Posts Tagged ‘soft hackles’

Fish Food Flies

May 9, 2014


Fish food flies

I recently ran an intensive weekend course for a group of lovely ladies who were relatively new to fly fishing or indeed complete novices. It was billed as a “Ladies Fly Fishing Boot Camp” and in a couple of short days we covered all the essential elements of fly fishing from the history of the sport dating back to the Romans to modern tackle, knots and casting. Plus a day’s fishing as well, yes more than a few of the ladies had virtually never so much as touched a fly rod, so it was a tall order to try to get them to the point of catching fish in such a short period of time. That most of them did actually catch fish and a couple their FIRST EVER fish on fly gear I think would register the program as a success.FishFoodBootCampLogoThe lesson for me though was that actually fly fishing is pretty simple most of the time, and perhaps we put off as many potential advocates as we attract by overcomplicating things. Sure we all love to delve into fish psychology, entomology, some (I tend to think overly sociopathic types) even resort to Latin names and discuss Mayfly wing venation for hours, but in reality for the most part fly fishing doesn’t need to be complex.

When one is constructing an intensive program like this one however one is faced with the dilemma of how to distil 43 years of fly fishing experience into a day’s worth of lectures and casting practise? Eventually you get to the point that you remove all of the “fluff”. Fly fishing in essence, as I told the girls, is simply a case of putting a fly that looks like food, in front of a fish such that it behaves like food and the fish eat it. Now we all know that it can be more complicated than that but how much of the time? How many of us don’t rely more on a handful of favourite fly patterns, hopefully adequate casting and a dash of on the water savvy to achieve success during most forays to the water?

So it was that after a day’s intensive training we headed out to the lake to see if we couldn’t get the girls in touch with their first trout. Bobbing about in the boat with Rena as my first pupil we rigged up tackle as we had practised. The girls only used a single fly because of course their neophyte casting status pre-empted more complicated and tangle prone rigging and I selected a pattern from my fly box, clinching it to the end of the tippet. Then the inevitable question: “what fly is that”, (the girls had been introduced to mayflies, midges, terrestrials and even metamorphosis and were sharp enough to recognise the apparent difficulty in selecting the right pattern). So I told Rena “It’s a fish food fly”. 🙂

BootCamp4FBRena with her “first ever trout” on fly tackle, courtesy of the “Fish Food Fly”

When you get right down to it most of the time that’s what we all fish, “fish food flies”. This particular pattern a long shanked construction manufactured of rabbit fur is a favourite of mine for stillwater fishing, in fact rarely off the leader although unlike the girls I do manage to have three patterns on there at once.


It has gone through a lot of modifications over the years, initially a classical style “Hare’s Ear Nymph”, then a “Monty Nymph”, which was exactly the same construction but fashioned from the hair of my long since departed cat Monty. The fly has variously sported hackle legs, wingcases and flashbacks at different times, mostly to suit the mood of the angler more than the fish. Now I tie them up in various colour combinations from bright red to the normal dull underfur tones of the original but they all work. Some have beads just to aid in the turnover of the level leader when there is no breeze and most have a degree of toning built in, generally with darker dubbing near the eye but again I suspect that is more to do with the angler than the views of the trout.

I have inordinate faith in this style of fly, it is quick to manufacture, easily adapted to varied colour combinations and sports all the attributes of, what I at least imagine, spell out the words “DINNER TIME” to a marauding trout. Subtle colouration, a generically nymph type shape and lots of movement courtesy of a healthy scrubbing with the Velcro strip that is always in my fly tying kit.

FishFoodCasual DressPolly Rosborough was famous for his “Fuzzy Nymphs”

I figure that most living things that trout eat turn out to be perfectly palatable to them and that possibly the most obvious distinction between things living and inanimate is simply that subtle movement. Real food wriggles, gills flare, legs kick whatever, movement indicates life and if you are a trout, life tends to indicate in turn the arrival of your lunch.

