The aim of this blog is to connect fly-tyers all over the world, to share, techniques, patterns, information and knowledge.

Archive for February, 2016

The Rolls Royce of Hair Stackers?

Recently I have been trying these absolutely fabulous multi hair stackers from Andi Lofflmann in Bavaria. They are not the cheapest hair stackers on the market, but when you get one in your hand you quickly understand why! They are so beautifully made. I have found them very useful when tying many flies of the same pattern, you can prepare the deer hair for four flies at once. Or when you are tying a pattern that requires several bunches of hair, you can stack them all at once.


Andi’s small and medium multi stackers

I believe they are available in three sizes, S,M,L, and the Price for the small one is 42€ but these are things of beauty and will last you a lifetime!

For orders and more info contact:



Friday’s Fly Tying question!

This is a photo I took recently of a not so often fly tying related tool. Does anyone know what it is?




Stingsild bucktail streamer



Although the recent tendency for tying and designing sea trout flies has gone more towards imitation patterns, some of which are extremely realistic, I am constantly drawn back to some more traditional styles of tying, that never stop producing fish. This is one of them!  This extremely simple pattern is so effective on autumn sea trout that for the past few years at least a couple of dozen have to be tied for my box.  During the summer months the Mickey Finn, another classic buck-tail streamer, is an outstanding pattern on bright sunny days, but falls short when fished in the autumn. I wanted a pattern that would fish as well in the dark grey autumn months, this was the result.

Stingsild Buck-tail streamer

Hook          Mustad S71SS salt water streamer # 4-6

Thread      Dyneema

Body         Holographic tinsel

Throat    White buck-tail

Underwing   Four strands of gold Gliss n Glow

Wing      Light brown buck-tail with darker brown buck-tail over

Topping   Five or six strands of peacock herl

Eyes    Edson brass eyes

Head    Black



Insert your salt water streamer hook in the vice with the hook shaft horizontal.


Run your tying thread along the hook shank until you come to a place between the hook point and barb.


At the tail of the hook tie in a length of holographic flat tinsel. Unlike salmon and exhibition flies this tinsel body should be uneven, I want to achieve the most reflective multi faceted surface as possible. So the foundation of thread doesn’t have to be flat!


This is also a fishing fly so strengthen the tinsel body by coating the thread foundation with varnish before you start wrapping the tinsel.


Wrap the tinsel over the whole length of the body and wipe off any excess varnish that may flow on to the tinsel. tie off.


Turn your fly up side down and tie in a small bunch of prepared white buck-tail. This should extend about one half of the hook length beyond the hook bend.


Trim off the excess buck-tail and tie down the butts with a few turns of tying thread.


Tie in four short lengths of gold Gliss n Glow on top of the hook shank.


Now clean and stack a small bunch of light brown or tan buck-tail and tie in on top of the Gliss n Glow.


Repeat stage 9 but with a darker brown buck-tail That extends a little longer than the light brown.


Cut five or six lengths of peacock herl from just under the eye on a peacock tail feather. Tie these in in one bunch for the topping, again a little longer than the buck-tail wing.


Take two Edson brass eyes, you can substitute these with jungle cock but the effect is not the same.


Trim down the brass eyes with wire cutters as shown.


Secure the eyes one each side of the head with a few turns of tying thread. Before you continue to tie in the eyes apply a drop of varnish to hold everything in place.


Wrap the head with tying thread and whip finish. Coat the head with black varnish.  Now wet your fingers and soak the entire wing and pull it back to give it shape.


Once the wing is wet and shaped let it dry, it only takes a few minutes.


Once dry the wing will hold its shape.


A batch of Stingsild soon ready for the salt!

Magic Head Flat wing



Magic head flat-wing

An extremely easy yet effective pattern for Bass and salt water sea trout.

