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I'm new to tying and am building up my kit. I'm about to invest in some quality Collins Capes and am unsure if I should be looking at Dun or other capes. I fish in in the high Rockies mostly with size 20-16 sizes. Starting in winter with midges (Size 22-24) and then moving on to BWO's 20-18, then to PMD's 18-16 and later in the season to larger attractors and Drakes. But my main interest is with these small sizes that I suspect are tied with dun capes. 

I'd appreciate any advice and an explanation or link that would help me discern dun from rooster cape would be valuable too.

 

Thanks

Mike

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Capes for tying dry flies all come from roosters. Dun is referring to the color of the feathers. Charlie doesn't have any pictures on his site of his colors, but if you search his capes at other retailers you can see some examples. 

 

I'd suggest looking at the color of the feathers for the patterns you most intend to tie and purchase those to get started. You could also consider buying the 4 cape grab bag from Collins Hackle farm. My understanding is if you let him choose the colors for the discounted rate, people tend to get a grizzly and brown cape with two additional colors.

 

Even better yet, give him a call and tell him what you are looking for. He's a pretty straight shooter and will be able to help. 

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31 minutes ago, MK19 said:

I'm new to tying and am building up my kit. I'm about to invest in some quality Collins Capes and am unsure if I should be looking at Dun or other capes. I fish in in the high Rockies mostly with size 20-16 sizes. Starting in winter with midges (Size 22-24) and then moving on to BWO's 20-18, then to PMD's 18-16 and later in the season to larger attractors and Drakes. But my main interest is with these small sizes that I suspect are tied with dun capes. 

I'd appreciate any advice and an explanation or link that would help me discern dun from rooster cape would be valuable too.

 

Thanks

Mike

As you know there are two hackle pelts, Capes (also called Necks) and Saddles.

The cape comes from the upper part of the chicken and has the broad range of sizes from smallest to the largest. Saddles come from further back and have longer feathers with a limited range of sizes.

Capes are more expensive than saddles.

However, the hackles on saddles are longer and you can tie several flies from one saddle hackle feather. So per fly, saddle hackle is the cheapest option.

The other difference between necks and saddles is that necks can tie a wide spectrum of sizes from the smallest to the largest dry flies. Saddles generally are centered on one size and with some smaller and large hackles so a saddle will usually tie 3 sizes of flies with most of the hackel center on the middle size. So when you buy a saddle you have to examine the range of sizes on the saddle.

Both hackles and saddles come in various "grades" and the higher the grade, the better the hackle. However,  hackles have increased in quality and the cheapest way to tie flies is with the lower grades of saddles for three reasons. Saddles are cheaper than necks,  saddles tie more flies per hackle feather than necks, and genetic hackles have become better overall so that lower grades of saddles tie good flies.

In your specific case, you CANNOT tie the patterns you want with one dun colored cape.

The PMD requires a the color of the particular PMD hatch you will be fishing, PMD naturals can come in a wide range of colors and with some size variations as well. They can vary from in the dun stage but also they are not the dun color in the spinner stage.

"One of the characteristics of PMDs that can be particularly maddening and confusing to fly fishers is color. That is, what color best matches the nymphs, duns, and spinners? Fly fishers, and especially fly tiers, spend a lot of time trying to match just the right color of the natural. But when you go into a fly shop there will be bins of PMD or other fly patterns of different colors. What gives? Well, if there’s one thing I’ve found from collecting aquatic insects for over forty years is that color is not a definite thing, even between individuals of the same species from the same stream, and PMDs seem to exhibit this color variability more than most.

https://flyfishusa.com/blog/Pale-Morning-Duns-Color-Me-Yellow-or-What

So before you start ordering hackle you to analyse exactly what colors and sizes of hackles you need.

Make a list/chart of the colors and sizes of the naturals in both dun (subimago) and spinner (imago) stages so you know the color and hackle sizes you need. Then make a list/chart of the hackle you need to imitate the those naturals. Then see what grade of hackle you can afford if you bought necks or saddles for those patterns.

It sounds to me that you will need at minimum 3 colors - black for the winter midges, dun for the BWO and at least one other color for the PMDs.

If I were you I would look into buying individual necks and saddles instead of both a neck and saddle of the same color. And I would look at different grades of hackle. Jim's Fly Company has the largest collection of hackle that I have ever seen and I suggest you give them a look.

https://jimsflyco.com/CapesAndSaddles/Cart-Brands.aspx?dID=4&b=1

 

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Here are two images of Rooster Saddles I have from Whiting Farms  The first shows a Grizzly (barred black and white,) on top, and a Dun (smokey gray) on the bottom.  

The second shows the same Grizzly saddle on top and a Dark brown saddle on the bottom.  These are 3 of the top colors used by a lot of tiers.  For me they are the top 3.  

