Saturday, February 24, 2018

Basic Method of Hackling a Soft-Hackle Fly

      There are a handful of ways to apply hackle when tying a soft-hackle fly, that evidenced in the many tutorials anybody with the brass & a Go-Pro might post online. Some do it horribly & some do it right. But is there a ‘right’ & proper way? Well, my dad, a master tool & die maker, used to say: “There’s always more than one way to do something, but usually only one best way.”

So, here I’ll outline the hackling method applied by many of the living & past Masters of the soft-hackle wetfly & the reasons for doing it this way. This is the basic method, & the one I use when tying Spiders, Jingler dryflies, Dabblers, Spades, Flymphs, or most any wetfly tied with a full (in-the-round) collar at the head of the fly. I’ll demonstrate the method tying a simple Hare’s Ear, which gives me an excuse to try the beautiful brahma hackle Bert kindly sent me.

Choose a hackle. Generally, the hackle barbs on a finished fly will be slightly longer than the body. Longer, or shorter, as desired. Gauge the hackle length by holding the center stem against the hook eye, the hackle barbs aligned parallel with the hook shank.

Prepare the hackle by stripping the stem up to the point you are into good, usable barbs of the length wanted. Tear away a few extra barbs from the side of the hackle that lays against the hook shank, creating a 'flat' to help seat the hackle properly when beginning to wind it.

Start the thread about five turns behind the hook eye & wind back toward the bend until about a third of the shank is covered, now wind forward all the way to the hook eye (I stay about a thread turn behind the hook eye). This provides a bedding for the hackle stem as well as some build-up through the thorax area. 

Place the hackle on the top of the hook shank, concave side up. Hold the hackle stem in place while applying a couple loose turns of thread, tightening while winding the thread back over the stem to about the center of the thread base. If the hackle pulls over to the side of the hook shank a bit, that’s okay, as long as the concave side remains facing outward.

Trim away the thread tag & remaining hackle stem. 

Proceed winding the tying thread back to the hook bend. Tie in the ribbing, apply dubbing to the tying thread & wind the dubbed body forward almost to the hook eye, then wind the thread back to about the center of the thorax. We want some build-up under the hackle, but not the clumpy amount of build-up we’d get if we wound the ribbing all the way to the hook eye, hence I generally end the ribbing at the center of the thorax area.

Cinch down & trim the ribbing, then spiral the tying thread back to the base of the thorax.

Dub forward over the thorax to provide profile & a bit of mass to keep the hackle flared. The ribbing under the thorax dubbing will provide enticing inner flash when the fly is wet. 

After dubbing the thorax, leave the tying thread positioned far enough behind the hook eye to provide a gap for the wound hackle, which will be wound back to the thread's position.

Pull the hackle back perpendicular to the hook shank & apply two full turns of hackle, winding back to the tying thread position. Holding the hackle tip at the top of the hook shank, apply a turn of thread over the end, then wind the thread forward two turns over (through) the hackle to the hook eye.


Trim away the hackle tip (or may be left to create a wing). Square away the hackle with your fingers. 

Gather & pull back the hackle & apply thread turns & whip-finish. Using this method there is little to no build-up in front of the hackle, so the head may be as small as you like. The hackle stem will be hidden; & do not wind the tying thread back over the hackle base intending to cover the stem, pinning the hackle to the body (unless you want something that looks like a diving caddis with a big head).

The hackle collar should have as much flare as lay-back. We cinched & locked the collar in place when we wound the tying thread forward over the hackle (it won’t unwind) & also, in essence, spring-loaded the hackle barbs. The water current will move them back against the body, but they will want to return to position, producing lifelike obfuscation & motion.

If you require a sparser hackle, remove the barbs from one side of the feather before tying in.

I’ve probably tried every hackling method there is for wetflies, but this basic method is the best I’ve tried, giving the best result, & also the quickest & easiest. Hope it serves to help anyone who may be wondering. Stay tuned. The next couple posts will outline hackling methods for flymphs & tiny soft-hackles.     

Saturday, February 10, 2018

A Few Jinglers For Spring

    Barring a catastrophic asteroid hit, Spring is right around the corner & we are getting ready. So thought to post a few Jingler patterns for meeting early season mayflies.

You could say the Jingler is a ‘cult fly’. Originated about 200 years ago to fish mayfly hatches on the River Tweed, the Jingler patterns have been in use for quite some time, having gained a reputation as a killing fly in the Border Country region of its origin. Yet I’m not really sure why the Jingler pattern, often called a ‘soft-hackle dryfly’, has never gained wide usage with American anglers. Being convinced of the pattern’s effectiveness, I’m left to suspect it might be the Jingler’s unconventional looks responsible for its relative absence from American fly boxes. ‘Looks’, everybody knows, will get you far, while unconventionality is no great booster. Some say the Jingler is downright ugly. And sure, the design may not reflect the refined elegance of a Catskill style dry, but to my own eye Jingler flies possess a certain utilitarian elegance that is lively, evocative and pleasingly abstract. It is interesting though, from what I can gather from the writings, in the Jingler’s long history the design has always been considered somewhat of an oddball, obscure, yet never without ardent fans. Some swear by it and will fish nothing else. 

