whiting grading 1Because our customers cannot personally inspect every piece of fly tying hackle they purchase from us, we at J. Stockard have a policy of stocking only hackle from top brands such as Whiting Farms and Metz. That way we can be assured of consistent quality and quantity in the hackle we sell. Grading dry fly hackle is more of a science than an art. We thought you might be interested to learn the process used by Whiting to grade their dry fly saddle hackle.

Whiting Hackle dry fly saddles are graded based on the approximate number of flies each pelt will tie. It is important to note that the grade does not denote the hook sizes of hackle. Here’s how Whiting does its grading – 

Step 1: The approximate number of usable dry tying feathers is counted for each side of the pelt. Typical counts would be 95 feathers on the left side and a 100 on the right side for a total 195 usable tying feathers.

Step 2: The average hackle length is then measured. Pelts vary but often average about 8”.

Step 3: The tying sizes of the feathers are determined. Most saddles will have two predominant sizes, i.e., #12 & #14, #14 &#16, etc.

Step 4: The total number of flies per pelt is calculated as follows. An 8” feather that is size 14 will hackle four flies. So 195 usable feathers multiplied by four flies equals a minimum of 780 flies. Generally, as hackle decreases in size, a given length will tie more flies.

Step 5: The saddle pelts are then assigned the appropriate grade based on the minimum number of dry flies each full pelt will tie.

whiting grading 2Pro Grade – minimum of 300 flies (predominately size 16 and under)
Bronze – minimum of 500 flies
Silver – minimum of 800 flies
Gold – minimum of 1100 flies
Platinum – minimum of 1500 flies

Half saddle pelts will tie approximately ½ of those quantities. Quarter saddle pelts will tie approximately ¼ of those quantities.

In our online shop we stock Pro Grade, Bronze and Silver. Bronze is our best seller!

Our thanks to Whiting Farms for information on their grading techniques.


  1. Thank you for the summary; it’s very useful.

    I had assumed that the quality of each individuall usable feather was reflected in the pelt grading process, with Gold and Platinum having the stiffest filaments, the least web, and the most stable and consistently wrappable stems. Now I see that grade is basically a count.

    So I’m guessing those quality aspects (stiffness, web, stem) are instead accounted for just by general quality control of all pelts and saddles (meaning Pro Grade and Platinum will both have the same feather quality for their usable feathers)? …and maybe by disqualifying the softer and more webby and twistier feathers from the count?

    – Michael Vorhis (FreeFlight Publishing)

    1. Yes, Michael, we think you are correct. Staying with tops brands and higher grades gets you the better quality feathers. Though, if you are in a position to take a look at pelts yourself, you can certainly find some bargains out there!

      1. Thanks for confirming! By all accounts the genetic brands you stock seem to get glowing reviews from most directions. The fact that the grade is more a numeric thing than a qualitative one actually makes ordering easier (and I guess that’s the point!), because quality is a given and it just turns into a math exercise: Will I tie a hundred flies over the next X months? Two hundred? Is a 20% per-fly savings worth something to me, at my pace…or would a second color be better?

        Again, thanks for clarifying how the grading is done.

        – Michael Vorhis

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