Stupid Questions about Flatwing Flies

I have a couple trips coming up this year that could call for some large streamers, so I've been looking into tying flatwing patterns. WFF, Google, and Youtube have good instructions for tying them, but I haven't found much on the background of the design. The more I know about why a fly was designed a certain way, the more confident I am in modifying colors, materials, etc. So here are my stupid questions:
  • Why are the hackle feathers for the tail tied in facing up instead of to the side? That seems to increase the profile of the fly if viewed from below or above, but hides most of the bulk and color if view from the side. Is that deliberate and/or does it serve another purpose?
  • Why do so many patterns use JC for the eyes? Is that simply tradition, or would using glue-on eyes or fish skulls negatively effect movement or profile?
  • Is there an ideal ratio of overall fly length vs. hook shank length? Some of the patterns I've seen have massive tails - maybe 5 or 6 times the length of the hook. Seems like that would make flatwings more prone to short strikes. Is that the case?

Ryan Janos

Active Member
This was the history I ran across when I was researching the patterns last year:

As I understand it the upside down (first hackle) tie sets a base for the other materials. The spine of the hackle bends in a more natural swimming motion when tied in this way.

I don't have any JC so... I've been using all sorts of other stuff for eyes... Since you're looking to do some large format streamers I don't think a bit of upsizing on the profile from a bit of UV and sticker eyes is going to harm a thing. I've actually been partial to the swim on the larger epoxy head flatwings (see Sar-Mul-Mac and variants).

In most cases the fish will inhale the whole fly or attack the head. Some of the PS designed flatwings I've seen posted on WFF in the past year (ie. Triggs herring) are shorter and probably alleviate this short strike issue.

Good luck!
As I understand it the upside down (first hackle) tie sets a base for the other materials. The spine of the hackle bends in a more natural swimming motion when tied in this way.
Thanks for the info! You mentioned the upside down hackle as the "first" one - does that mean you sometimes tie in additional hackle feathers normally (like an upside-down T if you took a cross-section)? Or are all the tail feathers always flat?

The short-shank hook design makes sense if you're targeting fish that will inhale the fly, like tarpon or bass - I hadn't thought of that. I still wonder about our local salmonids, especially rezzies. I've found them to be tail-biters.
Early in the summer I was fishing flatwings which were ~4 inches and I didn't have any problem getting the blackmouth, rezzies, and src to commit to it. I did have some issues with fouling the fly for which I started tying them a bit shorter and they still fished really well. Watching src chase the fly from a boat, if the fish were nipping at the tail of the fly, I would cast again and strip faster which usually resulted in the fish committing.
The first feather he's referring to is tied in concave side down so while its tied in flat, it curves up to provide support for the following feathers. Any feathers after are tied in so they are curved down but still flat, if that makes sense. It's supposed to help with fouling. As does a support stack of bucktail tied in first at the tail

As I understand it the hackles are tied in flat to allow them to flutter and move in the current. If you look on YouTube for flat wings in the water you'll see what I'm talking about. Few flies look as sexy or have as much movement as a nice flat wing.

Ryan Janos

Active Member
does that mean you sometimes tie in additional hackle feathers normally (like an upside-down T if you took a cross-section)?
The first hackle you tie in should be a fairly webby hackle with the feather concave facing upwards towards the ceiling. The following hackles (can be 1 or more), should be tied in concave down, facing the first feather.

The hackle you use should be specific for flatwings. Usually the first feather (curve facing upwards) is a white, fairly webby neck or saddle hackle with a good curve to it. Generally you don't want to use the strung stuff out of the ziploc baggies, although if that's what you have you can give it a go. The flatwing hackle feathers that you will be tying with the curve down over the top of that first hackle should be longer, more slender, but webby saddle hackles (almost like a dry saddle hackle, but a little wider and more webby). Whiting actually sells flatwing saddles specifically for tying these flies. They aren't super expensive, and you can find them on I hesitate to bring that up, as there have been some crappy threads regarding that business, but I have ordered from him in the past with no problems. I'm sure there are other places to purchase them. Anyways, that first hackle supports the base of the flat wing hackle, and then the tips behind that give you a good tail kick.

Also, don't forget to make the little dubbing ball with the fluff from your first feather, that is an integral part of the fly. There is some good information in this thread from a Flatwing swap we did a couple years ago.