Most fly anglers have come to similar conclusions:

Polly Rosborough of “Fuzzy Flies” fame. (Author of “Tying and fishing Fuzzy Nymphs”) pretty much bet the farm on subtle movement in his patterns.
Sylvester Nemes (The Softhackled Fly Addict) took much the same view, although perhaps on a more microscopic level.
South Africa’s Tom Sutcliffe,(Author or “My Way with a Trout”, “Shadows on a Stream Bed” and “Elements of Fly Tying”) has inordinate faith in his “Zak Nymph”, with its buggy profile and wiggling and sparse palmered hackle.

FishFoodSoftHackleSubtle movement, even in tiny flies is often the key to success.

If all else fails the idea of incorporating subtle movement into your subsurface patterns has to be a winner. Without getting too detailed or overly complicated the simple illusion of life will pay dividends more often than not.

So sure we can complicate things, even successfully at times but when the chips are down, when you are searching out fish without a clue as to what is going on under the water, well then I am reaching for my “fish food flies”, they work for me, they worked for the ladies on the weekend and no doubt they will work for you too.


Now also available from “Guide Flies” the latest book from the author of this blog, in either eBook or printed softcover formats..

Guide Flies Front Cover

Cheater Soft Hackles

July 28, 2011

Cheater Soft Hackles.

We all I am sure have at some point tied and fished soft hackle patterns; there are those of us who embrace these simple and mobile flies to the same degree as Sylvester Nemes who proclaims addiction to these amazingly effective and relatively simple patterns.ref:  (“The Soft Hackle Fly Addict”).

Having fallen in love with these patterns though I can’t be the only one who has ventured forth and purchased a packet of grouse or partridge hackles only to find that the feathers are all too large to tie the flies in the classical style. Even if you buy a skin there are going to be a lot of feathers that you can’t use on trout sized patterns. It looks lovely and simple, perhaps stripping one side of the hackle and tying it in point first to create a highly mobile emerger wet fly. But what about all those over sized feathers?

I fish predominantly small streams with good insect populations the vast majority of which are tiny, a size 14 would be a veritable “whopper” and that leaves me with a lot of hackles that are simply too large to tie in the normal manner.

Well having played about with a lot of different experiments, most of which failed dismally it has to be said, I have found a way of using oversized hackle to manufacture very nice and more than acceptable wet fly or soft hackle patterns without wasting. Now I am free to tie patterns of almost any size, for stream or stillwater use and no longer am frustrated with the wastage that occurred previously. In fact it opens up a whole new world of tying flies because you can utilize all manner of feathers which you thought previously were unsuitable.

Here is how you do it:

  • First pull the fibres at right angles to the stem so as to align the tips of the fibres as much as possible.
  • Then cut or tear the fibres off the stalk and hold them on top of the hook shank, points forwards over the eye.
  • You now need to measure them so that you get the degree of “overhang” that you require, this will determine the “size” of the hackle in the finished fly.
  • Swap hands and tie down the hackles leaving the points hanging over the front of the hook, they will be fashioned into a wet fly or soft hackle collar later on.
  • Cut off any excess and add a tail (optional) and a body of whatever material you wish to use, silk, floss, dubbing.
  • Once the thread is back at the eye of the hook you now pull the fibres down and around the hook before bending them backwards over the body and form a neat head of thread in front of them. The fibres should now look to all intents and purposes as though you had wound them around the hook.
  • Form a neat whip finish and you fly is complete.

Below are graphics of the process from my soon to be launched eBook “Essential Fly Tying Techniques” this book provides graphic and on page video clips of all the key techniques required to tie myriad flies.  This is but an excerpt and example of a little bit what is contained within the book.  There are over 100 pages, over 80 graphics, 35 video clips of key techniques and entire flies , basic entomology and fly identification and lots of great tricks which will help you tie flies like the one shown here. The video clip below is an indication of what you can expect from the eBook but is not in the exactly the same format. If you would like to pre-order a copy of the book please drop me a line on the following link. Pre-order enquiry Essential Fly Tying Techniques

Click on the images to see them at full size for greater clarity if you wish.


The possibilities are endless, here are a few different versions of cheater soft hackles just to show some options.

Olive Cheater Soft Hackle with tails

Orange Cheater soft hackle

Silver Cheater with golden pheasant

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