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Could someone explain Hackles to me. When I see Partrige and Pheasant feather being discussed they are often referred to as soft hackles. When I see saddle and spade being discussed as a hackle the word soft is not often used.

I did notice that Patridge barbules have tiny barbules on them whereas this is not the case with strung saddle. Their Babules are smooth from what I see.    

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Hackles are feathers from birds, either domestic or wild.

There are stiff hackles also called dry fly hackles that are from roosters specifically bred over decades for fly tying. These are also called "genetic" hackles. The major brands are Whiting, Whiting Miner, and Metz. Dry flies are designed to float on TOP of the water.

https://www.fieldandstream.com/perfect-feathers-for-fly-tiers/

"Soft hackles" are used for "wet flies" that are fished BELOW the surface. The above brands also breed for "soft hackles" which come from the hens. Whiting has the Brahma line of "Chickabou" soft hackle feathers. Since the hackles are "soft" they move in the current and usually imitate the bugs that are in the process of "hatching" which are also called "emergers" OR they can be taken as small aquatic life forms.

Game birds skins from grouse, quail, partridge, pheasant, etc., are also used for soft hackle flies.

"Hackle" is also a generic term for spiky material that is wound around a fly to float it. Hence there are hair hackles that are formed from deer or elk hair that is formed into "hackle" using a dubbing loop.

http://www.garyborger.com/2012/05/28/cranefly-adult-skater/

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Hen and gambird (such as Partridge) hackles are soft and webby. This adds movement  in the water and makes them suitable for wet flies, soft hackle flies, nymphs etc. They are not so suitable for dry flies because they absorb and retain water and don't provide much support. 

Dry fly hackles come from roosters, usually bred specifically for dry fly hackles. The fibers are stiff and have little to no web. They don't absorb much water and provide support to help keep the fly floating. They can come form necks/capes or saddles. Saddle have much longer feathers but mostly in just a couple of sizes. Neck have a wider range of sizes but the feathers are shorter. Spade usually refers to specific feathers with longer fibers used for tailing dry flies. 

Edited by Jaydub
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I was going to ask about this a long time ago but I CHICKENED out, embarrassed by my lack of experience.  I take It that the dry flys are often found in patterns that sink, i.e. Wooly Buggers and more. 

I have developed and interest in fishing Soft hackles flies but was confuse as to what to call a "non-soft hackle". 

Thanks.

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56 minutes ago, Baron said:

I was going to ask about this a long time ago but I CHICKENED out, embarrassed by my lack of experience.  I take It that the dry flys are often found in patterns that sink, i.e. Wooly Buggers and more. 

I have developed and interest in fishing Soft hackles flies but was confuse as to what to call a "non-soft hackle". 

Thanks.

Dry Fly patterns float. Wooly Buggers are not dry flies.

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@Baron soft hackle come primarily from game birds and from hen capes. Collins has some nice hen capes at a reasonable price. If you have a hunting  club in your area those guys could provide you with a bunch gamebird skins.

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What I was asking is do we sometimes refer to a feather as a dry fly hackle, only to use it in a wet fly pattern. So I used Wooly Bugger as an example, its obviously a wet fly, but the feathers you use are essentially dry fly feathers. They're only sinking because of the accoutrements (i.e. hook, bead, lead).  In other words If you used the same feathers that you used to palmer down the bugger as a hackle for an Adams on a lite hook it would float. Whereas the game bird feathers, soft hackles lets call them, maybe with the exception of adding allot of flotant, will sink no matter how small of a hook you tie the feather onto.

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1 hour ago, Baron said:

I was going to ask about this a long time ago but I CHICKENED out, embarrassed by my lack of experience.  I take It that the dry flys are often found in patterns that sink, i.e. Wooly Buggers and more. 

I have developed and interest in fishing Soft hackles flies but was confuse as to what to call a "non-soft hackle". 

Thanks.

Maybe this confusion is from seeing saddle hackle listed in recipes for woolly buggers. Saddle hackle does not infer dry fly hackle. "Saddle" hackle comes from the back of a bird. It may be a dry fly quality rooster hackle, but not necessarily. For a woolly bugger, I wouldn't use dry fly hackle but I might use an inferior quality rooter saddle feather.  There are also hen saddles.

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This is a great question, and one I had trouble with when I first started tying.  Saddle feather, spade hackle, hen neck, genetic cape, schlappen, wet, dry, soft, stiff - whaaaaaaaaa?

