Lockdown Day Two

Lockdown flytying Day Two a focus on hackles

A fairly simple overview of different kind of hackles and some flies to attempt/practice on.

Having jumped in with a mass of information on day one in an attempt to include everyone from beginners to more accomplished fly tyers I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you all.

Anyway today I am going to focus a bit on hackles, they are and have been an integral part of fly tying since its inception. Generally speaking “hackle” simply refers to a barbed feather, could be from a rooster or a hen or a game bird and additional notations provide some further information.

Hackles on flies broadly fall into one of the following categories.

 

  • Throat hackles.
  • Soft or wet fly hackles.
  • Standard Dry fly hackles.
  • Palmered hackles.
  • Parachute hackles.

Throat hackles we covered on day one, with tying the Diawl Bach

Soft hackles or wet fly hackles are generally hen or game bird feathers, softer and more pliant than dry fly hackles they are designed to imitate legs, life and movement in a fly which is subsurface. Many traditional flies use the feather names as part of the fly name, such as “Partridge and Orange” or “Snipe and Purple”

Standard Dry Fly Hackles:

Standard dry flies or “Catskill style” dry flies rely on the hackle to support them on the water’s surface, as such the hackle the quality, quantity of fibres and method of tying it is critical to the functionality of the hackle.

Use the very best hackles that you can afford for your dry flies, hackles that are sold loose in a packet are virtually useless for tying good dry flies. What you really need are quality cock hackles either in the form of a Cape (the whole skin from a rooster neck together with the feathers attached), Saddle hackles which are from the side of the birds which can be bred to produce various sizes. In general saddle patches have feathers that are fairly standard in size so you will find feathers to tie between let’s say #16 and #14 size flies. Capes provide a range of sizes but also a lot of feathers which are too large for tying dry flies of any normal dimension.

Carefully bred (genetic) feathers are the standard for dry flies and some manufactures provide selected saddle hackles in packets specifically for tying one size of fly, if you tie a lot of very small flies for example this can be a good option.

Saddle hackles are generally a great deal longer and you can tie as many as ten flies from one feather, cape hackles tend to be much shorter and for heavily dressed fast water flies you may need to use more than one feather per fly.

 

Dull side or shiny side to the front? Hackles from a cape have a distinct curve to them, with the concave side being slightly dull compared to the convex side. For best results in tying dry flies it is preferable to have the dull side to the front of the fly such that the natural curve of the feather fibres leans forwards giving better balance to the fly. To keep the hackle in the correct orientation whilst winding it around the hook shank you should bind the stalk in as shown in the following diagram. Wind the hackle with use of hackle pliers so as not to twist it as it goes around the hook. With quality hackles and careful technique neat balanced dry flies are easily achieved. If you are tying two hackles (such as in the Adams Dry Fly), tie in both hackles, wind the first in slightly open turns and then wind the second hackle through the first filling in the gaps. If you are tying two hackles separately such as with a bi-visible pattern wind the first hackle before tying in the second in front of the first.

 

Sizing hackles.

It is less important perhaps when it comes to parachute patterns but standard dry flies need for the hackle fibres to be of the correct length and the way to insure that is the case is to measure them beforehand. There are some simple gadgets that will assist you or you can use the hook as a measure. Without removing the hackle from the skin bend it around the hook shank whilst in the vice and check that the hackle fibres reach approximately 1 5 to 2 times the hook gape. That way you can select the correct sized hackle without waste.

 

Before tying in any hackle you should strip off the fluffy “flue” fibres from the base of the stalk. On quality dry fly hackles there will still be a “sweet spot” where the individual fibres become shiny and stiff and not webby. Fibres lower than this point should be stripped off the stalk. Tie in the stalk as shown in the accompanying diagram; insure that the feather is set up with the dull side forward and that it is securely fixed to the hook shank. Having hackles pull out whilst tying is extremely annoying. For a neater finish it can be advisable to add a small amount of dubbing to the shank before winding the hackle, but perhaps that should be regarded as a more advanced technique. When winding a single hackle, wrap it forward in touching turns, trying not to trap any of the fibres from the previous wrap as you go. Bear in mind that particularly with dry flies both your skill and the quality of the hackle will make a difference to the end result. You simply cannot tie good neat dry flies with poor quality hackle, it isn’t possible.

Wet fly hackles and soft hackles. For wet flies, which are designed to sink below the surface film one generally uses some form of game hackle, hen hackle or similar. Lacking the stiffness of cock hackle the fibres will provide movement which is suggestive of life under water. Many game hackles such as partridge have thick stalks and as a result the general means of tying them in is by the tip, the exact reverse of dry fly hackles. In addition you shouldn’t make more than two or three turns stroking the fibres backwards as you go.

Cheater Soft hackles. Very frequently the only source of game hackles, unless you are a bird shooter is in packets supplied by fly tying material companies. Many of those hackles will be oversized and virtually useless for making wet flies in trout sizes. Annoying as this may be there is a solution whereby you can manufacture serviceable soft hackle flies with feathers of the wrong size. It will allow you to make the most of your packet of feathers and at the same time generate a good many flies that can be highly effective both in rivers and stillwaters. Any standard wet fly design can be tied using this method instead of the standard one if necessary.

Tying “palmered” Hackles: Palmering of hackles is one of the oldest techniques in fly tying and many traditional patterns as well as more modern ones use the technique. Both wet and dry flies can use palmered hackles and patterns that utilize the methods range from traditional Invictas, Wickham’s Fancies, and Elk Hair Caddis patterns to Wooly buggers and Shrimp flies. The principal is however the same, the hackle is wound along the hook shank in open turns and then trapped in place with a ribbing, usually wire.

Fly Tying exercises for the day.

Novices: Tie a “Cheater soft hackle following the instructions below.

Think more about the proportions than the actual fly.

 

For the more advanced: Tie a palmered hackle fly such as the “Elk Hair Caddis”

I really do urge you to leave a comment or question, I am sitting in isolation just like you, to know that this is of use and that people are getting something from it is a great stimulation to carry on.

 

Don’t forget there is now also a Facebook Page where you can post images of your latest creations just for a bit of fun.  Lockdown Fly Tying on Facebook

 

If you are keen to push on and not to wait for the various instructions coming you can download the books on line and benefit from a 50% discount. The links and discount codes are shown below:

Discount code Essential Fly Tying Techniques: DR62J Code will expire 17 April 2020

Discount code Guide Flies : SB94S Code will expire 17 April 2020

 

 

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3 Responses to “Lockdown Day Two”

  1. Gavin Lourens Says:

    Where does Cdc fit in to the categories.

  2. paracaddis Says:

    Gavin, thanks for the query, I have avoided CDC in this discussion, although I am sure it will come up in later posts. To my way of thinking you can use CDC to perform almost all of the tasks for other hackle types, from soft hackles to dry flies.. Especially with split thread techniques.. But I wouldn’t refer to them as hackles ..

  3. William Kuester Says:

    Tim, this is looking so nice! I’ll read all the posts for sure! For tails, dry flies should use stiffer materials like cock hackles or one can go with soft hackle fibers as well?

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