March Brown Jingler

(I’m not that zealous. Live by only one pattern, no matter how good it is, there’s bound to be days you will die by it too).

Green Drake Jingler
Though a dryfly, the Jingler design incorporates the three pillars of good wetfly design: obfuscation; light; motion. Basically, it is a floating soft-hackle fly, buoyed with the addition of rooster hackle palmered over the thorax area. Tails are generally rooster or waterfowl flank. Bodies are usually dubbing or quill. Most often the soft hackle is partridge or hen, though not limited to that. The original pattern was wingless, though more recently some tiers add a CDC wing between the palmer and front hackle. Border Country tiers often add tinsel, as a tip, or wound over the thorax before palmering the rooster hackle. I like the latter method, the tinsel glinting through the hackle after it is wound.
Hendrickson Jingler 

Though it may look odd in hand, a Jingler is stunningly realistic when hunting on the water and difficult to discern from naturals drifting near it. The patterns featured here are untried originals of my own devise, but I'm fairly certain they'll do the job. I think the Hendrickson version on the left would serve equally as well for March Brown. 

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Low Water Spiders for Swinging & Trout Spey

#6 Dee Spider ~ Steven Bird

     Still thinking about larger patterns (#4 - #12) for swinging. My last two posts featured some examples of the Spade & Dabbler design frames, & having laid that down, I thought it might be a good idea to cover the topic by posting some examples of Low Water Spiders as well. 

#6 October Caddis ~ Steven Bird

Don't know why but I feel the need to qualify this by reminding readers that I am not the person who gave these types of flies their family names (Spider, Dabbler, Spade). If the labels seem arbitrary & fanciful, that is because they kinda are. Again, not my fault. But hey, ya gotta love language, & particularly naming things.

#8 Green/Blue Spider ~ Steven Bird

The angling lexicon & usage differs, depending on your side of The Pond. For example, what Americans commonly refer to as ‘soft-hackle flies’ are generally known as ‘spiders’ in Britain. Interestingly, both European salmon anglers & American steelheaders apply the term ‘Spider’ to a class of scantily dressed (more or less), wingless wetflies meant to trigger wary anadromous fish in clear or low water conditions – hence the term ‘Low Water Spider’. The Spade flies fit this category, though I’ve separated them in these posts as they represent a very specific type, tied with a single spade hen hackle & deer hair underbody & tailing. Though LW Spiders are dressed down by Atlantic salmon fly standards, they are decidedly fancy compared to the wee North Country Spiders familiar to most trouters.
#6 October Variant ~ Steven Bird

 My own experience leads me to believe there is potential for great trout flies within the LW Spider design frame. For the most part, these are tied as attracter flies (lures) designed to be fished with the classic wetfly swing & in all the ways that one would fish a streamer. Tied in sizes #4 through #12, the LW Spiders fill the niche between large streamers & wee flies. In natural colorations they serve to simulate minnows, larger nymphs, crayfish & sculpin. As lures, they afford tiers infinite variability to run wild mixing irresistible trigger-color combinations to create killing baits. 
#10 Ruby/Black Spider ~ Steven Bird

The Low Water Spiders are easy to tie, satisfying to look at & fish. They are tied with & without tailing. Bodies may be anything, generally sparse & not crowding the hook, ending at or ahead of the hook point. Unlike Spade flies, LW Spiders are often tied with multiple hackles, similar to the Dabbler designs, yet without the palmer over the body. Sized to meet the water & fish, these are effective on any stream, & perfect for Trout Spey.

#8 Plover & Partridge Hares Ear ~ Steven Bird

If you are interested in wilderness, rivers, swinging flies, two-handed rods, elegant useful flies, Trout Spey, or anything Spey, & if you like the portable ease & cozy satisfaction of a tactile magazine posted beside the recliner or on the night stand (or, as in my own case, on top of the water closet back of the john) you’d probably appreciate Swing The Fly magazine. In my own humble opinion, STF is a breath of fresh air – discerning, smart editorial & literary values, a soul commitment to our wilderness & fisheries, a keen sense of what is authentic & valuable in the tradition of our game, great photography, art & illustrations – in all regards the finest angling magazine in publication. The Spring 2018 issue will be totally devoted to flies & fly tying, & will feature Spade, Dabbler & Spider patterns for swinging &Trout Spey, as well as sea-trout, salmon & steelhead patterns from master tier/anglers. If you appreciate killing fly designs that reflect long tradition, Swing The Fly is the real thing. If you subscribe now you’ll get the Spring Fly issue, alone worth the price of admission.