Sunday, January 27, 2013

Soft Hackle Flies: Thoughts on Tying Techniques

My last three blog posts have been about soft hackle flies tied by my friend Paul DiNolo.

Soft hackle flies are generally simple to tie.  Usually it's only a simple body, perhaps a touch of dubbing for a thorax and to make the barbs of the hackled collar stand out, and a few turns of a soft hackle feather. Materials are minimal and applied sparsely.

When it comes to tying in and wrapping the hackle there seem to be two general techniques: (1) back-to-front and (2) front-to-back. 


The one I have used, and the one I think is the most common (at least among my friends), is to tie the feather in by the tip and wrap it forward.  This is the "back to front" approach.  This places the longer feather barbs toward the front of the fly.  But because the stem of many soft hackle feathers gets stiffer and thicker very quickly as you move down the feather from the tip to the butt, a sturdy tie-off requires more thread wraps (at least for me) and results in a more substantial head than what is offered by the "front to back" technique.

Using the extensive video library at I found a couple of videos that demonstrate the "back to front" technique.  Both are by Davie McPhail.  The first one shows him using a hackle that has been stripped clean of barbs on one side.  Because of this, the three wraps of hackle he gives the fly result in a nicely sparse fly.  In the second video, he uses a hackle that has not been stripped on one side, and he also demonstrates a different tie-in technique.  These links will take you to the videos on globalflyfisher.


Check out the full catalog of Davie McPail fly tying videos at YouTube:

The second technique is the "front to back" technique.

I've never been able to master the technique.  But now Hans Weilenmann has made a few videos that make the technique much clearer to me.  I believe Hans Weilenmann is the master of the economically tied fly.  I don't necessarily mean that he uses economical materials. I mean that every thread wrap has a purpose.  There is no waste of materials, thread, or time.

[I've just reminded myself that once Hans told me that if a screw driver is needed for the job, the best tool is a screw driver, not a Leatherman.  If you think of flies as tools for catching fish, he seems to apply this thinking to his flies as well.]

The following videos are again from the globalflyfisher library of videos. Both videos demonstrate the front-to-back technique. The second pattern, the Lil' Dorothy, was just published on YouTube yesterday.

Please note that Hans has prepares his videos to be best viewed in HD; either 720p or 1080p.

Check out the full catalog of Hans Weilenmann fly tying videos on YouTube:

Also, check out Hans' excellent Web site:

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