Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Soft Hackle Thoughts

This is a bleached Starling skin
Over the last several weeks I have recieved numerous emails from several readers asking about various hackles used in soft hackle fly construction. It seems that color and ease of wrapping the hackle was most talked about, but price and availability were also talked about. So I have put together some of my thoughts on this subject and would like to pass it along. Now this information is my experience and I don't claim to be an expert on the subject of soft hackles, but I do have extensive knowledge fishing soft hackles and I have a fairly good handle as to what makes them work.
 

A bleached Starling feather pulled from the skin above. Starling is a beautiful material. It's color and moving hackle make it an ideal fly. The issue with Starling is it can be brittle and break in the wrapping of the hackle. Also it's feathers tend to be small so most of the flies tied from it will be 14 to 18. For some reason I have found Starling most effective in late February and through March.
 

The fly was tied with the feather above. It is tied on a 14 hook.
 

A golden Badger hen skin. This skin is about as cheap as you can get, this one cost me 5.00. It has a wide range of colors, shapes and sizes. It is easy to tie with  and is quite versatile in what it can represent.
 

A feather from the skin above. Look at and you can see the various other hackles it can substitute for, like Partridge.
 

Here is a fly tied with that feather.
 

Another hen skin, this one also cheap with outstanding properties.
 

Here is a feather from that skin. Look at it and imagine the patterns you could tie with it. Waterhen Bloa? if yo do please use the term variant so as to not get into trouble with the Accuracy police.
 

A fly tied with the feather above.
 

This is a bleached Partridge skin. These not much left on it but I do have a small box of selected feathers.
 

Here are a couple of types of feathers from that skin.
 

Here is a fly tied with the feather on the left. This fly is producing now.
 

Here are two hen pheasant feathers. Looking at them you can see they will in a pinch work just like the bleached Partridge, and golden Badger hackles.
 

Here are two flies tied with the hen pheasant feathers. The bottom fly is size 14 and the top fly a 12. All of the flies are tied with YLI silk thread for the body, and all have hares mask dubbing for the thorax.
 

 

20 comments:

  1. Fantastic post, Alan; so much wonderful knowledge imparted! In my opinion, hen pheasant is one of the most overlooked feathers we have available to us. We don't have a wild population of pheasant this far north, but if we did, I'd be on them as much as I hunt grouse. So many possibilities...

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    1. mike
      Thanks
      Mike hen pheasant is so inexpensive compared to other hackles, and it can do so much to likely represent what we are trying to match. And it's so user friendly. Down here it's pretty much stocked birds.

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  2. Alan - Thank you for this post... Very informative.
    Sincerely;
    Hollen Groff

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    1. Hollen m. Groff
      Thanks
      Hollen I appreciate your comment.

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  3. Great examples of fantastic everyday soft hackles! And orange has been my most effective soft hackle body and my first choice when searching for brookies.

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    1. NJpatbee
      Thanks
      Pat I chose YLI orange for a reason and will post about in the future. Brookies do like orange especially this time of year. That workhorse fly the Partridge and Orange oh man what a pattern.

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    2. Hi Alan- I love tying with starling. The iridescence of the feather sells the bug in my opinion. Another great hackle is woodcock.

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    3. Dean F
      Thanks
      Dean your points are spot on. Woodcock seems to have movement in the water that brings strikes, and is a pleasure to work with.

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  4. Thanks for sharing! The simplicity of these flies is wonderful. Seeing the photos really helps. Now if only I could find a hen pheasant skin. They seem to be out of stock everywhere. In the meantime, I just tied some Gartside sparrows with feathers from a cock pheasant skin and look forward to giving them a try this weekend. How did I never notice those cool aftershaft feathers before?

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    1. Shawn
      Thanks
      Shawn the uncomplicated nature of soft hackles/spiders are the top selling point to the fly. I've heard that hen pheasant was a hard find. Keep looking and when you find one you'll have plenty of soft hackle to work with for years. The sparrow is a great fly.

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  5. I noticed all of the examples are low water ties. Is that because of the shallow streams or the fact that you can up size the hook?

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    1. billp
      Thanks
      Bill not sure what you mean about low water ties. I generally tie my soft hackles and spiders pretty much the same way.

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  6. Alan,

    It appears that the thread body on this pattern only goes aft so far as the hook point.. why is that? wondering if there is a strategic reason for this, or is only a stylistic decision. Thank you,

    Art U.

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    1. Unknown
      Thanks
      Art I try to bring the thread back to about the point or just a bit beyond the point. This works for me. And I think it makes for a nicer looking fly.

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  7. OK Alan, I have to say it. You are the Maestro of fly tying.

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    1. Mark Kautz
      Thanks
      Mark you are a kind soul...

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  8. Art, that is pretty much classic soft hackle or better said spider fly recipe you are seeing there. Masterclass in soft hackle construction here.
    For regular starling, Stewart’s Black Spider is a great pattern to look up and try. Wrap the brown silk and feather together. The bleached starling js great for lighter patterns, like sulphurs. Also, a dotterel substitute.
    http://softhacklepatternbook.blogspot.com/2014/09/dotterel-in-orange-and-yellow.html

    Kevin

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    1. Ned Zeppelin
      Thanks
      Kevin your mention of Stewart's spider brings to mind a video I saw on how to properly tie this classic, the fly tyer was Oliver Edwards.

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  9. Alan,
    Another incredible post about everyone's favorite, the soft-hackle! I love the way you posted the feathers then turned around and created the orange beauties with each feather at the crown! This allows me (us) to quickly compare the similarities and differences of each hackle! Very well done! Orange thread or floss bodies are definitely king around these parts!
    Ned, I want to seek out that video by Oliver Edwards! Stewart's spiders work wonders around here as well! Thanks guys!
    Dougsden

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    Replies
    1. Dougsden
      Thanks
      Doug Oliver Edwards is a favorite of mine. Some of his videos he shares the histories in soft hackles. I love the accent too.
      Orange is really getting attention now.

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