The Ginger Quill was a mainstay when I fished in the '60s,
along with its counterpart, the Quill Gordon. I've always
been partial to quill-body dry flies, and have generally
over the years preferred them to the more popular dubbed-body
ones. To me, the segmentation just seems more pronounced,
and the body more slender, and the fly has a neater
appearance. Now many fly fishermen, better fly fisherman than
I, take the entirely opposite view. They don't want a neat fly,
they want a "buggy" fly, with translucence in the body, one
that provides the illusion of life in the water, a less
realistic fly that triggers strikes from the fish through
impressionistic means. Both schools of thought have some
merit, and both body styles catch fish. In my own case, I
just seem to have had better luck with the quill bodies,
where dry flies are concerned. I'm a devote' of Flick's
Red Quill, and the quill bodies of A.K. Best. I fish
spring creeks quite a bit, and maybe that explains some of it.
What brought the Ginger Quill to mind this week was a
selection of incredible stripped peacock herl quills
sent to me by Alice Conba. For those of you that don't
know Alice, she is, in my humble opinion, one of the
great fly tiers in the world. She has consummate mastery
over techniques and materials, and skills that boggle
the mind. She brings incredible creativity to the table,
but the one thing that really sets her apart is her
backlog of knowledge, born of decades of experience,
study, and trial and error. She appears to know
absolutely everything, and I have no evidence to the
contrary. In any case, it's a delight to just be able
correspond with a tier of her caliber, and though she's
in Ireland and I'm here in Ohio, today's internet makes
that a possibility. Alice's generosity and good heart
make that a possibility as well, and I'm forever in her
Alice strips her peacock eyes using a technique shown
to her by Hans Weilenmann. I've also heard Alan Podell,
our man in the Catskills, speak of this method, and it's
one he's used for some time as well. You melt some paraffin,
or wax, in a saucepan, and dip the eye in for just a moment,
then pull it right out and dry it on paper towels, taking
off the excess wax. Don't do what I did, which was leave
it in for some time, waiting for all the fluff to come off,
as it does when I bleach them. If you'd like a nice,
permanent, waxed replica of your eye, do it my way, but
if you'd like to actually do some fly tying with your eye,
do it Alice's. You are left with an eye that has a wax film
on it. Now, when you take a quill off the eye and strip the
wax off, which is much easier to do with a waxed eye, the
fluff comes with it, leaving a soft, pliable quill that's
a breeze to wrap.
So how does Alice get the amazing segmentation, that black
edge that when wrapped looks like you've gone around the
body with black thread? She does it by selecting out eyes,
purely and simply. She buys peacock eyes 100 at a time,
then selects out the eyes best suited for quill bodies.
Whether she strips a single quill from an eye, and looks
for the dark stripe along the edge, or can just tell using
her experience which eyes are good for quill bodies, I don't
know. I would imagine that eyes darker on one side than the
other would make the best stripped quills, but I'll have to
do more playing around to prove this. In any case, you must
use quills from the eye to get segmentation, and because the
quills are smaller in diameter, use just the wider end of
the quill for your fly. You'll only get one fly out of one
of these quills.
Can you use stripped hackle quills, a la A.K. Best for the
Ginger Quill? Certainly. As a matter of fact, up until the
fly for this article, I tied all my Ginger Quills that way.
I'm becoming a little more partial to stripped peacock quills
now that I've seen some of Alice's though. But they both
work just fine. Here's the recipe for the Ginger Quill shown
The recipe for the wet version shown below is the same.
Tail: Ginger hackle fibers.
Body: Stripped peacock herl.
Credits: Flies by J. Edson Leonard,
Alice Conba, Tipperary Town, Ireland ~ EA
I started fly fishing as a teen in and around my hometown
of Plattsburgh, New York, primarily on the Saranac River.
I started tying flies almost immediately and spent hours
with library books written by Ray Bergman, Art Lee, and
A. J. McClane. Almost from the beginning I liked tying
just as much as I liked fishing and spent considerable
time at the vise creating hideous monstrosities that
somehow caught fish anyway. Then one day I came upon a
group of flies that had been put out at a local drug store
that had been tied by Francis Betters of Wilmington, N.Y.
My life changed that day and so did my flies, dramatically.
Even though I never met Fran back then, I've always
considered him to be one of my biggest influences.
I had a career in music for twenty years or so and didn't
fish much, though I did fish at times. The band I was with
had its fifteen seconds of fame when we were asked to be in
John Mellencamp's movie "Falling From Grace." I am the
keyboard player on the right in the country club scene in
the middle of the movie. Don't blink. It's on HBO all the
time. We got to meet big Hollywood stars and record in John's
studio. It was a blast.
So how did I wind up contributing to the Just Old Flies
column on FAOL? I'm not sure, it was something that I simply
wanted very badly to do, and they let me. Many of the old flies
take me back to the Adirondacs and my youth, and I guess I get
to relive some of it through the column. I've spent many happy
hours fishing and tying over the years, and tying these flies
brings back memories of great days on the water, and intense
hours spent looking at the flies in the fly plates in the old
books and trying to get my flies to look like them. And now,
here I am, still doing that to this day. ~ EA