On the vise Q&A: Part 2-“Too much hackle, not enough hook. More techniques for utilizing oversized soft hackle.”

“What to do with too much hackle and too little hook.”

Part 2

Last week we discussed two ways you can utilize an oversized feather when it comes to tying with soft hackles, and today we are going to look at two more. These two methods listed below are my favorites and while one is rather quick, the other allows you to mix it up a bit. Lets take a look!

“The Flying V”

While I have no idea what this technique is normally called, or where it came from originally; what I do know, is that I have seen it used many times by many different people, and I am always amazed at how quick and effective it is. I have also added a YouTube link at the end to a video by Craig Matthews on this technique, in case you need a moving visual.

The first step is to take a quick look and make sure the feather that you are going to use is oversized, and in decent shape.

Preparing the feather

The way this technique works is you are going to place the feather on the top of the hook, and then hold steady to the sides while tying it in. For me, the area I snip off is going to be the resting place over the hook eye. That is also why I recommend that you only snip off a tiny area, as you can cut more if needed.

Snipping the tip off of the feather will create a little “viewing window” to help you to see better when deciding on hackle length.

Be sure not to cut too much off, you can go back and adjust that after.

Placement and sizing.

In order to measure correctly, what you want to do is simply place that feather over the hook and eyeball it (Ok, ok.. I know I say that a lot, but its true! Some of fly tying is going with your own personal judgement on what works for you and what you are trying to acheive for your final outcome)  So go on, eyeball it!

Once you have decided if the length is working for you, place that feather flat on top of the hook. Don’t bend it yet!

Place that cut feather tip on the hook eye, and if you like where the uncut fibers land over the shank, then you are in good shape. If not, then just trim a little more.

Use your best judgement to decide on length.

As you can see from an above the vise view, the fibers closest to the hook eye are the shortest and get longer as they move down the feathers stem. Don’t worry because when you pinch everything down the sides, they will line up around the hook. What you are looking for is the initial length of those front fibers. If they are close, then get ready to hold steady and tie it in!

Tying it in

With the fibers measured, hold your feather over the eye, and based on how you trimmed it, you should have your cut tip resting right over the eye like the photo above. Use that cut end for a guide, but feel free to pull the stem back if you need to adjust hackle length.

Once you have decided if the length is working for you, place that feather flat on top of the hook. Don’t bend it yet!

Don’t worry if the cut end of the feather tip doesn’t sit exactly over the hook eye, the hackle length is more important, so adjust as needed.

Once you have decided on length, grab your feather along both sides of the hook right behind the eye. Hold them tight in place on either side!

Keep the top in place but bring one finger to either side of the hook so you can press that hackle down.

Remember, you want to keep that feather in position on top so just hold tight to the sides of the hook now. What this is doing is spreading those fibers 3/4 of the way around the hook, and the next wrap is going to spread them further.

Locking everything in.

Here you can either use a pinch wrap, or one loose wrap taken over and away from you, followed by a tight pull under the hook towards you and up.

However you want to do it, you just want to make sure that the hackle is secure.

One you have secured the hackle, let go with your hand and be sure to flip your vise over. This will allow you to see that the fibers have spread all around the hook. If not, you only need to use your fingers to wiggle them a little bit.

A quick flip of the vise will let you know if you have covered enough ground.

Before tying off your hackle I recommend pulling it back and out of the way. Now you can give one or two clear wraps in front of it before snipping the waste ends.

Pull back on the hackle, this will help to keep material out of the hook eye and prevent anything from clogging it.

Then all you need to do it cut off the excess, create a head and snip the thread!

The finished fly.

There is a video on youtube by Craig Matthews that someone recently showed me on this great technique. I have added a link to it here for anyone that needs a moving visual.

The Split thread dubbing collar

Another interesting way to use a bigger feather is with the split thread dubbing loop. What’s good about this technique is that you don’t just have to use fibers  from only one feather, you can mix it up a little bit.


For this method you will need a thread that lays flat and splits easily, here I am using Danville which works well. There are many others to use but what you are looking for is a thread that can lay flat when untwisted, as it will split the best.

Again?! Another oversized feather…

That is correct! We are back here again with another oversized feather, only this time the solution is a little bit different.

One you have decided that your feather is too big, you want to snip just the tip off.