The difference between a Neck Cape and a Saddle Patch is in the length of usable hackle, and the range of sizes on either the Cape or Patch.  Neck Capes will have shorter usable hackle, but a much larger range of sizes.  A Saddle will have a much longer set of hackles in a much smaller small range of sizes.    Good Whiting Saddles will have a 3 to 4 size range of hackles.  The And Grizzly and Dun Saddles pictured are in a 16 to 22 range,  They are long enough that I can tie up to 6 flies on the Grizzly and 9 flies on the Dun.  As you die more flies on the same Saddle, the barbs will get shorter, so the last few flies would need to be in a smaller size.

These 3 Saddles are at least 25 years old, and still have a long way to go.   I tie tiny 20 to 22 size midges with both the Grizzly and the Dun colors.  I also have a "White" (is actually a very light cream color that is this small which I use for stacked hackles in 16 to 20 sizes.    All together I have more than 30 Whiting Saddles and about 20 necks.  They are old, and acquired back when I was tying custom orders.  I no longer do that so what I have will last as long enough to outlast me.   

IMG_4625.JPG

IMG_4623.JPG

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Try not to over complicate this. In the case of Charlies Collins the determining factor for grading his necks...number of feathers. The grade 1, 2 or 3 necks are of similar quality...but like I said just vary in the density and number of feathers. His prices are VERY fair and he includes the saddle from the same bird with every neck.

He is a great guy, totally honest and I think his necks are the best value available for the money.

Go to his web site for Collins Hackle Farm for details. No worries about no pictures. He guarantees your satisfaction...period.

George

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I am not and don’t care to be a feather inspector/grader. I do know I have capes with sizes of feathers I will probably never use because I used up all the sizes that I do use. Buy the hundred packs in the size you desire. Cheaper in the long run for me since I don’t production tie or use that many tiny flies. 

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3 hours ago, MK19 said:

mostly with size 20-16 sizes. Starting in winter with midges (Size 22-24) and then moving on to BWO's 20-18, then to PMD's 18-16 and later in the season to larger attractors and Drakes

I've found that traditional hackled dries are not nearly as good for these hatches as the alternatives. You can fill a nice fly box for those tailwater / spring creek bugs with rs2's, comparaduns, sparkle duns, hanging midges, and zebra midges, all without buying a single piece of rooster hackle. 

Rs2: https://flyfishingthesierra.com/rs2.htm

Compara- & sparkle duns: https://flyfishingthesierra.com/spardun.htm

Hanging midges:

https://flyfishingthesierra.com/chrionsus.htm

Zebra type midges

https://flyfishingthesierra.com/zebra_midge.htm

That site also has sections specific to bwo and pmd dries and nymphs for life cycle type tying.

Little Griffith's Gnats do work great on midges, but the size is not so demanding. Maybe a single 20 or maybe 22 whiting grizzly hundred pack. 

If you do go the hackle route, in those small sizes you'll want to use Whiting, and you'll want to be very sure of what you need and what you are actually getting. 100 packs are not a bad option to avoid beginner purchase errors if you do go the hackle route.

For larger attractors go with capes or half capes, probably grizzly and brown. Whiting's intro pack with grizzly, brown, dun, and either light ginger, cream, or black is a decent option. Those will also get you a decent number of the little hackles in the colors you need for pmd's and bwo's and Griffith's, maybe even other small hackled midges.

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Wow. Just wow. But it's overkill for what the op's looking for,.

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For tying size 16 down i would suggest getting saddles instead of necks (cape). Unfortunately collins saddles wont tie down to midge size, like poopdeck and chugbug said grab a 100 pack from whiting in the color and size you want and give that a try.

pic of whiting bronze neck and a bronze midge saddle

DSC_0001_(2).thumb.JPG.77c24eb0fe101da8a5883d426f4ba314.JPG

top hackle is the longest size 18 i could find on the neck (most are half the length), can tie  3 flies with that hackle most 1 or 2 flies, a collins will be half the length so you only get 1 fly and working with hackle pliers

middle is of the bronze grizz  saddle size 18, can tie 6to 8 flies out of 1 hackle with no need of hackle pliers. That saddle ties size 18 to 22 with a few over and under.

bottom is whiting gold midge size 18, tie a dz with that one

1998284148_DSC_0005(2).thumb.JPG.4326743e42edfd684ea15966696be3d4.JPG

i separated the size 16 on down on the cape, every hackle below the coaster will tie size 14 to bigger, so you can see the smaller the hackle size the shorter it gets on a saddle they will all be of equal length

1510073339_DSC_0003(2).thumb.JPG.1cae72c7e286e2abed9b01d46cd3a5ee.JPG

gold grade vs bronze midge saddles

DSC_0008_(2).thumb.JPG.b03bebd579ba404d7e05985b683b3b21.JPG

 

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In 40 years of fly tying I've seen a lot of hackle. It pays to learn how to "grade" hackle and I think anyone can learn to do it.

So grading necks is a matter of actually taking the necks and saddles out of the package and inspecting them for barb length, barb density, and whether the stems will twist when wrapped, etc.

