Soft Hackle Wet Flies

Posted on May 05, 192001 at 10:25:11:

Soft Hackles
by Gary D. Scavette

The soft hackle wet fly has its roots deep in the history of fly fishing. From the time a feather was first wrapped around a hook until present, this category of fly has filled a niche in fly boxes worldwide. However, the evolution of modern fly fishing, most notably in this country, has caused these patterns to slip out of popularity. They were replaced for many years by patterns that more closely resemble specific orders and species of insects. Recently soft hackled wets have started to crawl back into our fly boxes here in America. This is due largely to a resurgence of books on the subject as well as a desire by many to retrace the roots of traditional fly fishing.

The soft hackles do not possess wings like traditional wet flies. These patterns have a body that may be spun from fur, silk, peacock herl or some combination of these materials. A hackle of partridge, grouse, hen, or other is wound as a collar in front of the body. The end result is a fly that is relatively simple to dress, versatile to fish, and a suitable imitation for a broad spectrum of natural trout foods.

I commonly fish the soft hackle as part of a dropper system. The soft hackle is used on the dropper while a weighted nymph or another soft hackle is used as the point fly. When I tie on my tippet (using a blood knot) I simply leave a four inch tag on one side of the knot. This is where the dropper fly is attached. The point fly is tied to the end of the tippet as usual.

Subsurface trout fishing on small streams and rivers usually requires short casts. For this purpose I like a soft rod. The slower action rod loads better at short distances, roll casts better, and presents the soft hackle with more finesse than the faster rods. This might be a good excuse for you to dig that old bamboo rod out of the attic and have it reconditioned. Soft hackles and bamboo are a match made in heaven.

When one considers the broad variety of natural trout foods that a soft hackle imitates it is no surprise why it has stood the test of time. Naturals such as caddis pupae, emerging mayflies, drowned spinners, drifting stonefly nymphs, scuds, and a variety of terrestrial insects, can all be imitated simultaneously by a soft hackled fly. The full collar, which moves so naturally due to its soft hackle, and the natural bubbles created by the fly�s body also add to the versatility and effectiveness of these patterns. No box should be without some soft hackles.

Fish your soft hackles in a manner that represents the motion of the natural that you are trying to imitate. Soft hackled wets are most commonly fished quartering upstream and allowed to drift naturally but don�t be afraid to experiment.

Next time you tie on a tippet, leave a four inch tag and attach a soft hackle. Fish it with your dry, nymph, emerger or whatever. You won�t even know its on there��but the fish will. You will be thoroughly rewarded.

For questions or comments related to this article or fishing in general feel free to contact me at or 1-800-558-7658.

Gary Scavette is a registered Maine guide, licensed Captain, and the founder of Northeast Anglers Inc.

Return To Northeast Anglers' Articles and Stories

Post-It © 1997, All Rights Reserved.
DBasics Software Company P.O. Box 6034, Alliance, OH. 44601