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Fly Tying Step-by-Step

Morrish’s May Day

by Charlie Craven   |  June 13th, 2016 0
Morrish’s May Day

The wing profile of the May Day is wide and tapered when viewed from the side—just like the real thing. Viewed from the front, the wing is delicately narrow. Charlie Craven photo

A new fold on Quigley’s Hackle Stacker technique

There are an awful lot of good fly tiers on the planet these days—far more (and far better) than when I was growing up. Those dark days of fly tying featured a lot of secrets, good old boys, and not a lot of sharing. But with magazines like this one, and through the Internet via social media, good tiers are sharing their ideas and techniques like never before, and I like that. You should too. Without avenues like these, guys like Kenny Morrish might just go out and sore-mouth all the trout, and only his closest buddies would know what a creative tier he is. We just can’t let fish-catching powers like that go unnoticed.

Growing up in Oakland, California, Morrish came from a fly-fishing family. His father, grandfather, and even great-grandfather were all avid fly fishers, which left the young Morrish with no shortage of interesting conversation at family gatherings. He picked up fly tying as an adolescent, and learned as a protégé of the legendary Andre Puyans who at the time was a frequent Fly Fisherman contributor.

Puyans put a premium on tidiness but Morrish jokes that not much of that caught on with him, and that many of the other students were superior tiers. But I’ve seen enough flies, and taught enough students, to know that while skills themselves can be learned, creativity is born—it must come from within and it cannot be taught.

Morrish is nothing short of phenomenal at this aspect of the game, with incredibly innovative patterns such as the Morrish Hopper, Hotwire Caddis, Medusa, and the famed Morrish Mouse among dozens of others to his credit.

Morrish is co-owner of Fly Water Travel (flywatertravel.com) in Ashland, Oregon, and confesses that he doesn’t get to tie nearly as much as he’d like. I’d love to see just how many more great patterns he’d come up with if left unfettered for any length of time. In the meantime, we’ll have to be happy with two or three fantastic new patterns each year.

Morrish’s latest creation, the May Day, made its public debut at the International Fly Tackle Dealer show in July, and immediately caught the eye of editor Ross Purnell. The dry fly so impressed him, he instantly sent a photo of it to me with no message—and no message was required. I knew instantly this fly was special, and I already had it on my short list to learn and write about in 2016.

Morrish’s May Day

Ken Morrish is the creative mind behind many familiar patterns like the Medusa, Pickpocket, Hotwire Caddis, and Super Pupa. Ken Morrish photo

I never pass up a chance to work with tiers like Morrish and looked  forward to talking with him. These collaborations with great fly-tying personalities are one of the best perks of writing this column. Working and chatting with Morrish was a pleasure. He’s a hoot to talk with, and has no pretenses or hubris whatsoever. His passion for tying and fishing is refreshingly obvious and it doesn’t take long to figure out that he puts a lot of thought into every one of his patterns.

I asked Ken to give me a little background on his fly, and he related that he set out to design a mayfly dun that had a broad, wide wing silhouette with good visibility and floatation. He also wanted a short, compact surface impression like that of the real thing.

After a long tinkering process, he ended up building on a black Tiemco 102Y hook, in odd sizes, as its down eye worked well with the wing design.

Rather than a conventional tail, Morrish opted for a scraggly clump of Hareline Dubbin Para Post Wing to create an impression of a tail elevated off the water like a real insect.

He worked with Brian Schmidt of Umpqua Feather Merchants to find a suitably “buggy” dubbing to create a bit more surface area for the body and they decided on Mike Mercer’s Buggy Nymph dubbing to form the abdomen and thorax on the Blue-winged Olive version of the May Day shown in these accompanying tying steps. Morrish uses other mixtures of coarser dubbings for May Days tied to match March Browns, Pale Morning Duns, and Callibaetis.

Morrish paid homage to the late great Bob Quigley with a hackle stacker wrapped on the base of the Para Post Wing but added his own twist with an innovative looped, then folded scheme for the wing. You’ll have fun tying this one.

A final drop of flexible cement and a bit of creative trimming results in a truly original pattern that matches the compact impression of a real mayfly dun, and introduces a few fun tying techniques along the way.

The May Day is much more than a typical parachute or thorax-style pattern. The hackle fibers just touching the surface hold the thorax and abdomen up above the water’s surface to create a distinctive mayfly imprint. The wide wing profile forms a perfect imitation of the naturals and from above is easy to spot on the water.

I have to admit it took me far longer to figure this fly out than it should have because I was trying to make it into something I already knew. Ken’s approach to this fly is truly special, and the end result is well worth learning a few new techniques.

At this point, I’ll use any excuse I can to chat with Morrish and get inside his incredibly creative mind. I hope he’s got a few more like this up his sleeve.

Charlie Craven co-owns Charlie’s Fly Box in Arvada, Colorado, and is the featured tier in two Fly Fisherman DVDs: Warmwater Fly Tying and Saltwater Fly Tying. His latest book is Tying Nymphs: Essential Flies and Techniques for the Top Patterns, available from Stackpole Books/Headwater Books (2016).

Morrish’s May Day

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