The modern flat-wing stile of salt water streamer was developed by the American fly tyer and artist Kenny Abrames. He recommends at these streamers are fished on the drift or with a extremely slow retrieve or a combination of both! When fished in this manner the flat-wing creates the illusion of volume with a rippling swimming movement even if they are so slightly dressed. Its important that have constant contact with your stripping hand and the fly line and let the current and wind take care of presentation. Rhody Flat wing a variant of the original was developed by Bill Peabody, a well know fly tyer from Rhody Island in USA. This pattern was made for stripped bass, but has also proved to be an excellent pattern for many other salt water species two of these are our own sea bass and sea trout. One of the great design features of the modern flat-wing is the tying possibilities to taylor to personal requirement’s for size and materials. But remember they should be lightly dressed, if over dressed they will loose their fantastic swimming qualities.

If you are fishing areas with little or no current you can use a Marc Petitjean Magic Head. The magic head can be used in several different ways. You can fold the head backwards over the streamer head like a silicone fish head. But its when you pull the magic head out over the hook eye like a dog cone collar it becomes a very different fly! This creates a side to side swimming action rather like a wobbler that you wouldn’t believe was possible, before you see it for your self. If not really magic, it has an extremely high attractor factor.

Hook: Mustad S7oSZ, # 8-2
Head: MP Magic head
Tying thread: Dyneema
Tail: White buck-tail, one long olive saddle hackle and five strands of Gliss N Glo
Body: Mother of pearl Body braid
Underwing: Gold buck-tail
Overwing: Green, bucktail blandet sammen
Throat: White buck-tail
Topping: Seven or eight long peacock herl fibres
Cheeks: Synthetic Jungle cock


Secure your hook in the vice with the shank horizontal.


Choose the appropriate magic head size for the hook you are using.


Slide the magic head over the hook eye as shown.


If you are using a down eyed hook or have difficulty in getting the magic head over the hook eye, firstly place the points of some scissors into the cone to open the collar a little.


Then reverse the cone while still on the scissors.


Place the cone over the hook point and slide up the hook shank.


Attach your tying thread to the hook shank.


Secure the cone, firstly with a few loose turns of thread and then tighter as you go.


Cut a small bunch of long white buck-tail the one I am using here is Spirit River UV2 buck-tail.


Tie in the buck-tail as shown for the tail.


Select a long olive saddle hackle.


Tie in the saddle hackle on top of the buck-tail.


Select the desired colour of Gliss N Glow.


Tie in a few strands a little longer than the buck-tail.


Cut a short length of body braid.


Tie this in at the tail base and wrap your tying thread forward towards the hook eye.


Wrap the body braid over about 2 thirds of the hook shank and tie off.


Flip the vice over and tie in another small bunch of buck-tail for the throat.


Flip the vice again and tie in the first bunch of gold buck-tail for the wing.


On top of the gold buck-tail tie a little smaller bunch of green buck-tail.


From just under the eye of a peacock tail feather select your peacock herl. Try and tie these in so that they all flow the same way.


For fishing flies I prefer to use synthetic jungle cock, this one from Veniard’s is by far the best I have come across.


Tie one JC each side of the magic head.


Whip finish and varnish the head.


The finished flat wing with a wet profile.


Tying the Detatched body mayfly

This is a simple but but effective mayfly pattern that fly tyers of any level can tie with a little practice. Once you have masterd this technique all you have to do is change the size and colour to match most mayfly hatches.

The chioce of colours and sizes of fly to be used when tying this pattern is determined by what mayfly you intend to imitate and under what conditions.  In still water fishing, trout can be extremly sellective when feeding on mayflies, they have good time to check them out before sucking them in.

Body form: Upholsterers needle

Hook: Standard dry Mustad 94840 # 16-10

Thread: Dyneema

Tail: Peccary or moose hair

Body: Flyrite dubbing

Wing: CDC fibres

Place the upholsterers needle in the vice. You can use a regular straight needle for this if you would like to make a body that lies flat in the surface like a spinner. The upholsterers needle can be bought from most good hardware stores.

Apply a little fly tyers wax to the area of the needle that you will use to make the body. This will make removing the body later much easier.

