Soft-hackle Stone Fly

Soft-hackle Stone Fly
Super Soft-hackle Stones breathe in the water, advertising "big food" to foraging trout.

Supersize hackles for spring and summer stones

Many believe it's the archer, not the arrow, that matters most in successful fly fishing. But there are times when certain fly patterns in the quiver make a marked difference in my fishing success. Soft-hackles are just such flies.

Soft-hackle flies have a long history across the pond, dating back several centuries. On his home turf, author and fly tier Sylvester Nemes helped spark a resurgence in their popularity with his 1975 book The Soft-Hackled Fly (Second Edition: The Soft-Hackled Fly and Tiny Soft Hackles: A Trout Fisherman's Guide, Stackpole Books, 2006).

In the ensuing years, soft-hackle patterns have become effective producers on both small streams and big rivers; dead-drifted in the water surface film as smaller caddis and mayfly shuck-shedders; and swung subsurface to mimic the bottom-to-top climb of emerging insects.

Few tiers and fishers, however, have applied the soft-hackle concept to patterns such as stoneflies or larger caddis. Some of the original Irish nymphs I've studied have much longer hackles than contemporary patterns. They are also decent imitations of large terrestrials that accidentally fall into the water and drown, such as crickets, cicadas, and hoppers. The extra-long hackle gives movement and life to these imitations, which makes them more effective.


Continued after gallery...



In the Round

Charlie Brooks tied his Montana Stonedeveloped on the Yellowstone River"in the round" to maintain an even silhouette in its tumbling journey along the bottom of a river. I found over the years that the round tie, with 360 degrees of fairly long hackle, looks more alive to the trout.

Some years ago, I started using stonefly patterns with longer soft hackles. They worked exceptionally well, especially in pocketwater.


As stonefly nymphs spend most of their lives in pocketwater and hard riffles, soft-hackles with a lot of movement often trigger strikes. These flies are also more likely to be noticed in fast water because they advertise "big food."

Long soft hackles can be added to any stonefly or large caddis pattern. In my experience, you almost can't make the hackle too long. I tie my Super Soft-hackle flies so that the hackle is at least as long as the body, or longer. When I can't find hen back hackles long enough, I use schlappen in appropriate colors and shades. Whether the hackle is partridge, hen back, or schlappen, it doesn't seem to matter to the trout.

When and Where


The Super Soft-hackle Stone is my secret weapon during a stonefly hatch, whether I'm guiding or fishing solo.

In Colorado and Wyoming, rivers often run too high and dirty for fishing a stonefly dry during runoff. However, the heavy water pushes trout to the edges of streams, where they are susceptible to nymphs. I fish the Super Soft-hackle Stone along the margins of a stream or river during spring runoff, as the water falls and just begins to clear.

I tie the Super Soft-hackle Stone with two biot tails, and use loosely dubbed Ice Dub for a buggy look. Dye the flat mono for one minute in brown Rit dye and hot water. Round mono also works fine.

As for hackle size, I was fishing in Ireland with a friend and he commented that, "you Yanks don't use long enough hackle on your wet flies." I think he's probably right. We often go for esthetics in our patterns, sometimes sacrificing effectiveness. Go a little longer than you think you should, and you'll be there.

Eric Pettine is a contract tier for Umpqua Feather Merchants, and has been fly fishing for more than 60 years. He guides for St. Peter's Fly Shop in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

Recommended for You

Here are step-by-step instructions for tying the Strong Arm Merkin fly. Fly Tying

Tying the Strong Arm Merkin

David W. Skok - July 09, 2019

Here are step-by-step instructions for tying the Strong Arm Merkin fly.

Chip's Monster Magic. Designed in Saskatchewan's pike paradise - works anywhere. Fly Tying

Fly Tying Chip's Monster Magic Fly

Dwayne 'Chip' Cromarty - January 15, 2016

Chip's Monster Magic. Designed in Saskatchewan's pike paradise - works anywhere.

These dense, indestructible nymphs will improve your subsurface game. Fly Tying

Perdigon Nymph

Charlie Craven - January 15, 2019

These dense, indestructible nymphs will improve your subsurface game.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Breaking the Surface

Breaking the Surface

Attack of the Bass continues as Breaking the Surface attacks bass with fly and lure 12:30pm ET Sunday, April 17th.

Bahamas - Bonefish

Bahamas - Bonefish

Conway casts for his personal best bonefish while fishing the Grand Bahama islands.

Black Beauty

Black Beauty

Master fly tier Charlie Craven discuss the tools and materials needed to tie the Black Beauty.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

As you explore your home water, keep in mind what they are are eating to select the best carp flies! Flies

The 15 Best Carp Flies

Jay Zimmerman - September 27, 2016

As you explore your home water, keep in mind what they are are eating to select the best carp...

Golden riches in Wyoming's high-country heaven of the Wind River Range. United States

Wind River Range Wyoming

Greg Thomas - July 27, 2015

Golden riches in Wyoming's high-country heaven of the Wind River Range.

Read about Colorado's backcountry fly fishing in United States

Indian Peaks Wilderness Area Colorado

Steven B. Schweitzer - May 03, 2016

Read about Colorado's backcountry fly fishing in " Indian Peaks Wilderness Area Colorado."

See More Stories

More Flies

From my perspective, any list of the Flies

World's Top 13 Pike Flies

Matt Straw - September 05, 2017

From my perspective, any list of the "Best 13" pike flies on earth has to include something...

A Super Soft-hackle Stone Fly breathe in the water, advertising 'big food' to foraging trout. Flies

Soft-hackle Stone Fly

Eric Pettine - January 03, 2016

A Super Soft-hackle Stone Fly breathe in the water, advertising 'big food' to foraging trout.

Tying flies on tubes is easy and deadly! Flies

Tying Flies On Tubes

Rick Kustich - July 24, 2015

Tying flies on tubes is easy and deadly!

See More Flies

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

×