Hackle is any feather or fur around the base/back of an animal's neck.  Dogs have 'em, birds have 'em.  I can feel mine when I go into vacant buildings with no electricity.  The hackle is raised when the animal gets angry or scared.  We also use the term when dressing a fly with feather or fur in such a way that the individual fibers stand out perpendicular to the hook shank/body of a fly.  We palmer or hackle the fly with a hackle feather.  Hackle feathers can be stiff (typically from a rooster or cock for dry flies) or soft (typical from a hen or game bird for wet flies/nymphs).  Saddle hackle, cape hackle, neck hackle, etc. refers to where the feather came from on the bird, be  it a rooster or a hen.  Cape hackle and neck hackle are synonymous and self explanatory, they come from the neck of a rooster or a hen, starting at the back of the head to where the saddle beings.  The saddle refers to the area on a hen or rooster where you would sit if chickens were big enough to ride, like on a horse.  Again, these feathers can be soft (from a hen, for wets/nymphs) or stiff (from a rooster or cock, for dries).  They can sometime refer to the shape of the feather, as in a spade hackle, usually used for tailing and not to be confused with spey hackle,  which I've always assumed to be synonymous with schlappen, located at the base of the roosters tail.  These are long feathers with long soft, webby fibers.  Strung hackle just means the feather has been plucked, prepared, and sewn into a band for easy handling, its usually longer feathers with longer fibers from the outside edge of the neck and saddle, but with less web than schlappen.  Good for wooly buggers as they are not real stiff, even though taken from a rooster.  

Now, the feathers of upland game birds, such as partridge, pheasant, quail, etc are soft with various webiness, and are almost always used for wets/nymphs.  Feathers used from these birds can come from various areas on the bird: neck, back, saddle, upper wing, or lower wing area.  If you like tying wet, soft hackles, the amount of useful feathers and the unique patterns on any of these game birds are hard to beat.  Also India hen necks are great for tying soft hackles, they're cheap and have an unlimited variety of colors/markings.  IMO they're particularly useful for someone just getting into the soft hackle, game. 

That's the basics as I understand them, and please correct me, anyone, if I'm wrong.  

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Here is my simplified breakdown. There are always exceptions. 

Gamebird:  Soft hackles, wet flies, nymphs

Chicken hackles:

                Hen (neck or saddle):  Soft hackles, wet flies, nymphs

                Rooster:

                                Genetic dry fly hackle from Whiting, Metz, Collins etc. (neck or saddle) : Dry flies

                                Spade hackle from a genetic dry fly source: Dry fly tails

                                Barnyard, Indian, Chinese, bugger packs, unknown origin ...: Wet flies, buggers etc.

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That was exactly the info I was hoping to absorb. Thanks for this lengthy treatise on feathers. Being new to tying I am trying to learn how to describe things.  I was not aware that rooster usually float. Most of what I have is strung saddle and is sparse in the webbing and so that is from a hen, all dyed. I have a bag of mixed pheasant that, I'm ashamed to say, I got at Hobby Lobby two yrs ago. They make nice little Bluegill flies. 

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Thanks JayDub, I'll save that. 

Holy Cats, I know something now, thanks so much to all. 

I'm 62 and its been 45 yrs since we had pheasants but I've butchered and thrown away the feathers for dozens if not hundreds before that. Wish I had those feathers now.

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I don't worry about where the feathers come from,  as long as they do the job. 

I get most of my pheasant feathers during upland bird season, but not usually from hunting.  I take the hound out to the WMA's on Sunday when no hunting is allowed, and he sniffs out the missed kills, and I scrounge what I can.  He's got a good sniffer, remarkable how far away he can detect them.  A few seasons ago I was out with him when he spooked up a live hen, she rose so quick she hit her head on a tree limb, cracked her skull, and landed dead at his feet.  Ha ha, he didn't know what to do.  I certainly couldn't let a good skin go to waste.  My mole skin is a gift from my cats.  

I just picked up a freshly hit groundhog this morning, going to skin it after dinner. 

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Ground hogs, They used to eat them around here. I saw a gorgeous muskrat on the lake a few days ago. I was envious of the coat he was wearing.🤣

 

I am slowly learning the terminology, its fun, and the hope is that I will be able to buy better and discuss things more accurately in time.

 

My dog just wants to fish. 

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