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Morrish's May Day

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 daysfar 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 bornit 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 ( 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 messageand 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 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


Start the thread at the two-thirds point, and tie in about 15 strands of Para Post Wing material. I leave the tail long to start with, and trim it later to a ragged shank length. Dub a thin strand of dubbing onto the thread and make a few turns of dubbed thread under the base of the tail to lift it about 20 degrees. Form a slightly tapered abdomen over two-thirds of the hook shank, and hang the thread at the 50 percent mark.


Tie in a sparse clump of Para Post Wing. I clip this clump into a gallows tool to hold it upright for the Hackle Stacker process, but you may be able to do this freehand. Tie in a prepared and slightly oversize saddle hackle at the base of the wing post, with the inside of the feather facing up.


Make eight turns of hackle climbing up the post, then another two or three turns coming back down.


Preen the wrapped fibers back and tie off the tip of the feather at the base of the wing. Clip the excess. Dub the thread and build the thorax up to the base of the wing, covering the tie-off point. Leave a generous eye length of bare metal between the front of the thorax and the hook eye.


Continue holding the hackle fibers back, and pull the wing forward over the hook eye and capture it with the working thread at the front edge of the thorax using a pinch wrap. Make two turns of thread, then pull forward on the Para Post Wing to cinch the hackles down tightly against the thorax, then make a few more firm wraps at the front of the thorax to anchor the material securely.


Press the tip of your index finger firmly down into the top of the hackle to flatten it and make space for the wing.


To begin forming the wide wing silhouette, pull the Para Post Wing back over the top of the fly and bind it in place with two or three tightly stacked turns of thread.


Loop the long end of the wing forward and bind it down again just in front of the original wing tie-down point. Wrap over the material to the back of the hook eye, and then back again. Fold the loose end of the Para Post Wing back once more, and capture it with a few wraps of thread. Each tie-down should be slightly staggered in front of the previous one to create a wide wing profile. Whip-finish and clip the thread.


Cut the loop out of the wing and spread the fibers from front to back. Add a drop of vinyl cement to the base of the wing, and let it bleed slightly up the base of the fibers.


Pinch the base of the wing flat between your thumb and forefinger. I use this opportunity to pinch the hackle fibers down to either side of the fly as well. You are trying to spread the wing fibers from front to back to help form the May Day's distinctive wide wing profile.


Trim the tail to a ragged shank-length long and shape the wing as shown. A rounded cut along the backside, and a slightly shaped front is all it takes.


Note the narrow wing profile from this front view of the finished fly, as well as how the hackle fibers protrude below the shank to lift the fly slightly off the surface of the water.

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