It’s hard to consider Joe Fox anything less than fly tying royalty. Joe runs Dette Trout Flies in Roscoe, New York out of a small shop in a residential neighborhood. But don’t let the shop’s rather austere facade and diminutive size fool you, as it houses an incredible variety of top-notch fly fishing and tying gear. The fly bins are chock full with a wide assortment of flies from unique local patterns to large saltwater streamers and everything in between. It’s literally packed to the rafters with cool stuff and you can be sure if Dette Trout Flies doesn’t carry it, you probably don’t need it.
The walls are also adorned with memorabilia, mainly focused on the generations of fly tiers that have proceeded Joe. The business was started by his great-grandparents Walt and Winnie Dette in 1928. They in turn passed it along to Joe’s grandmother Mary Dette, who recently turned it over to Joe.
The business is not the only thing thats been passed down through the generations. So has the family tradition of tying remarkably elegant and functional classic Catskill-style flies. Here, Joe’s going to demonstrate how he ties one of the region’s most iconic patterns, the Red Quill. It’s pretty much the same as his great-grandparents and grandmother tied it. Why change something that looks so good and works so well.
Joe starts with a Daichii 1170 dry fly hook in a size 14. He then loads a bobbin with a spool of white 8/0 Uni thread thats been treated with a special wax recipe Walt Dette came up with decades ago.
Start your thread on the hook shank leaving some space behind the eye and take wraps rearward to about halfway down the shank before snipping the tag end off close. Then, advance your thread forward in open spiral wraps to a point about two eye lengths back from the back edge of the hook eye. This will be the location of the base of the wings.
For wings, select two matching wood duck flank feathers. Pull down the lower shorter fibers on each feather so you’re left with even tips on both. Then, place the two feathers together with their convex sides facing. This will make them want to splay out and form two wings that are equal in number of fibers and in length. Measure to form wings a hook shank plus an eye in length and then transfer that measurement forward to the tie-in point. Using a pinch wrap, secure the wood duck to the top of the hook and take several nice tight thread wraps to really lock it down. You can then lift the butt ends up and snip them off at an angle, which will help create a tapered underbody once they’ve been bound down with wraps of tying thread. Advance your tying thread to in front of the wings and determine where they naturally want to separate.
Begin with a cross wrap from front to back between the wings followed by a back to front on the opposite diagonal. Then start doing figure eight wraps between the two wings with a wrap around the hook shank behind the wings after each figure eight. Once you have the wings in a gently splayed vertical position, relocate your tying thread back to the start of the hook bend. If you have any wayward fibers now’s a good time to snip them out.
For the tail of the fly, pull down to perpendicular and strip off 10-12 hackle fibers from an appropriately sized medium dun hackle feather, doing your best to keep the tips aligned during the process. Lay the fibers against the near side of the hook and take a few thread wraps to secure them to the top of the hook shank. You can then reach in with your tying scissors and snip the curly butt ends off. Tying the tail in like this helps to create a smooth transition between the wing base and the abdomen of the fly.
The quill from a well soaked Rhode Island Red hackle feather is used to form the abdomen of the fly. Soaking makes the quill more pliable and less prone to breakage during wrapping. Strip all the fibers free from the lower part of the stem and then snip the tip off as it won’t be used. Place the tip end of the quill against the near side of the hook and take thread wraps to secure it back to the base of the tail. Then continue taking wraps to bind it down all the way up onto the wing base. Get hold of the butt end of the quill with your fingers or hackle pliers and start making touching wraps with it up the hook to create a segmented abdomen on the fly. Quality hackle pliers really make this job easier, particularly when the quill starts to get short. Leaving a small space behind the wings, secure the quill to the hook and snip the excess off close. Making a few open spiral thread wraps first back and then forward over the abdomen definitely helps with durability. Once coated, they’ll become all but invisible.
For hackle, Joe uses one feather from each of two slightly different shades of medium dun necks and carefully measures them on a Dette Trout Flies hackle gauge. He strips the lower fuzzy fibers from both stems, then snips the excess butt ends off to leave a short length of bare stem for tie-in. Lay the stems against the near side of the hook so the shiny or front sides of the feathesr face you. Thread torque will want to turn the feathers so that those sides face roughly upward, which is good. Relocate your tying thread to an eye length behind the eye and then get hold of one of the hackle feathers and begin wrapping. Try to do three turns behind the wing, followed by three in front, with small spaces between the wraps. Use your tying thread to secure the hackle tip. Now, get hold of the second hackle feather and begin making wraps with it in the spaces between the first hackle wraps, two wraps behind the wing and then two wraps in front is ideal. Then secure that hackle with a couple of turns of tying thread. You can now reach in with the tips of your tying scissors and snip the excess off close. Finally, do a 4 or 5 turn whip finish and snip or cut your tying thread free.
To toughen the quill body of the fly and lessen the visibility of the thread overwraps, apply a thin coat of varnish or head cement over its entirety.
Tying Catskill dries such as this is truly an art form and it takes years of practice to get everything just right, particularly the proportions. It doesn’t hurt to have Catskill fly tying royalty flowing through your veins either.