Soft Hackling Eddies, Soft Hackle Flies, Trout Spey, Article Contest

The Fly Fishing Shop HOME. Search Catalog Trips & Schools YouTube Big Stick Forum Fishing Reports Bargains Sale Ended
Blog Gifts Order Info Hire A Guide Newsletters Our Waters Events
Soft Hackling Eddies
By: Dave Hughes
Eddies are tucked in behind those places in rivers and streams where the water gets deflected outward by an extension of the bank. The main current goes rushing on downstream, but a tendril of it swirls back upstream against the bank, as if to check on what happened to it up there. These eddies are softer water, easier for trout to hold in, because they don’t have to fight that onrushing current. Hatching aquatic insects, and falling terrestrials as well, get trapped in those same confusing currents, get delivered round and round until they either manage to escape, or get eaten by trout.
When a hatch happens in an eddy, or anywhere near it, you’ll see two things. First, insects will be visible out there, afloat on top, sometimes sitting, other times hopping and fluttering their wings, trying to escape. They might be anything from giant salmon flies or golden stones through medium-sized caddis adults to tiny BWO mayfly duns. Second, you’ll see dark forms holding just under the surface, every once in awhile rising slowly up to poke a nose out, accept one of whatever the eddy currents happen to be delivering at the moment. What you won’t notice among the floating insects and the rises are emergers and cripples, in the case of this photo a PMD, that are even easier for the trout to eat.
Because you see all of those floating adults, and you also see trout nipping at them, it’s an instinct to tie on a dry fly that imitates whatever is going around the circle out there. That’s not a bad plan. If you can get a drag-free drift, you’re going to fool a few of those fish. The problem is, it’s sometimes almost impossible to get a good float among all the conflicting currents of an eddy. And it’s difficult to notice when you get micro-drag. Unfortunately, the trout are closer to the game, and also more critical; they notice the drag and refuse the dry fly. Eddy trout can be notoriously difficult.
The simplest, and usually most successful, solution is to nip off the failed dry fly and tie on a soft-hackled wet fly the size and color of whatever the trout are taking at the  moment. When you do that, the drag that was defeating you when you tried drys is suddenly enticing action on the the slightly-submerged wet. Micro-currents that tug your dry fly around move the soft-hackle just enough to make it look alive, like it might be about to emerge and get away from the trout. Sometimes they’ll whack it...though be watchful:  just as often they’ll merely sip it.
Not all eddies are obvious. Some are just small soft spots against the bank where a boulder, log, or some other object shoves the currents aside for a bit, causes the current to hesitate on its trip down the river. Such obstructions don’t always cause obvious eddies, but they do always form soft spots that are excellent lies for trout, and they also usually cause conflicting currents that make it difficult to fish a dry fly. A soft-hackle set on the surface there, allowed to sink a bit, will often get a sudden reception.
It’s difficult to imagine tying and fishing a soft-hackle for a salmon fly or golden stone...I haven’t even tried it, though somebody probably has, and it probably has worked for them. Caddisflies are a different matter. Whenever you see adults on the surface, it’s an indication that pupae are either active at the time, or have been very recently. Either way, trout are aware of them, and don’t often pass up an imitation of one. If you get into an eddy situation, with trout rising to caddis but refusing your dry flies, always suspect caddis pupae. Try a soft-hackle the size and color of the adult that is suffering harm out there, and you might inflict some casualties on the trout that are eating the caddis. Look at it this way:  you’re improving the world by reducing depredation on those innocent insects. It’s okay so long as you refrain from having any fun while you’re doing it.

Dave Hughes’s popular book Wet Flies will be available in an all-color second edition in spring of 2015.

