Fiddling with Soft Hackles

Noted Swift regular Gary often fishes a soft hackle fly. So, that pattern intrigues me. Unfortunately, when I fished them, I was blanked. I’ve often scratched my head and have wondered why.

Then, I recently started to tie some of my own. The good news is that those soft hackles are now among the most productive patterns for me right now. Last time out, I received five straight takes on a soft hackle.

I’m still fairly new to fly tying, but here are some observations, in case they might be helpful to you:

Down-size: I had been fishing store-bought soft hackles in sizes 14 to 18. The fly shops didn’t sell anything smaller. I’m tying soft hackles now in sizes 20 and 22. I think this late in the season, small flies really rule the day

A smaller feather: There are quite a few techniques out there about tying hackles on small hooks. Recently, I read about the partridge “underfeather,” which is the downy small feather attached to some of the regular feathers. Lo and behold, they’re the perfect size for what I’m tying. They’re grey, soft, and fluffy. Maybe they have some magical qualities to them?

Plain colors: I’m pretty sure that the “right size” fly trumps the “right color” fly, and that good presentation is much more important than fly selection. But, in this case, I cannot help but wonder if color helps. I am tying these soft hackles with black thread and grey squirrel dubbing. I add the thinnest copper wire I have to add segmentation and lock down the dubbing. So, there’s color contrast and a little flash from the wire, but it is a very plain-looking fly. It would not catch my eye at a fly shop, but it certainly is catching trout.

So, those are my thoughts. I’m having a lot of fun tweaking flies and seeing what works and doesn’t.

Safe travels for all who are on the road for Thanksgiving. A peaceful and restorative holiday for all!


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