread; this is very similar to tying a bow on a Christmas package. Finally, saturate the knot with a very small drop of either superglue or clear head cement. The glue should penetrate both sides of the knot, but not wick very far up the veiling. Allow the adhesive to completely dry. Your married veiling is now ready for the fly.
    Success in creating married wings depends upon several essential factors: proper material selection, strict attention to detail, and lots of practice. Don’t be discouraged if your first attempts are less than satisfactory; mine were pretty disappointing. And don’t be intimidated if it requires several attempts to tie the wings on the fly, especially when working with salmon fly wings. This is normal. Simply undo the wraps, reshape the wings, and try again. And most important, have fun!


Dick Talleur is a modern legend in fly-tying and fishing circles. It’s just possible that he has published more books and articles than any other angler in the history of the sport. His newest book, which will be available later this summer, is Flies for the 21st Century (The Lyons Press). This volume will be the first in the new Fly Tyer library of great books.

 

 

 

 
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