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Grain Head

Ostrich Herl 3From the first day I thought of the Rumpelstiltskin fly, I wanted to incorporate stalks of straw with either real or simulated grain-heads.  When I started collecting wheat and grasses, I quickly realized that it would be difficult to find a natural grain-head appropriately scaled for the fly.  More troublesome, though, was the seeds’ tendency to fall off the stalk – that is, after all, what seeds are intended to do once the grain-head dries.  It became clear that the grain-head would have to be simulated. 

The technique I would use became apparent to me when considering a fly generously given me by another flytier, David Nelson.  He ties large saltwater flies with beautiful, sweeping plumage.  In the fly he gave me there was a particular feather, the herl from some flightless bird (emu or rhea, most likely), which he had partially stripped the fibers from.  While tiers often use herls either completely unstripped or completely stripped, I’d never seen them partially stripped, and the visual effect was striking.  The herls on David’s fly were not stripped to look like stalks of grain, but I realized that I could create the appearance of a beautiful stalk and grain-head by stripping the fibers off all but the very tip of a herl.


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