Article by Jack Gartside: FishHead flies are extremely effective fish-takers, combining an attractive shape and motion, seductive materials, and a realistic baitfish-shaped head.

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Featherwing FishHead

FishHead flies are extremely effective fish-takers in both fresh and salt water, combining as they do a very attractive shape and motion, with soft and seductive materials flowing temptingly out of a realistic baitfish-shaped head with painted eyes. They are extraordinarily easy to tie and — to create different effects — can be tied in a variety of colors and sizes and with many different materials for the tailwing. They can be tied simply as attractor flies or more realistically to imitate specific baitfish.

Weighting the fly: The instructions below are for an unweighted fly. However, I sometimes tie my FishHeads weighted in front to sink quickly and deeply. To weight a FishHead, wind lead wire around the front third of the hook shank. After it's wound on, coat the wire with fabric paint — red on the bottom and greenish-blue on top. This coats the lead and provides some "internal" coloration.

The example shown below is a yellow/grizzly Featherwing FishHead but many color combinations can be used to good effect. For more FishHead patterns and ideas, see my book Fly Patterns for the Adventurous Tyer, Vol. II (Salt Water). Patterns in this book may also be used successfully in fresh water as well.

Tying the Featherwing FishHead


Mustad 34007 (SW), Mustad 3406 (FW), sizes 4 - 1/0


Danville's 6/0, white


(Optional) .20 or .30 lead wire single or double-wrapped over front third of hook.

Tail Wing:

Matched neck or saddle feathers, length and color to vary according to size and shape of baitfish to be imitated.

Side Flash:

Pearl GSS or Flashabou.


Blood marabou, color to compliment or contrast tailwing color. (The marabou-like base of a saddle feather may also be used, to create a shorter skirt).


Corsair tubing (1/2" for large flies (#2 and up), 1/3" for smaller flies, color to vary.


Black on yellow (fabric paint)

step 1

Step 1Tie in matched saddle or neck feathers slightly before bend of hook. Trim excess.

step 2

Step 2Tie in side flash, if desired.

step 3

Step 3Wind on skirt of blood marabou. Trim excess. (See Tying Notes below for more on blood marabou).

step 4

Step 4Cut approximately 1 1/2" of Corsair tubing and slip over eye and shank to a point just in front of the skirt. Be sure to line up the thread lines so that each one runs parallel and alongside the hook shank and be sure also to tie down the thread lines along with the tubing just in front of the skirt (see Tying Notes below for more on Corsair tubing). Trim excess material if any, whip finish thread, and cement thread wrap.

step 5

Step 5Push tubing back over shank to base of skirt (Corsair tubing is semi-collapsible and acts a bit like an accordion.) Taper the rear portion of tubing (by squeezing and stretching the tubing, thus loosening the thread lines and narrowing the diameter of the tubing. Wrap turns of thread around the point where you want your body to end and whip finish. Head cement your thread wraps and trim any excess material.

step 6

Step 6Wind your thread (at least six or seven times) around the tubing at a point just behind the eye so that tubing is secured to the hook, with approximately 1/2" extending beyond the hook eye.

step 7

Step 7Trim excess and form neat thread head. Paint eyes if desired and color with water-resistant art markers. (See Tying Notes below for more on making eyes).

Tying notes:

About Corsair tubing: Corsair tubing comes in 1/2", 1/3", and 1/4" (these are the most useful sizes) and in various colors: pearl, gold, silver, black and plain white and is the most useful and durable of all the different types of tubing available. The wise tyer will want to have all of these different tubings to create a wide variety of effects. Corsair tubing can be found in many fly shops. You can also order it directly from me.

If you've not used Corsair tubing before, the most important thing to notice about it (apart from its usefulness) is that it has a thread line running along each. This thread line controls the density, flexibility, and the degree to which the material can be stretched and tapered, as well as shaped (e.g. flattened or made oval). In addition, these thread lines may also serve to suggest the lateral lines of the natural baitfish. To create and maintain the best shapes and tapers, these thread lines MUST be tied down at BOTH ends of the tubing when forming the head.

A helpful hint: Before pushing the tubing back over the shank, squeeze the tubing slightly, to loosen up the material a bit; then cut the tubing at a point slightly behind the points of thread. This will cause the thread lines to pop out of the material, sort of like a snail's horns (this makes it really easy to tie down the thread lines).

To flatten the head simply squeeze between your thumb and forefinger it until it flattens to the degree desired. To create a "belly" simply apply downward finger pressure while squeezing.

On Blood Marabou: "Blood" marabou refers to marabou that has a relatively thin stem throughout its length. For most FishHead flies, you should choose your marabou so that its length when wound on is approximately one-half to two-thirds the length of the tailwing. For more details on winding marabou, see the instructions for the Soft Hackle Streamer.

On Eyes: Stick-on eyes are not recommended for use with Corsair tubing. For one thing they never "stick."


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