Attatch your tying thread and run a foundation of thread the full length of the intended body on the needle. I only use Dyneema tying thread, this is a multi filament thread that if spun in the bobbin anti clockwise will open the filaments and lie flat on the hook shank. If spun clockwise the filaments twist together and reduce the size of the thread down to 16/0. This thread comes in only one colour, white, but can be coloured with waterproof felt pens.

Sellect 3 long peccary fibres. I like to use Peccary fibres for the larger mayflies and moose hair for the smaller patterns. Tie in the peccary fibers as shown. Its a good idea to choose fibres that are long enough to run the full length of the body, and then some, this will make it stronger and more durable.

The dubbing that I use is flyrite, but you can use any synthetic dubbing that has long fine fibres. The long fibres help you wrap the dubbing around the needle and again make the body strong. If you use a straight needle, once you have tied in the tail fibers you can attatch the dubbing material and remove the needle from the vice. You can now roll the needle between finger and thumb of one hand while you feed on the dubbing with your other hand, this makes super fine and even bodies.

Attatch your dubbing to your tying thread and begin at the base of the body. Make sure that the dubbing is applied firm and even but not too tight, this will make it difficult to remove when finished.

Once you have made a couple of turns of dubbing you can now apply a little glue to the foundation of tying thread Copydex or super glue are best. The wax that you applied earlier will stop it being glued to the needle.

Now you can dubb the whole body. Make sure that you get the taper correct, and the right size for the speices you aim to imitate.

When you have finished your body tie it off at the base and make 2 or 3 half hitch finishing knots. You now place thumb and index finger each side of the body and carefully loosen the body from the needle by rolling it between your fingers and eas it off the needle. You will now see that the dubbing, tying thread and glue have merged into one hollowbody tube, that should have retained it’s shape.

Secure your hook in the vise and attatch your tying thread.

Half way down the hook shank you can now tie on your detached mayfly body.

Once your body is secure apply a little dubbing on your tying thread, and dubb the rest of the rear of the body. Again make sure that you take your time and get proportions correct.

Select a good bunch of long cdc fibres and tie these in almost paradun style to form the wing.

Once the wing is secure proceed with dubbing the rest of the mayfly body.

When the body is finished taper off the dubbing to form the head.

Whip finish and remove the tying thread. And there you have it, the finished cdc mayfly.

Front view.

Klinkhåmer Special

Its been a few days since my last post, so I thought I would get things going again with a truly modern classic, the Klinkhåmer. When I have held fly tying demos and courses for both beginners and advanced tyers there is always some who have questions about tying the Klinkhåmer. So here it is, the correct way, learn and enjoy.

An original Klinkhåmer tied by the man himself, Hans van Klinken.

An original Klinkhåmer tied by the man himself, Hans van Klinken.

Original recipe for the Klinkhåmer:

Hook:   Daiichi 1160, Daiichi 1167 Klinkhåmer hooks size 8-20

Thread:            Uni-thread, 8/0, grey or tan for body

Spiderweb for parachute

Body:    Fly Rite Poly Dubbing any colour of preference or Wapsi Super Fine waterproof dry fly dubbing for smaller patterns

Wing:   One to three strand of white poly-yarn depending of the size and water to fish

Thorax: Three strands of peacock herl

Hackle:             Blue dun, dark dun, light dun, chestnut all in good combination with the body colour.

It was 28 years ago in Norway on the 27th June 1984 that the first Klinkhåmer special was born from the vise of Hans van Klinken, for fishing Grayling in the river Glomma. Now regarded as an absolute standard pattern for all trout and grayling fishing all over the world, and is probably the best and most adaptable emerger ever made.


