Soft Hackle Flies
Brian Schmidt

The soft hackle or wet fly was a reliable friend to every fly fisherman many years ago. Today many anglers are rediscovering how incredibly effective these patterns are. Better yet, today's materials make them even more deadly.

Many people do not have any idea what the soft hackle imitates. Caddis is the most popular answer. In point of fact they imitate quite a few insects and more than one stage of life.

When trout are rising, often they are feeding on emerging insects. This makes sense because the insect is still trapped in the film, and they are easy targets for the fish. Most of us have watched trout leave the water chasing after caddis. These insects hold on tight to the streambed until they have gathered enough air bubbles to propel them to the surface. Because caddis get to the surface quickly, the trout are forced to give chase, often ending in an airborne fish. Take a look at a caddis pupa, they are all body, legs and antenna. Look closely at a soft hackle. Do you see the similarity? Like a soft hackle, these naturals do not have fully developed wings, and are generally found subsurface or in the surface film.

Now that you know a little bit about soft hackles lets focus on one way to fish them. Cast the fly upstream and dead drift the fly over rising trout. Depending on the length of the cast, you can give the fly a very short strip to saturate the fly and sink it further so you can get a few feet of drift as a nymph. Just before the end of the drift, raise the rod tip slowly upstream. This will cause the fly to swing upward to the surface at which point you can then lower the rod tip at the same rate as the stream flow and the fly will then be dead drifting in the surface film again. Effectively, you are fishing three life cycles in one cast with a single fly!

You will find the majority of takes will be on the swing. Be ready to see trout come out of nowhere for the swinging fly and a hard take as they will be turning with the fly. Once you get comfortable with this technique, try various alternatives because there are numerous possibilities in fishing with soft hackles.

One final point, when looking for soft hackles, pick out the fly with the least amount of hackle - naturals only have six legs.