Keep this prepared feather to the side as you split your thread. If you are having any trouble splitting your thread, please see the link here, as it will open in a new window so that you can continue with your pattern.

Split your thread
Once you have split your thread and ran your bodkin down towards the bobbin, place a finger there to hold it open, while you get ready with your feather.

Here’s a tip to help you keep the feather in place and still be able to maneuver it around

Instead of using only your pointer finger to hold open the thread, use your middle finger. Then bring your pointer finger and thumb above that, onto either size of the split thread loop.

What will happen here is that middle finger will keep the thread open but the other two can pinch the thread closed. Give it a try.

Now its time to insert the feather. You only need to get an approximate length with these fibers, because you can readjust them once they are in place.

Once you have maneuvered your fingers on the loop, it’s time to grab your feather fibers and insert them between those strands of split thread.
Hold with your three fingers, and then grasp the thread to securely hold the material in place.

You Should be right here again. Once you are, all you have to do is take that thumb and pointer finger and squeeze the loop above the middle finger. That will hold everything closed.

By squeezing the loop closed and pulling down slightly you will see that you can now move the feather around.

What you want to do is hold the thread vertical under where it is stopped on the hook, and look up to where the tips of the hackle stop over the back of the hook. This will give you a good idea on length. If you find that fibers are too long, all you have to do is hold the feather by the middle of the stem and pull them shorter.

If you find that the feather fibers are too short, simply loosen up on the thread by keeping tension at your fingertips and move your hand towards the hook. The loop will reopen.

All I did in the photo above was push up, (loosen the tug on the hook so to speak) and the thread opened back up. If it didn’t open back up? All you need to do is take your thumb and pointer finger off, because the middle finger is still holding it open, then try it again.

Don’t worry if it’s not in the exact spot you want, just do it one more time. Practice makes perfect!

Remember, you are only concerned with the hackle TIPS in the loop. In this photo it is the left side.

Once you are happy with the placement and hackle length, squeeze with your two fingers to hold it all in place, and cut the hackle stem and feather off. Leaving you just the hackle tips that are inside the loop as shows below. You can leave it a little bit long just until you get the excess off, then you can trim the butt ends more.

Cut the stem and feather off, leaving just the hackle tips in between the thread.

Remember you are doing all of this while still keeping tension on that thread loop. If you let go, it will all fall down.

Take a look.. can you see whats happening?

What you are essentially doing here is creating a makeshift feather stem! You are manipulating the fibers in between the strands of thread, in an attempt to create a usable ‘feather’ to make up for what you dont have.

If you need to readjust them by sliding them up and down a little bit, then go ahead. Just don’t go too crazy because spinning the thread is going to do that for you, you just don’t want to huge gaps in between fibers.

Also keep a close eye on how far away from the hook they are, you dont want them too far away because you have to now wrap all of that bare thread around the hook.

Once you have everything in place, grab that thread tightly right below the fibers.. take that bobbin and give it a spin. But dont let go just yet!

Please click here for help with creating and spinning a split thread dubbing loop. It will open in a new window.

Once it slows down to a crawl, you can let go with your fingers. The fibers will spin around in between the thread.

You may need to do it a few times, the first time is just to lock it in. Now give it one more spin until you get it to where you like it.

Looking good!

Once you have it spun enough and the fibers are locked in and pulling closer together, you can begin wrapping it around the hook right behind the eye.

Keep in mind, everyone’s idea of whats “enough” varies. So experiment and have fun!

Once you have it spun enough to where you like it, you can begin wrapping it around the hook shank, right behind the eye.

Bring the hackle filled thread up, then brush the fibers back before wrapping away from you.

Brush back and keep wrapping.

Continue this just as if you were wrapping a normal feather. What is happening here, is you are basically recreating a stemmed feather! Inserting fibers into the thread and twisting, is creating a makeshift stem for wrapping.

What’s nice about this, is you don’t have to just use one feather, you could cut pieces off of different feathers and combine them for a collar. I have used partridge and CDC together for a mix, or two different color feathers.

There is also the use of bulldog clips to help hold hackle that was cut off the stem (small flat spring loaded clips that you can find at staples or the 1$ store), as well as the Marc Petitjean Magic tool that can help with this last technique.

Using tools to help with cutting and moving hackle will be covered in a different post, this step by step here, I have done without the use of any extra tools just to get you started. Feel free to leave any questions and I will do my best to help.

Happy tying!

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