by Tony Orman
Once in the US at a Federation of Fly Fishers’ Conclave,in Eugene, Oregon, I met trout fishing author Sylvester Nemes. Sylvester was the “guru” on soft hackled flies.
Soft hackled flies, a form of “wee wet flies” is probably the oldest form of fly fishing for trout. It was the premier fly fishing methods in New Zealand with the early English pioneer settlers. And it’s just as good today, yet forgotten. Very few shops, except some in Southland and Otago stock the “wee wet flies.”
I bought Sylvester’s wonderful soft hackle fly book which he autographed.
It ‘s puzzling that more fly fishermen have not taken advantage of one of the most effective fly designs ever created. They are so easy to tie, perhaps a floss body, a simple dubbed thorax, and a soft-hackle collar. The “Partridge and “any colour” body is one of the most often used.
But then nymphs have become the main style of fly fishing and as one or two friends have pointed out, perhaps I’m responsible for the submergence of the old fashioned wet flies and the soft hackle in particular by writing my book “Trout With Nymph” in 1974.
Yet at times the soft hackled fly can out-fish the most realistic nymph patterns. oft-hackled patterns are not “realistic” but are impressionistic imitations. The strong point to soft hackled flies is that the impressionistic soft-hackle pattern, can match the nymph, pupa, emerger, and adult portions of the insects life cycle.
A main attribute of the soft-hackle is the “life” of the hackle. The father of nymph fishing Britisher G.E.M Skues, spoke of the soft-hackle’s seductive movement as “kick.” “
Sylvester Nemes. In his first book, The Soft-Hackled Fly, described the kick factor as:- “The soft partridge or snipe or starling feathers with their tapered barbs, mould themselves against the body with the tips sloping back toward the tail of the fly. There is a natural lump or thorax created at the front of the fly, by reason of the tapering of the barbs, the thicker part being closer to the stem of the feather. As the fly floats downstream, these barbs close in and out, squirm against the body of the fly and react in a lifelike way to every little kind of pressure.”
So tie up a few soft hackled flies in sizes 14 and 16.
Fish them in the evenings right on dusk.
If you want to know the technique see if you can get a copy from either the library or a second hand book shop of “Trout and Salmon Sport Anthology” that I wrote for the NZ Federation of Freshwater Anglers, back in 1980. Jim Ring’s excellent article “A Forgotten Art” gives you the low down on the technique.
Partridge and Orange Soft Hackle wet fly