Soft Hackle Flies: A Few More Thoughts


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A follow-up soft hackle story from Paul DiNolo


Peter's note: My friend Paul DiNolo has provided us with a follow up article to his "Fly With a Story" from a couple of weeks ago: The Soft Hackle Brassie.

Also, read the article Paul wrote about his favorite Chironomid Patterns.

There have been many famous, and some obscure, soft hackle flies which have been developed over the centuries. It is sometimes difficult to tell one pattern from another, especially when their materials or names are similar.

Normally, these patterns are named, first by what type of hackle is used, and then by the color of the body. For instance, we have flies with names like: The Partridge and Green, The Grouse and Orange, The Grizzly and copper, etc. There are also a number of standard wet flies and nymphs which are tied with soft hackles. The “March Brown Spider, and “Soft Hackle Pheasant Tail” come to mind.

Soft hackle flies are some of the earliest recorded fly patterns. While they may have over a thousand years of fly fishing history behind them, they don't seem to enjoy the popularity that they have earned.

Perhaps the leading proponent for the use of soft hackle flies was Sylvester Nemes. If you get a chance to read any of his work, you will see that he believed that the key to the soft hackle fly's success lies in its sparseness and simplicity. Perhaps it is the simplicity of its appearance that might keep many anglers from giving this style of fly a fair trial. In fact, only a few of the fly shops that I have visited in recent years even carry these patterns in their inventory.

Even though it might be a bit difficult to locate some soft hackle patterns, they are quite simple to tie. Soft hackle flies are probably the best pattern for the novice fly tyer to produce.

The key point to remember when tying soft hackle patterns is to apply the least amount of material possible, and still give the fly the required impression. Bodies should have a very slim outline, and there should be no more than three complete turns of hackle. Some tyers like to add in a dubbed fur thorax, or a rib, or even a metallic bead head, but you can see that this can get you on that proverbial “slippery slope” and pretty soon you might end up with a full dressed salmon fly. So, keep it simple; just a sparse body and a few turns of hackle.

The choice of hackle can be very broad so long as they are soft and they absorb water. Traditionally, plumage from game birds was the most commonly used. Partridge, grouse, woodcock, pheasant, snipe and sage hen all proved to be quite effective. Recently, commercial hackle growers have added complete lines of genetically selected hens to their already popular dry fly necks. The quality and consistency of these hen necks allow the tyer of soft hackle patterns a remarkable range of creativity.


Soft Hackle Flies - Five samples from Paul

Partridge and Red

Partridge and Green

Grouse and Orange

Partridge and Yellow

March Brown Spider

Tying sequence:

HOOK: Wet fly hook, sizes 12-16 for trout. (Try a size 10 for panfish)

THREAD: 8/0 black, or color to match or complement the body

BODY: Shown here are floss bodies of different colors and one dubbed body. Peacock herl and pheasant tail fibers are also popular body materials.

SOFT HACKLE COLLAR: Four of the flies here are tied with Partridge and one with grouse.

Note: Paul suggests no more than three wraps of soft hackle.


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