Save time and create downwing flies with better profiles by using the butt of the wing to form a parachute post.
[by Scott Sanchez]
Using the butts of wing materials for a parachute post on downwing patterns like caddis and stonefly imitations allows you to tie some great flies that have a realistic profile and create a presence that’s easy to see on the water. More than that, they’re simple to tie and effective. A win–win no matter what angle you look at it.
The basic sequence for tying a wingbutt combo is to secure the downwing, then lift the butt of the wing material up, and wrap threads in front of the butt to lift it 90 degrees upright before securing the post with thread wraps around the base. One advantage of tying a wing-butt combo is there’s one less tying step; you’re essentially killing two birds with one stone by using a single material.
Yellow Sally Elk Wing
HOOK: Dai-Riki 320, sizes 10 to 16.
THREAD: Yellow 8/0.
TAIL: Red Antron.
ABDOMEN: Gold dubbing.
RIB: Yellow tying thread.
WING & POST: Light elk hair.
THORAX: Gold dubbing.
HACKLE: PMD saddle hackle
But really the biggest advantage is the lack of thread and material bulk because you have only one tie-in point. While that might not make a big difference on large patterns, it can be critical on small hook sizes, especially when tying sparse bodies on midges and small stones. The great thing about this concept is the fly looks good to the angler and to the fish.
The concept isn’t new; I’ve seen it used on various flies over the years. But why not use it on variations of other patterns? A fly I used regularly when I lived in Livingston, Montana, to imitate midges and winter stoneflies was fairly basic, and it worked. The body consisted of a black or dark brown turkey biot and a wing-post combination of pearl Krystal Flash surrounded by black hackle. It looks close enough to be a midge or little black stone, and as a bonus, it was easy to see in the glare of the winter and spring’s low-angled sun.
Back in Time
Sometimes ideas and flies sit in your box waiting to be noticed anew. I had a few situations last summer on both the Snake and Green Rivers when fish were selective to microcaddis. I have no idea why trout eat this small food source when larger prey is around them, but they do. Thankfully, I found some small wingbutt flies in my box that I tied some time ago—the same small flies I tied in Livingston—and they changed an otherwise slow day into a productive one. I thought, “Why don’t I have more of them?”
What’s more, the versatility of this style of fly made it easy for me to adapt into a summer caddis, stonefly, or terrestrial. It is a good blueprint to work around. Change up the colors and sizes, and many insects can be imitated. The format can likewise be used on terrestrials and attractor patterns.
I prefer using natural hair when tying this style of fly because it has a unique appearance with fine tapered wing tips and a broader post. In fact, I use elk hair on many of my caddis and small stoneflies. Because the butt ends of the hair are thicker than the tips, and hollower, the wing-butt usually has a wide diameter but a thin tie-in point. This “nock” makes it easy to wrap a hackle and prevents it from slipping up. From an aesthetic standpoint, the post looks better trimmed a little shorter. Calftail is another option, and it is what I use on my Convertible patterns. It floats well and refreshes after catching fish, but it does require more thread wraps to secure.
Foam Butt Ant Flash Wing
HOOK: Dai-Riki 320, sizes 14 to 20.
THREAD: Red 70 denier.
BUTT: Black 2 mm foam.
BODY: Red tying thread.
WING & POST: UV Tan Ice Dub.
THORAX: Black dubbing.
HACKLE: Brown saddle hackle.
Synthetics like polypropylene, Z-Lon, or Antron are the easiest to use, especially on small flies, and they tie in with little bulk. The translucent appearance also mimics wings nicely. These materials can be readily found in many colors and textures. Also when trimmed to length, the ends look appropriate compared to cutting the tips off natural materials, which looks odd.
Matching the stiffness of a material to a fly is also helpful with this technique. Softer materials are easier to secure while firmer fibers give a larger profile and foul less. In general, soft on small hook sizes, and firm on larger wire. EP Fibers and Widow’s Web are good options for most flies because they are firm enough and easy to secure. The beauty of synthetic fibers is that you can tie them in long and then trim to length. A longer butt section also acts as a handle and can make it easier to adjust the wing and also comes in handy when wrapping the hackle on. Trim to length when done.
Flash materials make nice wing-butt combos and can also be mixed with other materials for effect. Krystal Flash, for example, makes a solid wing, but remember: A little material goes a long way. Ice Dub, Ice Wing, Lite-Brite, and Angel Hair are the easiest flash materials to use for wing–butts since they’re made of fine fibers and are easy to secure. Pearlescent colors work well by themselves, or you can hand-mix them with Antron or polypropylene fibers.
Underwings, Overwings, and Spent Wings
At times, you may have to compromise between the wing you want to entice the fish, and the post you want for you (i.e., something easy to see on the water). In other words, are you better served with a natural-colored wing for the fish or a bright post for your eyes? Shades of dun and tan are a good compromise, and white wings certainly work for fish and anglers. Hold the fly up to the sky and look at it from a fish’s view. Many times exact wing color isn’t discernible. Another option for fish- and anglerfriendly wings is to use an underwing or an overwing. Feather fibers like mallard breast or CDC are perfect and will give a natural look to the wing. Also, they don’t require a lot of thread wraps to hold in place. If using polypropylene for the wing, you can tie a small batch of natural-colored fibers down first and a brighter wing over top. It is also really easy to set the dull fibers underneath the bright ones and tie all in at once. On the butt post, you can leave the dull fibers in or trim them off. Flash also makes a nice underwing. For an overwing indicator, simply use the same techniques, only in reverse. Tie in the bundle with a small strip of bright on top.
HOOK: Dai-Riki 320, sizes 14 to 20.
THREAD: Black 8/0.
ABDOMEN: Black turkey biot.
UNDERWING: Tan Polar Dub.
WING & POST: White EP Fibers.
THORAX: Black dubbing.
Tying the Spent CMS
There also may be times when you want to change the proportions of the wing and post. For example, you may want a sparse wing, thick post, or big wing and small post. It’s easy to do after tying the wing and creating the post. Simply trim out the unwanted fibers. A good trick to keep the wing separate from the body is to either make thread wraps underneath the wing after tying the downwing on, or lightly post the downwing.
If you’d like to create a spent caddis, midge, stonefly, or ant pattern, separate the wing bundle into two with an X-wrap and then post each wing with thread. This will be easier to do if you leave the wing long and then trim to length after wrapping the wing posts with thread. It is also easier to do prior to forming the post.
In all, the versatility and ease of tying wing–butt flies make them a perfect choice to add to your fly box. The applications are almost unlimited.
Scott is the manager at JD High Country Outfitters in Jackson, Wyoming, and a recipient of the Federation of Fly Fishers Buz Buszek Award.