Phillip Rowley - Managing Marabou, The Pearly Damsel

Hook:        Daiichi 1710 #10-#14

Thread:     8/0 Color to match

Tail:          Marabou, color to match naturals

Rib:           Fine copper wire

Shellback: Pearlescent or Mirage Opal Mylar

Body:        Marabou, color to match naturals, tied in by the tips

Wingcase: Stretch Flex, color to match naturals, 1/8"

Thorax:     Dubbed Marabou

Legs:         Marabou fibers color to match naturals

Eyes:         Mono Eyes, black or olive

Head:        Dubbed Marabou fibers, color to match naturals



Marabou is perfectly suited to suggest the slender profile and distinct swimming behaviour of a damsel fly nymph. The Pearly Damsel, hailing from the British Isles, is an excellent platform illustrating the use and diversity of marabou.  Marabou is one of the most versatile and widely used fly tying materials available today.  Lacking the barbule hooks common to most outer contour feathers soft mobile marabou fibres spring to life beneath the surface creating animated patterns few predatory fish can resist.  Marabou is one of the few natural materials that can be pinched to length without affecting the action of the feather or fibres and is readily available in a number of types and colors depending upon the needs and desires of the fly tyer.  I tend to avoid tearing my wings and tails to length preferring to measure the marabou for length taking full advantage of the natural taper of the strands for maximum movement.  Coupled with its ease of use and diversity of tying applications it is easy to understand why marabou use is so popular.  From dry flies to streamers just about every pattern benefits from a marabou infusion.  


Marabou originally came from the tail and belly area from the protected Marabou Stork.  Possession of these feathers is now illegal and the marabou namesake has become synonymous with the plumulaceous or bushy under feathers found beneath the outer body contour feathers of the domestic white turkey.  These soft under feathers or more correctly semi plumes provide insulation and warmth.  Marabou plumes are also present on other birds such as chickens.  Grizzly marabou or the commercially available “Chickabou” are the two most common alternatives to larger turkey marabou and excellent damsel nymph materials in their own right.


Fly tyres have a number of marabou choices available to them depending upon their personal preferences and the needs of the pattern.  Wooly Bugger marabou is available from a number of fly tying material suppliers.  These short bushy plumes typically average around 3 inches long and are well suited for Wooly Bugger and leech patterns as the name suggests. These plumes are easy to use for wings and tails and are often tied in as a single plume with little or no need to strip the fibers from the stem.  The bushy plumes provide the illusion of bulk without mass.  Spey Popsicle marabou is of a similar overall size to Wooly Bugger marabou but these plumes feature finer barbs and are best suited to Spey and Popsicle style patterns as the name suggests. 


Strung marabou is the most widely used and readily available type of marabou on the market today.  Originating from immature semi plumes strung marabou is also referred to a blood quill as the vanes of developing feathers still contained blood when the bird was harvested.  Strung marabou plumes typically range from 4-5 inches in length and are often sewn or strung together on a cloth strip.  Thin stemmed blood quill marabou plumes provide fly tyers a wide range of applications and uses.  Entire plumes may be tied in as a wing or tail including the stem.  To aid mobility consider plucking out the tip section.  Although preferring to strip the fibres away from the stem and tie them in as a clump on smaller patterns stems adds a degree of durability when an entire plume is used on larger patterns intended for aggressive toothy quarry.  Strung marabou can also be tied in by the tips and wound around the shank making it an ideal material for larger Popsicle style flies.  Strip the individual barbs from the plume and tie them in by the tips forming a marabou rope for neat slender bodies. This is a common technique on many damsel fly nymph patterns such as the Pearly Damsel.  Individual fibres make excellent dubbing.  Twist 3-4 strands around the thread creating a marabou dubbing noodle.  Trim the basal ends of the strands prior to twisting onto the thread as the stem remnants from stripped fibres inhibit the ease and effectiveness of dubbed marabou.  Avoid the temptation to use too much marabou, as with all dubbing materials a little goes a long way.


Few tiers are aware of the value of the fine fibered tip section.  Often discarded, the tip section makes perfect leg material. Begin by removing the tip section from a strung marabou plume.  Depending upon the size of the pattern and number of fibres required to suggest the legs of the nymph trim out the tip top of the tip section.  The end result should be short section of fine fibered strands still attached to the thin stem.  The stem keeps the fine fibers even and in control and when swept together maintains consistent leg length.  Tied in place, marabou tip fibres can be split along the sides of the fly or swept beneath forming a neat semi circular or beard hackle.  This technique is also adaptable to other thin stemmed feather materials such as small guinea fowl or pheasant rump feathers.


Thick stemmed Long Marabou features long flowing bushy strands that are ideal for tails and wings and when needing longer marabou for larger patterns.  As with the shorter Wooly Bugger Marabou the bulky looking fibres creates the illusion of bulk without mass.  Long marabou plumes typically range between 5-7 inches.  This mature feather is an ideal body material as the long fibre length provides fly tyers with lots of material to work with.  Tiers are advised to choose their long marabou carefully as some plumes may have broken uneven tips limiting its use.  As a result tiers often choose smaller blood quills.  Select Marabou available through some suppliers are Long Marabou plumes specifically selected for quality, a service worth paying a little extra for.  Owing to the thick stem Long Marabou is not suited for winding around the shank. Marc Petitjean’s Magic Tool allows tiers to fold Long marabou and form marabou hackle within a dubbing loop.  Owing the thick stem Long Marabou wings and tails must be stripped and folded.  To fold marabou begin by stroking the feather from tip to butt to stand and even the fibres perpendicular to the stem.  Using the thumb and forefinger grasp a clump of marabou fibres on one side up near the tip section and strip them down from the stem.  Fold stripped the clump on top of the lower adjacent section of marabou to be stripped.  Strip the second clump in the same manner as the first continuing this process until the required amount of marabou has been stripped and folded from the stem.  The end result should be an even clump.  This technique can also be used on other feathers including smaller strung marabou plumes.  For a full fibred size 6 leech pattern 2-3 folds of marabou may be required for the tail.

Tying Instructions



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