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
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
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.
Please check out the Fly Tying Section, on the Bulletin Board here at FAOL too.
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