Partridge and Yellow Soft Hackle Fly and Text by Joe Cornwall
Video Production by Jim Stuard
Sylvester Nemes published The Soft
Hackled Fly (Stackpole Books, ISBN 0-8117-1670-8) back in 1975.
Prior to reading it I'd fished soft hackle flies regularly, but I had no idea
about the history and versatility of the pattern. For me this was the
"down-and-across" wet fly that I used while fishing back down to my car.
My idea of a soft hackle was really a sparse wooly worm (still a great
pattern and one we'll explore in a future Adventures In Fly Tying
column). Nemes opened my eyes to a completely different interpretation of this
important pattern. Nemes has since gone on to publish three
more books about soft hackle flies specifically and one about fishing
soft hackles for Atlantic salmon in Scotland. The lexicon has been further
expanded by works from Allen McGee
(see the review of Tying & Fishing
Soft Hackle Nymphs), Dave Hughes and many others. And prior to
Nemes' influential work there is a veritable cornucopia of books
describing hackle flies, sometimes known as North Country Spiders. I am
so enamored of this style of fly that I carry a small C&F Designs fly
box with nearly 30 dozen assorted soft hackles. They are that
effective! I'd rather leave home without my fly rod that arrive on
the river without my soft hackle box - if I'm fishing for trout.
Yes, this fly is thatgood. Tie a bunch and see for
Materials for the Partridge and
Hook Mustad 94840 or 94842, size 10 to 20
Thread .Pearsall's Silk Thread in primrose
yellow (green and orange are also excellent, and proven, colors)
The soft hackle fly is a very delicate thing.
It is sparse, almost painfully so. It's hard to believe that
such an elegant and simple pattern could be so effective. In
fact, this style of tying has been taking fish for nearly half a
millennium! If there is one thing you should take from this
article it's this: less is more!.
One of the
most important materials in a soft hackle fly is the body material -
the thread. While you can certainly use ordinary fly tying
thread, silk thread possesses unique properties that work to make the fly
more effective. When wet, silk will get much darker in
color and it picks up a lovely, and very life-like, translucency.
Don't skimp! Get Pearsall's Silk if you can. If you
can't, a good and inexpensive second choice is high quality silk sewing thread. Select a
color a shade or two lighter than the natural to account for the
change in color when wet. The Partridge and Yellow shown
here typically calls for a primrose yellow. If you are using
other silk threads try to fine one that is cream with a yellowish
In a fly with
just two or three materials I guess it's fair to say they are all
important! A partridge and yellow needs to be tied with
partridge. You can use the shoulder feathers of many game
birds to make soft hackles - quail, pheasant, grouse, hen, waterfowl
and starling are all called for in various patterns. By far the
most useful and important plume is the one that comes from a
Hungarian partridge. Buy a whole pelt - for about $30 you'll get a
prime skin which will tie enough flies to last a lifetime! For
the Partridge and Yellow I like the softer gray feathers. For
the Partridge and Green I use the darker, speckled brown feathers
Use these suggestions as a starting point.
If you decide
to tie a thorax-style soft hackle, use a fine, soft fur. Mole
fur is the classic material for this kind of fly and it makes a
great dubbing for dries and small buggers, too! You can buy
mole skins in a variety of dyed and natural colors and they are
typically very inexpensive. Ones skin in a dark brown will
last for many hundreds of flies. I'm not sure who the first
person to skin a mole was, but I'm sure he or she got a few strange
looks. It's kind of like skinning a field mouse. Thankfully, whoever it was was just nuts enough not to
care! That almost perfectly describes a fly tying nut, by the
thread right behind the eye and make smooth, touching wraps back
along the shank to a spot directly above the hook's point.
Don't tie back to the bend. Soft hackles look best with slim,
Here the body
is complete. Note how sparse this is. If you want to get
a slightly different effect you can under-wrap the hook shank with
white tying thread. This will keep the silk thread a lighter shade
when in the water and the color of the silk will be a bit more
intense. I often use this technique withthe thicker Pearsall's
Marabou, which is a fine, roped silk floss. On size 10 and 8
soft hackles (yes, I tie and fish them that large and so should you)
I can get an ideal body with one layer of silk over a white thread
base. Experiment to see what the fish in your area (and you) like
shoulder feather with barbs that are about as long as the entire
hook. The hackle should flow to the hook's bend. Soft
hackle flies are notable for long sparse hackles. This
sparseness and length is what creates the subtle motion that
imitates life so effectively. Tie the hackle in by the
prepared tip, with the concave side facing up. When you wrap
it you will wrap so that the convex side faces forward, allowing the
fibers to flow elegantly in a veil around the body of the fly.
Apply a very
little bit of soft fly tying wax to your thread. Only wax an
inch or so of thread. Remember, the wax will effect the color
of the silk when wet.
Clip some fur
from the mole skin and "touch dub" a tiny, tiny amount to the
thread. You don't want to tightly spin the dubbing, you want a
nearly transparent thorax that creates a darker area and holds the
hackles out in faster water. Don't use the dubbing to create
bulk, use it to create form.
Here you see
how small and sparse the dubbed thorax should be. Make one or
one-and-one-half turns of hackle in front of the dubbed thorax.
Never take more than two turns of hackle or you'll spoil the
lifelike motion of the fly in the water Again, less is more in
taken a turn of hackle and I'm tying it off with three tight wraps
of silk. Clip the hackle stem carefully and prune out any
errant fibers so you have a nice, flowing skirt of partridge
hackles. You're imitating six legs, keep it sparse!
Build a small,
neat thread head. When you are read to finish the head you can
use just a little bit of tying wax. Don't use lacquer or
cement if you're tying with silk, as that will discolor the head and might wick into the body
destroying the delicate translucency the materials provide.
A neat whip
finish completes the fly. You can tie soft hackles with
a minimum of materials and in a plethora of colors to imitate any caddis
fly, may fly, or midge found on your local flows. Soft hackles
are also excellent flies for smallmouth bass when they are keyed in
on caddis pupa during the post spawn period of late May and June.
Soft hackles are also very, very effective on picky late-season
bluegills! And, just for grins, try tossing a size 10 thorax soft
hackle in front of a tailing carp!!!