Al Campbell, Field Editor

December 17th, 2001

What Makes a Hackle Good?
By Al Campbell

What makes a hackle a good hackle? By that I mean, what is the right size and shape of a good hackle feather for fly tying? If you don't exactly know the answer to that question, you're not alone. The answer depends on what you want to tie and how the hackle is going to be used.

First you need to ask yourself is what you want to tie. Are you tying an Adams? What size is your fly going to be? It might surprise you to discover that many of the hackle growers concentrate most of their genetic efforts on sizes most of us rarely use or need. The trick here is how they convince us that their "popular sizes" are just what we need.

I sell thousands of dozens of flies where I work in the span of one summer. The most popular dry fly size is 14 followed by 16. It doesn't matter a lot what the pattern is; most of our dry fly sales are in those two sizes. In fact, my size 14 sales exceed the combined sales of all the other sizes except 16. I closely watch this trend to insure that I order the right flies for the coming year. It works well, and I rarely have a huge mess of flies in the wrong sizes, to carry over to the next year.

So, why do the two best known, major hackle growers try so hard to sell us hackles that tie sizes 18 and 20? Sure, I tie a lot of small sizes and so do others, but I also tie a lot of flies in the 14 and 16 sizes. That being the case, why do I need that $150 micro, super duper, dry fly saddle that ties sizes 18 and 20 with ease? Actually, I don't.

For the last few months, I've been tying a few flies with necks and saddles from Conranch. I'm quite impressed. I haven't found a hackle feather that wraps easier than the feathers off their necks and saddles. The necks have hackles small enough to tie flies I can't see with my over-forty eyes anymore. The saddles are just right for size 14 dries, so I'll get to use them up fast. Ok, relatively fast; I haven't had a lot of time at the vise recently, but that will change in the months ahead.

This isn't a product review; that will come a little later. However, if you are looking for that perfect neck or saddle for Christmas, you need to click on Conranch from the sponsor's page. Be sure to describe the color and size you need. Dennis is a fly tier, so he will be able to select the perfect saddle or neck to suit your needs.

This isn't an advertisement either. It's just a tip from a fly tier to you. As usual, if I find something that works well, you'll be the first to hear about it. ~ AC

Previous Al Campell Columns
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