Soft Hackles Revisited

Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, Montana

On one of the more popular internet fly fishing forums, someone posted the question: What are your 2021 Fly Fishing Goals? At the time, I really hadn’t thought about that and really didn’t have any particular species I wanted to target or place to fish in 2021. But there was something I’ve always thought about doing—building out fly boxes specifically provisioned for a particular water and a particular time of year. The goal being I’d being carrying one, maybe two boxes with flies that I know will produce on the given water, will in all probability be used on the day, in the season at hand instead of multiple boxes with flies, many inappropriate for a given water that I’ll never use. It was a challenge I gave myself and the first step was to build up a large stock of patterns during the Winter in anticipation of the first trips in March. As I thought about the patterns I needed to tie for each water, one thing became abundantly clear. Although I routinely fish about 15 different waters each season, traditional soft hackle patterns would show up in just about every box.

Whenever I encounter rising fish or waters where I know a hatch is imminent and can’t get anything else to work, I will tie on a soft hackle pattern and swing it though the areas where fish are rising or likely to be. More often than not, the soft hackle which rides just below the surface like an emerging insect will entice a strike. On the Big Hole late last season, hoppers had been working all morning until I arrived about midday at a complex pool formed at a 90 degree bend in the river. Two very deep holes were separated by shallow gravel bars as the water flowed hard against the downstream banks. A small wide tributary flowed in at the side of the first hole. Fish were rising everywhere at the edges of the gravel bars and mouth of the tributary on some obscure aquatic delight too small to see. Hoppers floated over them did nothing. A woolly bugger swung through the pods got a cold reception. Finally, I tied on a #14 traditional soft hackle and fish after fish, mostly 12-16” rainbows came to hand. As the hatch continued, the commotion of fish caught didn’t deter the others at all. Whatever they were feeding on, the soft hackle continued to seem convincing.

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Soft Hackle Essentials—Hooks and Materials

soft hackle essentials partridge and pheasant soft hackle
Partridge & Pheasant Soft Hackle

Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, MT
The traditional soft hackle fly has been with us for a long time. Sylvester Nemes in his Two Centuries of Soft-Hackled Flies (2004) chronicles the history of this venerable pattern back to the year 1747. Even today, in the 21st century, the soft-hackle is a killer pattern that can be effective anywhere trout feed on aquatic insects. Unfortunately, many fly shops don’t carry them and even online retailers don’t offer the variety one would like to see. Additionally, it’s hard to justify paying $2 for a fly on a cheap hook that can be tied in less than a minute or so on a good one. Trout anglers should always have a good selection of soft hackles at the ready anytime they fish in insect rich waters (they are actually very effective for bluegill and other shallow water sunfish).

Continue reading → Soft Hackle Essentials—Hooks and Materials