Peninsula Fly Fishers

Duck Season means Soft Hackle Feathers

by Tom Kilfoil

October brings on the beginning of duck season and the chance to get a good supply of feathers ideal for soft hackle fly patterns. Most fly tiers have used mallard and wood duck flank feathers for tying, but they really miss a bet by not collecting some teal, widgeon, and sprig flank feathers as well. Ask your waterfowl hunting friends to save you the flank feathers off the male of each of these duck species. Save them in zip-lock bags. Put these zip lock bags in your freezer for a week to kill any bugs that might be amongst the feathers.

A bag of widgeon flank feathers
A bag of widgeon feathers

Next step is to strip off the fuzzy hackles leaving the barred ends. Trim off the stems to a manageable length, and separate the feathers by color shades and length. Put the sorted feathers in small zip lock bags for future use. Notice the nice brown colors.

Stripped, trimmed, and sorted feathers
Stripped, trimmed, and sorted feathers

One of the best techniques I have seen for using these feathers for soft hackle patterns is to get hold of the hackles near the stem, about 1/16-inch worth on either side of the stem. Pull the other hackles back towards the butt end, leaving the tip hackles exposed and easy to get to.

Feather with tip exposed
Feather with tip exposed

With a fine scissors, cut the tip hackles off at the stem then pull the remaining hackle forward into their original position. The feather is now ready to use.

Tip trimmed off, feather ready for use as a soft hackle
Ready for use as a soft hackle

By the way, not all of the feathers are ideal for this preparation, but don't throw them out. They can be used for tails and legs of many patterns.

A feather that is good for tails and legs
Good for tails and legs

So don't forget to ask your duck hunting friends to save those feathers for you, and have fun tying these great patterns. Practice your tying skills and make up a few extra for our club's raffles.

Tie A Soft Hackle Fly

Step 1

Green floss body with copper ribbing

To tie a soft-hackle pattern, prepare a ribbed body with or without a tail. I like to make a blunt end to the forward portion of the body, so when I tie in the hackle it gives a nice flare to the feathers.

Step 2

Prepared feather tied on hook in preliminary position

Take a prepared feather and pinch it against the body from both sides and take two soft wraps of thread around the hackle.

Step 3

Pulled to correct length and tied firmly

Now pull the stem of the feather forward until the hackle length is just where you want it and tie it down. Trim off the rest. I have my hackle go to the back of the body for tail-less patterns and to the hook point on patterns with a tail.

Step 4

Fly finished with a dubbed head

I finish off my soft hackle flies usually with a dubbed head with colors from light tan all the way to black. This finished fly has a green floss body, copper ribbing, widgeon hackle, with light hare's ear dubbed head.

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