Dry Fly Hackle Choices

Dry Fly Hackle Choices

By Bucky McCormick

All of us here at Blue Ribbon Flies use Whiting hackle for our tying needs, and when it comes to dry fly hackle, there are none better. Stiff barbs, thin, pliable stems, long hackles and excellent color choices have made Whiting the dominant force in the hackle business.  Which type of hackle you choose can be a bit confusing, so I’ll try to make this task a bit simpler. Whiting offers three types of dry fly hackle– capes, saddles, and 100 packs.  Which of these you choose depends on your specific tying needs.

Capes offer the most variety in sizing. I can tie a dry fly anywhere from size 8 to size 26 with a good cape, and they are my choice for almost all of my tying needs. Capes are the best choice if you’re not tying commercially and if the color is one you use regularly for a variety of patterns. Grizzly, brown, and dun all come to mind. Capes have improved immensely over the years, and individual feathers are plenty long enough to tie 2 or 3 flies.

Saddles are great when you are looking for a lot of hackle in one specific size. Saddles will have one dominant size of feather, accounting for about 80% of the saddle.  The remaining 20% will be split between one size larger and one size smaller. For most of us, the cost and limited sizing just do not make sense. Unless you are tying commercially or tie an awful lot of flies in a specific size and color, I would not choose one of these. The hackles are very long, making it possible to tie many flies from each one, but the limited sizing detracts from its value for most tyers.

100 packs are an excellent choice for someone who is just starting out tying or has a specific fly that calls for an odd or seldom used color. Black is a good example. I tie a few ants in 16 and 18 with black hackle, so an entire cape or saddle does not make sense for me. The 100 packs are perfect for these niche patterns and very affordable.

Which brand from Whiting do I choose?  When looking at the different brands in the Whiting line-up, there are several differences to consider.

Whiting is the top of the line as far as amount of hackle, barb density, and variety of sizing. The Whiting line offers many dyed white and dyed grizzly colors to choose from, and in natural colors the grizzly and ginger are outstanding. There are no other hackles that will have higher hackle length or barbule counts. I have a gold grade grizzly with size 20 hackles that are 8 inches long. It is truly amazing.

The Hebert Hackle line does not have quite the amount of hackle or barb density as the Whiting line does, but the quality is still extremely high. Hebert is where I go for natural colors, particularly duns. You’ll find no better colors, nor more choices, in natural duns anywhere. I own several, not because I really need them, but they just look so good. I have found a use for them all, but admittedly, I’m reaching. The natural gingers are also outstanding, as are the Cree when available. The cost is lower than the Whiting line, which makes these hackles even more attractive.

High and Dry is Whiting’s value hackle, and again you’ll find no better feathers at this price. The size variety and barbule count is not as great as Whiting or Hebert, but for the money it’s more than adequate. I have a natural medium ginger in this line. It’s a color I don’t use very often, so paying for the higher grades isn’t worth it to me. The color is great and the quality is still very good. For my needs it’s served me well.

Dyed vs. Natural: I’m a big fan of natural colors. Dying can be just fine and Whiting does an excellent job in both color and consistency, but no matter how good a job they do, dyed hackles just cannot replace the real thing. For this reason, I buy only natural hackle, with the exception of black. Of course, this is a personal choice and I’m sure it makes no difference to the fish.

So there you have it. Hopefully, this should give you enough information so when you make your next hackle purchase, you’ll be getting plenty of bang for your buck.