Tying With Chickabou and Soft Hackle
By Henry Hoffman, Oregon


From, 1965 until 1987, my wife Joyce and I skinned neck and saddle hackle from our dry-fly roosters. The bodies were then thrown away with the rest of the feathers still on them. Some of our customers had said they needed soft hackle for steelhead and Matuka flies. Hen neck hackles were mostly too small and hen saddle too short. In 1987 Bob Marriott saw the feathers he was looking for on a mounted Super Grizzly Rooster I'd sent him. The flank feathers from the sides of the breast make great Matuka wings, and, then wound on, make a nice hackle collar. Hen body plumage marries back together into messy clumps when wound onto hooks. Rooster feathers don't do this nearly as often. For a while we sold these feathers on the skin and called them Matuka Patches.

Then I discovered that there was a lot of good short nymph marabou at the base of these flank feathers. Down from the breast and between the legs are other small plumes of marabou (now called chickabou).

In 1994 I noticed small hen neck-type feathers just above the knee joint (small end of the drumstick) on the roosters and hens. The tip half of these "knee hackles" make excellent soft hackles. The base part of the knee hackle can give you a turn or two of small marabou (chickabou) hackle collar. These feathers have a much stronger quill than the filo plume feathers commonly used from pheasants to create this type of fly.

Up the leg and above the knee hackles are larger feathers that I call thigh hackles. These are mostly chickabou with soft-hackle tips. After trimming off the excessivly heavy quill at the base of the feather, you can wind on the middle part to make sizes 8 to 4 marabou collars. The same thing can be done with some of the rooster breast feathers, especially the ones along the edges of the patch as they have the finest quills.

I've been able to create some realistic-looking dragonfly, crayfish and crab bodies by winding these feathers over most of the hook shank, like a feather duster. I then trim this fluffy ball to the desired shape. You can speed up this process by pre-trimming the feathers to about 3/8 inch wide on each side of the quills before winding them....

To make a thinner-bodied nymphs like damsel, mayfly and my Knee Hackle Special and Chickabou Special, take a small chickabou flume, tie the tip to the hook and wind on from back to front. This will give you a body that looks like gill filaments. The body can be flattened by trimming tip and bottom; it is best to do this after the reinforcing wire rib is on.

To make size 8 and larger chickabou-bodies flies like stonefly nymphs and Chickabou Specials, tie in two feathers and wind on together. You can also get larger, fuller feathers from these size flies from regular domestic-size chickens. I get mine from my mother's seven-pound laying hens and ten-pound roosters. One of these feathers will cover a hook shank up to sizes 4 and 6. For anything larger than this, I use turkey marabou.

In addition to trout, I've found that the Chickabou Special works well on the Umpqua, Snake and Grande Ronde rivers for smallmouth bass. The Umpqua bass seemed to prefer colors of all black, black with orange center, and chartreuse. The Snake and Grande Ronde bass prefer barred olive and barred brown. (Sometimes I palmer the body of these flies with a rooster soft hackle or a schlappen feather. Then I call the fly a Chick-a-Bugger.) ~ Henry Hoffman

Credits: This article is an excerpt from Northwest fly patterns & tying guide, by the Rainland Fly Casters, published by Frank Amato Publications.


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