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The Two-Feather Fly or Hatchmaster

by John Evans
(San Antonio, TX)

Shaping and snipping the first feather can be tricky

Shaping and snipping the first feather can be tricky

There’s something about delicate dry flies and tenkara that go together. A sensitive tenkara rod allows for a light, drift-free presentation. When you couple that with a super-light dry fly, you really have something.

One dry fly that probably doesn’t receive the love it deserves is the Two-Feather Fly, often called the Hatchmaster. The story goes that it was developed by Harry Darbee in New York State back in the 1950’s. It’s tied in the Catskill tradition, which usually includes upright wings and a longish tail. Catskill flies are also known for their pleasing proportions. As the original name suggests, the fly is tied with only two feathers, so it floats to the water with the faintest of whispers.

The photos above show the tying process better than I can explain. You can use either mallard flank feathers or lemon wood duck feathers for the first part. Just make sure to use captive-reared mallards to stay legal. (Farm raised mallard flank feathers are readily available at fly-tying shops.) You can see how well this pattern imitates an adult mayfly.

It’s not a durable fly, and it can be tricky for the novice to tie, but it’s worth the effort. There aren’t many things more exciting than seeing a fish explode on the surface, engulfing a dry fly that you’ve tied yourself.

I strongly suggest that interested anglers go online to see several excellent videos about how to shape the first feather—the mallard or wood duck. That’s by far the hardest part of the fly. And, if you’re anything like I am, you’re going to ruin several feathers before you get it right. The second feather, the dry fly hackle, goes on easily.

The Two-Feather Fly fits well with tenkara, given its simple, yet ingenious design. We owe Mr. Darbee a debt of gratitude for developing this beautiful pattern. Winter is the time for fly tying—why not give it a go and see what happens?

Comments for The Two-Feather Fly or Hatchmaster

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Jan 24, 2020
Video Instruction
by: Les Albjerg

John - Thanks for an excellent article. My precursor to breaking out the fly tying equipment this year has been to sort through my fly boxes and to do some major culling.

The Keeper Kebari has been my mainstay for the past 2 years when it comes to fishing flies with my Tenkara rods. This year, I am planning on fishing smaller Kebari. For me, it is going to be the year of the Kebari. It is time to learn to use the Japanese flies.

I agree, there is very special about catching a fish on a fly you have tied. I started tying flies when I was in graduate school. The 8 inch rainbow that I caught on the first woolly worm is still shining brightly in my memory.

There is also something very special to see a trout or other fish take a fly off the surface! I was fishing a small stream in eastern Oregon in my late 20's. It was a picture perfect day, and the setting was ideal. I can clearly see in my mind's eye the Humpy floating through the air, drifting about 6 feet before seeing the most beautiful rainbow I have ever caught wrap its lips around it! It was like slow motion! Here's to hoping that everyone here has the opportunity to create some special memories this year!

Last year's two standout trout on a fly with Tenkara gear were fish on the two size extremes. I was fishing a seam on the South Fork of the Boise. A 28 inch Rainbow came up off the bottom and hammered a Keeper Kebari. I was fishing with the Fine Power 56 set at the 52 setting. The sun was bright and as she turned the huge silver flash set the adrenaline rushing! The rod was singing a loud tune as the battle lasted close to 10 minutes! The second fish was one of the most colorful brook trout I have ever seen and was a whole 6 inches long! The elk hair caddis had just drifted past a rock on a small mountain creek, and the brook trout came halfway out of the water and slammed the fly. It was another memorable battle on the Kurenai 30! Tight lines to all in 2020.

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"Be sure in casting, that your fly fall first into the water, for if the line fall first, it scares or frightens the fish..." Col. Robert Venables 1662

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