Fly Of The Week

Previous Flies
Fly Tying Terms

Those Amazing Wonder Wings
By Al & Gretchen Beatty
BT's Fly Fishing Products

Al first saw Wonder Wings on a trip to Europe in the late 80s where he was a demonstration fly tier at FlyFair in Holland. Dutch friend Wim Ter Harr asked if Al would like to see his "Germany" fly box. Ever curious to see other people's secret patterns Al replied, "You bet!" He was stunned when Wim opened the box to row after row of exquisitely tied dry flies with the most incredible, natural looking wings. "What are the wings?" he asked. "Wonder Wings," was Wim's reply. Long story short Al had Wim at a vise in very short order learning how to tie those beauties. What Wim demonstrated for Al was a method of sweeping hackle fibers back along the feather's stems to construct a set of wings. Not only were the wings incredibly natural looking but also they made use of something Al had a lot of, rooster capes with all the small dry fly hackle missing and only the large end of the pelt remaining.

He returned to his home in north Idaho ready to revamp his complete supply of dry flies with this new wing design. It happened to be spring and the green drakes were hatching. What a perfect bug on which to test the new wings so he tied several W. W. Green Drakes.

On the first weekend after his return Al hooked up the drift boat and headed for the river. It didn't take long to learn the beautiful wings had a little problem. The stem down the center anchored to the hook shank produced a wing that was a bit stiff causing the fly to "propeller" during the casting process. What this does to a leader quickly renders it useless transforming it into a monofilament snarl.

After some experimenting Al discovered the Wonder Wings really worked well on down wing flies like caddis or stoneflies but were a disaster on mayfly imitations. He tied a large Wonder Wing Adams, mounted it in a glass dome, and placed it on his fly tying workstation to remind him of a problem unsolved. It remained there for several years.

Let's fast forward to the point in time when your authors (Al and Gretchen) married, retired from their jobs in corporate America, and moved to Montana to guide and tie flies. In time Gretchen asked Al about the Adams in the dome setting next to his vise. He explained that the stiff stem in the wings really messed up a light tippet leader. Gretchen commented that it was too bad they couldn't remove part of the stem as a resolution. The light bulbs went off and they trimmed a piece of the stems out of each wing next to the hook shank. The wings looked the same but they were a lot more flexible. Could the solution be that easy?

We had to find out so we tied a half dozen size fourteen Adams and headed for the Gallatin River. An hour and several fish later we proclaimed the modification a success! We were quite pleased with ourselves and used Gretchen's "trim out" technique for the next year. The solution wasn't perfect but worked fine as long as we didn't slip with the scissors while clipping out the piece of stem.

An accident provided the final solution. Al was tying a Wonder Wing mayfly when he tried to adjust a set of wings that weren't turning out long enough. The feathers slipped forward, the stems came out from under the thread but the fibers remained trapped. The light bulbs went off again and the looped version of the Wonder Wing just got a lot easier to tie.

We already knew the fly was a winner but found the "trim out method" Gretchen suggested a bit of a pain in the neck. The "slip out technique" really sped up the process and produced a much cleaner looking fly. We started demonstrating the technique at the fly-fishing shows we attended and people agreed with us; it was easy to tie and the Wonder Wing flies (up or down wing) looked great. Fellow fly tier and friend Bob Lay summed it up best, "Hold the fly up to the light so it is silhouetted and just see how the wings look to a fish!" He was right on! The way the Wonder Wings appear in silhouette really is pretty awesome. The veins are highlighted and definitive. We think it's the reason we catch so darned many fish on them; or maybe it's because we have a Wonder Wing fly on the end of our leader more often than not. Whatever the reason we catch a lot of fish on them, however we need to switch gears now and focus on tying flies with Wonder Wings. This instruction will give you an opportunity to check them out for yourself. Let us know how they work for you.

The fly we'll use for demonstration purposes today is the Wonder Wing Adams tied using a standard hackle application then we'll highlight tying it as a parachute, a delta wing, and a down wing caddis.

Materials for Those Amazing Wonder Wings

    Hook: Size 10 to 24, dry fly style.

    Thread: Gray.

    Tail: Grizzly/brown hackle fibers.

    Body: Gray dubbing.

    Hackle: Grizzly/brown mix.

    Head: Thread.

Tying Instructions: Those Amazing Wonder Wings

    1. Pinch the hook barb before putting it in the vise if you plan on releasing the fish you catch. Start a thread base one-third of the shank length back on the hook. Wrap about one-half way to the end of the shank. Select several grizzly and brown hackle fibers, mix them together, and tie them to the shank to form a tail that is about as long as the complete hook. Trim any waste ends. Note that we tied the tail fibers over the bare hook shank on the last half of the body area. Often hackle fiber tails will tilt down hill if they are placed over a thread base because the last thread turn (at the back of the hook) will slip on the slick hackle forcing the fibers down. Wrapping over bare hook shank solves that problem.

    2. Forming the Wonder Wings is a two part process. First pair up two large hackle feathers (in this case we are using grizzly), place them back to back curving away from each other, and cut the heavy part of the stems off. We find that is usually about forty percent of the feather. Sweep the fibers back so the stems (within the wing itself) are shorter in length than the hook shank. We usually estimate that length at sixty percent of the shank. Tie the swept back fibers to the hook along with the two feather stems using three snug but not tight thread wraps. Notice how short the wing is at this point. Do not loose control of the swept back fibers, hang on to them in preparation of the next step!

