Skin in the game

The cock pheasant is such a handy bird for us fly tyers. We are all familiar with the tail feathers but this handsome chap provides a host of others we can use too. While it is easy to buy packets of the different feathers purchasing a complete skin gives you access to a range of different sizes as well as colours of feathers. Here are a few ideas for you consider.

I suppose the first thing to be aware of is the vast assortment of different colours adult male pheasants come in. Some are pale while others are almost black and in between there are a bewildering range of hues. The neck feathers can be electric blue or pitch black and the black tipped side feathers sandy or copper depending on the individual bird. If you shoot or are lucky enough to know shooters you can pick and choose which birds to skin, otherwise it can be a bit of a lottery if buying online.

Blue neck feathers. Small I will grant you, but they make lovely hackles on spider flies. Just a simple tying silk body or one made from lightly dubbed fur and a turn of the neck feather makes a great general purpose fly. These small feathers can be difficult to work with but they are a great fit on small hooks in the 16 to 20 range.

Chestnut breast feathers. Used to tie that classic welsh pattern the Haul Y Gwynt of course but they make a great head hackle on bumble style flies too. A Kate McLaren tied in the usual way but finished off with a breast feather as a head hackle is a lovely lough fly.

Smaller feathers from the body make good hackles on lough style flies and the more muted shades than the brightly dyed guinea fowl hackles give you a nice option for make somber coloured flies. They take dyes well and so you can create lovely brown olives and dark green olives as well as the more obvious blacks, fiery browns and black clarets.

The wings on a cock pheasant have never really been used much which I find quite odd. I seem to recall there were a couple of old English dry flies that has cock pheasant wings but that is about all. While not as strongly marked as the female of the species, the wing quills can be used to make perfectly acceptable sedge wings. They are close to pale, mottled hen wing feathers which used to be a common material. The primary feathers are generally too thick in the web to be of any use but the secondaries are fine.

‘Mexican blue’ feathers from the rump of the cock pheasant are a very popular material for making head hackles on bumble style patterns here in Ireland. The feathers are a nice size and colour and are lovely to work with. The blue is not too bright and adds just the right amount of colour to many patterns.

Buying a complete skin is expensive I’ll grant you but if you use your imagination there are hundreds of flies which can be tied using the different feathers so it actually works out to be cost effective. A word of warning, be sure to store any bird or animal skins in sealed bags or else they can fall victim to parasites. I have also learned to my cost that cats love to chew on any skins left unattended!

4 thoughts on “Skin in the game

  1. Here in the USA, I find that the primary and secondary wing feathers of the cock are very similar to those in the hen. They are perhaps just slightly darker. I use either for wings on wet flies. I find many uses for the other feathers on both as well.


    1. The cock pheasants here vary greatly in colour with lots of them very dark. I plan on experimenting with dyes of different colours this winter and cock pheasant feathers are definitely going in tot he bath!


      1. I’ve done a little experimenting with dyes. It turned out pretty well but all I did was take some white hen and rooster hackle and dye them bright yellow and scarlet. Good luck with your process.


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