Soft-hackle success changed him from doubter to fanatic

Red Butt Soft Hackle

I had tried fishing with soft-hackles without a great deal of success.

I read and reread Sylvester Nemes’ book, “The Soft-hackled Fly Addict.” I tied the flies and tried to catch fish with them, but it didn’t work for me.

My wife and I were on vacation in British Columbia, Canada, where I fished the Elk River. I had done fairly well with my standard dry flies, but I just could not get that book about fishing soft-hackles out of my mind. I went back to our camp and got out my travel tying kit. I knew red was a great color for cutthroat trout, and I was going to see what I could dream up.

I pinched the barb on a hook and clamped it in my vise. I dressed the hook with tying thread and saw a package of red Krystal Flash in my kit. I pulled a couple of strands and tied it on at the rear of the hook. I made several turns, forming a red butt. I then tied in several strands of peacock hurl. The peacock became the body of this new untried pattern. I then tied in a hackle from a Hungarian partridge. One and a half wraps with the hackle, and I tied it off.

As I looked at the finished fly, I thought it looked pretty good, but I still didn’t know if it would work.

The next day, as I stood on the bank of the Elk River, I tied on this new creation. I cast it quartering down and mended the line, letting the fly swing through the run. I saw a flash somewhere close to where I thought my fly was, but did not feel a strike. I stripped in the line and cast again. This time there was a solid hit, and I landed my first cutthroat on a Red Butt soft-hackle.

I couldn’t believe I was actually catching fish with a soft-hackle fly. I’ve used the pattern in the middle of a caddis hatch and caught fish. I’ve used the fly on the Madison River with fairly good success.

I now carry a full box of soft-hackle flies. Now I have several other soft-hackle patterns that also have worked well for me. It seems the fish will take the fly just under the surface so they don’t have to expose themselves to predators up above. For me at least, it is just like swinging a steelhead fly. Cast and mend and let it swing. Many times I will let the fly reach the end of the swing, known as the hang down, and then slowly strip it back toward me.

For the last two or three years, I’ve use a soft-hackled fly most of the time. I don’t have to dress the fly with floatant to keep it floating. I seldom get hung up like I used to when using a nymph. Yes, I still use dry flies and sometimes a nymph, but I have a real soft spot in my heart for soft-hackles. They work and are very easy to tie.

So if you’ve been trying to fish with soft-hackles and haven’t done well, don’t give up. They will work. I am not sure I catch more fish than when using the traditional flies, but I have a great deal of satisfaction while using and catching fish with a soft-hackle fly.

Last lines

“I have fished through fishless days that I remember happily and without regret.”

— Roderick Haig-Brown


Hook — Any wet fly hook. I like Daiichi No. 1550 or No. 1560 size No. 12.

tail — None

Butt — Two or three strands of red Krystal Flash wound around the hook.

body — I like peacock, but any color of dubbing will work.

hackle — Feather from a Hungarian Partridge.

Tying Tips

Pinch the barb and dress the hook shank with tying thread. At the rear of the hook, tie in two or three strands of red Krystal Flash. Wrap the Krystal Flash around the hook forming a small butt. Tie off and clip the excess. Tie in the body material of choice and build a body. Tie in the Hun hackle. I tie it in by the tip. That seems to work best for me. Make 1½ or two wraps with the hackle and tie off. Clip excess. Build a small, neat head and whip finish. I use Sally Hansen Hard as Nails for my head cement.

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