I believe part of the design is to give the illusion of bulk and fish sillhoute, without the bulk, and as others have mentioned, the movement of the fly is supposed to mimic an actual fish. Either way, they are beautiful flies, and fun to fish with as well. Don't fret about the JC. Use any eyes you want. Heck, you could even build up a nice resin head over the eyes on them if you like. I think the reason Jungle cock is used so often is the flatwing style was created before all of the excellent eye options we have now.

There is a book that is out of print, "A Perfect Illusion....something (can't remember)" that is all about tying flatwings, and the purpose and function. It's spendy now though, like $200 spendy.

Good Luck, and I'll look forward to seeing some of those patterns Steve!
Flat wings are great, they have incredible action and are pretty easy to tie. They're basically a fly that has a large profile, doesn't weigh a ton with less bulk and have all the triggers needed to catch fish.

Fish that are head hunters are perfect, like SRC (salt and rivers) but I don't think they're as effective for salmon (which tend to follow before striking) I've caught them on flat wings but had many short strikes as well, I wouldn't use them for rezzie's I use stick on eyes and epoxy heads verses JC eyes which look good but don't hold up as well imo, I usually only use one hackle (sometimes two) and have put them concave side up and down, hasn't seem to make too much difference with no fouling issues.

The hardest part is keeping the hackle flat and not rolling over, using the little ball of fluff trick will help. Finding good flat wing hackles can be a problem as most are too long for our shorter flies (3") so you have to be creative with mounting them because you have to cut off the fluffy part that helps in setting them and keeping them flat.

Good luck, imo they're a must for our src boxes.
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Active Member
While Kenny Abrames did not invent the flat wing style of fly tying he did write a great book on it called A Perfect Fish. Most of his fishing was on the East Coast, and he targeted striped bass. The patterns in his book are mostly for the strip bass, and match the food they feed on back east. So in my mind the technique in the book works but the patterns don't really match the food source that our salmon feed on, or for that matter the west coast strip bass food source. I made myself a fly test tank, and tested all my flat wing flys before I try fishing them, this was a real eye opener. Some of my flys just did not swim correctly, mostly the bad once laid on their side. While I have only caught on sliver on one of my flat wing it was the most vicious grabs I have ever had. It almost took the rod out of my hand, I never even set the hook. I would have though the fish was 10 to 12 pounds but it ended up about 7 or 8 pounds. If we ever get a good run of slivers and they let us fish for them I plan on being out there trying different patterns. The bottom fish in my avatar is my only flat wing caught sliver.
As others have mentioned the feather tied flat adds lateral motion on the retrieve that is very similar to a baitfish. The flatwing also allows the fly to hover when you stop stripping, or strip slowly. It is very informative to perform a little experiment. Tie two flies exactly the same except for the hackle. Tie one as a flatwing, tie the other as a deceiver (with the wing feathers vertical). You will see the difference in action very clearly. Note that really short flatwings behave much more like deceivers, you don’t get the added action until the wings have some length, say around 4inches in my experience.

Jungle cock is traditional and adds some class, but isn’t necessary. An epoxy head adds some weight and changes the action slightly, making the head of the fly dive (or slowly tip) towards the bottom during a pause in retrieve. This can be a very effective means of imitating a sand lance which want to bury themselves in the sand when startled.

Hook size is dependent on what you are fishing for. I like short shank hooks like the Gami SC15 and SL12S, 2-4 for SRC, 1-1/0 for adult coho. Length of fly is dependent on size of baitfish. I don’t pay much attention to ratio of fly length to shank length, although having a heavy enough hook for the fly size helps to keep the flat and make it swim and track better. SRC and early season coho are head hunters and a short shank hooks and a long fly are very productive. It isn’t until late in the summer that coho seem to get ‘nippy’ and a trailer hook helps. Trailer hook flatwings don’t swim as well, double hook flatwing (leaving the front hook point attached and a trailer hook) are a pain and foul a bunch. Better to switch to a stinger clouser at that point.


Active Member
Alright, let's get specific. If you were fishing for stripers near Boston in late May, what size hook would you use?
3/0 34007.
There use to be two guys that posted on this sight, Pat Latt, and Jack(last name started with a D I believe) Jack talked about writing a book about flat wing flys for fishing in the sound.

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