Hans says:

I never have seen any pattern that has been spelled wrongly as much as the Klinkhåmer Special. I have no idea why. In Germany they call it the Nordischer Hammer or Klinki. In the States they seem to prefer the Clinck and I often get questions about all kinds of Hammers I have never heard of before. I guess I have seen Pinkhammers, Yellowhammers and even Bluehammers and those are just three out of of many. Of course I can’t deny that I felt really good when the Klinkhåmer Special got so many good reviews but I was most proud about the fact that it was nobody else than Hans de Groot who invented the name. The real name actually was the LT Caddis which was just one fly from my large LT series developed in Scandinavia between 1980-1990. So the Klinkhåmer Special is just a name Hans de Groot and Ton Lindhout came up with, probably after some drinks! Both were also members of our editorial staff of a Dutch fly fishing magazine at that time.

The following step by step is my rendition of this wonderful pattern:



Place your hook in the vice and cover the upper half of the hook shank with regular tying thread.



Cut a length of poly yarn and tie in at the post base as shown. You should leave a rather long length of poly-yarn over the hook eye, as the post, this will give you something to hold on to, when you wind on the parachute hackle later.



Trim the end of the Poly-yarn diagonally, so it will be easier to taper neatly down later for a finer body result.



Tie the  butt of the poly-yarn all the way down into the hook bend to form a fine taper.

Run the tying thread up and down the hook shank to build a proportional tapered body with the tying thread ending at the parachute post base. This is very important to achieve a slim delicate body.



Select and prepare the hackle. Tie the hackle stem in so that the stem creates a little more volume/taper on the upper body. Make sure that you have enough stripped hackle stem to tie to the parachute post later.



When dubbing the body of the klinkhåmer start dubbing your tying thread at the base of the parachute post and run the dubbing tapering down to the bend of the fly and widening in taper as you go up again towards the abdomen.



Run the remaining dubbing in front of the parachute post, this will support the front of the post and also lay a foundation for the thorax.



Tie in three long strands of peacock herl, points first at the rear of the abdomen., this helps the reverse taper of the finished thorax.   Position your tying thread just behind the hook eye.



Wind on the peacock herl to form the abdomen. Make sure that the turns of peacock herl are tight and even. Tie off the peacock herl behind the hook eye and whip finish.



Remove the tying thread and apply a little varnish to the head.



Now, if you have a true rotational vise turn the jaws so the hook rotates until the parachute post and hackle are in a horizontal position. Take the bobbin with the spider thread and attach it to the parachute post base. Tie down the hackle stem into the top of the base. Make a few tight turns of tying thread to brace the base of the post ready to accept the hackle.



Make sure your tying thread is tight into the abdomen end of the parachute post. Now carefully begin winding your hackle from the TOP of the post in tight even turns. Each turn moving closer to the abdomen.



Once the hackle is fully wound, while holding the hackle point in one hand make two turns with tying thread, the first to the right of the hackle point and the second to the left. This will secure the hackle correctly. Now clip away the remaining hackle point and whip finish as shown on the underside of the parachute hackle. When making your last remaining whip finish, just before you tighten the loop and remove the whip finish tool, place a tiny drop of varnish or superglue on the loop before you tighten it into the hackle base. This will secure everything.



All that remains to be done is to cut the parachute post to the required length.



The Klinkhåmer special as seen from above. The parachute hackle should be evenly spaced around the whole fly.

“The foil speaks, the wise man listens”


After many requests regarding my Gammarus pattern and where to obtain the foils heres a up dated re post with a little more info.


This photo was taken last week, while on a fishing trip to Shetland. Some of the small Lochs had huge amounts of gammarus and the fish refused everything else! Every fish we took in such Lochs where full to the gills with these small fresh water shrimp. Having a good imitative pattern proved to be seriously effective!


The fish that where feeding on Gammarus where in exceptional condition!

Some of you may have seen, that a couple of weeks ago I received some shrimp foils from ‘the fly people’ in Germany to test, they where very successful. After playing a little with them I reversed one and tied a gammarus pattern as this is one of my post productive for salt water sea trout. When Lutz, from the fly people saw my pattern, he asked what I would change on the shrimp foil to make it a gammarus foil ? I went straight to the drawing board and made him a sketch. Yesterday these prototypes arrived.


 This is a photo I took while fishing of the contents of a sea trout’s stomach, need I say more !

