Feathers of all kinds are used in the construction of a fly. They can make a perfect tail, imitate wings, realistically mimic the articulation and movement of an insect’s legs, and a stripped quill or turkey biot can even provide the foundational shape for a fly’s thorax and abdomen. Because feathers can create virtually all the components of a fly, there is an accordingly wide world of feathers available to fly tyers.
Hungarian Partridge are not native in the Western Hemisphere. The North American strain appears to have been imported from Czechoslovakia. Relatively small in size, the adult Hungarian Partridge averages 12-14 inches in length. They have short, round wings and a short, dark, chestnut-brown tail. The body feathers are brown and gray, and the male's flanks are barred in chestnut and white and the gray breast has a distinctive horseshoe-shaped chestnut patch on the lower portion. Hungarian Partridge Plumage is avidly sought after as wet fly tying material. The fibers are soft and water absorbent, which make them come alive when fully saturated while submerged. Even more appealing is the coloration which is is a combination of earthy tans, grays and browns. All feathers are cross barred, which easily imitates the barring on most aquatic insects. There is a plumage difference between the sexes. The plumage of both males and females are used. The feathers from one sex is not commonly more valuable than the other. Most fly tiers are not aware of the difference. Females have a smaller chest patch or lack one altogether, and the body feathers are paler. Female shoulder feathers have darker brown cross bars. Male shoulder feathers tend to be more rust color. Feathers from all parts of Hungarian Partridges are used for fly tying. Breast, neck, saddle and rump feathers are commonly used for soft hackle flies, traditional wet flies and nymphs. Coloration, barring pattern and size of feathers vary widely in different areas of one bird skin. Individual birds also vary in feather size, barring and color tone. Tail and wing feathers are used as well as body feathers. These stiffer feathers are commonly used for winging or tailing material on traditional wet flies, as well as tails, legs and shell backs on nymphs.
These mottled olive-brown feathers with a greenish cast (which interestingly enough often mirror the symmetry and coloration of the lower back feathers) can be used most effectively as hackle for soft hackle or for traditional wet flies whenever a mottled hackle is called for. They also work well as wing cases for nymphs or for the short wings on an emerging mayfly imitation.
These feathers, when dipped in spar varnish and stroked to shape, make attractive and durable wings for patterns like the Letort Cricket or for beetles. The feathers can also be used to great advantage as hackle on such traditional wet fly patterns such as the Black Gnat or Butcher or on any fly where black hackle is called for. They can also be used as wing cases on nymphs and for mayfly emergers (e.g. paraleptophlebia). One of my favorite soft hackle wet flies that uses this feather is the very simple Ringneck Soft Hackle Wet Fly.
This lovely little feather can be used most obviously in tying small fanwings (e.g. the Fanwing Royal Coachman) or you can varnish, shape and color them with a yellow or green marking pen to fashion excellent leaf hopper or aphid wings.
These reddish/brown feathers are found just below the ring on both the back and breast and can be varnished and stroked to shape beautiful caddis wings for dark dry caddis patterns. One of my favorite dressings using almond hearts is the Gartside Pheasant Caddis.
Just below the almond hearts there are larger, rather square reddish brown feathers with a cream mottled center. These feathers cover an area roughly halfway down the back and extend right and left onto each shoulder of the pheasant. I use these feathers for shoulders and cheeks on streamer patterns, as well as for wings on some streamer patterns (usually tying them matuka-style over different colored yarns or other body materials and adding a hackle collar of a deer hair head and collar). These feathers have many other uses as well for the inventive tyer.
A good example of a fly using church window feathers (as a cheek) is the Darkside, a New England-style streamer, that I first tied in 1972.
These feathers have a greenish/olive to brown or red/brown cast to them, with much mottling in the center. Some pheasants (especially those raised for game farms) may have a bluish cast; these are definitely inferior to the more naturally-colored pheasants that feed in the wild.
These feathers are found, as you might suspect, in the rump area and are extremely useful when tying streamers, large Sparrows, as "spey" hackle, or (for those familiar with my pattern, the Stray Cat) for interesting "one-hackle" flies. These feathers are often mottled in various shades of brown with very attractive and durable barbs which can vary wildly in length from very short to very long; hence, their usefulness for many different types of flies and patterns. One of my favorite tarpon flies, the Tarpon Spey, is tied with this feather. In it I use this feather as a ribbing in much the same way salmon tyers use heron or other hackle to hackle their traditional salmon spey-style flies.
These generally brownish-red or grayish (sometimes even blackish) feathers have dozens of uses. Use them to tie very soft soft-hackle wet flies, tails for Sparrows, wingcases on mayfly nymphs, or--when long--as tails on Wooly Buggers. If long enough and wide enough you can--as I did when I first came up with the idea of the Soft Hackle Streamer--use them to tie some darker-hued Soft Hackle Streamers. If you do, use a pheasant rump hackle for the collar; it makes a most attractive streamer.
