Ring-Necked Duck Feathers

Ring-necked duck flank feathers offer vivid markings.

I noticed the flank feathers on my ring-necked duck were quite marked. At first glance they appeared even more so than mallard. Upon comparison the vermiculation does appear a little darker and more dense. Not really so big difference that I don’t think you would really notice it in a fly pattern, but the feathers are certainly worth plucking and saving. In addition there are some dark semi-large and long feather near the tail of the duck that would work for spey patterns. Too bad the brown feathers of the ring neck are not really distinct or pronunced in color. There are a good number of white feathers in the wings that will be good for small wet fly wings. Also some of the primary wing feathers have a green cast that is interesting.

Flank feathers plucked and ready to store in a plastic bag.

Some care has to be taken when procuring and storing your own fly tying materials. I have always found good information in Eric Leiser’s old book, Fly-Tying MaterialsTheir Procurement, Use, and Protection© 1973 by Eric Leiser Crown Publishers, Inc., New York.

I found the following good instruction on the web at:


Birds Skinning or Plucking?

Once you have the game bird look it over to see what usefully feathers are on the bird. Then decide if you’re going to pluck the feathers that you want off the bird or skin it out. For example most ducks I pluck off the flank, breast and the CDC feathers and not bother skinning it out. But with a Bobwhite Quail or Hungarian Partridge and other upland birds, I’ll skin out the whole bird because there are so many usefully feathers on the bird. I may also depend on how shot up or dirty the bird is. I do have some ducks that I have skinned out and some upland birds that I have plucked.

You may want to consider freezing the bird until you have time to process it. This will also help kill any bugs on the bird, see the section below on killing bugs.


When skinning out birds I will cut off there wings and set them aside for later processing. This will make it easier to skin the bird out because the wings always seem to get in the way. Heavy scissors or wire cutters will help you get the wings off quickly and make it easer to skin out the bird. Just clip off the wings next to the body. Then you’ll need to decide if you want to make the first cut along the top or the bottom if the bird. Most ducks have better feathers for fly tying along there breast so the first cut will be along their back and the opposite is mostly true of upland birds.

The skin on birds is generally very thin and will rip and tear easily. You will need to be careful as to how hard you pull on the skin when removing it. Also be careful when using a knife on the skin. One tip is to use your fingers to push between the skin and meat and only use a knife where the skin is hard to remove.

Once you have the bird skinned out you need to cure it. You can Dry or tan your birds skins, most of the time I’ll use the drying method. See the Drying and tanning section below.


There is no trick to plucking a bird, just grab a few feathers at a time and give a good tug. Some feathers come out easier if you pull them in the opposite direction that they are growing. You may want to keep the different feathers separated from each other I.E. keep the CDC in a different bag from breast feathers. I like to use paper bags to hold the feathers, paper allows the feathers to dry out in the bag.

The more difficult task with plucked feathers is dealing with ones that are dirty or bloody. If you can get some that are fairly clean you can move right on to the treating them for bugs and skip the next clean section. The other advantage to not cleaning the feathers is that they will retain any natural oils that will help keep your dry flies floating.


So if you do have some feathers you need to wash, here are some ideas on how to go about it.

First find a container to wash the feathers in, sink, bucket, ect. Then add some mild detergent like Dawn dish soap, Woolite, or similar detergent and warm water. I like Woolite because it seems to add some luster to the feathers. You can add in some bleach or ammonia to help kill the bugs. But I would still treat the feathers for bugs after they are washed with one of the below methods, because I’m not sure that they would be exposed to the bleach or ammonia long enough to kill them. Then gently stir the feathers by hand and repeat if needed and rinse well. DO NOT WRING OUT WATER!!, this will destroy the feathers and quills. I have used a fine mesh kitchen strainer, (like the one you would use to get lumps out of the gravy, just don’t let the wife find out). Do not use water any hotter then what comes out of your tap, to avoid damage to the feathers barbs.


As for drying the feathers you have a few choices. You can place the feathers in to a paper bag or old pillow case. Then wrap it around the neck of a hair drier. You may need to add a few hole to allow the air can escape. Do not use the ‘hot’ setting, feather tips can be singed easily.

Or you can to put wet feathers between some newspapers. Place a flat weight on top and let air dry. The feathers will dry and not curl as much as they will when using hot air.

Or you can put the feathers into an old pillow case, tie the end of the pillow case and throw the whole thing into the drier, put it on a low heat setting. You will be surprised at how nice then come out of the dryer. This is one of the easier and quicker methods I have used to dry feathers.