Soft Hackle Flies
Soft Hackle Hare's Ear Partridge & Peacock Partridge & Yellow
Partridge & Green Partridge & Orange Soft Hackle Tungsten Bead Pheasant Tail
These incredibly versatile patterns will catch many species of game fish under a wide range of conditions.  Literature has made the soft hackle style of fly most popular for trout in streams.  Here they are usually fished dead drift or on the swing as a wet fly.  Often the best depth is very shallow.  Presented in this manner these patterns represent insects which are struggling just below the surface. The soft, wet, flowing hackle simulates the activity of thrashing legs and beating wings.
Soft hackle flies are also very productive in lakes and ponds for most species of trout, char, bass and panfish.  These patterns are often fished in the surface film as an emerging insect.  This can be a very productive method during mayfly and caddis hatches. Cast the fly with a floating line ahead of cruising trout. Barely twitch the fly as the fish approaches.  Soft Hackles can also be fished deeper around submerged weeds or even along more barren rocky bottoms.  When retrieved through still water, the the long supple hackles mimic swimming legs.  Several species of dragonfly nymphs swim with their legs extended. 
Soft Hackles are some of the world's oldest and simplest fly patterns.  Some patterns have remained productive for hundreds of years.   
In 1496 Dame Juliana Berners published "The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle". It was the first definitive work on sports angling written in the English language. In it were the first twelve fly patterns. They were all soft hackle type wet flies. Sylvester Nemes in his great book The Soft Hackle Fly Addict brought these simple flies to the attention of modern anglers. Soft Hackles are as popular and productive as when first written five hundred years ago.
All of the flies listed below are dressed on standard wet fly hooks but are other wise unweighted (Except for Soft Hackle Tungsten Bead Pheasant Tail.
Soft Hackle, Hare's Ear
This ancient fly is still as productive as it was 500 years ago when it was tied on hooks made from sewing needles. These soft hackle Hare's Ears are tied on the most modern chemically sharpened hooks, using the most modern thread for durability, but the dubbing used in the body comes from the ears and nose patch of the European Hare, and the sparse, webby hackle is taken from the European Partridge. These flies are effective when swung in the traditional wet fly method, or fished upstream dead drift and lifted at the end of the presentation, to simulate an emerging insect.
Item Description Size Price To Top
19-0090-14 Soft Hackle Hare's Ear 14 3 for $6.75 Sale Ended
19-0090-16 Soft Hackle Hare's Ear 16 3 for $6.75 Sale Ended
Soft Hackle, Partridge and Green
One of the most effective soft hackle wet flies for matching emerging, or egg laying diving caddis. This light weight fly is a great searching pattern whenever olive colored insects are prolific.
Item Description Size Price To Top
E090-16 Soft Hackle, Partridge and Green 16 3 for $6.75 Sale Ended
Soft Hackle, Partridge and Orange
There are many orange bodied caddis, especially in the fall; this fly can simulate emerging pupae or drowned adults. The Orange Soft Hackle can also be an effective steelhead fly during low water periods or when fishing over steelhead that have seen too many traditional flies.
Item Description Size Price To Top
NSH0018-14 Soft Hackle, Partridge and Orange 14 3 for $6.75 Sale Ended
Soft Hackle, Partridge and Peacock
The first trout that I landed with a fly rod came to a Gray Hackle Peacock wet fly, which were in vogue in those days. Then as "match the hatch" became the method of choice, the Gray Hackle Peacock fly was forgotten. Years later, my good friend Herb Forbes introduced me to his version of the Gray Hackle Peacock. It was tied without the traditional red tail and very light colored grizzly hackle. I didn't have grizzly hackle that was the same shade, but I did have light colored partridge hackle, and used it as a substitute. This fly was also forgotten for several years. One evening Herb was driving shuttle for me, and put on a demonstration across the river catching trout after trout in front of me and my clients. I yelled across the river, "what are you using?" He yelled back, "Tie on a Grey Hackle Peacock!" We did, and caught a big number of fish until it was too dark to see. Actually our flies were Partridge and Peacocks.
Item Description Size Price To Top
19-0100-14 Soft Hackle, Partridge and Peacock 14 3 for $6.75 Sale Ended
19-0100-16 Soft Hackle, Partridge and Peacock 16 3 for $6.75 Sale Ended
Soft Hackle, Partridge and Yellow
This is a great fly during the Yellow Sally Stonefly hatch. Hard to say why some anglers believe that certain kinds of the tiny stone flies emerge mid-stream like mayflies. Or maybe there are a number of these little bright colored stoneflies that get swept under the surface while laying eggs. What ever the reason, this can be a very productive fly in June and July; during the early summer there are lots of yellowish colored mayflies as well, and a large number are still-born. These flies often are best during bright sunlight hours when not much else works.
Item Description Size Price To Top
NSH0029-14 Soft Hackle, Partridge and Yellow 14 3 for $6.75 Sale Ended
NSH0029-16 Soft Hackle, Partridge and Yellow 16 3 for $6.75 Sale Ended
Soft Hackle Tungsten Bead Pheasant Tail
It was bound to happen. Someone placed a tungsten bead in the middle of a soft hackle fly to get it deep in the water column. This is now the most popular of the current soft hackle flies that are available. It may be fished as a nymph or swung as a wet fly, and is especially productive in deeper and faster water in rivers.
It can also be a very productive fly during Callibaetis Mayfly hatches in lakes. Often Callibaetis mayfly nymphs make several attempts to reach the surface before they are actually able to emerge. During these hatches try using a floating line. Let the fly sink, then retrieve it to the surface, and then let it sink again. Be prepared for hard strikes.
Item Description Size Price To Top
13355 Soft Hackle Tungsten Bead Pheasant Tail 14 3 for $7.50 Sale Ended
13356 Soft Hackle Tungsten Bead Pheasant Tail 16 3 for $7.50 Sale Ended
13357 Soft Hackle Tungsten Bead Pheasant Tail 18 3 for $7.50 Sale Ended
Trout Spey

