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Fly Recipes Fly Tying

Slickwater Quill-Body Flies

by Stephen Hays   |  September 21st, 2012 0

Pale Morning Dun. Photo: Ted Fauceglia

Quill-body flies effectively imitate segmented insect abdomens, but they are a bear to tie with traditional quill-body materials like biots and stripped hackles or herls. Many of those materials break easily; hackle stems have to be soaked prior to use; and biots are too short and hard to handle. In addition, many anglers feel that flies tied with those materials lack buoyancy on the water.

When matching naturals such as Pale Morning Duns, a segmented fly tied with porcupine can fool discriminating trout on smooth, clear water. Photo: David J. Siegfried

Rob McLean, a North Platte River fly-fishing guide and professional fly tier, knows that finicky trout prefer the segmented realism of quill-body flies, but he’s never been satisfied with the qualities of the traditional materials. He believes he’s found a better natural fiber for quill bodies: porcupine guard hairs. These guard hairs, McLean says, more accurately imitate the smooth, segmented body of a mayfly. They are more durable while you handle them at the vise, and they are more buoyant.
McLean discovered the effectiveness of porcupine guard hairs while experimenting with porcupine quills, which he was trying for grasshopper legs. After he plucked the quills from the hide, he studied a few guard hairs. They had excellent strength, and to his delight, when he ran his thumbnail down the hair, the fiber flattened, suggesting a degree of hollowness. McLean knew he’d found a material that could enhance the buoyancy of a dry fly, yet maintain both realism and esthetics in the pattern.

If you study a fly tied with wrapped porcupine hair, you will immediately notice the imitative quality of the material—so will demanding trout. The material’s sheen suggests the chitinous plates (protective exoskeleton) of an insect’s abdomen. (You can decrease this buggy sheen by ribbing the abdomen with monofilament.) In addition to dry flies, larval and nymph patterns benefit from the effect of this segmentation.

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