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July 24, 2011 / flogginwater

Super Soft Hackles

I’ve been reading. A LOT. Have to kill the down time at work, so I’ve taken stacks of my old fishing magazines and books – and I’ve been reading, and thinking about fishing, possibly enough that some stuffy old farts with fancy sheepskins on their wall would say I’m obsessed. Whatever – river water courses through my veins and my soul, and fish of all kinds swim through my mind.

So I’ve been thinking long and hard about a myriad of fishing topics – thinking about down sizing my gear fishing collection (but not eliminating it) and shifting more toward the fly rod for almost all species. I’ve also been thinking about those hypothetical questions we always see in magazine articles – you know, those “favorite flies” or “if you only had one fly” nonsense. Well, it’s not really nonsense, I guess, if it’s been on the forefront of my mind for a while.

So I came to the conclusion that there are three flies that, if I HAD to stick with just THOSE flies, for all my fishing, forever, I would have supreme confidence in. #1 on the list is the venerable Woolly Bugger – that fly, given varied sizes and colors, will catch anything that swims, in any water, anywhere in the world, with an unholy regularity. A guy could spend his entire life fishing just the Woolly Bugger, if all he cared about when fishing was catching fish. You seriously wouldn’t need any other flies to catch fish. But then, fly fishing isn’t a purely numbers game, at least for me – or most fishers I know who fish the long rod.

Selecting a fly that we think is going to give us that edge, or a fly that matches a hatch, or just by god one we tied that ISN’T a woolly bugger, is a big part of the fun of fly fishing. And then of course there’s the fun in fly casting – but that’d getting off topic and I don’t want to do that right now.

So the Woolly Bugger is #1 – #2 by a close margin would be the simple soft hackled wet fly. Like the WB – a soft hackled wet fly need only change size and body color and it will catch just about any fish with gills. There’s something almost magical about the pulsating fibers of the hackle, and the simple bodies you usually find on them – that drive fish wild. You can fish the soft hackle as a nymph, an emerger, a typical wet fly (drowned adult or emerger) or even dress them with some floatant and fish them as a dry fly cripple. You can ‘match the hatch’ simply by picking the right size fly, in a color close to the that of the hatching naturals. Or you can get crazy and fish an outlandish, brightly colored pattern and still lay the wood to the fish. In fact, I think the soft hackled wet fly is THE most versatile fly ever created. And think – the first fly ever fished was probably a soft hackled wet fly, tied on a bone hook and fished on a horse hair (or similar) line in a method similar to Tenkara. The soft hackled wet fly has a LOT of staying power in history, and I don’t see them fading from fly fishing consciousness in my life time.

The soft hackle wet, like the woolly bugger, has a very special place in my heart, and my fly collection – so much so I’ve devoted an entire fly box to them, along with space in my main fly box…

If someone stole all my fly boxes but my soft hackles, I could still go fishing and get fish, if there are fish in the river. My favorite soft hackles are tied in sizes 10 and 12, there’s rarely a GOOD reason to go much smaller, but I do tie them down to about size 18 – but it’s the size 12’s that get the most use.

Dub the body, tie a floss body, or make a mylar or wire body – these will catch fish.

The last fly I’d pick is my generic spent-wing standard dry fly – again, just pick a size and color and BAM, hatch matched. Use your scissors to trim the hackles to make them sit lower in the water, trim the wing on one side to make it into a cripple, sweep the wings back to imitate a caddis or stone fly. These flies simply work when the fish are looking up for their meal.

A guy could do just fine for himself if he went afield with a single box filled with the generic dry flies, the soft hackled wets, and a few buggers – and fished them on something like a medium actioned 6 weight rod about 8-9 feet long. might not be perfect for all situations, but it’d get the job done for most.

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One Comment

  1. Martin / Jul 25 2011 12:07

    Hi Mark, that's super boxes of wets you have there. I agree, there is something sort of special about the soft hackle and as you say really effective. I have not given the woolly much of a try but maybe should start thinking about them more and tying a few up. Great post.

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