Here is the fly pattern sheet for the RiverKeeper Soft Hackle Cripple.

RiverKeeper Soft Hackle Cripple PMD |

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.

Mayflies in Film |

Here is a PMD and RiverKeeper Soft Hackle Cripple.

PMD with RK Soft Hackle Cripple |

And a Blue Wing Olive (BWO) version of the fly pattern, size 19. 

RiverKeeper Soft Hackle Cripple - #19 BWO |

Green Drake or Flav imitation.

RiverKeeper Soft Hackle Cripple - Green Drake |

Lastly, a March Brown

RiverKeeper Soft Hackle Cripple - March Brown |



Alec Jackson Soft Hackle, Daiichi 1310, TMC 102Y, or any standard dry fly hook


Uni 8/0 or Danville 6/0 – brown, tan, yellow (PMD), olive dun, march brown or black


Superfine dubbing to match insect


Thread or embroidery thread (optional)


Zelon – mayfly brown, olive brown, dun


Hungarian partridge, mallard covert feather

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.

Here is a link to my RiverKeeper Flies YouTube channel where I demonstrate how to tie the fly.

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, quail, 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 |

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 |

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





Grayish-olive or olive brown

Mallard covert feather





Mallard covert feather




Olive, ribbed with yellow or brown thread

Mallard covert feather

Green Drake



Olive, ribbed with yellow or brown thread

Mallard covert feather




Gray or tan

Hungarian Partridge

March Brown




Hungarian Partridge

RiverKeeper Soft Hackle Cripple Flies |

From top to bottom:

  • Green Drake #8
  • Green Drake – Flav – #12
  • Caudatella #15
  • PMD #15
  • BWO #19

Comparable hooks – I created a post entitled Comparable Fly Fishing Hooks where I discussed using Daiichi hooks instead of TMC 102y for this fly. Don’t get me wrong, I like the Tiemco hook, but wanted to find a Daiichi hook I could use and Alec Jackson hooks are made by Daiichi.

Tiemco 102y size 15 = Alec Jackson Soft Hackle size 11

Tiemco 102y size 17 = Alec Jackson Soft Hackle size 13

Tiemco 102y size 19 = Alec Jackson Soft Hackle size 15.

(Note: both of the hooks listed above come only in odd sizes, not the even size you may be used to.)

I looked at the Alec Jackson North Country hook which is a slightly heavier hook, so I settled on the 1X fine wire Alec Jackson Soft Hackle hook. In fact, I use them exclusively for the light bodies mayflies like a PMD. I find the black hook shows through light colored dubbed bodies.

You can certainly use a dry fly hook, but if you do, I’d recommend a 1X short. When I do, a Daiichi 1310 is my hook of choicel. 

I hope it helps.


  1. been awhile, since this is 23 not 2014, but anyway. AS far as shuck color or wing case or whatever we want to call it. For BWO you call for gray, BUT all the pictures don’t seem to have any color, so it must be a very light gray. or even clear/white. Can you clarify?

    1. Hi Brian

      I use Crinkled Zelon – Medium Dun for the underwing on a BWO, PMD, and Green Drake. I like to match the color so it’s similar to the hackle color I use for the fly. The color might not be obvious in the pics, but watch the YouTube video where I show the package.


  2. When all else failed, this fly fooled a couple sipping browns during a Pseudocleon hatch on the Delaware in the Catskills. It has a permanent place in my box! Thanks

  3. John, I don’t understand when you say you don’t use the brown zelon as a shuck but use it as an “underwing” !! Do you tie it as the thorax then tie in the feather or just let some of the zelon flow on top of the hook under the feather?? What is the purpose of that zelon??

    1. To me, a shuck is tied in the tail position. I’ve found fish take the fly without it. Feel free to add a tail if you like. I use Zelon in the thorax area to help keep the hackle from collapsing the wing. I try to use a similar color of Zelon to match the wing. It might provide a little bit of sparkle as well.


  4. John: do you ever put a shuck on your soft hackle wets, I do and I got the tip from a book by Sly Nemes who suggested using clear antron filaments . I see that you have a shuck color listed for each mayfly?

    1. Thanks for leaving a Comment.

      No, I don’t put a shuck on the fly. I fish it to imitate a mayfly cripple, not an emerger. And I fish it as a dry fly, dead drift. Sly’s soft hackles are designed to swing the fly and I too would add a tail to the fly in that circumstance. The shuck color is for the underwing and I try to match it to the wing color of the natural



  5. like the post very informative. I have a couple of mallard wings I picked up in an estate sale. Now I have a use for them. Yeah!

    1. Scott

      Thanks for leaving a Comment. I’ve used woodcock as well. Seems like I tie more flies with a gray wing and mallard or green teal work best for me.


  6. John, I’ve had good luck with your Riverkeeper soft hackle. It even coaxed a really nice rainbow to the surface that was not rising on the Metolius. The bamboo rod likes casting that fly, too. Great fun!

  7. Great and agree but a curiosity question. Yes, trout see mayflies from underneath (looking up into bright sun and sky) When I do that all I see is a black silhouette. How can the trout determine color???

    1. John

      Thanks for the Comment.

      Yes, I believe fish can distinguish color. I agree with your comment about how bright sun might eliminate the color selection. But, I have experienced trout refusing a fly only to select a different color and having them eat it. I’ve always said I wish I could be a trout for a short period so I could learn more.


  8. 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?


  9. Great flies. I was wondering how exactly you tie in the Zlon-on top, or around the hook as a collar?

    1. 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.


  10. 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!

    1. 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.

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