The Feather Duster Nymph

(Details from Peter Carty, fly tied by Hubert Reichelt)


I was looking for something for this month’s fly when Hubert arrived, bringing with him four samples of a nymph that he had recently discovered in the New Zealand Fish & Game magazine (issue 98), written up by their regular fly tying contributor and well-known guide Peter Carty. Carty describe this fly as a ‘cracking little nymph’, and Hubert agrees enthusiastically with this verdict. He has used it in New Zealand and also in a number of our Victorian streams, and apparently the trout everywhere were very keen to give it a try. This is not a difficult nymph to tie and is well worth tying some up.


In describing the nymph Peter Carty says this:

This is a cracking little nymph that I first got on to about 25 years ago. A couple of clients that I guided had them and were extolling the virtues of the fly. It seems it was very popular in Montana. You only have to look to see the potential, and they proved to do the job here too.


Tony Entwistle had a fishing shop in Nelson and wanted some small mayfly nymphs for use on the Motueka. Something as an alternative to the Pheasant Tails and Hare and Coppers everyone wanted to use. I tied five dozen of each in #14 and #16 for him. They wouldn’t sell, which I found unbelievable. He used most of them himself in the end.


When I think about it, the reason for the lack of popularity of this fly is possibly (in the eyes of anglers) that it looks too similar to the old Hares Ear nymph. They’ve been around for a very long time and I suppose it’s hard to go past something you’ve already got confidence in.

I’m the opposite of most. I lean to the Feather Duster ahead of the Hares Ear.

Reason? Confidence. I’ve caught a lot of tricky fish on the old Duster.

As you’ve undoubtedly worked out, the ostrich herl used probably originally came from a feather duster. This is a great material. Each herl is a small, thin feather with really soft fibres that add life to a nymph.

Ostrich herl is available in natural colours, and natural grey is what you’ll be using here.

I’ve tried to improve the original pattern over the years, but it didn’t seem to make any

difference. Grey thread works fine and I always tie them on a TMC 3761 hook. To my

eye, the proportions work out perfectly. I only use them in sizes 14 and 16, though one of my friends goes down to size 18.

The Materials:


TMC 3761, sizes 14 and 16. (This is described as a medium length strong nymph hook = 2X heavy, 1X long. Kamasan B175 is a reasonably close equivalent. Google will give equivalent hooks by other manufacturers.)


Thread: Grey 8/0 (or brown 8/0 says Hubert).


Tail: Grey partridge (Peter Party says the speckled grey breast feathers of a mallard

drake are an ok substitute. Hubert suggests grey/black wood duck or even grizzly hackle feathers as substitutes.)


Rib: Fine gold wire.

Underbody: Carty suggests a few turns of fine lead wire to add weight. (Hubert instead ties a tungsten grey or gold or copper bead in the middle of the thorax. He says it adds a bit of helpful ‘bling’.)


Abdomen and Thorax: Fine grey ostrich herl. (Hubert got his feather duster from Bunnings.)


Wingcase: Mottled oak thin skin. (Carty: traditionally turkey wing feather was used, but these have a habit of popping out after a few fish are caught.)


Tying Notes: (Carty and Hubert’s suggestions combined)


  1. Slide a suitable bead onto the hook – this will be 2.4 mm bead for a #14 hook, and a 2.0 mm bead for a #16 hook. Then put the hook in the vice.


  1. Wrap some thread behind the hook eye and in front of then bead with a few turns against the bead to hold it in place. Then add a few turns behind the bead and then run turns of thread down the shank to just above the barb.


  1. Alternatively: Carty tells us to run thread down the hook shank, then spread a drop of head cement over the thread and wrap one layer of fine lead wire over the middle third of the hook.)


  1. Select a suitable partridge feather and strip the fluff away from the base. Cut off enough fibres to form the tail, say 8 to 10. Tie these in on the top of the hook so the tail is about 1ó times the hook gape in length.


  1. Tie in the gold wire on the near side of the hook and then wrap some thread up to the back of the bead then back again to the base of the tail.


  1. Cut a 3 mm wide strip of mottled oak thin skin. It’s easier to do this while it’s still on the cardboard backing, and then separate the plastic film off it. Tie this in directly behind the bead and bind it down to half-way down the hook shank. Leave it sticking up there while you add the ostrich herl.


  1. Select an appropriate sized ostrich herl, preferably one with short fibres. Cut about one cm off the   tip. (Carty: It will probably break in that area if you don’t, so save yourself the      hassle of having to re-tie it in.)


  1. Tie the tip a couple of millimetres ahead of the tail, then hold it at right angles to the shank as you wrap back to the base of the tail. Then wind the thread up to the back of the bead.


9.Wrap the herl carefully in touching wraps up to the back of the bead, then tie it off.


10.Wrap the gold rib in the opposite direction to the herl and tie it off too behind the bead.


11.Tie the thread off and retie it in front of the bead. Add a few turns of ostrich herl here, but  leave 2–3 mm of free space behind the eye to tie in the legs.


  1. Select another partridge feather. Hold the feather by the tip and pull the fibres backwards. Cut the tip out of the feather, then pull the end six or eight fibres on each side back to their original position.


  1. Place the ‘V you’ve just formed with the fibres over the front of the fly so they lie along the sides of it. Hold them firmly in place so they stay on the side and take two firm wraps of thread. Pull the feather stem through the turns to adjust the leg length to about half-way along the hook. Hold the legs in place and make a couple more wraps to keep them in place, then cut off the excess feather.


  1. Pull the thin skin over the thorax to form the wing case and make some firm wraps. Cut the excess off as close as you can and then form a neat head. Cut the thread and add a drop of cement to the head.
  2. Hubert adds one final step – sometimes the ostrich herl available has overly long fibres. In this case Hubert suggests using some sharp scissors to trim the fibres a bit after the fly is completed.