There where only six foils on the sheet so I haven’t had so much practice or opportunity to play around with the design but this is the result so far. If you would like more info about the foils or to order some, you can send an e mail to:

Hook:  Mustad C67SNP-BR # 12-6

Tying thread:  Olive

Feelers:  Pheasant tail fibers

Rib:  Fine copper wire

Shell back:  Gammarus foil

Shell back coating:  Bug Bond

Under body: Virtual nymph Seals fur

Legs:  Pheasant tail fibers


Secure your hook in the vice, make sure its horizontal.


Run tying thread along the whole hook shank and down into the bend.


Make a small dubbing loop at the tail of the hook.


Load a Petitjean magic tool with pheasant tail fibers, you only need a few for the beard so use the smallest tool.


Wax your tying thread, and run your tying thread to the hook eye. Spin the pheasant tail fibers in the dubbing loop.


Wind on the dubbing brush, making sure that you brush all the peasant tail fibers out with each turn so you dont tie them down wrongly. Tie off the dubbing brush.


Select the right size foil for your hook size.


Remove the foil from the sheet.


Tie in the foil by the small tag at the base of the feelers.


Make another dubbing loop a little larger this time and hang out of the way on your vices material clip.


Tie in a length of fine copper wire. This should be a few mm up from the dubbing loop as shown. This is so your first turn of rib will be in the correct position in respect to the foil later.


Dubb the whole body with seals fur. First a couple of turns under the copper wire and the over. The gammarus body should taper from thick to thin as you approach the hook eye.


Spin a larger amount than before of peasant tail fibers in the rear dubbing loop. Remember to keep them short. Wind in an open spiral to form the legs.


Tie of the dubbing brush at the head of the fly and brush down the legs each side of the body.


Now fold over the foil and tie down so it sits tight over the whole body of the shrimp.


Now wrap the copper wire rib in between each plate segment on the foil. But as you go brush out the leg fibers with each turn so you dont trap them and tie the down flat. Tie off the copper wire at the head of the fly.


You can now colour your shell back if required with a waterproof felt pen.

IMG_0636 18

Give the whole shell back foil a coat with Bug Bond. If your careful you can do each segment at a time to give it a more three dimensional effect. Rough up the fibers in the feelers and legs with a tooth brush.


The finished Gammarus.

The royal member of the Wulff pack

The Royal Wulff

Royal Wulff

As the name says, the man behind the famous series of patterns was Lee Wulff and the most famous of all is the Wulff that is Royal!

The fattest pattern of the Wulff family is just as good fished as a searching pattern as it is as a adult may fly. It just presses all the right buttons, It floats high, its visible even at a great distance in rough water and looks like a mouthful of whatever trout are eating. Although a great pattern, I hardly ever see people tying it!
Why is that? It’s a cracking looking fly. Don’t they think it works? or do they find it too difficult to tie? It is a fly that proportions are everything, get one of them wrong and the whole fly looks like the victim of a cruel medical experiment. So take your time in choosing and preparing your materials before starting and preserver to get the wing size and shape right first. Once you have these right the rest is easier to measure and tie correctly.

Hook: Mustad
Thread: Black
Wing: Whit calf tail hair
Tail: Moose body hair
Body: Bright red silk floss and peacock herl
Hackle:  Red brown cock hackle
Head: Black


Secure your 1XF (1 extra fine ) dry fly hook in the vice with the hook shank horizontal.


Attach your tying thread just behind the hook eye and wrap it about half way along the hook shank.


Take a white calf tail and separate a large bunch of hair. Tease the bunch out from the rest of the tail at 90 degrees from the tail bone as shown. This will even the tips of the hair. Cut off taking care not to damage the rest of the tail.


For stacking calf tail I like to use a super large stacker. This keeps the hair loose which evens the tips better.

Stack the tips. Remove from the stacker and brush out any short hair and under fur. Stack once more.


You should now have a nice bunch of even tipped tail hair for the wings.


