Fly Fishers' Republic

Marabou Wings & Tails

by Raif Killips

Marabou Wings & Tails

With regular marabou feathers, you have the choice of tying using the fluffy barbs taken from the thicker part of the feather’s stem, or if it’s sufficiently downy you can use the tip of the feather. This guide outlines what I call the back to front technique of tying. That is, catching in the marabou at the rearmost securing point and taking the thread forward. When tying a wing just move the whole deal along the shank from the position illustrated:

Tying instructions:

Toggle sequence Left/Right Handed ↔

Stage 1 a matched pair of feathers

1. Try and select a feather with long downy barbs. If you only want a short tail or wing this is less critical, but longer barbs are easier to handle regardless.

Stage 2 prepared slips

2. Gather a substantial bunch of marabou and cut close to the stem. I say substantial because when wet the marabou reduces down to almost nothing – which is fine if you want a slim pattern – if not then err on the substantial side. You can always reduce the bulk later.

Stage 3 married slips

3. At this point the ends of the barbs will be uneven and spread out. This can cause problems when you tie.

Stage 4 gauging the length

4. It’s best to gather the ends by passing the marabou bundle between the pinch grip of alternating hands.

Stage 5 making the loop

5. When you’ve gathered the butt ends into a sufficiently tight bundle, cut them level with scissors. When you’re done, you’ll have to swap the marabou into the correct hand for dressing the fly.

Stage 6 finishing the loop

6. Note the thread hangs down ready to make the first wrap over the top of the previous. If the first wrap ties the marabou directly to the hook the feather will twist around the shank. Hold the marabou at the tying-in point with the butts angled down about 30 degrees on the near side.

Stage 7 double the grip

7. Hold the marabou in place while you make the first firm wrap of thread. It will be necessary to pull the thread up and between your thumb and the marabou and then down and between your index finger and the marabou in order to avoid carrying the wraps forward of the intended tying in point.

Stage 8 shifting the grip

8. Make two further tight wraps. If you have a heavy bobbin holder it may be possible to let go of everything at this point. Otherwise you may let go of the feather but you should keep the thread in tension until you’ve made a few more firm wraps that will secure the feather without loosening off.

Stage 9 positioning the slips

9. When the marabou is secure at the bend, start to work the thread forward toward the eye of the hook. Make tight open wraps. Keep the marabou butt ends from twisting round the shank by holding them in line as the thread tightens round them.

Stage 10 securing the feather-slips

10. Hold the marabou in place with one hand while making a three-quarter wrap with the other. Then let go of the marabou and complete the thread wrap. Re-grip the marabou and start another wrap. Repeat this until you are two or three hook eye widths away from the eye.

Stage 11 winding the thread

11. Trim the butts of marabou and complete tying them in before returning the thread to the bend of the hook in further close and tight wraps.

Stage 12 winding the thread

12. If the marabou is too long, pinch it with both hands about the point to which you wish to reduce it to. Then with the hand holding the waste ends make a quick snapping motion to break off the tips.

Stage 13 winding the thread

13. You can see here that this produces a soft and natural profile to the marabou.

Stage 13 removing the waste

14. Use this method for tying patterns including the woolly bugger.


Marabou comes in packs labelled ‘marabou’, ‘bugger packs’, and ‘marabou bloods’. The first of these will contain a mix of feather types; bugger packs will contain a consistent bundle of feathers having moderately long barbs and thin stems; while packs marked ‘bloods’ contain feathers with long fibres and especially short thin stems. Bloods are in many respects the easiest to use for wings and tails, and have the advantage that they can also be wrapped like a hackle for patterns like the Popsicle and the Tequila Sunrise.