Bob Boese, Louisiana

November 3rd, 2008

Soft Hackle Flies
By Bob Boese, Louisiana

[Generic flies are simple-to-tie patterns that a novice tyer can accomplish and which requires less than four dressing components. Soft hackles are the progenitor of all generic flies.]

Since my house became a menagerie I have come to discover that dogs will smell everything and eat much of it, but not bugs. Dogs like food that doesn't move. On the other hand, cats inspect what they think is worthy of their attention and eat little of it, unless they kill it, in which case it is all food...except for the mouse parts, and bird bits, and frog pieces, and lizard scraps left as trophies on the doorstep. Hoppers and crickets are too small for leftovers, and June bugs are best for batting about and crunching. Cats could survive anywhere.

In the six days of Creation, you might suppose God made insects somewhere around Day Three, when plants came about, giving bugs a significant head start on mankind. You can also suppose the Day Four dawn conversation between the Creator and the spokesman for His bug creations might have gone something like this:

Chief Bug: Yo, Boss. Question here. You think you made us small enough?

Creator: You would rather not exist?

SpokesBug: No, Boss, no, never crossed my mind. It's just that, we like this place you gave us and all, but we were thinking that with all this space…

Creator: Space is required for all of your species.

SpokesBug: That's another thing. You made how many…

Creator: Half a million .

SpokesBug: …different insects? Half million. Yea…you want to tell us why?

Creator: I like diversity.

SpokesBug: Couldn't get it right the first 499,999 times, huh?

Creator: You would rather not exist?

SpokesBug: Hey, just a joke, right? But about this six legs business, that was on purpose?

Creator: Some have more. Tomorrow I make fish. They won't have any.

SpokesBug: Water types got you ticked, huh?

Creator: Fish will eat insects.

SpokesBug: Oh, well… about that. You sure you don't want us to be bigger? I mean, like maybe you were distracted when you were making up size charts or something?

Creator: Everything I make is perfect.

SpokesBug: Uh, yea. Well, seems like our perfection is on the short side.

Creator: There are compensating factors.

SpokesBug: Yea, sure, whatever you say.

Creator: You will outlive all of your enemies.

SpokesBug: All of them? Cool.

Creator: Not you personally, but collectively you will survive.

SpokesBug: Oh. But we'll still be in charge, right?

Creator: No. In a short while I will make man. He will rule the world.

SpokesBug: And he's going to be big, I suppose.

Creator: I haven't decided. Most likely.

SpokesBug: Great. And…don't tell me…he'll eat us too.

Creator: No.

SpokesBug: That's better.

Creator: He will use you to catch fish.

SpokesBug: And that's fair?

Creator: You would rather not exist?

The earliest records of fly fishing describe something that was probably a soft hackle. Long feather barbs of some Mediterranean bird undulated temptingly in the unspoiled waters of yesteryear, barbs that represented the appendages of any of several thousand insects in their aquatic stage. The perfect generic fly. Thousands of years later, the simplest of soft hackle fly constructs will still catch fish, often when exact replica patterns fail. Why? Soft-hackles represent the emerging form of many possible insect-ish somethings. They work as well on warm water species as they do on cold water stream fish. Given the choice of all fly patterns to bring on survival training, the best choice would be a soft hackle. But if you forgot, with a hook and string and a single feather, tying one could not be simpler.


    Hook: Mustad 3906B, 9671, Dai-Riki #305 or equivalent.

    Hook Size: 8-14.

    Thread: Flat waxed nylon.

    Head: Thread.

    Tail: (optional) A few hackle barbs.

    Body: Thread with (optional) wire windings.

    Thorax: (optional) Bead or ultra chenille or peacock herl.

    Collar: Partridge, guinea hen, starling feather, hen neck.

    Weight: (optional) Lead wire (where legal).

METHOD – Thread body

    1. (optional) If you are using a bead for the thorax, put it on the hook and slide it to the hook eye.

    2. Wrap hook shank with thread to form a base for other materials.

    3. (optional) Tie in wire towards the hook bend with excess wire hanging off past the bend.

    4. If you are not using a bead for the thorax, put 8-10 wraps of lead wire around the middle of the hook shank and cover with thread.

    5. Bring your tying thread toward the bend and stop before the bend actually starts.

    6. Build up a body of thread in a long conical form building toward the thorax.

    7. If you are using chenille or herl for the thorax, tie in at that point and make two or three turns to create a round thorax. If you are using a bead for the thorax, bring the thread over the bead (one strand is all that is required and wind once or twice in front of the bead.

    8. (optional) wrap the wire over the thread until it reaches the thorax, clip and cover the clipped end with a couple of wraps of thread.

    9. Take a soft hackle feather (starling, hen neck, partridge, guinea hen) and strip one side of the feather of all barbs. [As you look at the feather with the concave (dull) side away from you, you want to strip the right side of the feather.] Fold back the remaining barbs leaving only 5 or six nearest the tip of the feather and tie in the feather at the gap you have made in front of the thorax.

    8. Holding the stem, wrap the hackle clockwise (with the concave side toward the hook shank) 2-3 times until a sparse but even umbrella of barbs has formed.

    9. Tie off and whip finish a small round head.

    10. Coat head with Hard as Nails.


In Moving Water:
There are several ways to fish soft-hackles, whether singly or in multiple fly combinations.

First try the traditional method of casting across the stream. Create a gentle downstream belly in the line and allow the tension on the line to swing the fly through the current. Be ready for a strike anywhere along the path of the swing, but particularly as the line fully straightens because, as the fly rises to the surface, it will look like and emerging insect.

Alternatively, using a strike indicator, cast upstream, dropping the fly line on the water with slack so that the fly has time to sink. As the fly drifts downstream, mend so that the fly can sink without little drag. Takes on a soft hackle are usually not as subtle as on a nymph and many will completely submerge the strike indicator.

If you have a good idea of a trout's location, you can cast down and across slightly above the target trout which will cause the fly to sink just a little then rise shortly afterward, like an emerger.

In Still Water:
Cast the fly past the target location and let it sink. Using very small strips retrieve the fly with a strip-long pause-strip-long pause-strip-wait until you can't stand it method. Bass usually hit on the strip, and bluegill hit on the pause. Using a popper dropper rig is probably the most effective method. Any twitch of the popper you didn't cause means a bluegill is tasting the fly. The second twitch is a bite. Set the hook hard. ~ Bob

About Bob:

Robert Lamar Boese has fly fished for five decades. He is an environmental negotiator, attorney and educator who has provided environmental legal services for more than thirty-three years including active duty with the U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Justice. He is a well known fly tyer with several unique patterns to his credit. He has developed and authored federal and state regulatory programs encompassing a broad spectrum of environmental disciplines, has litigated environmental matters at all levels of the federal and state court systems, and is a qualified expert for testimony in environmental law. He has authored over 60 published text chapters, comments or articles on environmental matters, is a member of the Colorado, District of Columbia and Louisiana Bar Associations, and is a certified mediator. In addition to his legal practice, Mr. Boese has been a high school teacher, an associate professor of Environmental Law and Public Health, has authored numerous fiction and sports publications, and is a softball coach and nationally certified volleyball referee. He is the president of the Acadiana Fly Rodders in Lafayette, Louisiana and editor of Acadiana on the Fly. He has been married for thirty years and is the father of two fly fishing girls (25 and 21). For additional information contact: Boese Environmental Law, 103 Riviera Court, Broussard, LA 70518 or call 337.856.7890 or email

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