RiverKeeper Soft Hackle Cripple

RiverKeeper Soft Hackle Cripple - PMD | www.johnkreft.com And here are a few real Mayfly Cripples…note the profile of the wings laying flat in the water. The RiverKeeper Soft Hackle Cripple attempts to emulate this profile.

Mayfly Cripple

Here is a PMD and RiverKeeper Soft Hackle Cripple.

PMD with RK Soft Hackle Cripple | www.johnkreft.com

And a Blue Wing Olive (BWO) version of the fly pattern. 

RiverKeeper Soft Hackle Cripple - BWO | www.johnkreft.comGreen Drake or Flav imitation.

RiverKeeper Soft Hackle Cripple Green Drake | www.johnkreft.com

Lastly, a March Brown

RiverKeeper Soft Hackle Cripple - March Brown | www.johnkreft.com





TMC 102Y   #13 – 19 or any standard dry fly hook


8/0 brown, tan, yellow (PMD), olive dun, march brown or black


Superfine dubbing to match insect


Zelon – mayfly brown, olive brown, dun


Hungarian partridge, mallard


The RiverKeeper Soft Hackle Cripple is a style of fly that can be used for any mayfly cripple. Coordinate the thread and body color.


  1. Start thread on hook and advance to barb.
  2. Dub slim tapered body forward to a position 2 eye lengths back from eye.
  3. Tie in zelon on top of hook at thorax area. Tie in securely with 5 wraps as zelon is slick. Trim about 1/3 length of body.
  4. Prepare a soft hackle feather by pulling off the excess fluff. Feather length should be to the hook point, or slightly longer.
  5. Tie the feather in by the tips just behind the eye of the hook.
  6. After securing the feather on the hook with the shiny side forward, hold the shaft and bend towards eye of hook. This begins to break the shaft. Hold the shaft up, moisten fingers and squeeze or “fold” the barbules so they are perpendicular to the shaft. This action forces the barbs backwards and prevents over-wrapping of barbs.
  7. Wrap the feather forward with a wrap in front of a wrap.  Over hackle the fly – a typical soft hackle uses 1 ½ turns of hackle. Use 2 or 3 turns of hackle to complete the fly (larger flies may need 3 to 4 turns).
  8. Tie off the thick shaft on the side to fill in the space and create a small head.  Trim stem.
  9. Sweep hackles backward and add a few thread wraps to make small head.
  10. Whip finish.

The challenge in making an effective fly is to find the appropriate hackle for the fly. Early in the fly development, I used Hungarian partridge almost exclusively. Since then, I’ve experimented with chukar, duck (mallard, green teal), jackdaw, starling, golden plover, or any other upland game bird. Most recently, I’ve settled on the shoulder feathers from mallard wings for PMDs and Green Drake RiverKeeper Soft Hackle Cripples to match the dun colored wing of the natural. (See my post Preparing Hackle for Soft Hackle Flies for more information.)

Mallard Wing and Covert Feathers | www.johnkreft.com

The bobbin holder is pointing to the covert feather in the picture above. Below is a closeup of the covert feathers.

Mallard Wing - Covert Feathers | www.johnkreft.com

The number of wraps and stiffness of the feather is what makes the fly float.

Many bird wings have small, useful feathers at the leading edge (covert feathers) or where it connects to body. Preference would be for a feather that has a bit of body that will stand up imitating a dry fly wing.

Fishing the fly

Traditional soft hackles are usually swung as a wet fly.  I use it as a “dry fly/cripple” and try to fish it with a dead drift. Get the fly wet and apply Frogs Fanny on it so the fly sits in the film.  It looks like a cripple at this point.  When brushing on the Frogs Fanny, push the hackle back to get the hackle to stand up.  Also apply Frogs Fanny to the body.  If it sinks, put on more Frogs Fanny.




Shuck color

Body color



#16 – 24

Gray or brown

Grayish-olive or olive brown

Dark dun


#14 – 18





#14 – 16




Green Drake

#10 – 12


Olive, ribbed w/yellow thread



#14 – 18


Gray or tan

Hungarian partridge

March Brown

#10 – 12



Hungarian partridge


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8 thoughts on “RiverKeeper Soft Hackle Cripple

    • Thanks for your comment Steve.

      If we were talking about a single mayfly like a PMD, I’d say yes. Instead, think about which mayflies are hatching in the spring, summer and fall and match size, body and wing color. Follow the pattern sheet chart and start with the larger sizes for each mayfly imitation.

  1. Enjoyed you recent post. Informative, now if I can only be in the right place at the right time with one of your flies. Look out!

    • Jack

      Thanks for your comment. I tie the Zelon on top of the hook like a wing using 5 tight wraps. This will secure the slick Zelon.

      Good luck and experiment with different hackle to find the right look you’re going for.


  2. John

    I would like to use some of the above pictures of soft hackles in an article I am writing

    I would indicate I sourced these pictures from Riverkeepers.

    Can you email me about this?


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