Photograph by Steve Barnett

Thursday 24 March 2011

A Confidence Booster...

...for the fish, when the Drake is just starting!

If any of you kind readers out there in the blogosphere are getting fed up of fly dressing posts at the moment, I apologise in advance. It’s still the fly tying time and once the season gets underway it can be difficult to set time aside to tie flies in quantity. You probably know too well the pressure that can creep in when you suddenly realise you need to replenish a dwindling stock of certain patterns because you have a feeling you will need them this day. The materials are snatched out of their boxes and packets, hooks are debarbed, maybe five maybe ten, then it’s on with the Anglepoise and tie, tie, tie for all you are worth because you really need to be setting off to the river - now!

Let’s do a few flies in anticipation of the season being really well underway, when the world is alive and in full swing.

Last time we looked at a pattern for use when the Drake has been around for a while and the fish need something to convince them to eat your fly, instead of all the hundreds of real ones that litter the surface.

This time here is a useful pattern for quite the opposite set of conditions!

The Drake puts in its appearance in dribs and drabs early in its own delightful season. All the usual behaviours are there. The flies that manage to eclode and be away to the surrounding vegetation in no time at all, the flies that eclode as cripples with crumpled wings, the flies that get stuck in their nymphal shucks, the flies that appear to be perfectly okay but sit there, drifting like tiny sailing yachts for ages before they lift off to the river bank and the relative safety of the underside of flowers, leaves, twigs and branches.

They are all there.

The thing is, there are relatively few of them in the first few days of their season and they are not always taken with confidence by the trout. We need something that will look worth eating but without seeming too big to tackle in safety and it needs to appear as an easily taken meal.

Our fake for these circumstances is a little smaller than the real thing. It is designed to hint at some of those easier pickings amongst the flies that have their shucks still attached and it carries a wing to ensure delicate landings are easy to achieve when you make your casts. It has a fur body and so absorbs lots of floatant, which helps it to stay nicely afloat.

It is called, very simply, Hairwing Mayfly!

You will need:

size 12 Long Shank Hooks
a piece of wild rabbit skin
brown tying thread
cock pheasant centre tail feathers
badger cock hackles
grey squirrel tail
(I do like them natural but dyed yellow, rather than bleached and then dyed)

If you have tied a few of those Grey Dusters already you will find this fly is just an easy development of the Grey Duster plus some little modifications...


Debarb the hook and put it in the vice as shewn.  Half way along the hook shank, begin a bed of the brown thread and run it down to the start of the bend.

Gauge a good bunch of the pheasant tail fibres to make the tail a little longer than the hook. 

Tie in them in.

Carry on tying in the fibres right up to a point about ⅛ of an inch (3mm) behind the hook eye.

Snip off the waste ends.

Cut off a bunch of squirrel hair from the dyed tail. You can decide how thick or transparent you want your wing by the quantity of hair you use for each wing.  Flick out all the downy underfur. Use a stacker to line up the hairs by their outside tips.

Carefully tie in the bunch of hairs on top of the hook shank, gauging the length to be a little longer than the hook shank from the start of the bend to behind the eye.  Tie it in tightly for five or six turns, leaving the ends of the hairs pointing out over the hook eye and the butts of the hairs pointing at the hook bend.

Trim off the waste butt ends at an angle as shewn.

Put a tiny drop of varnish onto the trimmed hairs and run the thread down over the varnished roots.

Run the thread back to where your frontmost turn of thread is over the squirrel hairs.  Tie in either one long badger cock hackle from a genetic cape or else two badger hackles, prepared in the same way as for the Ethafoam Bodied Mayfly, from an Indian cape. Indian capes provide the best badger colours and markings, but the genetics provide the best quality hackles.  Tie in the hackle(s) and bind the hackle stalk(s) down for about ten tight touching turns of thread. This will be the bed for the hackle(s) when wound.  Snip off the waste hackle stalk(s).

Dub on a good pinch of the rabbit fur.

Wind the body and rib it with the tying thread finishing with the thread dangling where you started the body.

Wind the hackle (or hackles). Tie them in and quickly wind the thread through the turns of hackle.

Take the hair wing in the fingers of the left hand (or right hand if you are a Southpaw) and, whilst holding it up and back out of the way, wind turns of thread tight under the root of the wing to lock it pointing forward and up at an angle of anything from 45 degrees to 60 or 70 degrees.

Let go with the left hand. If you want to raise or lower the wing do so by either adding or taking away locking turns of the thread.

Make a whip finish and varnish the thread well. I use the brush in the Sally Hansen Hard as Nails bottle. Use a waste hackle tip to pull through the eye, clearing it whilst the varnish is still wet.

The finished Hairwing Mayfly.

As intimated earlier, this fly seems to work really well when the Drake is new to the fish. It lands like thistledown and “always” the right way up. It is vital to only make one wing. Two wings will spiral your tippet in no time at all, whilst one will let you cast all day without any trace of a twist.

Grey Duster
By changing some of the materials but using the same anatomy, you easily can make variations of this fly, which is just as well as it only a variation of the Grey Duster in the first place.

What do you like to use during the start of the Drake? Do you fancy this idea of suggesting an easy prey when there is still a while to go before the fish are confident to mop up every Drake they can find?

Regular Rod


  1. Great looking fly. I fish many hairwing flies.
    Your step by step is easy to follow.


  2. Thank you Brk Trt. I'm glad you like it. Do you get the Drake (or equivalent) on your waters?

  3. I fish mostly small freestone streams. The aquatic insects are very limited, some caddis, small olives, and stoneflies. Its a lot of land based insects. But the fly you have featured would work well on these streams, for it looks to be a good meal and they won't pass that up.

  4. Aha! Understood. They are opportunists! You must report back when you've had chance to try it...

  5. Lovely proportions to the fly, have been looking for a new pattern to try come duffers this year, will be tying a couple of those, Thankyou...

  6. I like generic flies. The Grey Duster is one of my fav flies. Bob Wyatt passed it on to me some time ago, but revived it in his book.

  7. Tried the Grey Duster with a tail with excellent results.All otter offerings failed the grey duster with a tail saved the day

  8. Our Mayfly are finished for this season but I must tie some of these great looking patterns for next season