February 21st, 2005

Cut Hackle
By James Castwell

Page 118 of What the Trout Said by Datus Proper states, "Hackle points should not be clipped; when blunt and stiff they penetrate the surface more easily."

So what. For years fly houses have been selling as 'thorax' tied flies, regular ones with the hackle clipped from the bottom, that's what. And it's wrong. It is not 'thorax tied' and it does not do what they claim nor look like from below what they say it does. It is wrong, the fly is wrong, and they are wrong.

A hackled dry fly, mayfly type, is supposed to represent an insect sitting high on the surface. When the hackle is clipped, the tied fly rests on the surface, not up, high and dry. It may represent several things and may catch fish, but it does not represent a fresh insect. Perhaps an emerger, maybe a dun that is tired or struggling to get off the surface, but not a nice newly emerged mayfly.

From below fish can see a pattern of dimples on the surface formed by the feet of the insect, they often key in on these dimples, hackle can represent these dimples. Clipping the hackle drops the tied fly to allow the body to rest on the water, even penetrating into the surface sometimes. Definitely not a 'dry fly.' Some flies when new and fresh may for a short time sit on the surface, supported by the few hackle points which do not point straight down, but splay out to the sides. Here quality will help support the fly but the points penetrating the water soon contribute to the fly wetting and dropping down to the surface.

The only successful method of tying a fly without any hackle not pointing down is the true V. Marinaro thorax style. The criss-crossing of the hackle keeps all the points at an angle and supports the fly well above the surface. Again, quality hackle is required, but in today's market it is readily available.

This is not to say your flies will not catch fish, they have been and will continue. I am only saying the clipped ones are not doing what you think they are and not what the tiers are saying they will do. The fact is, most tiers are not willing to learn how to tie them and have fallen for the lie that it is not necessary, just hack some off the bottom. Too bad. They are not that hard to tie. In the early seventies we taught the girls who tied for Dan Bailey's (yes, they had a bank of ladies tying for them in the store). It made it nice for us as we were guiding out of there and could offer the flies to our clients.

If you decide to try these yourself, go ahead. You will find the trout will take them very gently as they do look like the natural. Since the take is more gentle, you can use at least one size lighter leader, which will also help in the presentation of the fly. The combination produces more hits, more runs and fewer errors. No, I do not know of any offering them for sale.

Lastly, this is not to say all mayflies hatch perfectly, many or even most don't. Floppy wing, bent, broken or missing parts all combine to make for many crippled and struggling insects on the water. If Mr. Trout has a few of the 'perfect' ones take flight just as he is about to lunch on them, how long will it be before he decides he likes the 'not so good looking ones?' The ones that do not jump away. So, in the end...

Does it matter? ~ JC

Till next week, remember . . .

Keepest Thynne Baakast Upeth

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