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Old 11-05-2011, 12:17 PM
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Default Hackling wets: cheating with large feathers

This is in response to a PM I received.

If all you have is an Indian or other hen saddle, a bag of loose partridge feathers or you've plucked most of the useful feathers out of a hen cape or gamebird and are just left with feathers with long barbs, there are a couple of ways you can cheat a bit to make them work to "hackle" soft hackles and wets on smaller size hooks.

Here's just one way. Basically instead of wrapping the feather around the hook shank it involves measuring and tying in a bunch of barbs tips forward, building the rest of the fly and then stroking the barbs back towards the rear of the hook and locking them in place with a thread dam.

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Here's a feather plucked from the bottom of an Indian hen saddle. If wrapped in the conventional way, the barbs on this feather are much too long for this size 14 hook, the barbs are long enough to hackle a size 2 hook.

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Select a feather from the base of the saddle with long barbs-- the longer they are the easier they'll be to work with. (I'm using the rest of same feather clipped off the fly in the first pic for this example on an identical size 14 hook.)

Stroke one side of the feather with 12-20 long barbs so the barbs are sticking out at right angles to the stem, and gather the section of barbs in the fingers of your left hand and clip it from the stem-- the same way you would select barbs for a tail.

Holding the tips towards the eye, measure from the eye of the hook to the point of the hook and pinch the barbs in this spot.


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Tie the barbs on the shank about one eye length back from the eye with the tips pointing forward over the eye. and the butts pointing towards the rear of the hook.

(Reserve a space behind the hook eye of bare metal about one eye length for the head.)



Click the image to open in full size.
Trim and bind down the butts.

Complete the rest of the body, adding a tail and rib (if using) and build the abdomen as normal


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If you're using a thin material for the body, like the purple silk floss in this example, add some dubbing for a thorax. This will help support the barbs and prevent them from folding too far rearward when they're swept back.

If you're using a thicker material to build the body like peacock herl, this step is not necesaary.

Click the image to open in full size.
Once the thorax is dubbed.....


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Stroke the fibers rearward and take a couple wraps of thread immediately in front of the barbs to build a thread dam to force them at a right angle to the shank, radiating outward like the ribs on an umbrella. Don't wrap over the barbs as this will force them rearward at a sharp angle.

Click the image to open in full size.
Build a head, whip, clip and go fish - you're done.

Hopefully this explanation makes some sense.
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Last edited by peregrines; 11-07-2011 at 02:53 PM.
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Old 11-05-2011, 12:26 PM
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Default Re: Hackling wets: cheating with large feathers

Pretty cool, I like how it helps build a bit of profile to the body rather than a straight flat body. I had tried putting the tips in a dubbing loop but end up with too many butt ends to trim and then the head gets away from me.
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Old 11-05-2011, 02:55 PM
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Default Re: Hackling wets: cheating with large feathers

This is my result of using large/long hackle feathers. I thought I could cut them to a more suitable length to make it look better. It didn't work the way I hoped it would.

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Old 11-05-2011, 03:33 PM
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Default Re: Hackling wets: cheating with large feathers

Dave, I realized the same thing the other day. Hackle looks nowhere near as good when tied and then cut, you really do have to use the tips.
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Old 11-05-2011, 04:13 PM
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Default Re: Hackling wets: cheating with large feathers

Mark shows a great method for using feathers that are too large to be tied in conventionally on a soft hackle fly. Here's another one:
Charlie's FlyBox - Colorado's Best FlyShop and online Fly Tying Tutorials

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Old 11-07-2011, 02:12 PM
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Default Re: Hackling wets: cheating with large feathers

You can also tie in the hackle much farther back on the hook, wind it, pull the fibers forward over the eye, then wrap over the base of the fibers towards the eye. Build the remainder of the fly, THEN stroke the tips of the hackle fibers back over the body and tie in front of them.

This will work for wets/soft hackles and dries as well (in a pinch) works best for wets and nymphs though.
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Old 11-07-2011, 02:42 PM
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Default Re: Hackling wets: cheating with large feathers

Very cool. That's a good one. Thanks Mark.
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