The wing should be a little longer than the hook shank.


Tie the wing in on top of the hook shank about a quarter of the way behind the hook eye as shown.


Once tied in trim off the excess at an angle tapering back towards the hook bend. Lift the hair and make a few tight turns of tying thread under the front of the hair.


Separate the bunch into two even bunches and make a few figure of eight wraps of tying thread to separate them.


Now make a few circular wrap of tying thread at the base of each wing as you would on a parachute post. This will stiffen the wings and hold them in place.



Once the wings are secure and in the correct position (90 degrees ) from the hook shank, apply a drop of varnish to the wing base wrappings.


Now tie down the remaining calf tail hair towards the tail.



Select some nice moose body hair, preferably straight, dark, and stiff with nice tapers.


Cut a bunch of about 20 hairs. Remove the under fur, short hairs and any hairs that are not black.


Stack these in a small hair stacker so the tips are nice and even.


The tail should be the same length as the hook shank tie the tail in and try to keep the body relatively even. The wraps of tying thread at the tail base should not be too tight, this will over flair the tail making it fan out.


Select three long strands of peacock herl. These should be tied in at the base of the tail by the tips of the herl.


19 Run your tying thread up the hook shank. You can if wished keep your tying thread at the tail base and twist it with the herl before wrapping to make it stronger and more durable.


Make a few turns of peacock herl, the amount can vary after what size hook you are using. And tie off.


Wrap the remaining herl with tying thread along the hook shank to the forward position of the next herl segment, this should be just over half way along the hook shank.


Select some bright red silk floss.Real silk floss is much easier to use than a synthetic floss!


Tie in a length of floss as shown.


Carefully wrap the floss over the abdomen taking care not to twist it, this is worth taking time over if you haven’t done much floss work before. Once you have built a nice even tapered abdomen tie off the floss at the base of the peacock herl.


Again make a few wraps of peacock herl a little thicker this time and tie off.


Select and prepare a couple of red/brown hackles. One hackle unless a saddle hackle will not be enough to give the dense sense of hackle. The hackles should be a little longer than the hook gape but a little shorter than the wing hight.


Tie in your hackles tight into the peacock herl at 90 degrees from the hook shank.


Now wrap your hackles one at a time taking care not to cross them. try and keep the hackle fibres 90 degrees from the shank, both above and below. Tie off the hackles and whip finish.


Finally give the head of the fly a drop of varnish.

Royal Wulff


Here’s a classic dry fly for Friday, I’ll be posting the full step by step for the Royal Wulff later today.

British Fly Fair International Weekend

It’s that time of year again and this weekend I will be tying at The British Fly Fair International I will be tying Salt water patterns for Bass and sea trout. I will also be doing a demo in the fly tyers theatre on Sunday at 11.00. If you have a free day and are in the area it’s a great show with loads of great tyers, so please call in and say hello. You can check out the program and exhibitors on the link above.


Bradshaw’s Fancy

Keeping on a grayling theme heres one of my absolute favourites, Not only to fish with but also to tie. All these patterns from bygone days are remarkably simple, but still require a degree of  technique to master them precisely.


One of the peculiar characteristics of the grayling is that they have a preference for flies dressed with a hot spot of red in their make-up, probably the most famous is the red tag, but here are a few more, older patterns that still get the job done.

Bradshaw’s Fancy

Hook: Mustad
Thread: Veevus Red 12/0
Tag: Red floss silk
Body: Peacock herl
Hackle: Grey Cock hackle
Peak: Red floss silk
Head: Red


Secure your dry fly hook in the vice with the hook shank horizontal.



Attach your tying thread and cover the whole hook shank.



For the tag and peak, choose a nice deep red silk floss.



Cut 3 or 4 , depending on size of hook you are using, short strands of silk floss and place them together. Tie in the floss over the full length of the hook shank.



Now take 2 or 3 strands of peacock herl, the best ones for bodies are directly below the peacock eye on the tail feather. These are normally stronger than further down the feather. Tie these in by the points at the base of the tag.