I always take a white lined 3x5 index card with me. I use white unlined side as a background when I spread the hackle feather to gauge the hackle length and quality. A white background really helps as does a pair of reading glasses for magnification. It helps me see any subtle irregularity in the hackle like curved tips.

The lined side of the 3x5 card can be used by beginners for measuring hackle sizes by placing marker vertical lines on the horizontal lines of the card for the hooks you actually use. Place the hooks on the horizontal lines on the card and mark and label the sizes. Then you will have a hook gauge that is customized for your own hooks.

You can also use this gauge for choosing which hackle to pull of the neck or saddle to use when tying.

Without removing the feather from the neck, bend individual feathers into an arc and compare the length of the individual hackle fibers against the 3x5” white card or home made hackle gauge. I don’t need a gauge but a beginner should use one. Measure the feathers at the top (narrowest) portion of the neck to see what the smallest fly can be tied. Also estimate the number of those feathers on the the neck.

Better hackles have minimal webbing at the base. You don't want to use that portion of the hackle which has over 20-25% of its length taken up by webbing so only that portion of the feather that has less than this is useable. So grade the neck by the length of the USEABLE hackle and not the gross feather length.

Note also the density of hackle fibers per length of feather. Denser hackle requires fewer turns to get the same floatation. Also look at the tips of the individual fibers. They should not be hooked but straight and sharp. Gauge the stiffness of the hackle by pushing against your lips which are more sensitive than your fingers. Stiffer is better. Try to get some sense of whether the hackle stem will twist when wound around a hook. The longer feathers will give you a sense of this when bent into an arc.

Check the coloration of the neck. It should be consistent without mottling if possible. Look at the feathers underneath the surface feathers to see if there is color variation. Another part is knowing what the color looks like on the cape or saddle and what it looks like on the hook. Because the feathers are layered, the colors are darker on the skin. Pay attention when you tie to the color on the skin and the color on the hook when you tie. Then pay attention to the color on the skin and how they actual feather looks like when separated and bent when you are grading the hackle.

If you can take the hackle package to a window that has some natural light coming in, you will get a truer impression of the color that under artificial light.

Learn by handling necks and saddles so you know what the grades are and how they differ. It is experience. For me, I look for necks and saddles that are under graded. I want an cheaper neck or saddle that is better than it's price and grade. I mainly buy prograde necks and saddles because I know what I am looking for.

For example, if I need hackle for a size 14 dry fly (the most popular size) I look for a saddle that has lots of size 14's and relatively fewer 12s and 16s. For example, there will be pro grade necks with more 16 than 14s and I do not buy those. The ability bend a saddle and quickly tell the dominant size allows me to go through a bunch and pick the best one for me.

There is also a reason for a beginner to try pro grade necks and saddles. The reason is that the beginner needs to buy more colors of hackle than a long time tyer that already has a supply of hackle and is looking to add a specific size or color to replace or add to his supply. So for a beginner, they can get a wider selection of color and sizes for the same amount of money and get the best "bang for their buck".

 

 

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Maybe Sandan can give some advice as I know he fishes dries a lot and he may fish that kind of terrain

you’re talking about.  Just a note regarding Collins hackle  Charlie Collins is done and won’t be raising anymore 

chickens so he is selling his inventory off and when he’s done he’s done.  He’s got some good quality capes for

someone looking to get into dries with his commercial grade and some of his colors can’t be beat.  Sad that

Charlie will be out of the game. He was always fair and informative.  Sidling hackle has been raising some of his stock

so all will not be lost.

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Moshup you beat me to it. If the OP MK19 would give me a hint of where he's fishing I might be able to be specific.  Anyhow in my neck of the CO woods most of the mayflies I tie are in the 16-22 range. Caddis 14,16,18.  BWOs for hackle I think you would need med. dun for the early season 18s and 20s. Lt. dun for the late season 20 and 22s.  PMDs are larger 16 and 18. Lt. barred ginger, but it has to be light, would get the job done. For the color variations of the PMDs mentioned as well as BWOs that's what dubbing is for.  I also like grizzly for BWOs and for Adam's patterns. I've found that Adam's where I fish grizzly is enough. You don't need the brown. But for the caddis you do need the brown hackle.  So since we're trying limited sizes saddles are the way to go. You can sometimes find half and quarter saddles to save some $. For midges though black was mentioned and its good grizzly will do just fine.  In fact two of my favorite dry fly midge patterns are Matt's and Morgan's midge. Grizzly and dun respectively. Drakes, salmon flies and the other  outliers, as in not major long hatches. Go for the hundred packs in the size you need. You most likely won't need a full saddle of size 10-12 olive dyed grizzly for the relatively few green drakes you're gonna tie. 

Ok after all that.

Grizzly, lt. and med. dun, brown and a barred ginger. Saddles or the halfs or quarters. I think that'll take care of 85% of the dries you'll need here in CO.

Moshup, how was that? 

 

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Excellent. The OP should appreciate the extensive info you provided. Go with the boys that have

time on the water I always say. You’re one of them.

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