It took more than 50 years into my fly tying journey to purchase my first Cree hackle. I wanted one because every fly tyer is supposed to want one. They’re rare to find and expensive when you finally get the chance. I always wondered what it would be like tying flies with Cree hackle. I finally got the chance to find out. Even if you don’t tie flies, I encourage you to scroll down and view the images of the flies tied with Cree hackle.
The first Cree cape I was lucky enough to purchase was the Collins hackle found in the image above. It’s the one on the right. I’d purchased quite a bit of hackle directly from Charlie and from a friend here in Sisters who had a connection to him. One day, my friend showed up at my house with a box of Collins hackle and let me sort through the colors I wanted, and I purchased several from that box…a few hen capes as well. I especially like the barred dun natural colors when tying Green Drake imitations. Then he pulled out the Cree package and asked if I wanted to buy it. You bet!
I quickly put it in a drawer close to my tying desk and would pull the cape out occasionally to look at it. Should I pull a feather off and tie a fly with it? I think that was probably three years ago.
Fast forward to last year and an opportunity arose again to purchase more Cree. I purchased it during our fly fishing road trip last year. I buy most of my Whiting hackle from a shop on our travels…lots of hackle over the years!
I purchased hackle every time I ventured past this shop. If you’ve read my blog for a while, you’ll arrive at the name of the shop…Campfire Lodge and Jim’s Flyco along the Madison River, MT. I’ve found incredible colors, both the Whiting red label and Whiting Hebert/Miner.
I used my first Cree feather when tying an Atherton No. 5 dry fly back in October 2021. Cree hackle is one of the options for the fly; the other is a mixture of red-brown and grizzly.
Now back to the present day.
I attended the NW Fly Tying & Fly Fishing Expo in Albany, OR last weekend and needed a box of flies to donate. I’d been tying a lot of parachute flies for a customer, a Parachute Adams with the normal gray body and substituting PMD yellow, gray/olive, and black for the other flies he wanted.
Rather than using the normal brown and grizzly hackle mix, I decided to use some Cree hackle and pulled a couple of feathers off the saddle pictured above. I tied a half dozen Parachute Adams and Purple Haze with the Cree hackle.
I wanted to add a few more flies to the box and settled on the Clark’s Lady Stone and Atherton No. 5. I would tie these flies with Cree hackle too.
Here is a closeup of the Atherton No. 5 on the Whiting red label cape. The wings are Wood Duck.
After tying a few flies with the Cree hackle, I thought they weren’t much different than a brown and grizzly mix, so I thought I’d tie the same fly with each of the Cree hackle to see what the final result would be.
Here is the first test. I tied the fly on the right with Cree hackle using 8 turns. Then back to the usual Parachute Adams on the left with 4 turns each of the brown and grizzly mix.
The brown and grizzly Whiting capes I used are shown below.
I wondered what the other Cree hackle would look like, so I pulled a couple feathers from those capes too, just to compare.
Here is the result of 4 different Parachute Adams dry flies tied with the following hackle (left to right): Whiting brown and grizzly mix, Hebert Miner Cree saddle, Whiting Cree cape, Collins Cree cape.
The first observation I had is 8 turns of hackle was too much for the brown and grizzly mix. They were Whiting red label hackle purchased in the last two years. Normally, I’d use 3 turns, which total 6 wraps because I both at the same time. But I tied the Hebert/Miner saddle first and decided 6 turns wasn’t enough and it needed 8. You might be saying “why not 7”? I needed an even number because I was comparing it to the 4 turns of brown and grizzly mix. Once I settled on 8 turns, I kept the same number for all the flies.
My second observation was how different the hackle barb count is between them. Whiting red label has the most barbs per inch, so fewer wraps of hackle would end up with the same result. Granted, the difference is minor, but it is noticeable.
Lastly, I’m surprised how well the brown/grizzly mix substitutes so well for the Cree hackle.
Do I think the fish care? Not at all. The only benefit in my opinion is using Cree means you’d only tie in one feather instead of two.
So what color is Cree?
It’s a unique color. I couldn’t find an agreed upon definition, but the key characteristic that makes a hackle “Cree” is the dark brown or black barring in each hackle.
Some describe it as black, white, and brown. Others say black, white, yellowish orange. Kelly Galloup describes it as mix of dark barred ginger, grizzly, and jungle cock all rolled into one.
Here is an image of feathers from a Collins Cree hackle. Notice the black barring, then white, orange, and ginger.
A close substitute would be something called dark barred ginger. It’s tough to find as well.
Over the years, I have used quite a bit of barred ginger in many of the flies I tie. I just like the looks of it. In fact, I prefer barred any color compared to a solid one. It might be why grizzly hackle is so popular in flies.
The image below shows two Collins capes; a Cree on the left and barred ginger on the right. Notice the dark barring on a few barred ginger feathers.
I encourage you to do your own experiment mixing two types of hackle. You might like the result.
And keep looking for Cree hackle. Perhaps you’ll find one someday.
Speaking of Kelly Galloup, check out his video about Cree hackle. He sells the capes, but they are quite expensive.
Nice primer on hackle. I now know that if I come across a nice Cree-buy it! The coloring of it is beautiful.
Love this blog. And i love how you waited 50yrs to get one. 😀
I need to wait some 25more i guess.
Its beautiful colour, very convenient to use instead of mixing two… But not sure price justifies it. Too much for my taste. Also my favourite color would be speckled dark dun. I think it looks awesome.
Thanks, great info. I was there also and brought home quite a few feathers as well. Especially from the collection that was being liquidated. I have been using cree for about 5 years now and always wondered why 2 hackles were needed when 1 cree provided the same color options. The one other combo (brown/grizzly) that might outshine the cree is 3 turns of grizzly and 5 of brown. The old tyers axiom is so true when it comes to cree, buy it when you see it!
BTW my understanding is the black makes it cree.
As the successful winner of these beautiful flies, I thank you for the “Cree” versions. Excellent! I will use these on our favorite waters. 🤠
For 30 years I have tied all parachutes, and traditional Catskill tied Adams, with just grizzly colored hackle using no brown. Thus far the trout have cooperated (some of the time!), and none have complained. For some flies like PMD and March Brown’s I only use Brown, and that has also worked. I am not trying to diminish the excellent post’s information (thank you as always for this wonderful site!), but any comment on whether this coloration issue impacts the fly tier more than the trout would be appreciated.
Wouldn’t argue with your hackle choices. In fact, for several years, I only used grizzly for Purple Haze. But since I sell flies, I decided to use the original pattern. Fish didn’t seem to care!
Informative article. Thanks, John.