Marrying Wings for Steelhead Flies
My first attraction to marrying wings came not from steelhead flies but traditional wet flies. The red and white wing of the Parmachene Belle was so intriguing and, to me, somewhat mysterious. For some time I was just an admirer of the married wing flies because I lacked both the confidence and knowledge to bust one out. I had both red and white duck quill but no clue as to how the wing was built. The only instruction of the day was simply “marry two parts white to one part red”. An old timer tying friend chuckled at my first attempts and then kindly demonstrated the process for me. When those first fibers of different color finally went together I was elated to say the least. With the mystery solved, I started tying all kinds of married wing flies for both trout and steelhead. I was having fun tying the fancy flies but when it came time to fish one there was a confidence issue. Yes they were pretty, but did they catch fish? As with all new flies, to gain confidence in the pattern you have to fish it, so with some hesitation I finally tied one on. The orange and black fly got wacked in the first run, selling me for life. Are there easier flies to tie that catch steelhead, to be sure, but none produce the same feelings of accomplishment as do the flies with married wings.
I normally marry the wings prior to tying the fly and sometimes will build up a half dozen or more sets and store them until I am ready to construct a body to match. To get started all you need is two different colors of winging material. My recommendation would be to start with goose shoulder. Though there are all kinds of feathers that can be married, it’s better to learn using the same kind of feather. Tie up a few before attempting to mix different fibers such as pheasant tail to turkey tail or turkey to goose -- there is nothing more discouraging than to have a wing explode right after you have spent the time to get it set. By using the same type of feathers, the barbs will marry with a stronger bond and reduce the chance of failing. The only shortcoming with using goose shoulder is the barbs are on the short side. Starting with hooks in the 2 – 2/0 range is best. I use the Alec Jackson’s 1.5 steelhead irons for a good number of the married wing flies I fish, and it would be a good hook to start on. There are some junky feathers out there, so be selective. I have found Hareline has the best goose shoulder and it is fairly inexpensive. All the different colors are fun to tie with, but start with color combos you have confidence in. The magic steelhead colors -- purple, orange and black -- are good colors for the base, and then you can add accenting colors such as white, yellow, red, and chartreuse to jazz things up. There are no rules on how you lay out your wing so have fun with all the different possibilities.
Marrying (hooking up for you younger tiers) starts by selecting the barbs to be used. Start by holding the feather by the root with the convex side of the feather facing you. For a standard wing you will take barbs from the left side of the feather for the front side of the fly and off the right side for the back side of the fly. If you tie left handed it is just the opposite. It may appear that the natural shape of the barbs cure in the wrong direction, but don’t worry, this will be corrected when you set the wing.
Separate a ˝ inch strip of barbs from the feather. I use a bodkin to separate the barbs throughout the whole process. Clip the strip as close to the shaft as possible. Clip only the strips from one side of the feather at a time. If you mix up the lefts and rights you will never get the barbs to marry. With the strips separated from the shaft you are ready to start the marrying process.
Line up the different colored strips, making sure the tips of the fibers on top extend past the fibers below. Try to keep the natural line of the strip. While holding the clipped ends, work the two strips together by stroking the barbs together. Be careful not to pinch too hard -- doing so will lay down the barbicels that hold the barbs together. To help understand how the barbs hold together, think of the barbicels as being Velcro. The top of a single barb has hooks and the bottom has loops. If you line up the tops with the bottoms they will hook together. All vaned feathers are constructed this way. That is how you can marry different types of feathers such as pheasant tail to turkey tail.
With the two strips together take your bodkin and separate the top strip form the bottom leaving a few of the top barbs. Depending on how you plan to lay out the wing will determine how many barbs will separate the different colors. Counting the barbs will help keep both sides of the wing consistent.
Continue the process until you have a completed wing. The size of the wing is up to the tyer but for a standard guide you can use the size of the hooks gap and go from there.
There is no limit to the amount of time one can spend on a married wing. The wing on the example fly below took me just under 15 minutes to construct. The wing has three different types of barbs, natural turkey tail, dyed turkey tail and goose shoulder. I like adding a natural component to most of the married wings I build up. The natural barbs bring more of a balance to the fly and seem to hold the wing together a bit better. Don’t forget to count the individual barbs of each of the differing colors so that you can match the opposing wing -- be creative, and most of all have fun.
Married Wing Purple
Hook: Alec Jackson 3/0
Thread: Purple 6/0
Tag: fine flat silver tinsel
Tail: Golden pheasant crest topped with a small blue feather (king fisher)
Body: Three equal parts of light purple, dark purple and dark blue silk
Ribbing: Gold oval and flat silver tinsel
Hackle: Purple blue eared pheasant
Color: Purple schlappen
Underwing: 2 purple saddle hackle tips
Wing: Married turkey tail, dyed turkey tail and goose shoulder
Cheeks: King Fisher
Start the thread at the bend of the hook. Secure in a length of flat tinsel. Wrap the tinsel down the bend making sure not to leave any gaps. When the final wrap is in line with the root of the barb return the tinsel to the starting point again making sure there are no gaps. Secure in the crest feather for the tail and veil it with a small blue feather.
At the tail joint secure in a length of gold oval tinsel followed by a length of flat silver tinsel. Wrap the tying thread to the eye and secure in a length of light purple floss. Wrap the floss down to the tail joint and return to the eye. Next tie in a length of dark purple floss and take it down to 1/3 in front of the tail, then wrap back to the eye securing in the hackle with the floss as you go forward.
Secure in the blue floss and take it down and back making three equal sections. Bring the flat tinsel forward making 5 open turns, followed by the oval.
Bring the hackle forward following the oval tinsel. Make sure the stem of the hack tucks right up against the oval.
HMH - Tying classic flies on a classic vise
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