Published Jan 12. 1998 - 24 years ago
Updated or edited Jan 12. 2019

Cheapskate Heron

I came upon an idea. Actually I combined two incidents into one idea. First of all I was going through my heron feathers (yes, I have more than one) and found some butts that I had saved after having tied whole body hackles. I wanted to use these feathers, which still had a lot of useful and long barbs, but unfortunately a very thick stem.

The Cheapskate Heron is a poor man's Spey fly.

This article is based on my entry in the FF@ 1997 Illustrated Pattern Swap

Spey flies are characterized by their heron hackle. Now, where I live - in Denmark - heron is protected, but widely available and legal too. In many other places, mainly the U.S.A, heron is far more strictly protected and mostly unavailable as a fly tying material. If you find some feathers in the shops they are expensive at best and illegal at worst. If you find feathers in nature, I would generally recommend leaving them there, but I will admit that I would also be tempted.

If a heron feather - by chance of course - should dump into your lap, or if you spent the money on a bagfull (half a dozen feathers, of them two useful ones...) you probably want to be very economical with it.
Spey fly patterns usually prescibe a whole heron feather wound as a body hackle. The long hackle is the hallmark of that type of fly. Which means one good feather equals one fly. That was the end of that feather...

I came upon an idea. Actually I combined two incidents into one idea. First of all I was going through my heron feathers (yes, I have more than one) and found some butts that I had saved after having tied whole body hackles. I wanted to use these feathers, which still had a lot of useful and long barbs, but unfortunately a very thick stem.

Spey and Dee style
The tying style Spey originates in the north eastern corner of Scotland by the rivers Dee and Spey. These flies are probably some of the oldest of the classical salmon flies. Their obvious character comes mainly from two factors:
1) the low and often slim construction often topped by a mallard, turkey or pheasant feather wing
2) the long and very mobile heron hackle
These two traits will immediately reveal a fly as a Spey or Dee fly.

Second I saw Poul Jorgensens video on tying salmon flies for fishing and read his new Danish book on salmon flies. Here Poul describes the wishbone method of tying in throat hackles, a method that he has been using for a while.
I combined those two things into a kind of wishbone heron throat hackle.
By tying in two or three small sections of stem with barbs under the hook after finishing the body of the fly, I got an effect that was almost Speyish - although not as good as a real body hackle. But much cheaper...

Don't think that heron is just for filthy rich criminals. Spey flies are both beautiful and good fishing flies. Try them.

Special Spey hooks are available, but it's not at all impossible to tie a Spey flies on any salmon hook. I personally prefer the classic curved Bartleet bend as seen on the Partridge hooks to the left. But a real cheapskate would never choose these expensive hooks. The plain Sprite hooks to the right are just fine - at less than half the price.

You can download the original 1997 entry as a PDF below or see it below.
It was originally printed on A3 (about 2*Letter size) paper and folded to form a small leaflet.

Hook: Inexpensive salmon hook size 4-2/0
Thread: Black
Tag: Flat mylar silver tinsel, small
Butt: Orange rayon floss
Tail: Red golden pheasant body feather
Rib: Embossed silver tinsel, medium
Body: Black wool dubbing or yarn
Hackle: Natural grey heron, sparse and guinea fowl
Wing: Bronze mallard
Head Black tying thread

Tying instructions

  1. Start the thread where the front end of the floss tag will be.
  2. Wind the thread in smooth touching turns to above the tip of the hook
  3. Tie in the flat tinsel and wind four touching turns to the rear and four back again.
  4. Tie off the tinsel and cut surplus
  5. Wind the thread forwards in close, smooth turns to its starting point
  6. Tie in the orange floss
  7. Wind the floss to the rear to touch the tag and back again in smooth touching turns
  8. Tie down the floss and cut surplus
  9. ie in a small red G.P. body feather as tail
  10. Tie in the flat tinsel ribbing
  11. Dub the body to a slim, tapered shape with black wool or yarn
  12. Wind the ribbing forwards in 5 open turns
  13. Tie down the ribbing and cut surplus

  14. Prepare two or three short sections of heron as shown on the picture above

  15. Tie in the sections under the hook shank just in front of the body. The hackle should reach approx. a shank length behind the hook.
  16. Trim off stem pieces
  17. Prepare a section of a medium size guinea fowl feather in the same way
  18. Tie in the guinea fowl as a throat hackle reaching mid shank. Trim off stem
  19. Prepare two sections of bronze mallard for wings
  20. Set the mallard back to back on each side of the shank just in front of the body
  21. catch with a loose loop, pinch and draw tight
  22. Cut the butts
  23. Form a smooth tapered head
  24. Whip finish and cut thread
  25. Varnish

A combo of the cheapskate fly idea and a Green Butt.

Hook: Sprite, normal size 2
Thread: Black
Butt: Green floss
Tag: Silver tinsel
Rib: Thin oval Golden tinsel
Body: Black floss
Hackle: Grey heron, Cheapskate Heron style
Throat hackle: Red Golden pheseant body feather
Wings: Golden pheseant tail
Head: Black

The key to successful feather wings is to remember: left side feather goes on as right side wing and opposite. Massage the strips to the right curve before tying in with a pinch grip and a loose thread loop.

The classical and beautiful Spey fly

Hook: Partridge Bartleet Supreme size 2
Thread: Black
Tag: Thin gold oval tinsel
Tail: Golden pheseant red body feather
Rib: Thin oval and flat golden tinsel
Body hackle: Natural grey heron
Body: Olive and brown wool 2:1
Throat hackle: Golden pheseant red body feather
Wings: Bronze mallard
Head: Black


Congratulations. Ver...

Congratulations. Very nice fly. I myself have lots of heron spey hackles, so I ty in a whole hackle
for one fly. Looks very good !

Can you show me how ...

Can you show me how to tie on the Feather wings? I get to the point where you tie the fibers on, and then the wing fibers get tangled up and uneven.

Very nice fly and I ...

Very nice fly and I believe it will work too. Very interesting the hackling style!


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