The SLF Salmon Fly (Santa’s Little Helper)

The SLF, a full dressed Atlantic salmon fly featuring good use of barred wood duck in the traditional way.

I came up with the SLF Salmon Fly a few years ago just before Christmas. The idea was to include as many of the steps of tying a full dressed Atlantic salmon fly in a new pattern as I could. Because of the Season, the pattern was to have a Holiday Spirit to it. I don’t remember how the name Santa’s Little Helper stuck, but that may have been because of the little Santa’s cap at the head of the fly.

Barred wood duck shows up in a couple of places in the SLF Salmon Fly. Most obvious is in the tail. Here a section of barred wood duck is used as the veiling for the long golden pheasant crest tail. The dark solid bars of the wood duck contrast well with the bright yellow, help to define the tail, and add some overall balance to the theme of the fly.

The second use of barred wood duck in the SLF pattern is a very traditional one for Atlantic salmon flies. In this use a barred wood duck strip is paired with a strip of teal duck flank as a wing veiling. Never an easy task the small strips are married together (hooked up so the feathers lock and mesh) with the teal on the bottom and the wood duck on top. Care has too be taken so the both strips are from the same side of the feather quill or they will not mesh. Often troublesome is the teal which you can never seem to obtain in sizes that are long enough! Once wood duck and teal are locked together in a single piece that piece is added to the side of the wing. Actually a second wood duck and teal strip is added to the other side of the main wing, so two strips, mirror images of each other, have to made. They are added at the same time with a pinch grip to the wing between thumb and index fingers, and a careful half turn/loop of the tying thread over the wing at the tie in point and a fast “drop” of the bobbin. This is a fly tying technique that has to be practiced over and over again and is much too involved to get into here. In this wing the teal and wood duck wing veiling can be seen raising just above the head of the jungle cock eye feather and extending about half the length of the total wing.

Well thats about it on barred wood duck. I’m starting to think about the uses of bronzed mallard for fly tying. Both Santa’s Little Helper and I wish all a Merry Christmas 2010!

SLF Salmon Fly graces the cover of Patent Pattern with recipe inside the book.

The SLH (Santa’s Little Helper) Salmon Fly was published on the cover of Patten Patterns 1,500 Unique and Innovative Fly Patterns a book edited and photographed by Jim Schollmeyer. The recipe for the SLH Salmon Fly can be found inside. The book is available hardbond or softbond from Frank Amato Publications, Inc., P.O.Box 82112, Portland, Oregon 97282. http://www.amatobooks.com

The Silver Demon

Another steelhead fly pattern featuring a barred wood duck tail.

The Silver Demon is another old classic steelhead fly pattern that still is used. Perhaps not as well known as it’s famous cousin the Gold Demon, the Silver Demon steelhead fly actually out produced the Gold Demon during early days on the Klamath River. Upon it’s introduction in 1934 or 1935, early commercial fly tyer C. Jim Pray of Eureka, California wrote of his creation outselling the Gold Demon by 1,300 to 300. (Streamer Fly Tying and Fishing©1950 and 1966 by Joseph D. Bates page 250)

Tied in the fashion of the Cains River Streamers, which all featured barred mandarin or wood duck for tails, the Silver Demon was one of three patterns that Jim Pray added to the Cains River fly series. The other two were the older Gold Demon and a Black Demon creation of Mr. Pray. The distinguishing feature of the Demon flies were their bright orange collar hackle.

The Cains River Streamers came out starting with the earliest patterns in 1924 by a Mr. Fred Peet for use on New Brunswick’s Cains River. The quarry was Atlantic salmon. The Cains River Streamers proved effective for other fish species including trout and bass and eventually near 21 patterns came to be. C. Jim Pray thought that his Demons would work up nice for steelhead when tied in the Cains River style. Both the Silver and Black Demon feature the barred wood duck tail.

Two ways of attaching the barred wood duck tail to the hook. The old Cains River Streamer recipes call for two sections of barred wood duck back to back and tied down with a soft loop of the thread. This method produces a clean, even outline to the tail. Carefully folding a broad section of barred wood duck over into a smaller strip with two good equal sides is another technique. Little bit faster, but I can never get the folded sides to line up and look all that equal. Really of little consequence when you are going to fish the fly, as I don’t think the steelhead notice or care one bit about even edges!

