Going Wild with Quills

Stripped peacock quills are a traditional fly tying material, but most tiers think using them is too difficult. Here are a few tricks for creating realistic insect bodies with this common ingredient.

[Nicole March]

It takes only one fleeting glance at those perfect stripped peacock-quill bodies, and you’re hooked. You can’t stop staring. They are so awesome. In fact, you’ve been looking at the framed flies on the wall for so long that you’re beginning to look like a weirdo. Quick, just pay for the peacock eyes and get out of there!

QUILL-HAMMER

HOOK: Partridge Klinkhammer, size 12.
THREAD: Tan 6/0 (140 denier).
POST: EP Trigger Point Fibers, golden sulfur.
UNDERBODY: Gold holographic tinsel.
BODY: Ginger stripped peacock quill.
THORAX: Peacock herl.
HACKLE: Ginger.

NOTE: I was blown away the first time I saw this technique for making the body on a fly. Holger Lachmann, who runs the blog www.theonefly.com, spiral-wraps the quill over the holographic tinsel underbody. The results are outstanding!

To some folks, this scenario sounds a little strange; to others, it’s just another day in the life of a fly tier. One minute you’re driving home with visions of quill-bodied Catskill dry flies and soft-hackles dancing in your head, and the next thing you know, you have a jumble of brittle, bleach-burnt quills lying discarded on your tying bench. Your dreams were short lived, but it doesn’t always end like this. Some stories have happier endings.

You can make your own stripped quills; Al Beatty described how to do it in the Spring 2017 issue of this magazine. You spend an hour with an eraser, carefully rubbing the fibers from the herl stems; if you want a lot stripped quills, you can submerse a batch of herls into a solution of bleach and water to burn off the fibers. But that’s only the beginning; even if you successfully make stripped quills, other problems can arise. You might wrap the bodies of your flies, but the stripped quills keep sliding around the hook shanks. Or maybe you do everything right, but your finished flies just look wrong. This happens to a lot of tiers, but don’t give up just yet.

POLISH QUILLS TO THE RESCUE

Whether you’ve abandoned the idea of stripping your own quills, are looking to improve your techniques using this material, or this is something totally new to you, set aside your past frustrations or newfound doubts. Let’s start simple with a package of pre-stripped peacock quills made by Polish Quills.

QUILL-BODY RUSTY SPINNER

HOOK: Regular dry fly hook, sizes 18 to 12.
THREAD: Black 6/0 (140 denier).
TAILING: Cream Microfibbets.
ABDOMEN: Red stripped peacock quill.
WINGS: EP Trigger Point Fibers, pale spinner.
THORAX: Rusty brown Super Fine Dry Fly Dubbing

Polish Quills are one of my absolute favorite fly tying materials. Use them for making segmented bodies on dry flies, nymphs, and wet flies. Once you get the hang of them, using Polish Quills is a blast. (Fly shops are beginning to carry Polish Quills, but if there isn’t a shop near you, go to www.jstockard.com.)

The company that manufactures Polish Quills handstrips their quills as opposed to immersing them in a bleach bath to remove the fibers. As a result, you use Polish Quills right out of the package; bleached quills usually require soaking and softening in water before use. Polish Quills come in a good selection of dyed colors for matching the insects on your local stream.

Polish Quills come from the eyes of peacock feathers and are fine for tying flies from size 22 to 12. You can often use a single quill for making more than one small fly. Because you will cut the quill in half to make the two flies, the spacing between the segmented quill bodies might not exactly match, but the fish will never notice.

If you were frustrated with your quill bodies in the past, I’m going to give you a few pointers that I hope will help you in the future.

Wrapping a Neat Thread Underbody

You can just lash materials to the hook and hope for the best, but it usually requires no more effort to tie a great fly. When making a pattern featuring a stripped-quill body, it starts with wrapping a smooth underbody. Here’s how:

Tying the Thread Underbody
How to Wrap a Great Quill Body
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