Now wrap the peacock herl in tight even turns along the whole hook shank taking care not to twist or overlap them. This will give the best results.



Make a whip finish and remove the excess peacock herl. Now select and prepare a grey cock hackle and tie this in 90 degrees to the hook shank.



Now wind on your hackle in even turns each wrap tight into the previous. Tie off and remove the excess hackle.



Whip finish and remove the tying thread. Trim down the tag and the peak to the desired length. Place a drop of clear varnish on the head.


The Red Tag


The Double Badger


The Grayling Steel Blue Bumble


The Grayling Witch


The treacle Parkin


Sturdy’s Fancy


And last but not least the Gloire De Neublans, this was Charles Ritz’s number 1 grayling pattern.

Dry or Die

Hackle traditionally arouses the greatest passion amongst fly tyers. Cock (rooster) capes of particularly good or rare colour and those with sufficiently short barb length to enable small dry flies to be tied have always been prized.



In the 60s and 70s it was a common complaint that good dry fly capes where scarce – to the extent that many of the “traditional” natural colours were virtually unobtainable. Dyeing and other methods such as blending two hackles were used to replicate difficult colours specified in old patterns.


Things have improved dramatically since then, due to the efforts of specialist breeders and modern techniques of fowl husbandry. Many traditional colours have re-apaered in qualities that far exceed anything that was obtainable in the past. These developments come at a price however and the tyer will have to pay for top quality cock cape or saddle from the best known American ‘genetic’ hackle farms.

The dry fly cape is a tyers most prized possession, I have seen friends trip right out over obtaining that special cape or saddle in that very unique colour. There is a whole load of mystique that surrounds the hackle, without doubt the most used material in fly tying, no matter how you look at it, it has so many applications, tails, dry fly and streamer wings, quill bodies, feelers, palmered, parachute, paraloop and traditional hackles just to name a few. But what do you look for when choosing dry fly hackle?


Buying hackle:

You should always remember that all hackle is a natural product and no two capes or saddles are the same.

When choosing any cape particularly one with a hefty price tag it is well worth selecting very carefully. Capes come from individual birds each with distinctive characteristics. One cannot expect the sort of uniformity one would find in bags of sugar from a supermarket. Although the only option for some tyers, internet purchases of hackle should be avoided at all cost.

If it is possible, however, it is a far better proposition to visit a specialist dealer with an extensive stock of quality hackle through which you can rummage. So if you have a local store or one you visit often, ask to be updated as to when they expect their next big order coming in. Do not simply take the first of the rack in the shop, but look through the whole pile and pick the best of the bunch. Most high quality hackle comes in re-sealable bags and one can only really gauge a capes quality by taking it out of the packet and man handling it, preferably in natural light. Only through close visual and tactile scrutiny can one fully appreciate the qualities in a cape and hackle. Indeed this is true of all natural fly dressing materials.

An appreciation of quality hackle comes only with practice and viewing and handling many kinds and grades of hackle over time. Some of the most important points to look for are:



This is usually the first consideration. The best capes have even and uniform colour that conforms to one of the colour designations referred to later. It is worth noting however that where a cape lacks uniformity of colour or is of a ‘nondescript’ colour it may still be of excellent quality in all other respects. Such capes are often less expensive and can be used as they are or used for dyeing.



The healthiest and strongest birds produce the best conditioned feathers. Dr Tom Whiting owner of Whiting farms has said that when choosing birds for breeding he considers not only colour and quality but also the character of the birds. No matter how good a colour a bird may appear to have a poor spirited bird will not get a good deal in the pecking order thus its health and condition – and therefor feather quality are unlikely to be the best. Such a bird rarely produces top quality hackle or makes a contribution to the bloodline.

The overt appearance of a cape is often a good first indicator of general condition if not ultimately of quality. Birds in good health and condition seem to ‘glow’ and the individual feathers are clean and springy. Poor condition often manifests itself as a tatty pecked appearance with thin spots possibly indicating poor diet infestation or disease.


