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...


Fly Tying The Super Soft-Hackle Stone

(black) HOOK: #6-10 Tiemco 200.
THREAD: Black Ultra Thread.
TAILS: Natural Canada goose biot.
RIB: Flat monofilament dyed amber with Rit dye.
THORAX: Black Ice Dub.
BODY: Black Ice Dub.
HACKLE: Black India hen back (or schlappen).
NOTE: For Golden Stones, substitute golden-yellow biots, dubbing, rib, and hackle.

Super Soft-hackle Stone Step 1 of 6

Start the thread just behind the hook eye and wrap to the bend and back. On either side of the hook, tie a piece of tungsten wire, which gives the fly added weight and an oval shape similar to a natural stonefly.

Super Soft-hackle Stone Step 2 of 6

Run the thread back to the hook bend. Snip and loosely dub over the wire butts. Tie in the tails off the side of the body, not the back.

Super Soft-hackle Stone Step 3 of 6

Tie in one length of Thin Skin long enough for both the abdomen and thorax casings, followed by V-Rib or flat dyed mono for the rib.

Super Soft-hackle Stone Step 4 of 6

Dub the body two-thirds of the way up the hook shank. Fold the Thin Skin flat over the dubbing. Tie it in at the abdomen/thorax junction, and rib with four or five wraps.

Super Soft-hackle Stone Step 5 of 6

Dub the thorax thicker than the body of the fly. When you fold back the Thin Skin, dub over the fold for a clean junction between the body and the thorax. Pick some of the thorax dubbing out to the sides.

Super Soft-hackle Stone Step 6 of 6

Tie in the hackle of your choosing, and use two or three wraps. Whip-finish. Don't tie the hackle back along the hook. If it sticks straight out, you get more movement from the fly.

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

Fly Fisherman's documentary Industry

Fly Fisherman Magazine Documentary Recognized by Outdoor Writers Association of America

Fly Fisherman - June 24, 2019

Fly Fisherman's documentary "One Path" was recognized with two awards.

Here's a look at 8 new fly lines for 2019. Lines

8 New Fly Lines for 2019

Fly-Fisherman

Here's a look at 8 new fly lines for 2019.

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.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Fly Fishing for Taimen in Mongolia

Fly Fishing for Taimen in Mongolia

Finding giant Mongolia taimen and a state of enlightenment.

Black Beauty

Black Beauty

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

Casting Backhand in Tight Quarters

Casting Backhand in Tight Quarters

A backhand cast is when you use your backcast to deliver the fly.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Fly-Fisherman Editor Ross Purnell shares his top five best trout fishing destinations in the world. Worldwide

5 Best Trout Fishing Spots in the World

Ross Purnell, Editor

Fly-Fisherman Editor Ross Purnell shares his top five best trout fishing destinations in the...

American River California United States

American River California

MIchael Wier - March 23, 2017

American River California

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...

See More Stories

More Flies

This buck smacked a big pink Intruder (thanks Mr. Ward): Big fish tend to make a big splash. Especially during a hard surface hit. Flies

Pink Intruder: More March Madness

John Larison - March 18, 2012

This buck smacked a big pink Intruder (thanks Mr. Ward): Big fish tend to make a big splash....

Mint Hen fish Flies

Mint Hen: a Pattern Fish Will Jump For

John Larison - February 21, 2012

Mint Hen fish

Fly fishers need to exhibit 'situational awareness' and fish nymphs designed to trigger a strike when trout are keyed on a particular food item. Flies

Using Nymphs to Trigger Strikes

George Daniel - June 18, 2018

Fly fishers need to exhibit 'situational awareness' and fish nymphs designed to trigger a...

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.