Hackling Dry Flies

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Hackling Dry Flies

Post by TheBadger » Wed Mar 16, 2016 11:01 am

I just wrote a PM to a member of this site about hackling dry flies and it ended up a little longer and more intensive than I first intended it to be. I thought it might be worth sharing as there are a few tips and tricks contained within that have helped me to improve my hackling significantly. Before we begin I should say that all of this is just what works for me. There are plenty of different methods that other people use successfully.

The first thing that I'd note is that the quality of your hackle makes a big difference. That's not to say you can't tie good flies with cheaper hackle, but that the better hackles certainly result in neater and easier to tie flies. I prefer saddle hackle to capes because the feathers are longer, easier to work with, and produce more flies. I have a few old Metz capes that I can get decent flies out of, but if I want to tie truly neat hackles I use Whitings saddle hackles. These can be bought in 100 packs from Steve's website or your local fly shop will be able to get them in. They're not cheap, but you get a surprising number of flies from a packet. The best part about the Whitings hackles is how fine and flexible the stem is, which makes it very easy to wrap around the shank of the hook. I'd also advise you to get a hackle gauge as this will really help you to get your proportions in order.

Alright, on to the wrapping. One thing I learnt long ago with fly tying is that the end result is only as neat as the base it's wrapped on. This is never truer than with dry fly hackles. If you try and wrap a hackle over a lumpy, bumpy base then your hackle fibres are going to reflect these bumps. Try to create a nice flat base where you are going to wrap your hackles. This is true of both conventionally hackled flies and parachute flies.

Lets talk about conventionally hackled flies first. When you get to the point at which you are ready to tie in the hackle (I always tie the hackle in after I have dubbed the body for up-hackle flies), select two appropriately sized feathers (check using your new hackle gauge) and strip any webby fibres back from the base of the feathers. If you are tying a smaller fly (i.e. 14 or smaller) you may wish to just use one feather) Each feather will have a shiny and a dull side. Place the feathers together with the dull sides facing each other (have to thank Pete Carty for this tip) and the shiny sides facing the outside. Tie in your feathers so that they lie down the shank with your thread tying them down right up to the point at which the dubbing begins. I like to leave about 1mm of stripped stem clear of the thread so as to not trap any fibres. With the base of the feather tie this right up until about 2mm from the eye (to ensure an even base for the hackle to sit on whilst allowing space for you to whip finish the fly). With saddle hackles you often don't need to use hackle pliers, which I find easier when working with two feathers. Have your thread resting at the eye or, if you are tying a hair wing dry fly like a Royal Wulff have it resting right at the base of the wing on the eye of the hook side - it can also help to build up a ramp on the eye side of the wing so as to ease the transition from the bulky back of the wing to the hook shank in front of it ((thanks to Paul Slaney for these tips). Take the feathers in your hand and bend them 90 degrees from the hook shank. Sometimes I like to press on the stem of the hackle to get it to sit naturally at 90 degrees from the shank. Then, with touching turns, wrap your hackle up the shank towards the eye. It can help to sometimes use your left hand to brush back the fibres towards the bend of the hook whilst you wrap forward. Once you reach 2-3mm from the eye take your thread over the hackle and tie it in place. Three turns is usually sufficient. Whip finish and then either snap the hackle stems or trim them flush with the hook. This should result in a really neatly hackled dry fly.

Parachutes are a little different. I like to tie my parachute flies off at the base of the post rather than at the eye of the hook. This is personal preference and plenty of great tiers finish their flies at the eye. If you are tying at the base of the post you will need to use a fine thread like TMC 16/0, Veevus 16/0 or Danville’s Spiderweb. Tie in your post and your tail, and then before you dub the body we will tie in the hackle. Take one or two feathers (depending on fly size and pattern) and strip away the webby fibres from the stem. Tie in these fibres at the base of the post so that they are secure and then begin to tie the feathers up the post for about 5mm. It’s important that you’ve stripped the stem sufficiently that no fibres get trapped. Then, with your hackle fibres sticking straight up the post, dub your body from the tail to the eye and then back to the post. Put a wrap of bare thread around the base of the post. Then take your feathers and bend them 90 degrees from the post. Wrap them clockwise in touching turns down the post until you get about 1-2mm from the base of the post. Holding the feathers in one hand, or letting them rest with the weight of the hackle pliers if you’re using them, put two wraps of thread around the base of the post tying down the hackle trying your best not to catch any fibres (it’s almost impossible not to catch a few). Then, using your whip finisher, whip finish around the base of the post. It can take a little bit of practice to get used to whip finishing at that orientation, but I really like the result once you’ve got it down.

Hopefully this helps with getting your hackling up to a standard you’re happy with. Look forward to seeing the results.



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fraser hocks
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Re: Hackling Dry Flies

Post by fraser hocks » Wed Mar 16, 2016 2:42 pm

Humm interesting Jack. Never tried Whitings hackle before. Might have to place an order with Steve, and give some a try?

Cant say iv ever tried whip finishing to the post for parachute flys? Might give that a try as it sounds like a neater result than i currently get? I hate the trapped hackle that its nigh on impossible to avoid when whip finishing to the eye. Not that the trout can spot it! ;)

Oh and i use a super fine GSP thread on all my tiny flys these days. Almost no buildup and iv yet to be able to break it so you can get nice tight wraps. I think its a 30 denier Veevus thread. I prefer to brush on superglue for finishing the whips of when using GSP.

Bucking trends in fly fishing since 1970!

Salmo Brown Trout
Posts: 152
Joined: Sat May 10, 2014 1:05 pm
Location: Christchurch

Re: Hackling Dry Flies

Post by Salmo Brown Trout » Wed Mar 16, 2016 7:52 pm


I can vouch for Whitings Hackle.
I've been tying flies for over 30 years and they are the BomB :D

Also thanks for the information on the Kold Kutters. Went half with mate and purchased a pack over sea's.
Great studs and no tears when the prematurely fall out :cry:

tight lines.

A bad day's fishing beats a good day working.

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