Northwest Fly Tyer

The fly tying pages of Monte Smith

Tying the Green Highlander (Kelson)

The Green Highlander

The Green Highlander (Kelson)


Pattern as per George M. Kelson, The Salmon Fly (1895)

Tag:                  Silver twist and canary yellow floss silk

Tail:                  A topping and teal

Butt:                 Black ostrich herl

Body:                Two parts: two turns of (yellow) floss silk followed by green seal’s fur

Rib:                  Silver tinsel

Hackle:             Green cock’s hackle wound from the yellow silk

Throat:              Yellow-dyed cock

Wings:              Two golden pheasant tippets; over these married sections from light and dark bustard, golden pheasant    tail, dark mottled turkey, green dyed swan, mallard and a topping.

Horns:              Blue and yellow macaw

Head:               Black

The Green Highlander (Kelson): Step-By-Step

1.  If you’re using a blind eye hook: Pinch a 1” strand of twisted gut around your bobbin to form the loop eye. Before attaching the gut to the hook shank, chew the ends to soften and flatten them. Leave a little of the tip of the shank showing, secure the gut with tight wraps directly under the shank, and then move your thread to a position directly above the hook point. Apply a light coat of thin cement to the wraps if desired.

2.  Tie in a length of fine oval silver tinsel at this point and bind it down with your thread as you move back to a position over the hook barb. Reverse your thread and wrap the tinsel in 3-4 touching turns to form the tip. Secure the tinsel with your thread on the backside of the shank (at a different spot than your initial strand of tinsel) and bind it down alongside the other strand as you make your way to the hook point. Take the time to flatten your thread and work to build a smooth base for the tag. The thread should now be somewhere just shy of the hook point.

Generally speaking, the goal is that the ostrich herl butt will not extend forward of the hook point, so keep that in mind as you’re building the tag and tail assemblies.

3.  Tie in a piece of yellow silk to use for your tag. I find it helps to get a smoother result if I split the silk in half, but the choice is yours. Wrap the silk back in flat touching turns to the tinsel tip, then reverse it and work back to the tie-in point using slightly overlapping wraps. The object is to make the tag as smooth as possible. Tie-off and clip the waste ends.

This would be a good place to use your burnisher to smooth out the silk tag and remove any minor lumps in it. I will also sometimes use the burnisher over the underbody before applying my silk. Be sure to work with the fibers of silk and not rub across them, as this will tend to cause fraying.

4.  Select and prepare a golden pheasant crest for the tail. Strip the quill so that you will be tying over bare stem only – you don’t want to trap any fibers and have them flare out to the sides. Flatten the stem at the tie-in point with your pliers and tie the crest in right on top of the shank with two or three tight turns. Adjust the plane as necessary so that the tail is directly on top of the shank. It should extend just beyond the bend of the hook and be about 1½ times the gape of the hook in length.

5.  Next is the veiling of teal. Snip matching ⅛” L (near side) and R (far side) sections and place them in a tent-like position over the tail. Length is generally to be half the length of the tail, but I prefer mine slightly shorter than that. Secure with 2-3 snug turns of thread. Try not to collapse the slips on either side but strive for a nice “pinch” right on top.

6.  Strip ¼” of fibers from the base of a black ostrich herl and tie it in by the butt. Though it can be difficult to see, make sure the fibers are facing rearward as you wrap. Make 4-5 tight turns with the herl – don’t leave any gaps – and tie off underneath or on the far side of the shank.

7.  Take a length of medium oval silver tinsel and tie it into place under the hook shank just to the right of the butt. You can use the spare end of tinsel to fill under the shank up to the gut eye tie-in point if desired. Otherwise, we can fill it in with other materials such as yarn, silk, or thread later. Tyer’s choice. Move your thread to a position about ¼ shank length to the right of the butt.

8.  Tie in a length of lemon yellow silk, just as you did for the tag. Feel free to use a full strand for this, as it is a body section rather than a tag, but you can split it if you wish. Wrap rearward to the butt. Reverse direction and wrap forward to your tie-in point using as smooth of wraps as possible. Burnish as necessary.

9.  Prepare a green hackle by doubling it. Stroke the fibers back; wet them if necessary. You can use the scissors trick to fold the hackle as well. However you accomplish it, you want the hackle fibers facing back to form a “V.” As you lash the hackle to the hook shank (just to the right of the yellow silk) the open part of the “V” should face rearward.

10. Now is the time to bind down any waste ends of tinsel, silk, or hackle to the underside of the shank. This helps fill in the “step” created where we left off with the gut for the eye. Try to make the underbody as smooth as possible – use flattened tying thread, smooth with floss or UTC thread if necessary, etc. Even though it’s not as important on this fly since the body is not tinsel or silk, it is still good technique.

