Tie Talk: Soft-Hackle Bugs

Another great pattern explained by Jason Borger. Thanks Jason!

If you've never fished or experimented with soft-hackle flies I suggest you give it a try. To me they are a highly versatile, and extremely "buggy" looking. Many times they've instilled confidence for me simply by how realistic the way they look. Jason of course explains why in reality they're so effective below...

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by Jason Borger

The recent death of friend and soft-hackle-fly aficionado, Sylvester Nemes, sparked this TieTalk post. Syl loved his soft-hackles, and hopefully his various books devoted to the subject will be along-lasting legacy of that love. In that vein, here' s a simple little soft-hackle designed to be fished in the film, dead-drift (it can also be swung, but this fly is really meant as a "cripple" or "stillborn" mimic). The pattern is pretty much a straightforward soft-hackle, with the addition of a trailing shuck, and if you wish, a wrap or two of stiffer hackle added to give the fly some added visual texture and impression.

Some TieTalk readers may recognize this particular variation by the name, "Wet/Dry Fly" (a name my father, Gary, likes to use in his writing), but it can also just go by the generic "trailing-shuck soft hackle." Tie it in the right color(s) for your favored mayfly (or caddis) hatch, and fish it dead-drift right in the film (that's really the wet/dry part). If you like, go ahead and swing it, or fish it with a split-shot down deep. I can say that this trailing-shuck variation, fished in the film during PMD, BWO and other mayfly hatches has done the trick in some amazing ways. I'm sure that at least a few TieTalk readers also know about the "magic" of a trailing-shuck soft hackle....

Tying instructions (needed materials are listed as we go):

1. To save time, prepare your soft-hackles ahead of actual tying. Do this by first stripping a few barbs from the base of each feather (this cleans up the base of the feather and makes it easy to get a hold of the feather shaft). Then, grab the feather at its tip, and stroke the bulk of the barbs rearward. Snip the tip barbs off cleanly to form a small triangle shape (see illustration). The triangle shape is what will be tied in when making the hackle. This tends to reduce feather shaft breakage when wrapping, and makes for a clean overall look to the hackle, as well.

2. Get the hook in the vise, and wrap the shank with thread, ending at the rear of the shank.

3. Tie in a trailing shuck, using sparkle yarn or a similar material. Make the shuck 1/2 to 3/4 the length of the body, and don't overdo the thickness of the shuck (error on the thin side rather than the thick side. I also prefer to use a "ragged" shuck, not one cut off square at the end).

4. Dub the body, using dubbing that matches the color of the newly emerged insect (leave enough room at the front of the shank for a hackle). A number of dubbings work well, either synthetic or natural. Finer dubbings work better for the smaller insect species, and you may want to check if the dubbing you choose change color dramatically when wet.

5. Tie in the prepared soft hackle at the front of the body. Make sure that the juncture between the trimmed tip area (the triangle) and the bulk of the barbs is right at the front of the body. Wrap down the triangle portion, ending with the thread at the hook eye (leave no head-space).

6. Wrap the soft-hackle forward, ending right behind at the hook eye, and tie it off. (Note: If you wanted to add an extra wrap or two of stiffer hackle, you would need to take that into consideration, and adjust hackle spacing and wraps of the soft-hackle accordingly).

7. Now stroke the hackle back along the body of the fly and wrap a few tight, and tightly spaced, turns of thread back against the hackle, forming a small head. This wrapping procedure forces the soft-hackle to flow rearward more, versus standing straight out away from the body.

8. Tie off, and add a drop of flexible cement to the head of the fly, allowing it flow slightly into the very base of the hackle (this toughens the fly a bit overall).

9. Go fish!

--Drawings by Jason Borger from Designing Trout Flies by Gary A. Borger. For more info on fishing flies in the surface film, check out Gary's new book, Fishing the Film.