What Feathers Are Used For Fly Tying?

The flies used during fly fishing are something, almost anything, that resembles an insect or other prey that the fish you want to catch will try to eat.

Fishing flies may be made from synthetic materials like plastic, furs, and feathers. The most common choice is bird feathers. Fly tying feathers may be used for tying or dressing fishing flies.

What feathers are used for fly tying? And why are those types of feathers used for fly tying? 

Pheasant Tail Feathers 

Pheasant feathers are nearly uniform, so you can use feathers from their legs or wings for fly fishing. However, their tail feathers are the most popular choice. The tail feathers are though to give flies a life-like look at feel. 

Partridge/Quail Back Feathers 

Partridge back feathers are often used as flies. They flow with the water as if they are alive. A natural movement like this is essential to catching salmon.

Quail feathers are best for hackling small flies.

Partridge skin is often used to tie soft hackles because it resembles insect leg segmentation. 

Chicken Feathers 

Most chickens are raised for meat and eggs, not feathers. However, chicken feathers are sometimes used.

Capons are neutered male chickens so that their feathers will have the right qualities to be used in fly fishing and fly tying. Their neck and shoulder feathers are better for dry fly tying since they’re so stiff.

This mimics the actions of an insect floating on the water surface. Because they don’t have much webbing, they won’t absorb much water, either.

Another point in favor of chicken feathers is that you can find chickens bred for a specific color, so the feathers used in the fly don’t have to be dyed.

That means the brown, ginger, black, light dun (grey) or white feathers will never fade or lose their pattern. 

Pheasant Feathers 

Pheasant tails are arguably better than partridge feathers, and they can be used in nearly every part of a fishing fly.

This is why you can find a pattern using entirely pheasant tail fathers to make the “pheasant tail nymph”.

The natural ringneck pheasant tails are the most popular option. These feathers range in length from 8 to 18 inches. 

Turkey Feathers 

The term marabou now refers to down feathers; the term marabou or marabout used to refer to a specific African species, but its endangered status means you won’t find real marabout flies anymore except in a museum. 

Stork marabou used to be commonly used, but good luck finding mass-produced lures using anything from a stork.

Today, most marabou comes from turkeys. They are ideal for large streamer flies that can catch almost any type of fish. Smaller marabou feathers can be used for minnow imitations and baitfish imitations.

Turkey’s tail feathers are ideal for hoppers and muddlers. Turkey quills are used to tie hopper legs and wings.

They can be used when making stonefly nymph, muddlers, and mayfly nymph cases. 

Peacock Tail Feathers 

Peacock males have the brightly colored tail to attract the attention of prospective female mates.

There is debate as to whether or not the eye pattern on their tails deters predators or is an intentional handicap that showcases the male’s overall fitness. (If he can survive with a large, colorful tail like that and be healthy, he’s better than equally big males without the tail.) 

It turns out that the peacock’s eyes are a good choice for tying quill bodied patterns.

They are used in a variety of wet and dry flies. They can be turned into tails, heads, and ribs in many fly patterns. They can also be used to make herls. Peacock herl may be used to tie shimmers onto dries.

The long “swords” or full-length tail feathers can be turned into herl and cost less than just the “eyes”. 

A side benefit of peacock feathers is that they are much more affordable than cock eyes; real jungle cock eyes are so hard to find those imitation products abound. 

Goose Feathers 

These are ideal for making fake legs and antennae on fake insects used in your lures. It will create a realistic stonefly nymph lure.

Goose quill pairs can be used to make wings and tails on both wet and dry flies. Neck feathers tend to be used for tying dry flies, too. 

Duck Feathers 

Duck feathers can be used just like goose feathers and pheasant feathers. However, the Cul De Canard or CDC feathers are found only around the preen gland of the duck. That gland puts out oil the duck uses to waterproof the bird’s feathers.

When these feathers are used in a fishing fly, it provides extra buoyancy for the fly. These feathers are popularly used in midge fly patterns and emerger flies. Brown shoulder feathers are regularly used in wet, nymph and salmon flies.

Duck quill pairs can be used to in fly tyers, turned into wings and tails on both wet and dry fly patterns. Flank feathers can be used as tails and wings in many fly patterns. They may be dyed, but the natural coloration variations show through even dyed feathers. 

The Spey Cock 

The Spey cock was a chicken breed raised around the area where fly fishing first took off. However, this heritage breed of chickens seems to have disappeared. Tom Whiting tried to find living specimens.

He ended up using descriptions of the extinct Spey cock to related birds. The described feathers had feathers that didn’t adhere to each other. This was similar to silkie chickens, a breed in China.

Whiting then bred what he calls the Spey cock. The feathers they create resemble fur when it floats in the water. The hackles made from these feathers are ideal for sea trout and any fish that love shrimp.

Marabou is too full for that application. We mention the spey cock separately from chickens because it is a proprietary breed and product. 

Ostrich Plumes 

Ostrich plumes are often used for tying bodies, tails, and nymphs. These are generally dyed white.

They’ll range in length from 12 to 15 inches. One benefit of ostrich feathers is that they can be used in both wet and dry fly ties. Their strength and natural color make them ideal for streamers.