11. Tie in a section of green silk where you tied off the body hackle. Use a bodkin to split the silk and create a dubbing loop to fill with green seal. Twist the strands together tightly and wrap forward to form the body. The first turn can be minimal seal; the final turn should be sparse to avoid building bulk at the head area. Leave about ¼” at the front of the body.

Using silk for the dubbing loop adds a little color to the body, but it can also add bulk. Using silk is optional; you can use your tying thread to accomplish this as well.

12. Make five turns with your tinsel to form the rib, making sure that the second turn is in front of the green body hackle tie-in point. Once the tinsel is secured at the front, wrap the body hackle forward positioning it behind the rib as you wrap forward. Tie off and clip the excess.

13. Now for the throat. Double the yellow hackle just as you prepared the body hackle. It is tied in and wrapped so that it will occupy about half of the remaining hook shank. Tie off and clip excess. Pull the fibers underneath the shank as much as possible and remove any errant strays.

This would be a good place to switch to black thread if you’re not already using it.

14. Tie in a matched pair of tippets back-to-back, lining up the second black bar with the ostrich butt.

15. Married wings: The two sides of the wing should be identical in width and in the sequence of segments. Each side will have 3 strands of each material. Remember that the left side of the quill creates the near side wing. Do not mix up the two sides! Pay close attention to the order in which you build each side, as well. It’s easy to get the far wing components reversed.

16. The sequence is as follows (from bottom to top): light bustard, dark bustard, golden pheasant tail, dark mottled turkey, green turkey (or goose). A total of 18 fibers per side. Align the fibers long edge to long edge (all the same length) unless you prefer a very pointed wing when you’re done setting it. In that case, line up the long end of your slips with the short end of the upper set of fibers.

You are free to alter the order of the materials in your wing, of course. This order happens to precisely match the recipe as listed by Kelson. The number of fibers to use for each material is the tyer’s discretion as well. I’ve merely detailed my example dressing.

17. Once both sides are prepared, they need to be “humped” to give them the proper curve. Grasp the wing in your left hand and pull the butt ends down with your right. Now push the tips toward the butts so that the wing flexes in the middle. All of this manipulation will help give your wing the proper curvature, secure the married fibers, and prepare it for tying in.

Mounting the wings: Place the wing slips, cupping them in your right fingers, so that the tips hit just below the end of the tail (the wing will tend to move upwards as it’s tied in). Compress the tie-in point with your right index finger as much as you can. Grasping the wings with your left fingers, form a soft loop with your thread. Pulling straight up, draw the thread taut. Keep hold with your left hand and pull the butt ends up with your right hand to crease the wing and set the tie-in point. The thread now cannot move out of this crease. Make another snug wrap or two by opening your left fingers slightly to accommodate. Do not let go with your left hand yet. Pull fibers into position and manipulate with your right hand to get the wing right on top of the shank. Release your left hand and check things out. Perfect, huh? If not, you may need to repeat the process a couple of times.

18. Select a section of bronze mallard ¼” wide. Look for fibers that are tight at the ends of the feather. Stroke this section perpendicular to the stem. With a quick tug, tear it off. This should leave a little membrane that will hold the base together as you work the mallard into position (without having the thick stem getting in your way). Fold this section in half, “hump” it into a position to mimic the curve of the wing, and tie it in on top of the shank. You should be tying in over the softer gray portion of the feather and not the brown section (which is much ‘slicker’). The length is tyer’s preference – or whatever you can get out of the mallard – but a good guideline is to strive for it to at least reach the butt. Gather the mallard fibers with a soft loop of thread and draw them into position. Secure with another snug wrap or two.

19. There are no shoulders, sides, or cheeks on this version of the Green Highlander.

20. A topping is now prepared and measured so that it follows the contour of your wing with the tip of it just touching the tail. Once measured, nick the stem at the proposed tie-in point with your forceps or tweezers and bend the butt end of the quill up so it can act as a handle. You may wish to flatten the tie-in point of the crest to reduce bulk and keep it from rolling to the side. Bring the crest into position and secure it with two or three turns of thread. Adjust the plane of the topping as necessary so it fits just right. Make a couple more secure wraps to the right of your previous turns. Before clipping the waste end, you may wish to apply a dab of thin cement to help hold things in position. When you do clip the butt end, be sure to hold the topping in position with your left hand so it doesn’t move on you and spoil your final result.

21. The last materials added are the horns. These are pretty straightforward. One fiber for the left side and one for the right. The blue side of the horns should face outward. The horns extend back over the top of the fly to a point somewhere over the butt area. They should cross.

22. The final task is to form the head. This is best accomplished by making a couple of crisscrossing securing wraps over the waste ends of your materials and then moving to the very front of the head. Build a solid foundation here, and work your way back. This keeps you from fighting the thread slipping off the butts and moving forward as you’re trying to finish up. By working front to back, the head should be smaller, more secure, and nicely tapered.

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