Feather count:

It is clearly desirable for a cape to have as many feathers of a useful size as possible. Some indication of feather density can be gained just from feeling between finger and thumb the thickness (depth) of a cape where the back of the cape starts to widen (shoulder) proper. Bending the cape at this point will make the feathers fan and stand proud from the skin and separate. By doing this individual hackle can be examined and some assessment made of the numbers and size distribution.

The best quality capes have high numbers of hackles with barbs short enough to tie the tiniest dry flies. These capes demand the highest prices. So if you are tying larger patterns its clearly pointless buying expensive hackle in mostly size 22-28’s. Indeed if ones tying mainly involves size 10-16 then a lower grade cape will not only be cheaper but may have better and more hackle in the size needed.

Usable hackle length:



You should look closely at the characteristics of individual hackles. The best cock hackles furnish the highest barb count and density along the shaft (stem) and which provide the longest portion of ‘usable hackle’.


This portion is called the ‘sweet spot’ and is where ideally all the barbs on each side of the shaft are of a uniform length. The hackle shaft, the backbone of the hackle should also be fairly thin and flexible to allow easy bending for wrapping around the hook shank. Hackle shafts that are too thin will break easier and those that are to thick are inflexible and bulky when tied in. Hackle stems that are brittle – possibly through age or poor drying technique – are almost useless.



This Whiting Platinum Dry fly saddle has some individual hackles over 65cm in length!

The best hackles have a long sweet spot and high barb density along the shaft, allowing more hackle to be wound onto the hook with the minimum turns of hackle. The longest sweet spots to be found are on some of the super grades of saddle hackle. These are so long that many densely hackled flies can be tied from a single hackle.

Killer Bug and Chadwick’s 477

Heres another little gem of a pattern that may be one of the most simple flies ever tied!


The killer bug tied with the original Chadwick’s 477 reinforcing and mending wool.

This classic Grayling pattern from nymph expert and legendary river keeper Frank Sawyer still doesn’t disappoint, but if you follow Sawyer’s tying instruction, the killer or (grayling) bug as it was originally named, could and should only be tied with one brand and shade of wool, Chadwick’s No 477.


Although this wool is not produced anymore there are a whole load of substitutes to be found and the original wool cards occasionally come up for auction. Like several of Sawyers patterns, in the original he diddent use tying thread, only red coloured copper wire.

Hook: S80NP-BR (old ref. S80-3906) <>
Thread: Dyneema
Tag: Medium copper wire
Body: Chadwick’s 477 or any other pinkish grey darning wool



Secure your wet fly hook in the vice with the hook shank horizontal.



Attach your tying thread and cover the whole hook shank from just behind the hook eye to the bend.



Cut a length of medium copper wire and tie this in a little down the hook bend.



Now make 7 or 8 tight wraps of copper wire as shown for the tag. If you would like a heavier killer bug now is the time to add the extra weight.



Tie off the copper wire and remove the excess. Cut a length of your chosen wool and tie this in along the length of the whole hook shank finishing at the tag.



Now wrap the wool forward and back along the hook shank between the tag and the hook eye, but not too tight, the idea is that the body will absorb water. If you wrap the wool too tight this will be difficult. Once you have built up a cigar shaped body, tie off the wool behind the hook eye.



Trim off the excess wool and finish with a couple of whop finishes.


The proof of the pudding!

A magic moment

I just had to share this magic little film from The stroud water research centre.


Learn about water research at the Stroud Water Research Center – The education department teams up with our scientists to help spread cutting-edge knowledge from our labs in school, community, and professional development programs.

Mayflies are an indicator species for clean streams and rivers. Most mayflies lay their eggs immediately after mating and the eggs then take anywhere from 10 days to many months to hatch. Cloeon cognatum is an exception because it is ovoviviparous, which means that a mated female holds her eggs internally until embryonic development is complete (about 18 days), after which she lays them in water and they hatch immediately. This female was dropped onto the water surface moments before the video started. Video credit: David H. Funk