October 2013
(Reprise of April 2009 Fly of the Month)

Soft Hackle Fly

Tom Murray

Yellow Soft Hackle

Brown Soft Hackle

Hook: Standard Wet Fly (Size 12-16)
Thread:6/0 or 8/0 Orange, Green, or Yellow, or if dubbing the body, Black or Olive
Body:Tying thread or floss in the above colors; Body can also be dubbed fur, with gold or copper wire ribbing (as shown in lower photo)
Tail: Optional
Thorax: Optional (I use rabbit fur from a hare's mask)
Wing: None
Hackle: A feather from a partridge (my favorite), grouse, hen hackle or other soft game bird feathers
Tying Instructions and Pattern History:
Tying Instructions
Body-Orange Floss
  1. Wrap the thread on the shank of the hook so it is even with the point of the hook. Remember, the winding direction is away from the tyer. Then place the floss (about 4" long) on the hook and secure with 3-4 turns of the thread.
  2. Once the floss is secure, wrap the tying thread forward to within 1/8 inch from the eye of the hook.
  3. Wind the floss toward the front of the hook and secure with the tying thread. Wind the thread forward another 2-3 turns and make a half hitch knot. Now you have a base to add in a thorax if you wish, prior to tying in the hackle.
  4. Thorax

  5. I like to add a little wax to my thread to about 1 inch just below the hook. Then I cut a small clump of fur from the hare's mask and touch it to the waxed thread.

  6. Once it adheres to the thread, I wind it between my thumb and forefinger to create the thin noodle of rabbit fur. Try to keep the thorax sparse-wind two to three times around the hook and floss leaving enough room to add in the hackle and a neat head in front of the hook eye.


  7. The hackle is the most important part of this fly. The partridge feather is plucked from the skin with the soft down or fuzz still attached to the stem. Strip off this fuzz then move your finger up to the tip of the feather. Hold the tip between your left thumb and forefinger and with your right hand pull the remaining barbs down away from the others so they stand out at right angles from the stem of the feather.
  8. Hold the bare stem of the hackle at a 45 degree angle against the side of the hook with the natural curve of the feather towards the back. Wind the thread around the stem 3-4 times to secure it firmly to the hook shank winding towards the front. Cut off the excess hackle stem.
  9. Grab the tip of the hackle with the rubber tipped hackle pliers. Try to get as many of the end barbs in the jaws as you can together with the center stem. Bend the feather forward so it is 90 degrees or perpendicular to the hook.
  10. Pull the hackle upright so it is perpendicular with the hook. The hackle barbs will want to stick together so as you wind 2 turns of the hackle, separate the barbs with a needle or bodkin. You should end up with the pliers in a down position when you finish.
  11. Pull the pliers and the remainder of the hackle towards the back and wind the tying thread back through the hackle making sure to catch the stem hanging in the pliers. Now wind the thread forward and let it hang on it's bobbin. Reach in under the hook with your scissors and and cut off the hackle stem.
  12. Use a whip finish to complete the head. It should leave the head neat and secure and should not require head cement.
This fly can be traced back to 1496 in England when it was described by Dame Julianna Berners in her book The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle. Since then numerous books have been written about this "north country wet fly". Most notably in this country by James Leisenring and Sylvester Nemes. I had an opportunity to meet and fish with Nemes over thirty years ago on Dowagiac Creek near Cassopolis, MI. I had recently started tying flies and he really sparked my interest by sharing the history of this fly and how to tie it. That afternoon he demonstrated how to cast the fly by quartering it upstream and then mending the fly line either up or down stream to get a natural drift without drag. Nemes researched and fished this fly thoroughly and concluded it could be used to imitate a caddis fly, mayfly, or a stone fly. It has become one of my favorite flys. I like the orange/partridge in size 12-16. Good luck!

Recommended references:

The Soft Hackled Fly: A Trout Fisherman's Guide by Sylvester Nemes,
Quill Gordon by John McDonald, and
The Art of Tying the Wet Fly by James Leisenring

Photograph ©2009 by Marv Slind