This affordable material will give the bodies of your flies a terrific segmented appearance.
By Nicole March
In a perfect world, our tying benches are always organized, we never get tier’s block, and we wouldn’t dream of going to the store without a shopping list of the things we need, so we don’t buy stuff we already have. But life isn’t that simple, is it? My bench is a mess, with multiple packages of the same materials shoved into overflowing drawers—I’ve spent hours reorganizing my desk without ever wrapping thread on a single hook. With so many materials, it’s sometimes tough for me to answer an obvious question: What’s my favorite ingredient for tying flies?
Breaking that question into categories makes sense because many flies require very different materials. When it comes to making segmented bodies on trout flies, however, I have two favorite ingredients: stripped quills, which we covered in a previous article, and turkey biots. If you’ve already worked with turkey biots, you might agree that they are an indispensable material, but if you are new to tying, have had trouble using biots in the past, or have a package of the material just collecting dust, now is a good time to get them out!
What Are Biots?
Biots come from the leading edge of a bird’s primary flight wing feathers. Depending on the species providing the biots, you will find that their length differs from one bird to the next. The length of a biot also varies depending on which end of the feather it is taken from; this is why so many tiers simply remove biots from the midsection of feathers. Examine packages of biots still attached to pieces of split quills—almost all fly shops carry this product—and you’ll see that the length of the fibers varies from one quill of biots to the next. These split quills came from different sections of the full feathers.
We use goose biots for making tails, wings, and wing cases on flies, but they aren’t long enough for creating bodies on larger hooks. Turkey biots are excellent for making bodies on dry flies and nymphs, and their raised segmentation gives you room to wrap tinsel or wire ribs in the grooves, adding strength or a little flash.
Turkey biots come in a wide variety of colors and are sold two ways: as a pair of left- and right-side feathers, or as a package of split quills with the biots still attached. Packages of split quills containing several colors are great for learning how to use the material, but I prefer buying pairs of feathers in my favorite colors. Some tiers believe biots to be fragile and soak them in water before use. I have never soaked biots, but if I’m not using a really prime feather, I might pull a bunch off the quill and fold them into a damp paper towel.
Cutting a biot from the feather or split quill is a big mistake; you should pull it off. Use a bodkin to separate a single biot from the adjacent fibers, firmly grasp the tip, and pull it from the quill in a downward direction. Examine the biot and notice the details. It has a pointed tip and ragged waste end. Also notice that one edge is raised and the other is more translucent and flat. Hopefully, the translucent edge has a visible notch at the butt end; holding the biot up to the light might help you see this detail. When tying on the tapered tip of the biot to create a segmented body, you will want to hold the fiber over the hook so the notch and translucent edge are facing down and the ridged edge is on top; you should now be looking at the convex side of the biot.
As an experiment, tie the tapered tip of the biot to a hook, grasp the butt end with your hackle pliers, and make a few wraps. The ridged edge of the biot should be visible to create a segmented body. If the body looks smooth rather than segmented, the biot was either tied to the hook incorrectly or the first wrap was not made properly; assuming the biot is tied to the hook in the right orientation, the first wrap should fold the material to expose the ridged edge of the fiber.
This is where many tiers get frustrated: they tie on the biot correctly, but the body still doesn’t look right. If this happens to you, simply unwrap the body and try it again, making sure to fold the material over itself to expose the ridge and concave side of the fiber.
Waste Not . . .
What about the longer biots on the other side of the feather? Are these useful for tying flies?
You may have heard conflicting opinions about using these fibers. Some tiers love them, but others do not. If you’ve worked only with packages of split quills, you might not even know about these fibers.
The longer fibers from the other half of a flight feather have very slender tapers and are useful for tying flies as small as size 20. After removing the fragile tips, I also use them for making Klinkhåmerstyle flies and other larger patterns.
Biots are a basic, affordable fly tying material. When used correctly, they give the bodies of flies a wonderful segmented appearance and professional flair.
Nicole March is a regular contributor to this magazine. She also appears at fly fishing shows and clubs. You can follow Nicole’s blog at www.thequiltedtyer.com.