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Hackle confusion

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I'm beginning to feel a bit confused about the various types of hackle out there and what each is supposed to be used for. I have the following:

  • Genetic rooster cape
  • Genetic hen cape
  • India hen back
  • Strung saddle

It's my understanding that the rooster cape is for mainly dry flies. Would this be collars, beards, and palmering? Should I not use it for wet flies or does it also have a purpose there?


What about the hen cape? Those feathers are not quite as long, webbier, and have rounded tips. Are these used for mainly dry, or wet, or both?


I'm not seeing a huge difference between the India hen back and the hen cape but that' probably more me not knowing what to look for. How are those two different and what am I supposed to use each for?


The strung saddle I got at Bass Pro and it is really a lot shabbier looking than the other stuff that I have. Is that mainly for palmering large wet flies. Does it have a specific use than that of my other hackle?



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First, genetic just means the birds are specifically cross bred to get specific qualities in the feathers, as opposed to run of the mill, barn yard variety. Just because it's been genetically bred, does not mean the hackle is suitable for a specific type of fly. There are genetically bred birds that are for tying dry flies, and those that are for tying bass or saltwater type flies. Those folks that produce such hackle go to great lengths to get specific results. Genetic hackle is often more expensive than other types, but can be a good value to buy, as often there are more feathers, more feathers suitable for smaller size flies (dry fly hackle), and the stems & fibers are better suited for the tying technique such as wrapping the hackle on a dry fly. These are all qualities breeders try to get when they bred their birds. Also, they may be using steroids or other techniques to raise these birds, and as such the meats are not suitable for consumption. That's not the purpose anyway. They're raised for fly tying.


Rooster & saddle hackle both can be suitable for dry flies. Both can be better suited for other tying purposes. Depends on the feathers.

Hen hackle is usually softer than rooster, so yes, it's used for wet flies, nymphs, sometimes streamers & sometimes tailing for bass flies. It can have other uses, depending on the shape & size of the feathers.


India hackle, either necks or saddles are smaller birds than domestic, genetically bred birds, and are usually more of a barn yard variety. Meaning, as they grow, the qualities of the feathers are whatever they get. They are also from India, or Pakistan or similar geographic area, thus the name. There is also China hackle, which is from China.


Strung saddle is not usually suitable for anything but larger flies, such as streamers, bass flies, or Tarpon flies. Strung neck hackle the same. They're not dry fly quality. For most, the feathers are of similar size, so if you're tying a lot of the same size flies, strung hackle can be very useful. I tie with it a lot, since I primarily tie bass or saltwater flies.


When you purchase hackle, unfortunately, some folks will steer you wrong, and sell you something that you don't need. Buy from a reputable shop & you'll get your money's worth. Most will be more than glad to give you proper advise on hackle selection for your intended needs.


I once had a shop owner try to sell me dry fly hackle, when I was looking to tie bass flies. I knew the difference. He was strictly a trout angler and told me if I didn't fish for trout, I had no business with a fly rod. He didn't stay in business very long.


Hope this helps.

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  • Genetic rooster cape-dry fly hackle
  • Genetic hen cape-wet fly hackle
  • India hen back-wet fly hackle
  • Strung saddle-feather wing streamers such as deceivers and rangley style streamers

a good rule of thumb is if the barbs are stiff they are for dry if webby and supple they are for wet

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Because they come from the birds that produce today's superior dry fly hackle, genetic hen neck feathers are often stiff enough for tying dry fly collars.

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