Trout Spey isn't new. We been doing it of and on since the 1990's. Problem is, we were ahead of our time. In the 1990's light spey Rods were heavy six and seven weights, and our average trout are 13" to 17" with 15" about average. Not much fun on a big heavy rod. The lines that were available were pretty chunky too, so fishing for trout didn't get interesting until about ten years ago. That is when some of the leading rod maker started making two-hand rods in the four and five weight sizes. We predict that in the next five years four weights will become the standard Trout spey. Two and three weight two-handers will become more and more available, but four weights will rule because they will comfortably cast flies from 3/8" to 2" long. Echo produced one of the first four-weights.
Another four weight of note is the Sage 4116-4 ONE. This may be the ultimate Trout Spey.

I really got into Spey Rod fishing for trout on the Deschutes in 2004. G. Loomis made a great 11' 6" five weight rod. I used it both as a nymph rod and a Spey Rod. It was a Switch Rod, but it was a better Spey Rod for fishing streamer flies. I caught a lot of trout on Wooly Buggers and Leeches because I could reach water that rarely got fished. Some very memorable trout were landed. This same rod caught both trout and fall steelhead from the local rivers on the west slope of the Cascades.

April is a good time to fish with streamer flies. Use a sinking tip line. I used a Skagit or Switch Shooting Head and 7 1/2' to 10' of T7 to T8 sinking tip. The following flies have done best in the spring for trout: Sculpzilla, all colors, but especially Olive in size #8, Flash-A-Bugger. all colors, but especially brown in #6.
Echo Tim Rajeff Series Spey Rod TR4120
Length: 12'
Line Weight: #4
Number of Pieces: 4
Line Recommendations: 270-360 grains
Use: This is a trout rod for big water and trout that average 2 lb to 6lb.
Tim's top picks in Airflo Lines that bring out the best performance with this Echo TR rod model are: Scandi Compact 270-grain, or Skagit Compact or Skagit Switch Shooting heads 360-grain.
Free Airflo Skagit Switch Shooting Head 360-grain included with this rod.
Item Description Price To Top
TR4120 Echo Tim Rajeff Series Rod, 12-foot, for 4-weight line, Free Airflo Skagit Switch Shooting Head 360-grain included with this rod. $349.99 Sale Ended

Echo Tim Rajeff Series Spey Rod TR5120
Length: 12'
Line Weight: #5
Number of Pieces: 4
Line Recommendations: 330-420 grains

