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Ginger Quill Pattern & Tying Instructions

Fly Tying Recipe: Ginger Quill
Standard dry-fly hook (here, a Dai-Riki #300), sizes 14-20.
Olive, 6/0 or 140-denier.
Mallard primary-feather segments, matched.
Ginger or brown hackle fibers.
Stripped peacock quill.
Same as tail.
Tying thread.
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Video Transcript:

At better than 200 years old, the Ginger Quill Dry Fly is a true classic in every sense of the term. Even today they hold their own when it comes to fooling fussy trout, but many tiers avoid tying them because the pattern can be a bit persnickety.

Here, author, fly tier and blogger Matt Grobert is going to tie one, Catskill-style, about as close to perfect as you can get. Matt starts with a Dai-Riki #300 dry fly hook in a size 14.

After getting the hook firmly secured in the jaws of his tying vise, he loads his bobbin with another classic, olive 6/0 Danville. Start your thread on the hook shank a full 2 eye lengths behind the hook eye, and take a generous number of wraps rearward, and then forward again, before snipping or breaking off the tag. End with your tying thread just slightly more than 1/3 of the way down the hook shank from the eye.

For the wings, separate and then snip about a 1/8” segment from a mallard primary feather. Then do the same from the matching feather on the opposite wing. This is why mallard feathers or whole wings are traditionally sold in matched pairs. Lay the 2 segments so their lighter or back sides are facing and their tips are aligned. Reorient the feathers with the longer fibers on the bottom and pinched firmly between the thumb and index finger of your left hand. Measure to form a wing a full hook in length and transfer that measurement forward, precisely over top of the tying thread. Raise the thread to vertical, so it’s 90 degrees to the hook shank and, using a pinch wrap, first go down lightly over top of the fibers and then straight back up. Pull directly up with your tying thread to compress the fibers at a single point on top of the shank. Continue taking thread wraps rearward, making sure both wings stay aligned on top of the hook as you go. Once they’re really locked down, you can reach in with your tying scissors and snip the excess butt ends off at an angle.

Tilt the wings rearward a bit and then take thread wraps right up to their base. While holding the wings back, take a thread wrap immediately in front of them and then a few more forward, up the hook shank. Then, start making wraps back, right to the front edge of the wings. Your thread should end up directly beneath the point where the wings first connect to the hook shank. This position is critical for getting the wings to split correctly.

Insert your bodkin between the two wings down by the base and move upward to separate them. Then, gently press down with the bodkin to part the wings, ever so slightly. Grasping one wing at a time, make a figure 8 thread wrap between them, keeping only moderate tension on the thread. With the figure 8 complete, pull your thread from back to front at the base of the near wing and then carry it diagonally from front to back between the two wings. This should make them stand up, like so. Make one complete wrap around just the hook shank, behind the wings, then carry your thread from back to front on a diagonal between them. Once again, take a full wrap around just the hook shank, in effect saving your work up to this point. Continue taking firm thread wraps rearward to bind down the snipped-off butts and create a smooth ramp down to the hook shank. Ideally, all the fibers of each wing should’ve stayed together throughout the tie-in process and not split off.

Next comes the tail of the fly. Pluck a single ginger or brown hackle feather with long, stiff fibers free from the outside edge of the cape. At about the midpoint of the feather’s length, preen down the fibers to get them oriented perpendicular to the stem. While maintaining this orientation, strip a half inch or so of fibers free from the stem. Manipulate the fibers into a bunch and if necessary align their butts which will, in turn, align the tips. If you find you have too many fibers simply remove the excess and once again align the butts. Snip the little curlies on the butt ends of the fibers off square.

With the clump in your right hand, measure to form a tail a full hook in length. Then transfer the clump and the measurement to the fingertips of your left hand. While keeping the measurement, place the fibers on top of the hook shank and start taking thread wraps to secure them. Continue taking wraps down the shank until your thread is positioned about halfway between the hook point and the barb. Double check to make sure the tail length is correct. It should be a full hook length long.

A natural colored stripped peacock quill is used to form the body of the fly. Orient the quill so its tip is pointed down and its dark edge is to the left. Then snip the brittle tip off at an angle, like so. While maintaining the same orientation, place the tip of the quill against the near side of the hook and take thread wraps to secure it. Keep taking thread wraps up the shank leaving your thread about an eye length behind the base of the wing.

Use your hackle pliers to get hold of the butt end of the peacock quill and, starting right at the base of the tail, begin taking touching wraps with the quill up the hook shank. Notice how the dark edge of the quill points rearward giving the appearance of a finely segmented, slender body. Few other materials, if any, can produce such a result. When you reach your tying thread, use it to secure the butt end of the quill firmly to the hook shank. Make sure it’s bound down well, but also try not to build up any kind of lump or bump with your tying thread, as this will be the foundation on which you wrap your hackle. With everything looking good, reach in with the tips of your tying scissors and snip the excess butt end of the quill off close.

On the same hackle cape as used for the tail, locate an appropriately sized, nicely colored feather. Before plucking it from the skin, confirm that it’s the correct size for the hook being used. On Catskill-style dries like this, many tiers, including Matt, tend to go just a bit larger than prescribed as this helps the fly to balance and ride better on the water’s surface.

When you’re happy with the fiber length, pluck the feather free from the skin. Preen down the lower webby fibers, stripping a small segment of them free from the stem. You can then break or snip off the lower unwanted part of the feather leaving a short length of bare stem for tie-in.

With the shiny or front side of the feather facing you, lay the bare portion of the stem against the near side of the hook. Torque from the initial thread wrap should turn the feather so its shiny side faces up and forward. This is the orientation you want for wrapping. Keep taking even, touching thread wraps, first behind the wing then in front, to firmly bind the stem to the hook shank. The flatter this section of wraps is, the better your hackle will wrap. End with your tying thread a full eye length behind the eye.

Get hold of the feather with your hackle pliers and begin making touching wraps with it up the hook shank toward the eye. The closer you can make the wraps to each other, without overlapping, the better. How many wraps of hackle you make depends largely on how dense the hackle fibers are on the stem. Here, Matt has managed to fit three wraps behind the wing and another three in front. Some tiers may use more, others less, it really is a matter of personal preference.

While holding the feather tip to near vertical, take several wraps of tying thread, one right on top of the last, to bind the stem to the hook shank. Then, reach in with just the very tips of your tying scissors and snip the excess hackle tip off close. Do a 3 or 4 turn whip finish trying your best not to trap hackle fibers in the process. When you’re done and the knot is well seated, snip or cut your tying thread free. If you have any wonky hackle fibers, don’t be afraid to go in and snip them off close. Even the pros do this on almost every fly.

Of course, on a traditional dry fly, the real test of whether you’ve done a good job of tying and really got the proportions right is how well the fly is going to land and ride on the water’s surface.

On this Ginger Quill, Grobert earns a perfect 10 for artistic expression and another one for absolutely sticking the landing.