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.     

15 comments:

  1. Nice take. I have been tying my soft hackles in via the tip ala Tim Flagler. I'm tying up a bunch in the morning and will report back my thoughts. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Davey, looking forward to thoughts & method from others. Maybe we can get a discussion going.

      Delete
  2. Quite an education in a small space! I too have tied in from the tip and tied forward--requiring the head cover the hackle stem and result in it inevitably being larger than I'd like. Looking forward to trying this method.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. PaxV, I should have outlined the method of tying in by the tip, used on hackles with fat stems like waterfowl flank & pheasant body feathers. Exactly the same as illustrated above, except the hackle reversed, the tip tied in first rather than the stem. Other than that the procedure is the same.

      Delete
  3. I tie North country spiders with Hun Partridge hackle(partridge/yellow, partridge/orange etc.) tied in by the tip and taking one full turn only. Less I believe is more in those cases. Tying in by the stem and taking two full turns would produce an overdressed "spider" to my eye.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. John, thanks for commenting. If you aren't already familiar with them, I'd suggest you check out the online Flymph Forum, Hans Weilenmann's Fly Tyers Page, or Neil Norman's Soft Hackles, Tight Lines - a Soft Hackle Pattern Book, which contains dozens of examples of North Country flies. Links to these sites are here, in the RH column -- as well as G.E.M Skue's full work on the subject of North Country flies. There are many more than the well-known examples you mention, & the preponderance calling for hen spade in the dressing, & in many cases, rooster. Some of the most famous North Country flies, Stewart's Spiders, consist of 5 turns of hackle wound with the tying silk -- & these are still killing patts.

      Guilty of having been deceived by my own eye (sense of aesthetics), trout, through the years, have driven me toward a view at once both abstract & utilitarian. So why 2 turns of hackle on a #12? Consider the hackle diminishes greatly when wet, the barbs clustering together to form appendages, & some plastered against the body. This, altogether, creates mass & silhouette. Shape. The hackle does simulate legs, wings, tails & antennae, but also head & body. Consider the heads on most mayfly nymphs are as wide as the thorax (& the eye of the hook with knot does offer a 'head' of sorts, if you must). Also, where I fish, hackles are chewed away with each fish & it doesn't take long before they are chewed down to nothing. That said, the method outlined above is that used by Pritt, Skues, Leisenring, Hidy, & also Hans Weilenmann & Bill Shuck, a couple of tyers I consider living masters of soft-hackle flies.

      The method above is the basic. I'm also guilty of not including examples of variations on it, one, tying in by the tip, I mentioned to PaxV in the comment above. I'll cover these in my next post. For example, if you want a sparser collar, using the same method, strip the hackle on one side before tying in.

      Delete
    2. Steve, thanks for your comments, as well. If you would, take a peek at Joe Cornwall's video, on Fly Fish Ohio "Partridge and yellow". His tie strikes me as perfection relative to a North country spider pattern. My opinion only. I'm not looking for an argument. Two of the streams I fish (Farmington in CT and Beaverkill in NY) see enormous fly fishing pressure and their trout can be exceedingly selective.

      Delete
    3. John, good point concerning educated trout in tough water. And I use a sparser hackle (& smaller than a #12) when fishing a local spring creek without much flow. I still tie the same way, removing the barbs from one side of the hackle.

      Delete
  4. if the feather is wider than it is long - tie in by the tip... narrower tie in by the stem. has anyone else heard this "rule" of thumb?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bill, haven't heard that rule-of-thumb, but yes, that does make sense, considering those examples I mentioned to PaxV (waterfowl flank, pheasant body spades, hackles with thick, quickly tapering stems are generally wider than they are long. Very good. Thanks for throwing that in.

      Delete
  5. That turned out well. Been on the road an for some reason, blogspot ate the comment. No matter. I love the blonde hackle feather. Stunning.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Spike, the hackle is Whiting 'March Brown' Brahma, speckled at the sides & furnace through the middle.

      Delete
  6. Interesting read;both the blog and the comments. I started on a quest to learn more about North Country spiders about two years ago, and have also found the tying in the hackle by the tip works better (for me) than by the shaft of the feather. I ran across a book, written in the UK by Robert Smith, who happens to be the Great Grandson of Edmonds (authors Edmonds and Lee). The Book NORTH COUNTRY FLIES gives history of the famous tyers Pritt, Stewart,Hidy, Liesenring and other tyers (both past and present) and going back as far as the 1700's, and he tells how they tied in hackles from the tip as well. The only problem I run into, by tying from the tip, is you need to learn how much pressure to apply to the hackle while wrapping it. I tie the hackle on first, then start building the fly. Also if you look at some of the flies that were tied in the 1800's, the wrapped their hackle at least three times, and the hackle was as long as the hook itself (sizes 12 and 14 are the most common. My thinking is that if that is how they tied them back then, and they caught fish, tying the same way should still produce fish!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hearts, there are some comments that can only be answered in one way: Carry on with what works for you.

      Thanks for reading.

      Delete
    2. heartsupnorth not all sources are unquestionable. The basic method outlined in Leisenring & Hidy's book, The Art of Tying the Wetfly & Fishing the Flymph, does indeed require the hackle be tied in by the butt, as illustrated by the OP. And it should be pointed out that up until the turn of the last century most North Country tiers tied in hand, working from front to back, the thread wound with the hackle or passed through after the hackle was wound. By that method, the hackle tied in by the tip would result in the longer hackle at the back of the fly. That said, I agree with the OP, do what works best for you.

      T. Mason

      Delete