There are an awful lot of good fly tyers on the planet these days, far more (and better) than when I was growing up. Those dark days of fly tying featured a lot of secrets, good old boys and not a lot of sharing, but with the advent of the internet, Facebook, and Instagram, good tyers are sharing their ideas and techniques like never before in history, and I like that. You should too. Without avenues like these, guys like Kenny Morrish might just go out and catch all the fish with only his closest buddies knowing what a creative tyer he is, and well, we just can’t let powers like that go unnoticed.
Growing up in Oakland, California, Ken Morrish came from a fly fishing family; his father, grandfather and even great-grandfather were all avid fly anglers and this left young Ken with no shortage of interesting conversation fodder at family gatherings. Picking up fly tying in his preteens, Ken learned from protégés of the famed Andre Puyans, where tidiness in tying was put at a premium. Ken jokes that not much of it caught on with him and that many of the other students became much better tyers than he, but I’ve seen enough flies and taught enough other tyers to know that while skills themselves can be learned, creativity itself has to come from within. Morrish is nothing short of phenomenal at this aspect of the game with incredibly innovative patterns such as the Morrish Hopper, Hotwire Caddis and the famed Morrish Mouse among dozens of others to his credit. Ken is now co-owner of Fly Water Travel out of Ashland, Oregon and confesses that he doesn’t get to tie nearly as much these days as he’d like, but I, for one, would love to see just how many more great patterns he’d come up with if left untethered for any length of time. In the meantime, we’ll have to be happy with his heap of established patterns being supplemented by two or three new ones each year.
Ken’s latest pattern, the May Day, made its public debut at the Fly Tackle Retailer? show in Florida this past year and immediately caught the eye of our editor, Ross Purnell. So impressed, Ross quickly sent me an email photo of the fly with no message, knowing I’d know exactly where he was coming from. And he was right, too. The Morrish May had caught my eye in the new Umpqua Feather Merchants catalog and was already on my short list of flies for this column. I never pass up a chance to work with tyers like Ken and found myself really looking forward to talking with him. A few emails and phone calls resulted in me finally learning to tie this surprisingly tricky pattern and I can now say working and chatting with Ken was a pleasure I wouldn’t advise anyone to pass up. He’s a hoot to talk with and has no pretense of hubris whatsoever. His passion for tying and fishing is refreshingly obvious and it doesn’t take long to figure out that Ken puts a lot of thought into every one of his patterns.
I asked Ken to give me a little background on his fly and he related that he set out to design a mayfly dun pattern that had a broad, wide wing silhouette with good visibility and flotation and a short, compact surface impression like that of the real thing, but wanted to go about it a bit differently from the norm. After a long tinkering process, Ken ended up starting with a black Tiemco 102Y hook, in odd sizes, as its down eye worked well with the wing design and its strong build would hold up to that fish of a lifetime we are all after every time we hit the water. Rather than a conventional tail, Morrish opted for a scraggly clump of Hareline Dubbin’s Para Post material to create only a lifted impression of a tail and that would provide a bit of flotation at the bend if needed but would be elevated off the water like the real insects’ in most cases. Ken worked with Brian Schmidt at Umpqua to find a suitably “buggy” dubbing to create a bit more surface area for the fly and they decided on using Andy Burk’s Buggy Nymph dubbing to form the abdomen and thorax on the Blue Winged Olive version. Ken uses other similar mixtures of coarser dubbings for patterns tied to match March Browns, Pale Morning Duns, and callibaetis. Employing a hackle stacker style hackle built on the base of a Para Post wing created a folded-over-the-thorax hackle collar as well as utilizing the core of the post to create the wing itself through an innovative folding scheme. A final drop of flexible cement and a bit of creative trimming results in an original pattern that matches the compact impression of a real mayfly dun and introduces a few fun tying techniques along the way. The May Day is much more than a typical parachute or thorax style pattern, with a clean impression of the hackle fibers touching the surface and holding the thorax and abdomen up above the water’s surface and the wide wing profile forms a perfect imitation of the naturals. I have to admit it took me far longer to figure this fly out than it should have because I was trying to make it into something I already knew. Ken’s approach to this fly is truly one off and the end result is well worth learning a few new techniques. I will say that a photo tutorial, however simple, would have helped me immensely in this process, but I guess that was my job and I’ll happily take it. At this point, I’ll use any excuse I can to chat with Ken again and get inside his incredibly creative mind.
