Understanding Schlappen Feathers for Fly Tying

Comparing the Schlappen feathers in two packages of 5" - 7" feathers.

Comparing the Schlappen feathers in two packages of 5″ – 7″ feathers.

I have been using Schlappen feathers on a regular basis lately while tying up my boxes of winter steelhead flies. Fact is, I have been very surprised and pleased with the overall quality and diversity of the feathers I have obtained lately, and I guess it would be fair to say that my recent experience is but one more in a long string of situations where I continue to learn even after having more than fifty years experience as a fly tyer under my belt.

It was my routine practice to avoid purchasing Schlappen feathers, preferring instead to use hand selected saddle feathers for use as collars and beards on my salmon and steelhead flies. I was fond of being able to pluck feathers from a full saddle patch, from the shortest feathers at the top of the patch to the longest webbiest feathers at the base of the saddle patch.

In case you are not already familiar with these feathers, I would describe Schlappen as the softest, dullest feathers found near the base of the rooster’s tail and these lay between the saddle feathers on the rooster’s back and the long tail feathers.

I formerly considered Schlappen to be junk feathers, far less desirable than saddle hackles.

Lately, however, I have completely reconsidered that opinion and done a full reversal of my decades-long disdain for these feathers. I have tied flies with randomly selected packages of Hareline Schlappen during the process of tying a wide variety of winter steelhead flies, including Intruders, and have been overwhelmingly pleased with the results.

Sure, there are waste feathers in each package and the proportion of junk feathers will vary between packages and also depend on the variety of flies that you intend to tie with any specific package.

I just did an analysis of a random pack of black Schlappen and here my opinionated assessment. One package of Schlappen had had 84 feathers in it. i discarded 25 feathers, set aside 20 feathers that had good tips and 29 feathers that met my standards for high quality wet fly collars from tip to webby base. Priced at under seven bucks for the package, I’m pleased to get that many good feathers for my steelhead and salmon flies. Most of the feathers that I discarded as so-called “junk” could actually have been used for smaller flies beards, tails, and various smaller wet flies.

29 super select Schlappen feathers prepared for use as collars on winter steelhead flies.

29 super select Schlappen feathers prepared for use as collars on winter steelhead flies.

The 29 super select Schlappen feathers are pictured above, after I stripped off the stem where it became too thick to wind on a tube or hook.

How representative were the results of this Schlappen package? I have found an occasional package with lower percentage of feathers that met my standards and a few packages that had an even higher proportion of super feathers.

Stem thickness of Schlappen feathers – tends to be slender, more so I think than you will find on most strung saddle feathers. Slender stems make it easier to wind the collars and reduce bulk on my flies, so I have been very favorably impressed with these slender stems.

Overall length of Schlappen feathers – these feathers are in packages labeled as 5 – 7″. When the wholesale dealer gets these feathers from the producer, they are on a sewn string that is roughly four feet long, with the shortest feathers on one end and the longest feathers on the other end. These long strings are then cut into short sections for packaging. As a result, any specific package may be from the short end, the middle, or the long end of the feathers sewn together on string.

The photo at the beginning of this post illustrates two different strings of Schlappen that represent about the two extremes of feather lengths that you will find in any given package of these feathers. The average length of black Schlappen feathers in the one package is about 5″ with some feathers as short as 4″. The average length of the purple Schlappen feathers is closer to 8″ with a few feathers nearly 10″ or so. These two packages represent extremes of the packs that you are likely to find on the pegs at your local fly shop, and you are more likely to find feathers that are in the range of 5″ to 6″ than smaller and larger feathers.

I find that I like to get a few packages of the shorter feathers and a few packages of the longer feathers – that way I have a broader range of feather qualities to use on my flies.

I hope that this post helps answer some of the questions you may have about Schlappen feathers. My enthusiasm for tying with these has blossomed in the last two months and I think that my winter steelhead flies have benefitted greatly from my new perspective.

Questions? Shoot an email the Caddis Fly Shop and I’ll try to answer.

Jay Nicholas, late November, 2016


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2 Responses to Understanding Schlappen Feathers for Fly Tying

  1. two dogs says:

    great article. just went out and chucked all my feathers….just kidding. thanks for your insights.

  2. John says:

    Thanks Jay, I’m slowly realizing that just because I have an entire pack of feathers that not every one is appropriate for the fly I’m trying to tie. I wish I lived closer to your shop so I could buy in person rather than through the internet every time.

    Thanks for the post

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