Fly Fishing Guide to Dry Fly Wing Styles

Fly Fishing Fly intro

You might know the size of the bugs hatching. You might know their color. But how often do you factor wing style into your dry fly decision? Believe it or not, picking the correct wing style to match the water in front of you can make or break a trout take. I was having a conversation about dry fly styles the other day with my friend Brian Schmidt, who's job title at Umpqua Feather Merchants is "Fly Production Specialist." He knows a thing or two about bugs, so I grilled him on which specific dry fly wing styles are appropriate in different situations and water conditions. Schmidt is the lucky guy at Umpqua that gets to decide which patterns submitted to the company are worthy of being sold commercially and which end up on the floor below the tying bench. He bases his decision on a number of factors, including material cost and how much time it takes to tie the fly. He gets to play with new patterns all day, test them in the company's giant bass tank, and field test them locally on Colorado's world class rivers. At my request, Schmidt outlined what he considers the 10 most common styles of dry fly wings and in what type of water they shine. I've been flyfishing a long time and learned a lot from the tutorial. Next time you're on the river, don't just wing it (sorry, I had too). By selecting the proper style, based on the piece of water in front of you, you'll score more good drifts, and good drifts mean more trout.

Fly Fishing Parachute Fly

Wing Style: Parachute Bug Story: Arguably the most popular wing style, a parachute presents a low-riding pattern that works well in all water conditions. The parachute post resembles the upright wing of an adult caddis or mayfly, and its structure gives the angler something easy to see and follow, making the parachute a great choice in low light. The parachute post is traditionally made from calf tail or hackle fibers from a chicken or turkey, but many synthetic "high-vis" materials are also used to make the fly even easier for flycasters to spot on the drift. Parachutes work best in water with slow to medium current. Notable Ties: Parachute Adams, Burk's Silhouette Dun, Mercer's Profile Drake

Fly Fishing Hair Wing Fly

Wing Style: Hair Wing Bug Story: Another incredibly popular style, the hair wing utilizes elk or deer hair to create the wing and hackle. The hackle is typically clipped close under the thorax, causing flies tied this way to ride low in the film. Hair-wing flies work well in slower water (especially if you shake the rod tip a little to make them dance), but they are particularly useful when caddis or mayflies are hatching in turbulent riffles, because the hair material is so buoyant. Notable Ties: Hairwing Dun, Elk Hair Caddis, Gunnison Green Drake

Fly Fishing Split Hair Fly

Wing Style: Split-Hair Bug Story: Calf tail was traditionally used to create the bushy upright split wings of flies tied in this style. The Royal Wulff is arguably the most famous split-hair, followed by the Humpy, which uses elk hair instead of calf tail. Much like the parachute wing, split-hair wings are easy for the angler to see, and are also more buoyant than parachute wings. Combined with the heavily hackled thorax typically incorporated into split-hair bugs, these flies are designed to float high through turbulent water. Notable Ties: Royal Wulff, H&L Variant, Humpy

Fly Fishing Catskill Fly

Wing Style: Catskill Bug Story: When most people think of a traditional dry fly, they think of the Catskill wing style. Born on the Catskill Mountain streams of New York, the design is most often used to create sparsely tied, slim-bodied mayfly patterns, and they work well in just about every water condition. Hen feathers are commonly used for the wing to give the fly an elegant appearance. When you see a set of flies in a shadow box for sale in a souvenir shop, they typically have Catskill wings. Notable Ties: Quill Gordon, Cahill, Blue Quill

Fly Fishing Spinner Fly

Wing Style: Spinner Bug Story: The spinner wing style is used to create flies that mimic mayflies that have fallen back to the water after hatching, laying their eggs, and dying. When a mayfly dies, its wings spread out and lie flat on the water's surface. A "spinner fall" generates an easy food source for trout, as the insects aren't able to fly away. Spinner wings can be difficult to see, especially in faster current, so they're often fished behind a larger, more buoyant attractor fly. Notable Ties: Rusty Spinner, Hex Spinner, Pearl Butt Trico

Fly Fishing Parawulff Fly

Wing Style: Parawulff Bug Story: A nod to the traditional split-hair wing of the Wulff, fly tyer Jack Dennis kept the split calf tail wings, but tied them in a more upright parachute position to create low riding mayfly imitators. The style maintains the buoyancy and ease of visibility of the original split-hair wing. In larger sizes, flies with Parawulff wings make great attractor flies and work well as indicators for a dry-dropper combo. They'll float beautifully in all water conditions, but excel in choppy runs that sink other wing styles. Notable Ties: Dennis' Parawulff

Fly Fishing Dun Fly

Wing Style: Dun Bug Story: Sometimes referred to as a comparadun wing, flies tied in this style are commonly used as emergers when trout are feeding just below the surface, though they still maintain an upright wing appearance and can be fished as dry flies. What separates them from a traditional hair-wing is that their hair is often more sparse and tied farther forward, sometimes in a fan shape. Though usually tied with buoyant elk hair, dun wings can also be made with synthetic materials. The style not only creates the look of mayfly legs, but also gives the fly a nice footprint--a dimple in the surface film--to sit in while riding the current. Notable Ties: Mathew's Sparkle Dun, CDC Biot Comparadun, Snowshoe Dun

Fly Fishing No Hackle Fly

Wing Style: No Hackle Bug Story: Fly tyer Mike Lawson created this wing style to fool the highly pressured trout in his home waters around Yellowstone National Park. The absence of hackle makes this fly slightly less buoyant--you have to keep dressing it--but the duck quill wings create a low-riding, sparse profile that has been proven to fool skittish trout that see tons of flies across the country. Notable Ties: Lawson's No Hackle

Fly Fishing Thorax Fly

Wing Style: Thorax Bug Story: Though a hen fiber or turkey feather is used to create what looks like the wing, it's more for show and anatomical correctness. The thorax wing gets more of its buoyancy from the hackles, which are trimmed close along the bottom of the thorax. This creates a low-riding fly that works best for imitating small mayflies. The clipped hackle creates a good footprint, which aids in stability when the fly is riding a riffle. Notable Ties: Lawson's Thorax Baetis

Fly Fishing Hackle Stacker Fly

Wing Style: Hackle Stacker Bug Story: This wing style creates a low-riding mayfly pattern that shines in slick water, such as that often found in spring creeks. There is no actual wing, but the splayed hackle represents both the wing and legs when a sparse profile is needed to fool wary trout. You should also lean on this wing style when trout are keyed in on small flies, but you don't want to resort to casting tiny midges. Notable Ties: Quigley's Hackle Stacker