Whiskey Creek Fly Fishing

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Tying tips: Dry Fly Hackle: Necks, Capes and Saddles

April 13th, 2009 · 4 Comments

The guys at FFOTW posted another fly tying tip by yours truly. This one is some background about choosing dry fly hackle.

Notes from the podcast:

  • Besides vise, maybe the largest single investment in tying
  • Two ways to purchase hackle, from necks or saddles – some info help make right choice for you
  • Terminology:
    • Necks and Capes are the same thing. They come from the back of the neck.  Imagine if a redneck rooster was wearing a long mullet hair style; that would be the cape. Also, imagine the mane of a horse.
    • Saddle, from the back of chicken, like where a saddle would be if you saw a low budget sci-fi movie with a GI-Joe riding the chicken.
  • Necks and Saddles are graded to help us make purchasing decisions (and the merchant make pricing decisions)
    • When buying, you will find the hackle graded with terms like: 1,2,3, ABC, Gold, Silver, Bronze
    • Grade is based on the quantity, quality, and size of the feathers.
    • The best value is in higher quality (more flies per $)
      • The only question, will you actually tie enough flies to invest in a high grade saddle?
  • Advantage Neck
    • Necks have a wider variety of sizes, from 10 to 24. Plus a lot of left overs after the dry flies are tied:
      • Large hackles on the side, called spade, which have good fibers for tails
      • Woolly bugger hackle on back
      • Streamer wings
      • Stripped quills for bodies
  • Counter-point Saddles
    • Saddles have longer feathers – many more flies per feather, but in a narrow range (3 sizes)
      • Ask the fly shop to inspect the saddle. Tell them which sizes you want to tie (ie. 12-16), and ask for a saddle that matches.  Don’t pick a random saddle.
      • For these sizes, you get a lot more flies worth.
  • Dick Talleur did a study of capes & saddles in his book, Trout Flies for the 21st Century.  He counted each feather, grading the sizes, and tied a bunch of flies to see what each could tie:
    • Cape yielded approx 600 flies, with 220 left over feathers (tailing, streamer wings etc.) with sizes 10 down to 28
    • Saddle yielded approximately 1600 flies sizes 12 to 18, majority in 14 & 16
  • Some recent prices for silver grade hackle: $80 retail for cape, $65 for saddle. So, if your in the market to tie a bunch of flies in a smaller range, the saddle is the way to go on a $/fly perspective.
  • Still this is quite an investment. Especially if you are starting out and want several colors
  • You can break this investment up into smaller amounts:
    • half saddles or half necks (even quarter saddles).  Many fly shops have a “starter neck” which is half brown and half grizzly.
    • Single size “100-packs”, which are enough saddle feather to tie 100 of the advertised sized flies
  • An additional note about hackle, there have been lots of improvements over the past 20 years – breeding science & genetics applied to raising the chickens
    • The stems are thinner, feathers are longer, barbs are stiffer, making it easier to float your fly.
    • As a result, if you are following recipes from years ago, they may call for 2 to 4 feathers, with today’s necks, one feather needed (and sometimes you get more than 1 fly per feather)

Tags: Fly Tying

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 winonaflyfactory // Apr 13, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    WoW! Awesome information!! Thanks

  • 2 Mike // Apr 13, 2009 at 10:45 pm

    That was a great article! The quality of hackle used really makes a huge difference in the end product and ease of use.

  • 3 Anthony Naples // Apr 16, 2009 at 8:49 am

    JohnR or anyone else -in general what brands of hackle have you been most happy with for dries?

  • 4 John Ruberto // Apr 16, 2009 at 9:26 am


    I’ve had best luck with Whiting. The first necks that I bought were from Metz, and they were also pretty good, but that was 15 years ago. I think both have improved significantly since then. Most recent purchase was Whiting, which are awesome feathers.
    Just like the old days where “you never get fired for buying IBM”, you can’t go wrong with Whiting.

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