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Partridge and Yellow, Soft Hackle
By Skip Morris

Sylvester Nemes rediscovered an unusual fly and developed some unusual methods for fishing it. In 1975 he revealed these efforts to the fly-fishing world in his book The Soft Hackled Fly. What he rediscovered is a simple, bare-bones fly that looks exactly like nothing but suggests a lot, and what it usually suggests are hatching mayflies, caddisflies, and even stoneflies. "Soft hackles," as these flies are often called, may be fished in a variety of manners, just under the surface dead drift, twitched or swum (or, as fly fishing author Dave Hughes described it to me "coaxed") across the current, or even floated dead drift to imitate a spent, bedraggled caddisfly (an approach from fly-fishing artist Richard Bense).

The Partridge and Yellow Soft Hackle we will explore here is only one of many variations - other body colors and materials, other hackle colors and types, and even variations in hook styles (light wire, heavy wire, various shank lengths) are used.

Materials List:

    Hook:   Dry fly, standard length, sizes 10 to 16.

    Thread:   Yellow (or simply a pale color), size 8/0 or 6/0.

    Abdomen:   Yellow single-strand floss.

    Thorax:  Hare's mask fur (a thorax is optional).

    Hackle:   Brown hen saddle hackle or partridge flank.

Tying Instructions:

1. Tie in and wrap a floss body.

2. Dub a short, thick thorax (optional).

3. Select, measure, and prepare a hen saddle hackle.

4. Tie in the hackle as shown, using a light turn.

5. Wrap one turn of hackle.

6. Draw back the fibers from the first turn of hackle; then add a second turn; repeat this sequence for the third and final turn.

7. Tie off the hackle, trim its tip, and complete the fly.


...Hen saddle feathers are similar to partridge body feathers, but partridge is smaller, less dense, and more difficult for beginning tiers to handle, but it creates an excellent effect.

Hen saddle really is the best choice for your first soft hackle. Switch to partridge later if you like, or just stick with the hen.

I think it also noteworthy that there seems to be considerable disagreement concerning hackle-fiber length for soft-hackles - some experienced tiers prefer that the fibers reach only to the rear of the body; others like the fibers long. These instructions will create a long-fibered soft hackle, but remember that you have options. . .

Problems, Solutions, And Suggestions

1. Many tiers prefer to draw the fibers back from the tip of the hackle (hen or partridge body), tie the hackle in by its tip, and then wrap the hackle by holding its butt. The tricky part is judging the fiber length - starting too near the tip will require too many hackle turns to reach the fibers of appropriate length, but starting too far down the hackle will put the appropriate fibers onto the hook too soon. Despite this, once you get used to just how long the fibers need to be, this tip-first method will come quickly and easily.

2. Some of the keener anglers I know (Dave Hughes, Rick Hafele and Richard Bunse in particular) are tying their soft hackle with sparser hackles than before - let's face it, real caddisflies and mayflies have only six legs. The best way to accomplish this is to strip one side of the hen or partridge [feather], and then wind the stripped feather in only two or three turns. ~ Skip Morris

Credits: Partridge and Yellow, Soft Hackle is one of the many excellent instructional flies presented in Skip Morris's book, Fly Tying Made Clear and Simple, published by Frank Amato Publications.

For more great flies, check out: Beginning Fly Tying, Intermediate Fly Tying and Advanced Fly Tying.

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