Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Fly Fishing: A Simple Fly That....

....gits 'er done. The life and times of the so-called "soft-hackle fly.

Soft-hackles are simple to tie and deadly...
Soft hackles are beautiful, lively, simple, spare, traditional and deadly. Well-known and wildly popular for many hundreds years the other side the big pond soft hackles in this neck of woods are near and dear to but a relative handful addicts. Also known as hackle flies, north country flies, stewart spiders, Yorkshire spiders and probably countless other handles I’m unaware. Most reporters seem to agree first-mention honors go to Dame Juliana Berners’ in the 1496 edition Treatise of Fishing with an Angle, but its origins are no doubt centuries older.

Back in the dark ages when I first started chuckin’ flies wets were extremely popular—both the winged and wingless models. The first time I recall hearing the term “hackle fly” was, I think, in an Outdoor Life article by the late, great Ray Bergman (sorry I don’t recall the date, circa 1950s probably, or the title, actually I might have read it in "Trout...oh well). The first I recall hearing the term “soft hackle” was later, perhaps not until Sylvester Nemes’ landmark book, The Soft-Hackled Fly hit the streets in the mid-70s. At any rate, the book created quite a stir for a short time and a lot of us (I, of course) who had drifted to “more sophisticated methods” were quick to jump back on the wagon. In my case, I’ve been on it more or less ever since.

I began tying flies as a young teenager. Self-schooled my first attempts were truly sorry affairs. The Old Man took one look, said something like “nice son, but for now I think I’ll continue shoppin’ Dewey’s” (the local hardware/sporting goods store). Later I heard him tell an uncle, “Looked a lot like a crippled bird but don’t say I said so.” But Bergman’s piece on “hackle flies” not only turned my sorry fly tying on its ear; the flies upped my fly caught catch rate at least ten fold.

Early favorites were the Brown and Gray Hackle/Peacock, the Whickam’s Fancy-- wicked to tie but a real killer once I got the hang of palmering the hackle. But it was the Orange Fish Hawk really got ‘er done. Indeed hackle flies were just what the doctor ordered for both a struggling fly-tyer and budding fly-fisher-boy. Interesting to note I read recently Jack Gartside, one of the all-time innovative fly tyers took an eerily similiar path--learned from reading Bergman, early favorites gray hackle peacock, orange fish hawk, strange indeed; although obviously he took his start an ran to a much higher level, than I. 

I caught a lot of trout on those flies and I enjoyed tying them. But, perhaps because I read too much, put too much stock in what the so-called “experts” were serving up at the moment, at some point I drifted away from “hackle flies.” Instead fell head over heels for charms of the dry fly and nymph—you know the hoity-toity side of the fly-fishing-life.

As with most things, what goes around eventually comes back around and thankfully “hackle flies” fit the bill.

PS The Big Hole river at Maiden Rock has risen above 7000 cfs; it is supposed to dry out today but more rain "moderate to heavy in spots" is forecast for tomorrow so...

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