I received an email from a new tying buddy of mine in Upstate NY with a question that I thought was worth sharing.
Question – I have been having some trouble keeping the saddle hackle on the tail straight; they always want to twist on me. Do you have any tips for keeping them straight?
After teaching fly tying for more than a decade, I realized that feathers cause more confusion and frustration than any other material. For both beginning fly tiers and seasoned pros alike (yours truly included), keeping them secured straight and even on the hook is an onerous chore that can suck the fun right out of fly tying. For that reason, I created a Free eBook with tips and tricks to help you along the way.
One technique I discovered a few years after writing the book was this little gem. When tying in 2 pairs of feathers for claws or a tail on flies with bead chain or dumbbell eyes, tie the eyes on first. Then, line up the tips of the feathers on the pair closest to you. I estimate about twice the hook length and make 2-3 loose wraps. Tuck the butts of this pair underneath the bead chain or dumbbell eyes. Next, line up the second pair that will be tied in on the far side of the hook.
Do your best to line up the tips of these two feathers with the first pair and hold them in place with two loose wraps. Position the butts of these two feather above the dumbbell eye. Now, gently pinch both pairs of feathers together and check the tips for alignment. Correct any alignment issues by gently pulling the pair or individual feather that sticks out beyond the others.
Once you have the feathers where you want them, gently hold the feathers in place with your non-dominant hand and wrap forward toward the dumbbell eye to secure the feathers (snug but not tight wraps). Do your best not to apply thread pressure across the hook shank but rather in an upward direction after placing each wrap.
Once the feathers are secured, you can then cut away the butts of the feathers and cover the body of the fly with thread. This will give you a clean platform to tie in your next two feathers for palmering the body, or if you’re tying Merkin-style crab patterns like in the pic, give you a colored thread base for the Aunt Lydia’s or EP Fiber body.