Fly patterns such as the Partridge and Orange, Starling and Herl or Isonychia soft hackle, are soft hackled patterns. They can be deadly flies when swung through the water column and are highly effective fish catchers, even through rising fish. While soft hackled flies considered to be “simple flies” and “staples” that demand a spot in your fly box; they aren’t always so “simple” to tie when you are just starting out. Even I will find that I still have had times where I’ll tie a feather in, take two wraps, and it pulls off of the hook. These things happen to many of us, so dont get too frustrated. Take a look at the step-by-steps and techniques I am showing you here and give it another try!
There are countless materials that can be used as hackle on a soft hackled fly pattern, and while we will get into those at a later time; today I will use partridge for the demonstration.
A must have for your tying bench
Partridge is one of those fly tying staples that you can’t live without, and needless to say, it’s one of my favorite materials.
Measuring your Hackle:
The first thing you want to do is to select a feather from your Partridge skin, keeping in mind that the closer to the head you go, the smaller the feathers will be.
As you move down the skin it they will get bigger in size, but the “sweet spot” is usually somewhere in the mid-section of the back. If you take a close look at the head/neck area itself you will also see that the feathers are lighter in color. They are more white and black, and work well for patterns such as the Partridge and orange.
Once you have your feather selected, its time to measure and prepare it for tying in.
“Eyeballing it” and the Reverse “L” Gauge
“Just eyeball it!”.. 😂 that’s a phrase that you’ll hear me say often. Not to say that certain things shouldn’t be an exact measurement, it just means; that at this time, I am not precisely measuring anything.. which is, needles to say.. a lot of the time.
With that being said, The same goes for how I’m going to now gauge the feather on the hook!
With… the Reverse “L” Gauge!
Yes I know its made up! 😂 But it works.
How to use the Reverse “L” Gauge
What I do is pluck a feather that to me, looks like it would be a good size and I spread the soft hackle in the shape of a backwards “L”.
Take the feather, with the hackle separated in the backwards “L” and hold the stem up to the hook eye. By doing this you can immediately see how long the hackle will be when you wrap it, just by putting the stem up to the eye. Keep in mind that your fibers will begin to get smaller towards the tip so measure it in the middle of the feather.
I prefer to have my flies with a little bit of an oversized hackle, but use your own judgement.
*If you find that all of your feathers are way to large and you have nothing that will work, don’t become frustrated! Take a look at one of these two tutorials: “Part One” and”Part Two “on how to utilize an oversized soft hackle feather.*
It’s Christmas in July! (Or whatever month it is when you read this)
Once you have decided if the feather is going to be the correct size; hold the tip of it in one hand and brush the fibers down with the other. Making it look almost like a Christmas tree. Then get ready to trim it!
“Trimming the Tree”
‘Trimming the tree’ is how you prepare the material for tying in. If you were to tie it directly to the shank of the hook like this, you would have to cut the excess off after, which I find to sometimes be more difficult.
Ready to clip
“Trimming the Tree”
Once you have the fibers brushed down, let the tip go and hold it by the stem. You are going to cut the top of the “tree” off.
Doing this will give you a cleaner tie in point than if you had tried to cut it off later.
Now onto the bottom of the feather.
We need to remove the majority of the fluff from the stem to make it easier to handle. That means you are now holding the feather by the tip, and are going to grasp one side of that fluff and firmly strip it from the feather. It should peel right off. Go ahead and do this on both sides.
(I don’t always strip all of it off because it helps to add movement to my flies. I will leave one wrap of the fluff at the head of my flies or the backside of the Hackle, depending on which way I’m wrapping it .)
Ready to wrap!
As you can see above your feather is prepped and ready for tying in!
Once you have removed the fibers from the point (which is the tip) and you have removed the fluff at the bottom you are ready to go. The bare stem will help you by functioning as a handle, but feel free to use hackle piers if needed.
The Natural Curve
Now it’s time to position the feather for wrapping. First thing you want to do is hold the feather by the stem and position it right above your fly itself..look closely. It will sit one of two ways..
Feathers have a natural curve to them and what you want is for that curve to go OVER the hook from the bend to the eye.
You’ll know when you have found it, and tying it in this way will help to umbrella those fibers back over the hook shank when wrapped.
Once you have the natural curve in place, align the stem so that when you take a wrap it will catch right in front of the brushed back fibers. Take one loose wrap, and then one tight one to hold it in place. Taking a couple more turns will securely hold the feather down.
If you have excess near the eye, A good way to snip off the end is to use your fingers to brush that snipped tie in piece up in the air on an angle.
Now its time to wrap the hackle.
Hold that feather by the stem and bring it straight up in the air. In order to get a clean wrap, hold the stem vertical with one hand and brush the fibers back with the other, but hold them gently. Take your first wrap away from you and when you do, let those fibers slide from your fingers.
As you come back around and your feather is back up in the air again; brush those fibers back again, and take one more wrap. What this is doing, is keeping everything in line, so that they wrapped nicely behind the hook eye.
Once you have wrapped the feather around enough to your liking or to the patterns instructions in which you’re following, proceed to tie off the feather. Trim any stray fibers, add a couple turn whip finish and some head cement and you are good to go!
I really hope this tutorial has helped you conquer your fear of soft hackles. Please let me know if you have any questions, as I may be able to add a few more photos in for you!
If you find that you have feathers that are took long for your hook, I have put together two tutorials below that can help with this problem.