Quill Gordons

A glimpse of the East Branch at Hancock from January 24th, 2021: the riffle halted as it enters Crooked Eddy.

I will not take my riverwalk this morning to confirm that the river looks the same as it did last year. I expect it is eerily similar, for the official temperature for Hancock this morning is four degrees below zero. Here in Crooked Eddy, we tend to be a couple of degrees colder than the “official” temperature, though with the wind chill at twenty-one below, I shall not go out to check my own thermometer. Our trade off comes on sunny afternoons, when we tend to warm a bit above the official temperature. Ah how gladly would I welcome a sunny afternoon!

I got out yesterday for a visit with my friend Dennis Menscer, rodmaker extraordinaire, over on the other side of Point Mountain. He took a few moments to take a breather from the pace he has been keeping for the past year, though still working while we talked. Checking the progress of freshly varnished rod sections and crafting a set of ferrules, he keeps busy even when taking a rest.

There are rod orders to fill, a goodly number of them, and everyone hopes to have theirs by spring. Some will find a home right here in the Catskills, others out West, like the wonderful eight and one half-foot four weight, hollowbuilt masterpiece he designed for a client intent upon angling Idaho’s Silver Creek (I immediately volunteered to take one out there and test it last summer). There are a few headed to Patagonia to tackle the muy grande trucha of the legendary rivers that Schwiebert wrote so beautifully of in earlier times. There’s another duty I would happily accept! Our visits have been few this past year, as I feel guilty keeping my friend from his craft, though I always enjoy our talks of rods and reels, rivers and anglers.

I took my leave at lunchtime and headed home to a meeting at my tying desk. Quill Gordons were waiting. The mail came early, and I received a few materials, including a stripped peacock eye dyed yellow. As I feared though, these cannot be tied with without a good deal of soaking. They will wait for another day.

If you look at the photos of an ancient, original Gordon Quill, you will note the stark banding of the fly body. Some say there used to be eyes from a different species of peacock readily available, whose lighter quills created that contrast. I have a jar full, from more than twenty years ago, and when stripped and wound, they result in an uninspiring brown body with a blackish stripe. That darker, low contrast banding seems common with any of the eyes I have acquired over thirty years of fly tying, so I long ago found a substitute.

Turkey biots have long been popular for fly bodies on a variety of flies. White domestic turkey feathers are dyed and sold in many insect-matching colors, but I like the wild bird’s plumage, specifically the black and white barred primary wing feathers. I have used them for years to tie my Quill Gordons and Blue Quills.

I have seen more Quill Gordons hatching on the storied Beaverkill than on any of the rivers I fish, and those flies are a very strong shade of yellow on the bottom; still banded, but with dark gray to black and yellow. More than twenty years ago, a good friend gave me a bunch of the stripped biots from wild turkey primaries he had dyed to make fletching for the custom arrows he crafted, and those yellow ones make deadly Quill Gordons.

Half a dozen of my Dyed Wild Quill Gordons, my hatch matchers for early spring on the Beaverkill!

Of course, being a color-oriented fly tyer, I have blended a dubbing to match those yellow Beaverkill Quill Gordon mayflies. I have found success with the dubbed bodies, though I confess to a particular fondness for the Dyed Wild biot quills. Difficult trout seem to like them too!

A Catskill style Dyed Wild Quill Gordon: Grizzly variant Coq-De-Leon, a wild turkey biot selected to show lots of yellow in this case, and Charlie Collins’ beautiful, barred dun rooster hackle produces a good match as well as a very lively looking fly.

You can get varying color and effects depending upon which biot you pull from the quill to wrap your fly body. A distinct gray edge on some of these produces a very bronzy tone when wrapped over the brighter yellow, still with the prominent, dark segmentation effect from the black, thick edge of the biot feather. I like to tie some of each, always with my yellow/gray blend dubbing for the thorax on the comparaduns, as I have seen color variations in the naturals.

When a trout refuses to select the Catskill tie, I will offer a CDC Comparadun. That usually closes the deal. Sometimes the naturals are more active and certain trout need the inducement of movement to commit. The speckled and barred tails and hackle on the Catskill tie give an impression of movement, often inducement enough in the higher currents of the early season.

The undyed wild turkey biots are great for Blue Quills, and where you find the Quill Gordons lacking the heavy yellow coloration. I have always liked to design my own imitations, and I think that their uniqueness brings better responses from heavily pressured trout. If a fly is a good imitation of the natural and doesn’t look just like something that big old brownie has seen coming past his window day after day throughout the spring, I believe he is more likely to accept it. Fly fishermen, we all have our theories, right?

When I am not in a hurry to tie a few flies for the morning’s fishing, I like to put a coat of Hard as Hull head cement on the biot body. The fly is thus more durable, and the colors and segmentation really pop with that glossy topcoat. I tie tails and then the biot body and whip finish before adding the cement coating, setting aside the bodies to let the cement harden. When thoroughly dry, I reattach my thread and add the wings and hackle and finish the flies, a production tying technique Ed Shenk taught me decades ago.

The morning sun is lighting up the curtain above my tying desk, belying the frigid air outside. The little weather gremlin note at the bottom of my screen winks at me: -3F Sunny. Visual deception: kind of like what we try to accomplish with trout flies!

One thought on “Quill Gordons

  1. That yellow coloration is beautiful! It makes a Quill Gordon look very unique. I’ve never had any luck with a comparadun style dry fly although I’ve always tied them with deer hair. I’ll try to remember your CDC variation next time I come across selective trout that refuse my traditional Catskill style rendition.


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