Use: A trout streamer rod for big rivers and also a sweet rod for late season summer steelhead on the Klickitat, Deschutes, John Day & Grand Ronde Rivers.
Free Airflo Skagit Compact Shooting Head 420-grain included with this rod.
Item Description Price To Top
TR5120 Echo Tim Rajeff Series Rod, 12-foot, for 5-weight line, Free Airflo Skagit Compact Shooting Head 420-grain included with this rod. Complete with rod case. $349.99 Sale Ended
Sage 4116-4 ONE
Length: 11' 6"
Line Weight: #4
Number of Pieces: 4
Line Recommendations: 270-360 grains
Use: This is a trout rod for big water and trout that average 2 lb to 6lb.
George Cook's top picks: Lines that bring out the best performance with this Sage 4116-4 ONE rod model are: RIO Skagit Max Short 325-grain, or Scandi 270-grains.
Item Description Price To Top
4116-4 ONE Sage 4116-4 ONE Rod, 11-foot 6-inch, for 4-weight line, Complete with aluminum rod case. $850.00 Sale Ended
This is the first entry in FlyFishUSA's Fly Fishing Article Writing Contest. For this entry: Lance Conragan will recieve a $50 Gift Certificate, and a chance to win an Echo Carbon Fly Rod.
The Flyman
By: Lance Conragan
 It was early December, the beginning of the winter run steelhead season, and new to this part of Oregon, was familiarizing myself with the river by stopping periodically along it to look for promising runs and swing a few flies.
Parked at a popular hole where a smaller river joined the Nestucca River, I was tugging on my waders by my truck when I noticed an older gent, wearing a full diving wetsuit, walking up the path from the river, carrying a varied assortment of lures and plugs and knotted line in his hands.  Spying my fly rod propped up against my rig, he changed direction, came over, and introduced himself as Jack Harell, saying he was always glad to see a fellow fly fisherman, and as we began what would become a very informative and helpful discussion on runs and patterns, I had to ask him about the collection of hardware he was holding. 
Jack said he had been diving the fishing hole , which was apparently heavily favored by the gear crew, to clean out as much of the snagged gear as he could find, something he did regularly at the conclusion of most King Salmon seasons, as he thought it just the right thing to do.  And as a former open ocean free diver, Jack had the necessary diving skills to accomplish such a task alone.
I didn't encounter Jack again until the following late September, posted up on the bank of the Nestucca River at the Bridge Hole in tidewater, smack dab in the middle of Pacific City, a one stop light little town on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, watching the small group of shoulder to shoulder bait fishermen on the bank performing synchronized bobber fishing.  Casting large bobbers with chunks of various baits suspended below, a flotilla of brightly colored floats drifting upstream on the current formed by an incoming tide, the methodical cast, drift and retrieve occasionally disrupted when a bobber went down on a bite.
This particular day, the bankies were haven't much luck as apparently only a couple of fish had been caught so far, and they vocalized their collective frustration whenever the occasional big King rolled on the surface.   
My focus shifted from the bobber flotilla to a driftboat being rowed from downstream towards us, and soon a gent I recognized as Jack from our chance meeting months earlier, parked his older yellow Clackacraft  at the far downstream edge of the hole, and set his fore and aft anchors to bankie shouts of "hey, Flyman, show us how it's done," and was soon casting a long spey rod with only a shooting head attached to it.
I watched Jack false cast, whipping that long rod back and forth, until he had put out enough line down and across to satisfy him, maybe 40' worth, then just sat there holding the rod horizontal, following the swing to the end, then began patiently and methodically retrieving the fly with small strips.  At the end of the swing on his third cast he suddenly reared the rod back and sideways, that long rod bowed deeply, and a King of around 25 pounds boiled on the surface and then went on a sizzling run across the pool, the bankies rapidly reeling in their gear as it did.
Jack slipped the rod between his legs, retrieved the bow and stern anchors, and proceeded to row his boat 25 yards downstream, the spey rod bouncing and bending between Jack's knees, a long spring absorbing the hell breaking loose at the end of the line.
Once he had cleared his fish well away from the hole, at which point the bankies began slinging away again, Jack dropped a single anchor and spent the next 15 minutes fighting the fish until he had it alongside the boat, at which point he leaned over and released it.
Jack then rowed back to his former position, anchored the boat, and began casting once again. I ambled down the bank, re-introduced myself and we began chatting about his technique and gear, easy to do as the boat was only anchored about 20' off the bank.  A conversation, one of just many we would have over the following years, usually conducted as we swung flies on the river, periodically interrupted as Jack caught and released two more King salmon in the next half hour. 
With each release, the crescendo of verbal barbs coming from the bankies increased, mostly good natured because they all, including Jack, either lived in town or nearby, and so were well acquainted with each other.  But a couple of the voices were a bit more strident, claiming that "the Flyman is flossing the fish," was in reality snagging them.
So after a couple more of the flossing jibes flew, Jack reeled in, pulled up anchors, rowed the few yards to the bank, stepped out with a small handful of flies, walked up to the knot of fishermen, which I joined, and handed them out to whoever would take one, challenging them to clip the big hook impaled with roe and sand shrimp from underneath their bobbers and just try dangling one of his flies under their bobbers instead.
7 fishermen accepted flies from him, 6 bankies and myself, as I was eager to see how he tied that specific pattern, a modified Orange and Black #2 Comet.  After handing out the flies Jack returned to his boat, and just sat in it parked on the bank, watching the bankies who had accepted the flies begin drifting them down the slot. 
And in the next 30 minutes four of the six using his flies went bobber down, one lost his fish to a notorious snag, the other three fought husky King's all the way to the end, sliding them up onto the bank.  By the time that last fish was brought to hand, the bankies who had formerly been ribbing Jack now had nothing but praise for the Flyman, and several wanted to buy additional flies from him.
At that point Jack, a part time school bus driver, said he had to get going to make the afternoon run, promised he'd be back with more flies for whoever wanted them, slid his boat off the bank and began rowing back downstream.  I headed back to my rig and started stringing my rod and getting my waders on.
And about an hour later, waist deep and just inside of where Jack had previously been anchored, swinging through the same lane the Flyman had established earlier, I felt the slightest of tugs at the end of the line, lifted back hard and deep, and made it 5 for 7, as my first salmon in Oregon waters boiled on the surface and began the dance.


The Fly Fishing Shop HOME. The Fly Fishing Shop, Welches, OR

1(800) 266-3971

P.O. Box 368 - 67296 East Hwy 26
Welches, Oregon 97067, USA
Voice: (503) 622-4607 or 1(800) 266-3971 FAX: (503) 622-5490

1981-2015 The Fly Fishing Shop
We have been in business since April 21, 1981.

To Top