Underneath just about every body feather we've considered, you'll find another feather, a downy, usually grayish and very soft feather. This is the aftershaft feather (hypor hachis) or insulating feather. This feather is sometimes misidentified as a "philo" or "filo" feather or plume. There is such a feather as the "filoplume," but believe me this is NOT it. True filoplumes are those hair-like (filo means hair in Greek) single-strands with a tuft (or plume) on them. Filoplumes are visible only when you've plucked the skin almost bare and are of little use to the practical flytyer.
The aftershaft feather has many uses: as very soft hackle for tying soft hackle flies or traditional wet flies, as wing cases on nymphs, as bodies (when wound on) for dragonfly nymphs, or for collars on my Sparrow nymph. One of my favorite aftershaft-bodied flies is the Wet Mouse, which can also be fished as a dragonfly nymph.
The tail feathers on a cock pheasant are long, thick-barbed, and barred with brown, olive and black tones. The barbs of these feathers are used largely as tailing material for nymphs and wet flies, sometimes for legs and also for bodies on small nymphs. Perhaps the most well-known fly using pheasant tail feathers is Frank Sawyer's Pheasant Tail Nymph, in which the whole nymph is constructed from wound-on pheasant tail barbs overlaid with a ribbing of gold wire.
The Chukar is a rotund 32–35 cm (13–14 in) long partridge, with a light brown back, grey breast, and buff belly. The shades vary across the various populations. The face is white with a black gorget. It has rufous-streaked flanks, red legs and coral red bill. Sexes are similar, the female slightly smaller in size and lacking the spur.
This partridge has well marked black and white bars on the flanks and a black band running from the forehead across the eye and running down the head to form a necklace that encloses a white throat. The species has been introduced into many other places and feral populations have established themselves in parts of North America and New Zealand.
A turkey is a large bird in the genus Meleagris. One species, Meleagris gallopavo, commonly known as the Wild Turkey, is native to the forests of North America. The domestic turkey is a descendant of this species. The other living species is Meleagris ocellata or the Ocellated Turkey, native to the forests of the Yucatán Peninsula.
Turkeys are classed in the taxonomic order of Galliformes. Within this order they are relatives of the grouse family or subfamily. Turkeys have a distinctive fleshy wattle that hangs from the underside of the beak, and a fleshy protuberance that hangs from the top of its beak — called a snood. With wingspans of 1.0–1.8 metres (3.3–5.9 ft), the turkeys are by far the largest birds in the open forests in which they live. As in many galliform species, the male (tom or gobbler) is larger and much more colorful than the female (hen).
Turkey feathers are frequently utilized in both dry fly and nymph patterns. The most desirable of these feathers are quills, flats, and biots. Turkey feathers can be used for a range of fly tying applications including wings, wingcases, abdomens, tails, and legs. Some Atlantic salmon fly patterns will even require turkey quills for married wings. Tail feathers are commonly used in bodies and wing casings, while biot quills are excellent for V-shaped tails and body construction. Turkey flats (or body feathers) are most useful when tying mayfly and parachute patterns.
Typical waterfowl species used in fly tying are: mallard, teal, and CDC. Feathers from these species will be useful for a wide rangeg of fly tying applications. Mallard feathers are barred and often used when tying wings in dry flies. Fly tying mallard is commonly available in both natural and dyed colors with a popular dyed variety "woodduck" leading the pack. Mallard feathers are probably the most commonly utilized waterfowl feathers in fly tying.
Teal feathers are harvested from the flank of the common teal. These feathers are more strongly barred than those of the mallard and are perfect for tying parachute-style dry flies.
CDC is an acronym for the French, and somewhat esoteric fly tying term “cul de canard.” CDC feathers have been popular in Europe for years and are now finding their way into the North American market. CDC feathers are are found near the oil gland of a bird, and accordingly they are also known by more standard terminology as simply “oil gland feathers.” These feathers provide a dry fly with superior flotation properties; during the bird’s lifetime, these feathers are constantly impregnated with rich oils and become highly resistant to water, ultimately keeping your surface fly where it should be: on top!
Woodduck is also a popular fly tying material. A great article has been written in Global Fly Fishers by bob Petti using the woodduck Flank in fly tying.
Peacock herl is known and loved by tyers for its iridescent quality and color. This iridescence is produced by a type of optical interference called Bragg reflection. In the effect, the nanostructures that compose the barbules of the feathers display different colors based on their individual and differing lengths.
These kaleidoscopic feathers are used to create bodies that are full of life and movement when they hit the water. The best herl can usually be found closer to the elegantly colored and prominent eye of the feather, and these herls can be cut and tied to the hook shank to form excellent tails on many artifical fly patterns.
The ostrich is the world's largest species of bird and is native to Africa. These birds are farmed across the world and they produce excellent fly tying feathers. The large quills harvested from the ostrich are often take the backseat to peacock herl because of their less colorful nature, but they should not be overlooked.
They will produce fine legs, heads, and tails in a wide range of fly recipes.