Purple Western Soft Hackle – Tying instructions and more….
This article is going to cover some key points about tying and fishing Soft Hackle flies for trout and steelhead. I will ramble on about names of Soft hackle flies, best fly sizes, how to fish the little (and big) flies, weighting issues, application of Soft Hackle flies to your favorite steelhead stream, and a basic tying video.
How many soft hackle fly patterns are there? I don’t know. The Partridge and Yellow may just be the most famous. Substitute green for yellow, orange for green, scarlet for orange, or …. Get the idea? Soft hackles are tied in many variations with and without names. The naming convention helps label the bins in our fly shops, and helps us fly fishers communicate with each other when we are reporting the hot Soft Hackle of the day.
As in – “I was having great success on a size 12 Partridge and Yellow;” when in fact, the truth is that a size #16 Peacock and Grizzly Soft Hackle was the savior of the evening fishing. Not that trout fly fishers ever resort to low-life tactics of mis-information like salmon fly fishers may practice.
Some of the Soft Hackles you should think about fishing and tying include the following flies: Partridge and Yellow Soft hackle; Partridge and Green; McKenzie Green and Peacock Soft Hackle; Western Purple Soft Hackle; Scarlet and Grizzly Soft Hackle; Scarlet and Brown Soft Hackle; Grey Hackle – Yellow tail Peacock Soft Hackle: Black Peacock Soft Hackle; Black Pheasant Soft Hackle; Peacock and Partridge Soft Hackle; Carey Special soft Hackle; Pheasant Tail soft hackle; Peacock and Starling Soft hackle.
Soft hackle fly sizes? The question as to best size fly when tying and fishing soft hackles is one of those, well, it depends on where, when and so on issues. Big Soft Hackles represent the largest caddis flies, the smaller soft hackles cover smaller mayflies, caddis and such. I tie soft hackles down to #18, not easily mind you, but the sub size #12 are the heart of my soft hackle arsenal. It is not entirely critical to match hackle size with hook size with Soft Hackle flies, at least not as much so as it is with dry flies. One may compensate for a little over-size hackle on a #16 hook by using only one turn of hackle, and the fly will fish very effectively.
Partridge and Grouse feathers are two feathers that are traditionally associated with Soft Hackle flies. That said, I far prefer Partridge, Grizzly Hen capes, Whiting Brahma Hen saddles, Starling skins, and Whiting Hen capes in various colors – as compared to Grouse. But given my state of learning as time marches on, I could change my mind and come to love Grouse too. Who knows? Starling Skins are my newest discovery and really offer a nice range of dull hued very small feathers for my smallest Soft Hackles.
Impressionist rather than imitative. Yeah. Soft hackle style flies are what I would refer to as impressionist flies, as I think that they can be taken by trout as a general, close enough, just might be a such-and-such insect. Sometimes we fish a dry stonefly or an October Caddis. In these cases if a trout takes our fly, the fish probably thought it was about to eat a great big juicy caddis fly. When a trout slurps a size 13 or 15 sparsely dressed soft hackle, swinging just under the surface in glassy or riffled water, the fish could be thinking … Caddis! On the other hand, the fish could be thinking … Mayfly! Again, more often than not, when there are many insects hatching, the fish could simply be thinking …. Bug (food)!
How to fish Soft Hackle flies? Start fishing dead drift with slight upstream cast, and even sometimes straight upstream to feeding fish. Cross and downstream presentation will deliver a swing rate based on current speed from slow to brisk.
Most of my soft hackle experience has been on the Deschutes, McKenzie and Willamette. The Metolius is a place where I have never ever, been successful fishing soft hackles on the swing. Anyone who can explain this gets one free soft hackle in the mail. Really.
Traditional soft hackles are tied un-weighted, and this makes sense, because they are intended to be presented to the fish just under the surface. Now, if one looks at a Carey Special for lake fishing, or at a big October Caddis Emerger as soft hackles, then one could indeed weight these depending on the depth of water and current speed.
Soft Hackles for steelhead? Absolutely. I have not managed this feat myself, but a close friend has had days on the upper Deschutes when summer steelhead rose deliberately and repeatedly to #14 and #16 Partridge and Green Soft Hackles. This was a many fish, many hour experience, not a one fish deal. Another friend has had similar experiences on the Upper Rogue anytime from July through September, and again, this involved many fish and many days. The Klamath is another place I have not fished, but where I have friends who regularly catch summer steelhead on what we consider trout-size Soft Hackles. And here is one final example: the North Umpqua. A fish biologist friend swears by a #12 pale olive and Partridge soft hackle in the months of July and August when fishing pressure is high and water is crystal clear. Quite different from traditional steelhead wet flies, leech style steelhead flies, and splashy dry flies, but think about this alternative next time you head to the North Umpqua.