Tying Upright Mayfly Wings

Ted Leeson and Jim Schollmeyer

Reprinted from www.flyfisherman.com

upright mayfly wings
A pair of mayfly wings is a welcome sight to a fly fisher, as much an object of beauty as a symbol of promise. In their distinctive upright position, mayfly wings essentially define the silhouette of a dun on the water and make it instantly recognizable to fish and fisherman alike. It is little wonder, then, that tiers have probably lavished more attention on constructing upright wings than on any other single component of artificial flies.


Reproducing the appearance of mayfly wings, their contour, translucency, color, and markings, is itself a formidable task, but one made more challenging by the fact that precise imitation must sometimes give way to other demands--buoyancy, visibility, durability, and ease of dressing. The ways in which tiers have negotiated these often competing demands have given rise to an impressive number of options for constructing wings.
Tying upright wings entails two considerations--wing design and dressing material. By choosing an appropriate combination of these two elements, tiers can produce wings with the desired appearance and physical attributes. It's worth emphasizing that it is a choice. Some tiers unnecessarily restrict themselves to wing styles and materials that are specified by a given fly pattern. By incorporating a wing that answers to specific fishing requirements, a tier can make a good fly pattern even better. It is impossible to describe here all of the numerous approaches to dressing mayfly wings. What follows are three basic upright wing styles and the variations that are possible when different materials are used. A couple of materials may be conspicuous by their absence. First is the quill, a traditional material usually taken from the flight feathers of waterfowl or game birds.
Though a quill certainly makes a handsome wing, its fragility on upwing patterns has always been a problem. Most modern tiers seem to be abandoning quill in favor of more durable materials, such as feather tips.
At the other end of the spectrum are synthetic wing films. As a group, these entail a different problem--significant wind resistance that can twist tippets during casting. Some wing films perform better than others, but in the end, the great variety in these synthetics almost demands that each material be tied in a different manner, making them truly a separate subject altogether. But between the very traditional and very modern, much territory remains, and this is the ground most often occupied by the practical tier.

Ted Leeson and Jim Schollmeyer are authors of The Fly Tier's Benchside Reference to Techniques and Dressing Styles (Frank Amato Publications). Leeson lives in Corvallis, Oregon; Schollmeyer lives in Salem, Oregon.