Tuesday, July 1, 2014:
This entry should be of interest to those who tie their own flies and like to fish Silver Creek subsurface. I am a “soft hackle” fan and have success with the soft hackled flies detailed below. Tie a few up and let them rip.
If you think about or read too many fly tying books like me, it is likely that the first fly patterns designed involved soft hackle materials. I mean, no synthetic materials were available. The first flies were tied using what was available at the time (as early as the first century B.C.) were limited to bird feathers, wool and other animal fur, and thread fashioned from natural fibers. Dyed thread or wool permitted anglers to tie in a limited range of colors. Dry flies were not conceived until relatively recent times. Yet, at least among the privileged class in England, the dogmatic convention of fishing dry flies upstream can be seen as discouraging experimentation with soft hackles and other wet flies fished down and with the assistance of the current.
Unlike most commercially tied soft hackled flies tied on light wire hooks to be fished in the film as “emergers,” my soft hackle patterns are tied on 2XL, 2XH streamer hooks (e.g. the Tiemco 5262) so that they can be swung 3 to 5 inches below the water surface. As a general rule you’ll not want to fish soft hackles on a leader lighter than 5X because the “take” is akin to that of a steelhead strike. Unlike the traditional dead drift nymphing technique, you want the fly line and leader to drag the soft hackle across the stream and in front of trout. Depending on the speed of the water you are fishing, you cast the fly either straight across the stream (if the current is slow) or on a 45 degree downstream (if the current is fast). The goal is to swim the fly downstream in a natural manner, somewhat slower than the current speed. When you are not casting to a working fish, just thoroughly cover the water giving special attention to lies along the reeds or solid bank. You will want to avoid unnecessary slack and hold the line in your fingertips, as the take can be subtle. Sometimes a slight, gentle mend of the fly line (not the leader) is advisable. Sometimes you can prompt trout to hit the soft hackle by applying a slight “tug” to the fly line (or by lifting your rod slightly) when you think that the fly is right in front of a working fish. Some anglers will strip the soft hackle like a big river streamer. Always be vigilant because trout will frequently take the soft hackle on the “plop,” particularly during a hatch of damsel flies or under a flight of the large White Miller Caddis.
I tie soft hackles for Silver Creek in a range of sizes, from a #10 to a #20, and selection of size is usually governed by whether the soft hackle gets caught in underwater vegetation or by the size of the insect which has been hatching. You will want to invest in a bottle of “Zink” (the opposite of the “Gink” floatant) or other liquid product which helps the soft hackle sink immediately rather getting held up in the meniscus.
I generally tie my soft hackles without a base of lead wire, but when I do I use red tying thread, for easy identification in my separate soft hackle fly box.
I buy whole bird skins for tying my soft hackles; you get better quality feathers and a wide range of markings than are contained in those little bags of loose feathers sold in most fly shops which typically include a lot of waste feathers not suitable for soft hackled flies. A variety of Grouse and Chuckar skins provide me with a range of colors and marking for size 10 and larger soft hackled flies. Partridge, both natural and dyed, is my feather of choice for sizes 12 to 16. Several species of Quail and other small birds such as Starling do the trick for sizes 18 and smaller. By the way, the purpose of tying in a firm thorax of peacock herl is to provide a base on which to support the soft hackle feather, so that the resultant hackle will “pulsate” with the ebb and flow of the current.
In my fly tying life I grew up reading Sylvester Nemes’ series of largely repetitive books about soft hackled flies. A more concise but thorough treatment of soft hackled flies, patterns and strategies to fish them is Allen McGee’s recent work, entitled “Tying and Fishing Soft-hackled Nymphs.”
Okay, now the fly patterns.
PHEASANT TAIL SOFT HACKKLE:
The Pheasant Tail sot hackle is my most versatile soft hackle for Silver Creek, not surprising given the universal effectiveness of the myriad of pheasant tail patterns. Why ignore or mess with something which works so well? Well, for me the answer is that after a decade of experimentation I have found that using red or orange dyed pheasant tail fibers results in a fly that is consistently more attractive to trout; brown or olive dyed pheasant tail fibers make effective soft hackles as well. My theory is that this coloration helps set the fly apart from sticks and other debris that has the same color range as natural pheasant tail fibers. I have also eschewed the use of copper for ribbing, finding that “Hot Yellow” Uni-Thread lures more trout, perhaps it provides more realistic segmentation or functions as an attractive “trigger.” No matter; I am sold on bright wire.
Hook: Size 10 to 20, Tiemco 5262 (or other 2XL, 2XH streamer hook)
Rib: Hot Yellow Uni-Wire
Abdomen: Red or Orange dyed pheasant tail fibers
Thorax: Peacock herl
Hackle: Grouse or partridge, depending on hook size.
WHO KNOWS FREAKING WHY SOFT HACKLE (aka “Beats Me”)
This is a ridiculous fly. It is ridiculous in appearance. And, it is ridiculously effective on Silver Creek and in any stream you fish. It is a bit depressing to know that I will never come up with a fly pattern more effective than this fly which I “invented” two decades ago. Such is life, I guess. The fly gets its name from uncertainty regarding exactly why the pattern is so universally effective. Some speculate that the fly looks like a Green Rock Worm Caddis pupa. Other accuse it of being a damsel imitation. Still others feel it resemble a bait fish in larger sizes. Who Knows? Who Cares? Beats Me! The Who Knows Freaking Why will also catch steelhead! It is a simple, quick pattern to tie. The “trigger” of this fly is undoubtedly the metallic green abdomen and a variety of materials are available in today’s market which will fashion and effective body.
Hook: Size 10 to 20 Tiemco 5262 (or similar 2XL, 2XH streamer hook)
Abdomen: Bright green metallic Diamond Braid (or similar material)
Thorax: Red-dyed peacock herl, or other contrasting color
Hackle: Natural Guinea, Blue Grouse or similarly marked feather
BLUE DAMSEL SOFT HACKLE:
I swim this Blue Damsel Soft Hackle under hovering clouds of damsels in preference to dry adult damsel patterns because the trout will follow and take the soft hackle in addition to grabbing it on the “plop.” I generally tie the pattern on a #10 hook but also have had success with a #14 which friends have nicknamed “The Smurf.”
Hook: Size 10 or 14 Tiemco 5262 (or similar 2XL, 2XH streamer hook)
Rib: “Hot Yellow” Uni-Wire
Abdomen: Twisted Royal Blue dyed long pheasant rump feather, from the top of the rump patch
Thorax: Red dyed peacock herl (or other contrasting color)
Hackle: “Church” feather from Royal Blue dyed pheasant rump patch