Published Nov 20. 2022 - 1 year ago
Updated or edited Nov 21. 2022

Sling Wings

A simple technique to fan out dry fly hackles to form wings the Comparadun style.

Tape and fly
Tape and fly
Nick Thomas

I have to thank Bill Ninke for giving me the inspiration for this one. We both have an R&D background which probably explains our shared interest in exploring novel tying materials and methods which we discuss on a regular basis by email. Bill writes the fly of the month page for the central New Jersey chapter of Trout Unlimited and the fly he picked for November 2022 is one that uses a technique I’d not seen before.

The Hackle Wing Baetis Dun has a Comparadun fan shaped wing, formed not from deer hair as is standard, but from a modified wound hackle. To form the finished wing the wound hackle fibres are pulled to the top of the hook and a heated needle applied to the underside to set them in place. Bill’s article gives the history of the method, together with comprehensive tying instructions.

I used to fish deer hair Comparaduns, I liked them, they sat nicely on the water and caught a lot of fish. It been a good while since I tied one; developing an allergy to deer hair put paid to that. I can still tie a few flies with hackles, and by a few, I mean just two or three, before my eyes start to water and itch and I have to stop. So, having read Bill’s article, I got to thinking of other ways of achieving a Comparadun shape wing from a wound hackle.

One of the things that I have in my miscellany of materials is sticky plastic whiteboard tape. It’s the stuff people use to layout grids on whiteboards so they can use dry marker pens and clean off the board without removing the lines. The tape is 3 mm/0.12 inch wide and 0.08 mm/0.003 inch thick and comes in a number of colours. I’ve used it for a number of fly designs to create different body effects. It’s available from a number of online sources; just Google ‘3mm whiteboard tape’.

Useful stuff
Useful stuff
Nick Thomas

For large size flies the 3mm tape can be used as it comes, for smaller flies stick a bit of tape to a cutting mat and use a craft knife and steel ruler to cut it to a narrower strip. On the size 14 Sling Wing shown here I cut the tape to 2mm wide.

I’ve given the materials and tying instructions for a March Brown approximation with an organza body and tails. However, the tape sling method could be applied to any hackled dry fly with a dubbing or quill body, hackle fibre or microfibbet tails, or anything else you like to use.

Sling Wing March Brown
Sling Wing March Brown
Nick Thomas
Sling WIng March Brown
Pattern type: 
Dry fly
Nick Thomas
Fasna F-100 #14
Sheer 14/0 brown
Organza fibres
Organza selvedge
Grizzly cock hackle
Skill level/difficulty: 
  1. Run on the thread at the eye, take down to the bend and bring back halfway in open turns.
  2. Cut the edge from a piece of organza ribbon and strip out some of the long fibres.
  3. Fold the fibres in half around the tying thread, tie down along the top of the shank to form the tails and trim to length.
  4. Tie in the ribbon edge and wind in touching turns to form the abdomen. Tie in and trim off the waste.
  5. Turn the hook upside down and stick a length of tape to your finger with a short bit at the end free. Press the free end of the tape against the hook in front of the abdomen and tie in. Push the other end of the tape out of the way in the hook gape.
  6. Return the hook to upright, tie in the hackle and wind forward in touching turns. Tie off and trim away the waste end.
  7. Invert the hook, pull the hackle fibres down on equally either side of the hook, bring the tape forward pressing the sticky side against the hackle roots, and tie in.
  8. Remove the waste end of the tape and tidy up the head.
  9. Whip finish, cut the thread and varnish the head.
  10. If the colour of the tape is not to your liking a few dabs with a marker pen will sort that out.

The tape
The tape
Nick Thomas

When the fly is finished the tape sling lies flat under the thorax holding the hackle fibres out at ninety degrees to the hook forming the fan shaped wing. The resulting fly will sit flat on the water, and unlike a dry fly with a hackle that has been trimmed underneath, the sling wing still has all of its fibres to keep it afloat.

On larger flies 3mm organza ribbon can be used for the sling to good effect. The mayfly below is tied on a #12 3x long hook using brown and cream organza for the body and tails. On this variant I tied in the organza sling on the top of the hook to produce an inverted wing. I know that some fly anglers like this style of wing which makes the fly float with the point out of the water so (maybe) the fish don’t notice it. Others will say it doesn’t make any difference and that in any case tying an inverted wing inside the hook is a pain. Literally, if you catch a finger on the hook point.

March Browns
March Browns
Nick Thomas

With the sling wing method tying an inverted wing is actually easier than an upright one as you are not working inside the hook bend. Simply tie the body and tails followed by a strip of 3mm ribbon hanging back over the abdomen, wind your hackle, stroke the fibres down and pull over the ribbon. Tie in, trim off the waste, finish the head and you’re done.

So, standard or inverted wing? The choice is yours, for a standard wing tie in the sling under the hook, for an inverted wing put the sling on top. Wind the hackle, separate and apply the sling. Simple.


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