Peninsula Fly Fishers

The Split Thread Soft Hackle Streamer

Mike McGuire


Hook: Size 2 Mustad 34011
Thread: Black Danville Flat Waxed Nylon
Hackle: Marabou and Pearl Crystal Flash


A fly that has been much admired lately is Jack Gartside's Soft Hackle Streamer. It consists essentially of palmered marabou. A problem with this is that only the upper quarter of the stem of a marabou feather is thin enough and flexible enough to wind this way. On the left one is shown with tying scissors for scale.

One solution is to use the split thread method to construct the hackle. After the thread is started on the hook and wound down to about 2/3 the length of the shank, the thread will be twisted clockwise into a cord like form. If the bobbin is allowed to hang, it will spin counterclockwise (looking down on it), and eventually the thread will flatten out. You can encourage this by spinning it yourself. Test it occasionally by stroking the thread with the shaft of you bobbin to see if it has flattened out. You don't want to twist it to the counterclockwise corded state. With the thread flattened, tension it over the fingernail of the index finger of your left hand (lefties transpose this) and poke your bodkin through the middle. Try for a 50-50 split but live with a 60-40.
Stick the index finger of your left hand into the split to hold open a loop. A note on threads: some are easier to split than others. For this fly, I used Danville Flat Waxed Nylon, which as the middle picture shows, spreads out quite nicely for splitting. The popular Uni threads are a bit harder because they are bonded, but if you stroke them quite a bit with the bodkin, the adhesive seems to loosen up and they can be split. Couldn't we do this with a dubbing loop? Yes we could, but keeping things tightened up and under control is easier using this method.
Previously we have taken a large paper clamp (I favor the Esterbrook (R) style, but the bulldog style is OK too.) and grabbed a bunch of marabou fibers from anwhere along the stem (as seen in the picture left), and trimmed them loose with scissors, leaving about a 1/4 inch showing for insertion in the thread loop.
Insert them in the loop as close to the hook as possible (as seen on right) and withdraw the finger. Keep tension on the thread with the bobbin and carefully open the clamp. If the fibers need a bit of positioning adjustment, it can be done here.
Hold the thread with fiber in it out horizontally with the thumb and finger of your left hand, hanging the bobbin. Spin it clockwise quite a lot with your right hand. When it is spun enough, bring the bobbin up to horizontal, putting tension of the thread and let go with your left hand. The fibers will spin into the hackle we want (as seen on left). Drawing the excess thread back on to spool will tend to spin it up a bit more. The reason for holding it horizontal is to keep the fibers from hanging down and tangling with each other.

Wrap the hackle forward, folding the fibers backward with each turn. A bit of combing action with a bodkin is helpful for disentangling the fibers. The butt ends of the fibers get folded over in the wrapping process so that the fibers will break rather than pull out, making it a quite robust fly. After all of it is wrapped, more of the same or a different color can be constructed and wrapped (see below).
Of course we don't have to limit ourselves to just marabou. Here the fly is finished with a crystal flash hackle made the same way. The same game can be played on a much smaller scale to make CDC hackle for dry flies without having to cope with the relatively bulky stems. A couple of CDC feathers can be layered together before grabbing them with the clamp to get a quite dense hackle.
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