Hackle Fiber Tails

  • Select four to six fibers from the base of the remainder of the hackle (either left or right side). Pinch the tips of the fibers between your thumb and index finger, then pull them away from the hackle stalk. (If you did not prepare the stalk properly, now remove any unwanted fibers you have inadvertently pulled off with the selected ones!)
  • Check the length of the tail fibers (held in your right hand) against the hook, and tie them on using the "wood-duck method."

Note: So that they would show up effectively, more than the usual maximum of six fibers were used in the photographs.

The hackle-fiber tail is by far the most popular kind tied, probably because hackles of every color are readily available to all flytyers. There are no set rules for the number of fibers to a tail, but four to six fibers are enough for most sizes of wet or dry fly.

The best hackle fibers come from the center of the hackle. For dry flies, the fibers must be stiff and springy to keep the fly afloat. Turn a cock cape over (skin side up) and choose a hackle from the center of the extreme edge, where you should find that the hackles are short but very stiff. For wet flies, the hackle fibers can come from almost any part of the cape.

  • Pull out a large hackle, by its base, from a cock cape.
  • Holding the hackle tip in your right hand, gently pull down the fibers, several times, so they are at right angles to the stalk. (This automatically makes the tips even.)
  • Pull out all the down and very soft fibers in the lower half of the hackle.

Hackle-Point Tails

  • Use straight scissors to cut the pulled-down fibers at the angle shown. The V-shaped cutouts should meet at the base of the hackle tip; this point is the "waist" of the prepared hackle.
  • Lay the prepared hackle along the near side of the shank, with the waist at the tail position (very important) and the outer, shiny side of the hackle facing you.
  • Holding the hackle point and the hook bend between your left-hand thumb and index finger, make the first turn of thread over the waist. While gently tightening this first turn, ease the waist over with the thread until the hackle point lies horizontally on top of the hook. (The hackle tends naturally to move to the top of the shank as you tighten the turn, but you may need more than one attempt to get it right.)
  • Make two more securing turns. (S) Then cut off the surplus hackle stalk.

Hackle feathers that are too large to be tied in as hackles can be used to make hackle-point tails. These tails are easy to prepare, durable and, of course, help to keep the fly afloat. They are very useful when a barred effect is required (as provided by just the tip of a grizzly or Plymouth Rock hackle).

  • Prepare the hook shank by winding on turns of foundation thread to the tail position. (S)
  • Pull out a hackle from about one-third of the way up the cock cape.
  • Place the hackle point against the hook to check the final proportions, and select the fibers at the point of the hackle which will form the tail.
  • Hold the selected fibers between your left-hand index finger and thumb, then gently pull the remaining fibers on each side downward, so that they are at right angles to the hackle stalk.
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