Fly Patterns - Bill's Swimming Starling Sally Dry

              Bill's Swimming Starling Sally Dry


Standard dry fly hook, sizes 14-18 (I like Tiemco’s 900BL)


Pale yellow 8/0 or smaller

Egg sac:

Fine rust colored dubbing


Fine gold wire


Pale yellow natural dubbing with a slight olive tinge


Same as body

Under wing:

Pale yellow CDC

Over wing:

Pale yellow fine deer hair


Starling feather, tied soft hackle style



The Swimming Starling Sally was featured here last month. In that article I briefly referred to a subspecies of the little yellow stonefly that will actually transform into an adult in the water column, contrary to the habit of all other stoneflies. That information was garnered from Internet articles authored by respected entomologists. What I didn’t mention is that there is no general consensus among scientists on this point. For example, Ralph Cutter, I believe (based on what he says in his excellent book, “Fish Food,”) would disagree with such a conclusion. In any event, it matters not one whit and I don’t know who is correct—the fact is that the soft hackle pattern works.


This month, let’s look at the adult insect for clues as to how to create an effective floating imitation. That is the regimen that I follow when I sit down to design a new pattern. The adult Sally is very delicate, tiny, and slender. Its wings are gossamer, and its body is a pale yellow hue (with some variations). These characteristics render it nearly invisible when it is in the surface film. In flight it is somewhat more visible because of those same characteristics that make it difficult to see on the water—i.e., its pale colors reflect light against the sky and landscape. Still, as pointed out last month, it is readily and regularly mistaken for other insects.


So how do the Sally’s characteristics affect fly design? Obviously pale colored materials are required, but it is the manner in which those materials are applied that is critical, and somewhat less obvious. What it takes is actual, close-up observation and attention to detail. The watchword is sparseness—overdressed flies will be ignored by picky fish.


Using those principles as design guidelines, I came up with the Starling Sally dry fly. This pattern employs a new design concept: a marriage between a soft hackle fly and a dry fly. The hackle is starling, which of course is not intended to aid flotation; rather, it allows the fly to lie flat within the surface film with legs that move about, imparting some motion to the bug. The fly sports an egg sac made of fine rust colored dubbing (red is too bright), and utilizes the same pale yellow-olive dubbing as the nymph for the abdomen and thorax. The ribbing is fine gold or copper wire, to mimic body segmentation. The under wing is pale yellow CDC, and the over wing is fine (for translucency) deer hair in a pale yellowish color. Let’s sit down and crank a few.


Tying Instructions

1.       Smash the hook barb; if you are using the “BL” type hooks, this is already done. Cover the hook with thread back to the bend (just above the back of the barb).

2.       At that same point, tie in a tiny ball of rust colored dubbing for the egg sac, and then the gold wire for the ribbing.












3.       At the same point, begin dubbing the body forward in a nice slight taper. It is important to keep the body slender but achieve a slight cigar-shaped taper as you proceed forward. Stop at the 1/3 point on the hook.

4.       Rib the body with 4 or 5 turns of the gold wire and tie off the wire at the front of the body.












5.       Take two similarly shaped CDC feathers, lay them together, and trim the butts so that what remains is the tips of the feathers; they should be no longer than the hook shank. Tie them in just ahead of the abdomen, and don’t crowd the hook eye.













6.       Cut, clean, and stack a small bunch of fine deer hair. Trim the butts so that the hair length equals the hook shank. Tie the hair in at the same point as the CDC was tied in, tightly securing the butts. Add a tiny drop of super glue to ensure that the CDC and deer hair remain directly on top of the hook. Again, don’t crowd the hook eye.












7.       Dub a sparse thorax around the base of the wing.

8.       Prepare a starling feather (see below) and tie it in by its tip, just in front of the thorax. Since the fly is designed in the soft-hackle style, the concave side of the feather should face the rear of the hook.

9.       Wind the feather around the hook at least 3 times, sweeping the barbules back on each turn. Tie the feather off just behind the hook eye, trim the excess, and wind the thread in close wraps rearward to help sweep the hackle backward. Whip finish and apply a small drop of super glue to the head.










Tying Tips


You will note that some of the steps for this fly resemble those for the soft hackle pattern. This is intentional, as it makes for easier tying and fewer necessary materials. The following tips were included last month but because they apply also to the dry fly version, I have included them again here for convenience.

1.       Starling feathers from the neck area have an iridescent black shine and a tannish tip. These are the feathers you should look for.

2.       To prepare a feather for a soft-hackle fly, there are several methods that have been written about. I prefer to follow these steps:

a.       Strip the fuzz from the butt end of the feather, but don’t cut the stem.

b.       Isolate the feather’s tip by grabbing it with a pointed tweezer and sweeping the remaining barbules rearward.

c.       Tie the feather in using the isolated tip as a tab.

Remember to tie sparsely, and…..See ya on the creek (which is where I’m headed today).


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