A Classic Bergman Wet: The Fontinalis Fin

This is a fly with a great backstory.

The Fontinalis Fin Wet Fly

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Hook: 6-16 (this is a 1x short, 2x strong Orvis 1641 size 10)
Thread: Black
Tail: White hackle fibers
Body: Orange wool with fine gold tinsel rib
Throat: Furnace hackle fibers
Wing: Orange mallard married to a thin strip of black or natural grey mallard, then a slightly thicker strip of white mallard

The old-timers up in Maine (or down East, if you’re going for authenticity) who were fishing for brookies thought their quarry was highly territorial. So after they creeled a fish, they’d clip off one of the fins and use it for bait. And what an attractive bait it was: shiny, deep orange, contrasted against dramatic black and white bands.

An enterprising fly tyer named Phil Armstrong realized he could replicate this bait in the form of a married-quill wing wet fly. And thus was born the Fontinalis Fin. “Fontinalis” from the second half of the brook trout’s taxonomic name, Salvelinus fontinalis. “Fin” for rather obvious reasons. What a brilliant concept.

The real McCoy

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While it’s tempting to look at the flies featured in the color plates of Berman’s Trout (this fly appears on plate 10) as more of an exercise in tying legerdemain than practical fish catchers, I can tell you from experience that this fly does work. It’s pretty simple as far as married quill wings go, and the rest of the pattern is something anyone with basic tying skills can do.

Tying notes: If you’ve never tied a quill wing, don’t start. Your first quill wing can be the fly-tying equivalent of the Bataan Death March. While I was kidding (mostly) about not starting, I think it took me over a half hour to tie my first quill wing — and that was accompanied by a generous use of rather colorful language. Once you get it, though, the process becomes easier. I’m often asked at classes and demos, ‘How do you glue the different quill sections together?” You don’t. The edges of quill fibers are like velcro — they stick together quite nicely. There’s a specific technique to matching quills (the wings should be a mirror reflection of one another) and marrying the sections. Perhaps someday I’ll post them. In the meantime, you can probably find a good how-to by doing a web search. Also, the quill wings should sit a little higher on the shank so as to not hide the body; I was in a rush to finish this fly, so I plead sloth.

2 comments on “A Classic Bergman Wet: The Fontinalis Fin

  1. Spent yesterday at the Elderege Fly Shop in York, Maine at a seminar learning how to tie these old classic wets from Don Bastian. FANTASTIC day! It is truly a PIA at times getting the wings to sit square on the hook. Definitely have to learn and trust the mechanics. He was masterful at showing us how. I had to leave a little early for a meeting back in Boston with a new client. This was the fly I missed tying. If I’m lucky, I have the materials and will be able to give it a go today, while everything is fresh in my mind.

    I have a feeling several of these style flies will find their way into my fly boxes.

    Cheers,
    John

    • Steve Culton says:

      Don ties incredibly beautiful flies. I saw him a few years ago at Marlborough.

      Quill wings are one of those things where once you get it, it suddenly becomes exponentially easier. I’m sure being taught in person shortens the learning curve, too. Lastly, I find that some quill sections (like flatwing saddles) just refuse to behave. I send those into the bin right quick.

      I have some more Bergman wet flies coming soon.

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