2. See how far down the neck the small sizes are. If they are down into the wider part of the neck, there will be more of them.
3. Look at and feel the quills. Quills with thick, hard, and sharp edges don't tie up very well. Check the taper of the quills. Some are too thick at the base and too thin at the tips. The barbs are usually much closer together on thin, untapered quills. This shows up quite well on good saddle hackle.
4. Check color. Grizzly should be straight, and with close barring, not chevron-shaped. Solid-colored necks and saddles shouldn't have flash marks. Flash marks are blotches of a different color, usually found at the base of feathers.
5. Look for stress marks. These are places on each individual feather where the barbs and the quills narrow down significantly. The quills are so weak at these stress points that they often break when the hackle is being wrapped onto the hook. Stress marks occur as the feather is growing out of the skin and the bird is stressed by disease or other causes.
6. Check for juvenile plumage on the top end of a neck. These are underdeveloped feathers that are halfway between hen hackle and cock hackle.
7. Check for grease on skin and on feathers, especially on dyed ones. The barbs should not clump together.
8. Hackle should always be washed.
9. Look for broken feathers.
10. Check to see if the neck or saddle you are about to purchase contains more hackle in the size you are most likely to use. ~ Henry
Credits: This article is an excerpt from Northwest fly patterns & tying guide, by the Rainland Fly Casters, published by Frank Amato Publications.
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