This week’s post is about teaching soft hackle flies, but before I get to that I wanted to make sure the non-tyers were taken care of as well. Be sure to read the end of this post about creating your digital fly fishing library and a Christmas present for one lucky subscriber. But first, don’t forget about the holidays!

Happy Holidays |

It’s less than a week until Christmas. Are you ready? Remember if you need a last minute item, check out the 2017 Fly Fisher’s Christmas List for a few ideas.

I had an opportunity last week to teach a fly tying class about soft hackle flies at the Central Oregon Fly Tyer’s Guild. I was asked specifically to teach my RiverKeeper Soft Hackle Cripple. It seems like people really like this fly…just as much as the fish!

RiverKeeper Soft Hackle Cripple PMD |

In addition, I wanted to provide a brief history about historic soft hackle flies as well. I recently purchased The North Country Fly: Yorkshire’s Soft Hackle Tradition (2015) by Robert L. Smith. This is a terrific book! It chronicles the history of soft hackle flies over three hundred years and provides assistance for today’s tyers to find substitute materials to tie the flies listed. I purchased mine from The Rogue Anglers website.

Soft hackle flies can be some of the simplest flies to tie. And they catch fish. Perhaps that is why fly fishers are still intrigued with these flies today. Some soft hackle fly patterns only use two materials for the fly…thread and a hackle. What can be simpler than that?

The materials used to tie many of the old soft hackle flies were silk thread and feathers from local game birds. I don’t think that’s a surprise to anyone. What has changed over the years is availability of these feathers. Many are protected these days. What I like about Smith’s recent book is he provides substitutes which are readily available to me. Examples include Hungarian Partridge, Bobwhite Quail, California Mountain Quail, Dusky Grouse, Ruffed Grouse, Sharptail Grouse,  Starling, and hen hackles to name a few.

Over the years, I was reticent to tie many of these flies because I thought I needed to obtain the proper materials to do justice when tying an older soft hackle fly. I think Smith’s book gives “fly dressers” permission to tie these flies using similar looking materials. He provides substitute materials along with pictures of the real feather so you can indeed find an alternative and feel good about tying a fly.

The mystique continues with the words Yorkshire and Wharfedale. But it’s simple. Yorkshire is a county in the north of England, hence the name: North Country Flies. Wharfedale is one of the Yorkshire valleys.

Spend a little time reading this book and many of the English terms begin to make more sense and I can translate them into ones which make more sense to me.

Yorkshire Trout Flies (1885), written by T. E. Pritt is one of the classics mentioned by Smith. It provides descriptions of the flies used during those times, along with the seasons these flies were fished. Pritt was touted as one of the first authors to do a good job presenting the soft hackle flies used in the North Country. In his book, you’ll find fly names like the Water-Hen Bloa, Dark Moorgame, and Little Dark Watchet that include words unfamiliar with American fly fishers, me included.

So let’s circle back to Smith’s The North Country Fly: Yorkshire’s Soft Hackle Tradition. Spend a little time with this book and these terms will start to become clear.

Since I mentioned Pritt’s book, I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you about creating your own digital library by downloading a few older fly fishing book.

I presented many of these books in an earlier post – Old Fly Fishing and Fly Tying Books that you may have read. I explained at that time the copyrights of these books have expired and are now available in the public domain. To make it easier for you to find the ever- expanding list, I created it’s own page called Links to Free Old Fly Fishing and Fly Tying Books.

Here is a list of recent books I’ve added to the list:

The Anglers Manual by John Turton (1836)
The Northern Angler by John Kirkbride (1837)
The Practical Angler by W.C. Stewart (1857)
American Angler’s Book by Thad. Norris (1864)
A History of Fly Fishing for Trout by John Waller Hills (1921)
Art of Angling by Charles Bowlker (1854)
The Art of Angling by Richard Brookes (1781)

Where can you find it? Good question. Look in the RESOURCES tab at the top of each page. It will be listed in the drop-down menu.

Lastly, I plan to make one of my subscriber’s Christmas a little more special. I’ll be drawing one random name from my subscriber list just after Christmas. The lucky winner will receive a dozen flies of my choosing. I’ll mail them to you after Christmas (for my continental US subscribers).

So if you aren’t on the list, fill out the information located towards the top right column on every page and click the SUBSCRIBE button.

You never know…it might be your lucky day!

Enjoy…go fish!


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  1. enjoy your Blog – regarding soft hackles you might want to reach out to John Shaner back here in the east – he is another soft hackle junkie – and has put together a nice little soft hackle / spider reference guide and does a great presentation on the subject at a lot of the shows
    send me your e-mail address and I’ll send you a copy

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