Kebari & Fly Tying

Fly Tying with Emu Feathers

Article by Steve Allen

Being the kind of tier who’s always looking out for new material and techniques, I recently came across an article online from Fly Tyer Magazine titled The Emu Epiphany by Seth Fields. After reading the article I knew I had to give emu a try.

Many of my material suppliers offer emu, so after some searching I had a few different colors on order. Personally, I think the Spirit River UV Emu has the best feather quality.

Seth’s article is so well written; I suggest you give it a good read. What caught my attention was the application of emu in wet flies and kebari. Here’s what I have found so far.

Emu “Partridge” & Orange

My first attempt was the substitution of emu for partridge in the classic Partridge and Orange. I learned firsthand how difficult it is to get a good looking hackle using emu. The barbs along the length of the feather vary in density, stiffness, and length. As Dr. Whiting has yet to start breeding emu for fly tying there is a large inconsistency in the quality of the feathers. As Seth points out in his article, there are sections of the feather that are not usable and some feathers not usable at all.

Fly Tying with Emu Feathers - Tenkara Angler - Steve Allen - Partridge & Orange
Emu “Partridge” and Orange

I cut off the bottom quarter or third of the feather as most of the time it seems a bit too stiff. I strip off the barbs from one side and tie in the feather oriented so that it wraps with the stripped side against the hook. I have found that I need at least four wraps to get the hackle to look good and full, but this can vary depending on the section of the feather you are winding.

The feather barbs are unusual in that the lower half of each barb nearest the feather stem are stiff, while the distal half is flexible, much like to legs on an insect. This dictates that the hackle be tied as perpendicular to the hook shaft as possible as opposed to the standard wet fly swept back method. This allows the hackle barbs to flex at the midsection giving a lifelike movement as you work the fly.

Emu Futsu Kebari in Green

Fly Tying with Emu Feathers - Tenkara Angler - Steve Allen - Green Futsu
Emu futsu kebari in green

For the emu futsu kebari I used a green Shetland wool and green emu on a #10 2457 2x, 2x hook.

Emu Yallarhammer

Fly Tying with Emu Feathers - Tenkara Angler - Steve Allen - Yallarhammer
The Southern Appalachian classic Yallarhammer done with emu

The Master Ide-san Kebari

Fly Tying with Emu Feathers - Tenkara Angler - Steve Allen - Master Ide-san
The Master Ide-san kebari

I got the idea for the Ide-san from the recent issue of Tenkara Angler, page 112. Red thread, brown pheasant tail counter wrapped with gold wire size small, and natural gray Emu on a standard wet fly hook.

Woolly Emu in Orange

Woolly emu in orange; October caddis emerger

For the October caddis emerger the hook is a Moonlit ML061 Size 12, orange Shetland wool, and Brown UV Emu from Spirit River. On the wool body flies I untwisted the 2 ply yarn and used 1 ply. Care is needed in winding the single ply as it has a tendency to pull apart. Twisting the ply as you wrap seems to help.

I have found there are limitless Western and kebari patters that emu can be used in. As always let your imagination run wild.

Steve Allen is retired in Northeast Tennessee after a career in supply chain and retail outing goods management. In addition to fishing and fly tying he is an avid amateur radio operator, participates in shooting sports, and with his wife enjoys canoeing and kayaking, hiking, and gardening.

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  1. Hey Steve, great article! I made an underwater video back in 2011 showing the action of different types of hackle (partridge, starling, pheasant, and emu):

    Clearly, the emu had the least amount of movement in the water. It looks great dry, but even tied sparsely, it just doesn’t move as well as other hackle in the water. I was disappointed because it looks so buggy!

    I would definitely use it for dry flies or emergers, but not on wet flies. Not only because it impedes the fly’s sink rate, but also because it just doesn’t look alive like other types of hackle.

    One possible exception would be to use it as a collar behind another, more limber hackle that moves more (like an anchor).

  2. Jason:

    Nice video. I see what you mean about the Emu, I see movement in the fibers when I slow the speed down to .25, but it does appear to be the least flexible. I suspect that the flexibility of the fibers could be directly related to the variation in the feather stiffness itself. I know when I start pulling them out of the bag their size and length is all over the board.

    Thanks for the great video.


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