Ducks Unlimited Photo Contest

Photo submitted to DU Photo Contest by Mr. Tyler Austin

I like this shot. Reminds me a lot of lone jump shooting along the Rogue River. The Ducks Unlimited Photo Contest page has additional good duck hunting photos. You can go to the website and vote for the photo you like best at Ducks Unlimited at http://www.ducks.org .

Photo Contest

A Spate Fly

Large pattern featuring barred wood duck flank as part of the wing.

Another steelhead pattern that features wood duck feathers. The barred wood duck flank is used as high veiling over a bucktail wing. The above example is based on a Northwest pattern called the Darbee Spate Fly originated  by Joe Rossano. The large fly is intended for steelhead swimming the high, cold, discolored waters of Winter…where any edge is sought by the hopeful fly angler.

About 1946 Harry A. Darbee, a commercial fly dresser of Livingston Manor, New York, originated his Spate Fly for fishing Canadian waters for Atlantic salmon during “high spate” conditions. The fly was dressed in sizes 1/0 and over. Joseph D. Bates Jr. in his fine old book Atlantic Salmon Flies & Fishing ©1970 list Darbee’s original recipe as including golden pheasant crest, and seal’s fur or polar bear fur. I’m just interested in the use of the wood duck.

The recipe for the Rossano Darby Spate Fly is as follows:

Hook Partridge Bartleet

Thread Orange

Tag Fine oval gold tinsel

Tail Yellow golden pheasant rump feather

Body Brown leech yarn

Rib Fine oval gold tinsel

Hackle Brown schlappen collared with long black schlappen

Wing Red fox topped with broad strips of wood duck

Head Orange thread

The Orleans Barber

The Orleans Barber features a strip of black and white wood duck flank for a tail.


  The Orleans Barber is an old Klamath River pattern that features a wood duck tail. Credit for the naming of the pattern goes to C. Jim Pray, an early famous fly dresser and steelhead angler from Eureka, California. Jim Pray gave credit for the introduction of the then unknown pattern to a good flyfisherman from the Orleans area on the Klamath River, California. He was known to all as the Orleans barber.  Whether he was the local barber or not I can only speculate. The year was 1934. The wood duck tail and no wing was a little bit different, but the pattern caught Klamath steelhead. So good that Jim Pray included the fly in his top list of best Klamath River steelhead patterns, and gave it the name The Orleans Barber. Use of the Orleans Barber pattern spread to the Rogue River of Oregon where it was successful for steelhead as well.

A simple but elegant looking fly the recipe is:

The Orleans Barber

 Tail- Black and white barred wood duck or mandarin duck;

 Body- bright red chenille;

 Hackle- gray;

 No wings

I tied this Orleans Barber using two wood duck strips back to back for the tail. The body is fluorencent red chenille. The hackle is soft, grizzly-barred hen wrapped three turns.

December Fisherman’s Pluck-Wood Duck

Got lucky the other day and shot three wood ducks. My very first! I’m always hunting for the drake mallard duck. I prefer mallard duck for supper, and I like collecting those bronze mallard feathers from the back.  In my estimate, when dressing Spey or Atlantic salmon patterns one can never have a good enough selection of  bronze mallard for wings. Now I’m going to have to add the drake wood duck as my other favorite waterfowl. Here’s a look at the location and plucking of those prized black and white tip wood duck flank feathers.

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There are not a lot of good quality feathers on one bird. From each side you will get generally only five to seven. That is why when you buy barred wood duck from the fly shop it is kind of expensive. You might also lament on the quantity. I like to keep and store my wood duck barred feathers in two categories, right and left sides. Right and left side feathers are like near mirror images of each other. That then makes it is easier to find and match an equal right side feather with an equal left side feather. For instance, when constructing an Atlantic salmon fly with a married wing that calls for wood duck, you will need a narrow strip from both a right side and a left side feather.

A good old steelhead fly that calls for wood duck is the Orleans Barber. In that summer steelhead pattern a barred black and white wood duck strip is used as the fibers for the tail of the fly. Another example of a steelhead pattern that utilizes barred wood duck is the Coon Muddler. In the Coon Muddler the wood duck is used as an underwing for the main raccoon body hair wing.

I would be neglect, if I fail to mention the plain lemon brown flank feathers from the wood duck. These particular feathers underlie the black and white tips barred feathers.  They look very much like plain mallard or teel flank feathers with the faint black vermiculation, but have that destinctive lemon color. These flank feathers have been useful for years to the trout fisherman as the wings for dry fly patterns such as the Light Cahill and Quill Gordon. They should work well as hackles and throats on steelhead flies.