By Nick Simonson
It’s safe to venture with its technicolor dreamcoat of feathers that a rooster pheasant provides more useful plumes for fly tying than any other bird. Where specialized chickens are bred for the sole purpose of producing their long, dangly feathers ideal for tying dry flies, the canvas found on the body of a cock ringneck provides a variety of plumes that can be used in a limitless number of fly, jig and other lure patterns. While they may not have a selection of dry-fly style feathers, pheasants fill just about every other niche and do so with panache, giving fly tyers a selection all in one place that is beyond compare in the natural world.
While auburn-and-crème church windows, and sunset orange almond-heart feathers make great – and flashy – wingcases on hopper patterns, and the blueish-black and white ring feathers create amazing spent wings and posts on dry flies or those patterns that ride in the surface film, it’s the less-known feathers that are worth incorporating into the upcoming tying season. Below the brown tail feather fibers that can be used on any one of several dozen nymph patterns lies the most underrated treasure on a pheasant pelt. That is the tufts of marabou found underneath the rump and around the legs of the bird. Here, smoke, gray and sometimes deep charcoal tufts of the most flowing fiber on the pheasant’s body can be found and quickly substituted into any fly or jig pattern that requires a bit of marabou. What’s more, many shades of these feathers can be found on the same bird and often they are tipped in slightly different colors as the marabou transitions into other patches of feathers on the bird’s lower body as part of their natural patterning.
I once crafted a set of woolly buggers with crème-tipped rooster marabou that outperformed all other patterns in my box for days on end at the tiny trout lake west of town until they were chewed beyond recognition. From an old rooster, I selected the deepest colored marabou, almost black if it weren’t for the hint of silver embedded in each puff, and produced leech patterns that were continuously gobbled up by largemouth bass lurking along the summertime docks. Matuka streamers in varying shades of brown, auburn, and black have been a go-to for spring and autumn smallmouth in chilly waters where just the right amount of easily-imparted wiggle that comes with their marabou mohawks and tails is what it takes to trigger a bite.
Whether tied into a pattern as a tail, stacked up to form an angling body, or wrapped around a hook shank to produce the illusion of bulk, the marabou on a rooster pheasant is a must-have for any hunter-tyer-angler that takes his or her outdoor activities full circle. It is easily incorporated into darker crappie and trout jigs for standard tackle fishing as well as traditional streamer patterns offered up on the fly rod. It pulses, flows, and wiggles with the slightest twitch and is a staple material for selling that lifelike look in an artificial lure. This fall, especially as roosters mature and feathers grow in to their fullest and most colorful state, don’t forget to look beyond the brilliance of the upper body and take a glance at the lower half of a harvested bird to find one of the most underrated feathers for future tying efforts.
Salvage a skin or two from those mature roosters, preserve them for the season of fly tying to come, and make some of the best marabou-based patterns from a bird you harvested. In turn, those flies, jigs and other lures incorporating the flowy marabou will entice a bite from favorite fish, from bluegills to bass to brown trout next spring and summer.
Nick Simonson is the lead writer and editor of Dakota Edge Outdoors.
Featured Photo: ‘Bou Yah! Marabou from a pheasant’s underbody is a key natural ingredient in many great streamers, such as these conehead models with a twist of pheasant rump feather added for a collar. Simonson Photo