Hook: TMC 102Y, #15-19
Thread: Veevus 14/0 Olive
Tail: Hareline Para Post, EP Fibers or McFlylon, Gray
Abdomen: Buggy Nymph Dubbing, Olive Brown
Wing and Post: Same as Tail
Hackle: Grizzly Saddle, oversized
Thorax: Same as Abdomen
Begin by starting the thread at the two-thirds point and tying in about fifteen strands of Para Post material. Wrap back over the Para Post to the bend of the hook. I like to leave this material a bit long for right now and trim it to a ragged shank length once the fly is finished. Dub a thin strand of dubbing onto the thread and start by making a few turns of thin dubbing/thread under the base of the tail to elevate it to about a 20-degree lift. Continue dubbing forward, forming a slightly tapered abdomen to the two-thirds point. Overlap the thread back over the front of the abdomen to the 50-50 point on the shank.
Tie in a long but sparse clump of Para Post material at the fifty percent point. I like to clip this clump into a gallows tool to hold it upright for the hackle stacker process, but some of you crafty guys can do this freehanded. More power to you. Tie in a prepared and slightly oversized saddle feather at the base of the clump with the inside of the feather facing up.
Make about eight turns of hackle climbing up the post then another two or three coming back down.
Preen the wrapped fibers back and tie off the tip of the feather at the base of the wing with a few firm wraps of thread. Clip the excess tip. Dub a bit more thread and build the thorax up to the base of the wing. Be sure to leave at least a generous eye length worth of bare metal between the front of the thorax and the hook eye.
While preening the hackle fibers back on the post, build a thread base to the eye and back again to the front of the thorax, making sure to leave the hanging thread at the front of the thorax. With the hackle fibers preened back in your fingertips, pull the front end of the wing forward over the hook eye and capture it with the working thread at the immediate front edge of the thorax using a pinch wrap. I use a couple turns then really pull forward on the wing to cinch the hackles down tight across the top of the thorax before making a few more firm wraps to anchor it in place. Note the placement of these thread wraps at the front of the thorax and well behind the eye.
Press the tip of your index finger firmly down into the top of the hackle to flatten it to the sides a bit, making way for the wing.
To begin forming the wide wing silhouette, fold the Para Post back over the top of the fly and bind it in place with two or three tightly stacked turns of thread.
Fold the long end of the Para Post forward forming a loop and bind it down again just in front of the original wing tie down. Wrap over this tie down to the back of the hook eye and back again to the starting point. Leave the thread hanging here. Fold the loose end of the Para Post back once more and capture it with a few wraps of thread just in front of the first tie down. Each tie down should be slightly staggered in front of the previous tie down to create a wide wing profile. Whip finish and clip the thread.
Cut the loop out of the wing and spread the fibers front to back a bit. Add a tiny drop of vinyl cement to the base of the wing, letting it bleed slightly up the base of the fibers.
Let the cement sit for just a minute and thicken a bit, then pinch the base of the wing flat between your thumb and forefinger. I use this opportunity to pinch the hackle fibers down to either side of the fly as well. You are trying to spread the wing fibers from front to back a bit to help form the wide wing profile we are after here.
Let the pinched flat wing dry for a few more minutes (or remove the fly from the vise and tie another one while you wait), then come back and trim the tail to a ragged shank length long and shape the wing as shown here. A rounded cut along the back side and a slight bit of shaping on the front side is all it takes.
Front view of finished fly. Note the narrow wing profile from this angle as well as how the hackle fibers protrude below the shank to set the fly up a bit off the surface of the water. Kenny is krafty.