Part Twenty-two

Taming Soft Hackle
Text and Photos By George E. Emanuel


There is no doubt whatsoever that soft hackle flies catch fish, a lot of fish!

For a time soft hackles, and most wet flies for that matter were all but abandoned in the pursuit of the ultimate in flyfishing, the dry fly.

Fortunately a few stout souls kept the art alive long enough for men such as Sylvester Nemes to resurrect the almost forgotten art of the soft hackle fly.

Few types of flies are as easy or simple to tie, yet so difficult for beginners to master. I well remember some of my first creations. And frankly I am surprised that the fish did not burst into laughter at the sight of those early efforts.

Now, my soft hackles are not necessarily the prettiest sight on the stream, but they are acceptable, and they catch fish.

Putting on a tinsel tag, and winding floss or herl for a body are fairly benign operations. But, that darn hackle can sure give you fits at first, and some of us struggle with it forever.

It seems that in spite of our best efforts, our hackles sometimes end up looking like the picture above, a twisted mass of fibers, each with a mind of it's own, seemingly oriented toward various parts of the universe.

Now most books and tiers will instruct you to stroke the hackle toward the rear as you wrap, and this does work quite well, with practice. On many smaller hook sizes it can also be a painful technique to learn, as in stroking the hackle rearward, you are stroking directly toward the hook. No matter how careful you may be in executing this operation, you are going to impale yourself many times before you get the knack of winding hackle in a collar style. Welcome to fly tying!

I have no idea who originally came up with the idea of using a swizzle stick as an aid to putting a collar on a fly, but, I can well imagine he accumulated a fair number of these cocktail accessories as he sat at a pub inventing the method.

Gee, imagine, a direct link between the enjoyment of a libation and fly tying, must have been a Scot!

Anyhow, this is how we go about taming our hackle with a swizzle stick.

Set your hook in the vice as usual, but before you tie on your thread, cut a section of your swizzle stick and place it over the end of your bobbin, now pull the thread forward and tie on as usual.

Proceed to tie in your tag, floss or whatever materials the pattern requires.

Now, tie in the hackle by the tip, and wind it on, stroking the barbules to the rear as you wind. Two or three winds usually suffice.

Now you probably have a hackle which looks like the above, right! No? Congratulations, you are better at this than you think. Actually I have intentionally been a lot sloppier than any of you will be in tying a soft hackle just to illustrate my point. With the "swizzle stick hackle tamer" even your worst hackling can be saved.

Now, slide the section of swizzle stick which is on your bobbin forward, over the thread, and over the hackle, which it catches and sweeps very neatly to the rear. Now, go ahead and tie the hackle down. It is OK to slide the "SSHT" back over your bobbin before you tie off just to make sure you like what you see. If you need a corrective wind or two, no problem, slide your "SSHT" back over the hackle, make your wraps, re-check, and tie off.

You now have a decent looking fly which you can actually fish! And which I dare bet the fish will find worthy of a bite, rather than a laugh.

If you have any tips or techniques, send them along, most of this material has been stolen from somebody, might as well steal your ideas too!~ George E. Emanuel (Chat Room Host Muddler)

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