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Bug of the Month: Soft Hackle Flies

Fly fishing is not just a hobby; it’s a timeless art form that connects anglers to nature in a unique and intimate way. One technique that exemplifies this artistry is the use of soft hackle flies. These flies, often underestimated because of their simplicity, bring a level of elegance and effectiveness to the fly fishing experience. In this blog, we’ll dive into the world of fly fishing with soft hackle flies, exploring their history, tying techniques, and some tips for how to effectively fish with them.

Brief History

Soft hackle flies have a rich history dating back centuries. Originating in England and Scotland, these flies were traditionally tied with feathers from game birds, such as partridge and grouse. Anglers quickly discovered the effectiveness of these patterns as they imitated a huge variety of aquatic insects in their nymph and emerging stages. Over time, this technique gained popularity worldwide, evolving into a versatile and successful method for catching a wide range of fish species.

Tying Techniques

The beauty of soft hackle flies lies not only in their history but also in the art of tying them. Unlike more intricate fly patterns, soft hackle flies are characterized by their simplicity, typically consisting of a sparse body and a soft hackle collar. The hackle used must be- by definition- soft. Partridge is one of the more commonly used, but mallard is a favorite of mine. Body material can be whatever you can dream up, but generally entails a dubbing ball or other built up thorax behind the soft hackle, helping to trap air.

Color is another way to add variety to your soft hackle fly. They can be subtle in mostly natural hare’s ear or pheasant tail colors and materials or be flashy attractors with bright purple or chartreuse dubbing balls or bodies. To make your soft hackle fly more closely imitate one specific insect, such as a caddis or a PMD, simply alter the colors and size.

Tying soft hackle flies can be a fun way to enter the world of fly tying as they are so simple to create but are also worthwhile for more experienced tyers as the patterns allow lots of room for creativity. Check out our video below with Covey Guide Neil Luehring and learn to tie three deadly soft hackle fly patterns.

Fishing with Soft Hackle Flies

Choosing to use a soft hackle fly can be a good choice in areas the getting a natural drift is difficult, such as wide sections of stream with multiple conflicting currents. It can also become a go-to fly when you’re not sure what specific insect the trout are keying into, as these patterns mimic a huge number of different bugs effectively.

When fly fishing with soft hackle flies, lifelike presentation is simple but essential. Start by observing the water and identifying likely holding spots for fish. When nymphing, either with an indicator or tight-line nymphing, choose your target area, cast upstream or across the current and let the fly drift naturally downstream, similar to casting a streamer. As the fly swings across the current, either dead drift or impart subtle movements by gently twitching the rod tip. Once the fly is fully downstream, slowly lift the rod before your next cast. This action mimics the movement of an emerging insect, enticing nearby fish to strike. Experiment with the speed and depth of your presentation until you find what works best.

In faster currents, consider using soft hackle flies with heavy beads or adding split shot to your rig to ensure the fly sinks to the desired depth. In slower water, opt for smaller, sparser patterns that delicately dance in the current.

If you see fish rising, or feeding right below the surface, throw on an unweighted soft hackle, either alone or with some floatant, and fish it right in the surface film. This can make picky emerger-eating trout pick your fly.

Pay attention to insect activity and trout behavior and adjust your fly selection accordingly (color, size, etc.) as soft hackle flies can imitate a variety of aquatic insects.

When it comes to setting the hook, it’s crucial to stay connected to your fly and be prepared for subtle strikes. Maintain a slight tension on the line as the fly swings downstream and be alert for any hesitation or movement that signals a fish has taken the fly. Since soft hackle flies typically have sparse hackle collars, hook sets may require a more delicate touch. Instead of a forceful strike, a subtle lift of the rod tip can be enough to drive the hook home without tearing it from the fish’s mouth. With practice and patience, you’ll develop a feel for the delicate balance between tension and responsiveness that leads to successful hookups when fishing with soft hackle flies.

Tap Into Tradition

Soft hackle flies are a perfect example of sometimes there is a reason that something has been around for so long in our sport. They remind us of the art of fly fishing and take us back to simpler days when all an angler felt they needed to catch a trout was a well-placed lifelike fly. With such a focus on the latest and greatest in the industry today, I hope you’ll take a moment, tie on a soft hackle fly, and experience the joy of catching a trout on a fly pattern almost as old as the sport itself.


  1. Lothar von Wolfseck on March 25, 2024 at 9:38 am

    Enjoyed the presentation.
    Many thanks


  2. Dan Milner on June 12, 2024 at 9:51 am

    Well done. Great video!

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