Photograph by Steve Barnett

Thursday 24 February 2011

Stephen asked...

"My question is ' Why no wings on your flies thus far, is tradition overtaken by efficacy and common sense'?

I realise a number of gifted anglers of the past, Richard Walker being but one, avoided tying wings on Dry flies, suggested that after 30 mins fishing, the wings would be a mess. Is this your reasoning?"

Ironically the first fly I ever tied had two badger hackle point wings and was tied, in an engineer's vice on the kitchen table, according to instructions by Dick Walker in one of his letters to Maurice Ingham in that wonderful book "Drop Me A Line"! 

It worked and led to a lifetime of dry fly fishing...

To answer the question properly:  I do use wings on some flies but only one of my flies uses a traditional type of wing and even that is very "North Country" in style being tied leaning forward over the hook eye.  This is a traditional pattern for the river Dove that Staffordshire angler, Tony Bridgett, taught me.  It is called a "Cock Winged Dun" the word cock meaning that the wing is cocked forward, not that the feather comes from a cock.  It comes from a starling's wing actually.  This is a very good fly to see on a dappled water as is commonly found on many parts of the river Dove.

Click on the picture to see it larger, click it again to see it at maximum size
 The rest of my winged flies are either hairwinged, like the mayflies and sedge in the picture, or else they are made of polypropylene and are usually meant to represent spinners after they have finished egg laying.

Traditional split winged floaters as well as being beautiful, have the added advantage of being easy to see on the water but hackled flies seem to work better for me.  They are quicker to tie and keep their shape better than the traditional feather fibre winged offerings.

What do you do about wings on your flies?

Regular Rod


  1. I tie most of my dry flies in the same manner.
    The single wing, mostly of hair, cocked forward. I will tie many with out wings, using hackle up front and palmered.

  2. Are your winged flies large, small or all sizes?

  3. I fish mostly small streams and the trout are sized to the water they live in.
    Most of the flies I tie are size 14 and 16.

  4. You would be fine with your flies over here. 14 and 16 are the most useful sizes. We do have large insects too, so we can often get away with large flies, but there is no doubt that 14 and 16 are generally the most useful sizes to have in the box.

  5. Hi Rod,
    Really enjoying the Blog - excellent advice for those in their first few seasons.
    I fish for wild brownies on a small, unstocked overgrown chalkstream. Winged flies have been the bane of my life, - when I was younger, it took a couple of years in the learning how to tie and make them look beautiful, and they do, then rough overgrown banking, trees and critical stalking mean awkward casting and therefore tippet twisting - I've given up on them - CDC or soft hackles for upright wings with polypropylene where necessary.
    Roger Fagan,

  6. What is a wing? Are we talking traditional feathers that look nice or something else? I am confused. I was told never to use feather wings as they don't cast right.

  7. NEVER? That is a dangerous word to use in any branch of angling. :)

    There was a school of thought that reckoned wings were important on imitations of the upwinged flies because they thought that was the first bit of the fly to come into the view of the trout. This is almost certainly an error. The first thing that a fish sees of the real fly is the mass of tiny search light beams caused by the feet making dents in the meniscus. These act as little lenses and make tiny needle like rays of light that attract the fish's attention. Dry flies make these same dents, but many more of them. This might explain why the trout may sometimes eat our flies in preference to lots of real ones. The stimulus is just too much to resist. For the Dun stage of the smaller upwinged flies I believe that attempts to represent the wings with feather fibre for imitation's sake are a waste of time. The material is just far too thick. Look at a real wing and look at the wings of a traditional split winged floater, it is folly. For sedge flies, needle flies, willow flies and other stonefly family flies and the female adult stage of some upwinged flies (spinners), the wings ARE visible to the fish and it is worth faking them.

    However, there are other reasons to use a wing. These include: visibility to the angler and to influence the presentation when the fly is landing on the water.

    In the picture above the forward leaning wing on the Cock Winged Dun is made of starling wing feather fibre and makes a good flag to watch on dappled water. The forward leaning hair wings on the mayflies are there to act as parachutes when the fly is landing on the water. They help the flies make a gentle landing and ensure they land upright just about every time and at all ranges.

    Regular Rod

  8. Hi R
    I tend to avoid wings in the traditional sense nowdays and have experienced the only advantages are visual pleasure for the angler. Some cases i might use a wing but rarely as I simply aim to catch fish and don't tie anything to catch anglers, I use many patterns similar to you in all honesty.
    Spiders below a dry proves effective for the sharper angler around Derbyshire, especially on the top end of the Dove.