The After-Burner Wing

The After-Burner Wing

How to make perfect CDC mayfly wings every time

  • By: Darrel Martin

Some of my tying solutions are purely serendipitous. Though a few take time and thought, others are sudden and simple. In any tier's life there are few truly innovative ideas, and most of those become less enthralling with time. They become, in fact, not the brilliant maneuvers one once thought.

A very few ideas, however, seem so obvious and basic that they demand an audience. The After-Burner Wing may be such an idea--an idea that decreases, rather than increases, tying problems. But there is a hitch: It requires a new tool.

In the past, I've usually burned individual CDC feathers for proper profile prior to "match-mounting" them together on the hook shank. A dot of superglue holds the stems together while they straddle the shank. This is, however, fine fiddling; stems twist and misalignment often occurs.

Recently, while musing over CDC mayfly wings, I began wondering if it were possible to burn the wing profile after mounting. This would assure matched wings. Also, it would be far easier to mount full CDC feathers together on the hook shank, and then burn a single wing profile. Even with minor misalignment, matched and precise wings should be possible. So I started to experiment. . . . .


I make special wing-burners from brass strips--

K & S Engineering, Chicago, Illinois, stock number 241, .032-inch thick, 1⁄2-inch wide, and 12-inches long--available at many hardware, craft and hobby stores. For adequate hold and precise indexing, make the tool relatively short, approximately 4- to 41⁄2-inches long, as longer burners may not index accurately when closed.

To create your burner, merely draw a wing profile of the appropriate size and shape on a brass strip. Use metal shears for a rough cut. Then, files, emery paper and Dremel tools will do the final, precise shaping. Once one side of the wing burner is shaped, tape it to its uncut partner as a template. Taping ensures the two halves match. Use fine emery cloth or steel wool to smoothly polish the finished burner.

A unique "shoulder" bend protects the wing mount during the burn. In fact, wings may be burned on flies that already have a tail and body: This merely requires a burner with a broad, straight shoulder that encloses and protects the body. Wing feathers may then be mounted last, after the tail and body. Shielded by the brass shoulder, no part of the wing-mount, tail or body burns. In fact, among all the flies I have tied using this tool, I have yet to burn any part of a tail or body. Wide wing-burners could completely enclose the uncompleted flies. Furthermore, it may be possible to bend some commercial wing-burners--especially those made from soft metals such as brass--into an after-burner.

Depending upon the hook size and desired wing density, I tie my mayflies using two or four CDC feathers tips. Two feathers, one on each side of the hook shank, create the most delicate and diaphanous wings. For fuller wings, mount four CDC feather tips, two on each side of the hook shank. The CDC feather tips create the wings while the CDC base barbs from the same feathers create the hackle. Thus, only two CDC feathers are required for a single fly.

Select feathers with full, plump barbs and straight tip stems. Stack the feathers by matching the stems. When mounted, the concave sides of the feathers should face the hook shank. In this manner, the wings will press together, creating a single, flat panel. Merely figure-eight wrap the stems on the shank and add one or two thread wraps around the stem base to consolidate and align them. Remember that only the fine-stemmed feather tips create the wings. Other feathers, such as body or contour feathers, may also be mounted and burned in this manner.

After mounting, trim the excess stem butt, leaving just enough to fold and secure the feather base beneath the shank. If the "mounting butt" folds forward, then the wings slant aft like a dun. If the "mounting butt" folds aft, then the wings become erect. Depending upon the insect and its stage, both mount stances are useful. If desired, place a drop of superglue on the mount wraps.

To burn the wing profile, remove the fly from the vise. For control, the wings are clamped in the wing-burner and secured by a simple sliding lock. Make certain that the stems are aligned within the wing-burner. The wing-burner will grip better if the wings stems are bent at a right-angle to the hook shank.

Now hold the wings flat over the flame for burning. After burning is completed, merely bend the wings back. If the fly lacks tail and body, these may be added after wing burning. It is easier, however, to mount the tail and body before mounting and burning the wing; a body may be difficult to complete beneath the wing.

After the tail, body and wing are complete, split the thread with a needle and insert CDC barbs for a full, fluffy hackle. Take these barbs from the base of the feathers already used for the wings. For a fly to be used on fast, rough water, insert a full hackle rather than a bundle of barbs. For slow, clear waters, prune the barbs for greater realism.

Although it takes time to make the special wing-burner, once it's made, winging becomes remarkably quick and precise. And, with several sizes of wing burners, you can create any upwing pattern.

Serendipity is finding what you do not seek, and sometimes that discovery is the solution to a nagging problem.This method may be one of the few that stands the test of time. I appreciate being able to mount the wing after the tail and body because, without a mounted wing, tying the tail and body is simple.

After the CDC wing and hackle have been mounted, the fly suddenly begins to suggest the graceful stance of a mayfly upon the water. Moreover, the sparse CDC wing barbs impart an attractive transparency.

I am now able to create faster, more delicate wings than ever before. These gauzy, soft wings are, according to some spring-creek risers, enticingly seductive.

Wing-burning, step by step

1) Mount two CDC feather tips, concave to concave, and fold the stem butts forward. Secure with figure-eight wraps and one or two stem-base wraps to align and unite the feathers.

2) Trim excess stems and secure. If desired, place a drop of super glue on the wing-base wraps.

3) The After-Burner with protective shoulder for burning wings after mounting body and tail.

4) Position the wing stems near the forward-edge of the burner. Note the slide-lock that secures the pattern in the burner.

5) Hold the fly horizontally when wing-burning. Note that the curved shoulder of the wing-burner protects the body and wing base during the burn.

6) The completed burned wing.