    3. Maintain control of the fibers in the left hand and use the right to pull the feather/fibers forward slipping the stems out from under the thread wraps. Stop pulling when the wing is the length you want - on the illustrated fly it is equal to the length of the hook shank.

    4. As soon as the two stems pull out from under the thread, the snug wraps just became a lot looser. Do not tighten them yet. Instead pull the pair of wings up into the "pinch" of the left thumb and forefinger then tighten the thread wraps. The reason we do this is to keep the stems in the loop straight. If you skip this part of the step your wing will be cocked at an angle. The fish don't care and they cast just fine but if we spend the time tying a fly we want it to look good. By the way, that little tip that took less than ten second to read gave us fits for the better part of five years before we picked up on the "pinch technique."

    5. Trim the waste ends of the wing at a severe angle so they will blend with the tail fibers forming a tapered under body. Pull the wings apart and clip the excess feathers from them. Place the feathers in a clothespin so they are ready to construct another set of wings. We usually get six sets of wings out of a pair of hackle feathers. Stand the wings up by wrapping thread tight against the front of the fibers then place a single crisscross wrap between them for separation.

    6. From here we are finishing the fly in this step because we have several other uses for the wing style to share with you and limited space to do so. Place gray dubbing on the thread and wrap from the back to the front stopping just before reaching the wings. Select a grizzly and a brown hackle, strip the fuzzy material from the base of the stem, and tie them to the hook behind the wings. We like dubbing under the thorax area so apply dubbing to the thread and wrap it to the hook eye. Wrap the hackles forward to meet the thread, tie them off, and trim the waste ends. We used a whip-finish and a drop of head cement to complete the fly.

    7. We think this fly is awesome when tied as a parachute but obviously the wing fibers must be strengthened to support a parachute hackle. Follow the steps just like before but in step five do not separate the wings or trim off the extra feathers. Wrap the thread tight against the fibers to stand up the wings. Now we are going to build a thread platform on which to wrap our parachute hackle. Wrap the thread around the base of the hackle fibers advancing up the wings until the thread-covered area is the size needed for the hackle. We are now at the top of the "post." From the top go straight down to the body and anchor the thread with several turns around the hook shank. Note: Al added a touch of black marker to the gray thread to accent this part of the step.

    8. Repeat this process two more times anchoring the straight up and down strand of thread around the hook shank. We call wrapping around the post area "pouring concrete" and the straight up and down strand of thread "placing rebar." Now divide the wings and trim off the excess placing the feathers in a clothespin. Execute a crisscross wrap between the wings and parallel to the post. Don't worry about the strands of thread (rebar) along the front and back of the post, we'll deal with them later.

    9. Prepare brown and grizzly hackle feathers by stripping the fuzzy material from the base of the stems and set them aside for the moment. Apply dubbing to the thread and wrap it forward forming the body. Anchor the hackle to the hook on the first turn in front of the wings. Continue dubbing to the hook eye and at the same time binding the feathers to the hook. Be sure to leave a bit of bare stem on the feathers at the post. After reaching the hook eye, dub back to the post - add dubbing to the thread if it is needed to cover the additional area. Grasp the feathers and pull them tight against the post. Wrap up the post and back down making certain the thread is hanging behind the post. Notice the rebar AND feather stems are all working together to strengthen the parachute platform.

    10. Wrap the hackles down the post and when they reach the body hold them in position at a downward angle and grab the bobbin. Make two turns around the post to anchor the hackle. Trim off the excess feathers then take one more turn of thread to "tuck in" the trimmed feather ends. Pull the thread forward to the hook eye and use a half-hitch tool to finish the fly; a single turn places a half hitch and a double turn places a two-turn whip-finish. Place a drop of head cement in the crotch of the divided wings to anchor them and the hackle.

    11. Here we've demonstrated a delta wing Adams. When switching to a down wing fly be sure to turn one of the feather over so the natural curve on both go the same direction. When tying the feathers on the hook, place the natural curve down.

    12. The caddis/stonefly style is the only fly we tie the stem to the hook shank as per the recipe for a European Wonder Wing. Again, place the natural curve down. Tie it to the hook just like a looped Wonder Wing; short then pull it out to the desired length. Just be careful to not pull the stem out from under the thread turns.

There you have examples of Wonder Wing flies. They really are simple to tie, look great, and make use of the big feathers on capes after using all the smaller feathers on dry flies. Al had over eight hundred such capes when he discovered this wing style. Over the years they have all been used on Wonder Wing flies. The patterns demonstrated here today can be used to imitate just about any bug, just change the material colors and sizes as needed. Have fun! ~ Al & Gretchen

About Al & Gretchen:

Al and Gretchen Beatty have worked together, tied together, taught tying classes and demonstrations throughout the world - and at the end of the day, fished together. They've produced tying videos, tied commercially, and through have written three fly tying books to help fund conservation projects. They own BT's Fly Fishing Products and make their home in Boise, ID. They are a long-time Sponsor of FAOL.

Credit: This article originally appeared in the April 2005 issue of Salmon Trout Steelheader magazine. We appreciate their continued support.

For more great flies, check out: Beginning Fly Tying, Intermediate Fly Tying and Advanced Fly Tying.

[ HOME ]

[ Search ] [ Contact FAOL ] [ Media Kit ] © Notice