Fly Fishing with Chris Dore

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Tactical Soft Hackles

Posted on June 16, 2013 at 8:45 PM



Steve with a choosy brown which finally succumbed to a wee soft hackle trailing a beadhead.


I had a client last season who seemed horrified at my suggestion to throw a wee soft hackled wet to a very choosy fish. The mere sugggestion conjured up images of lazily swinging a fly around downstream in the current - a last ditch effort. This is not what he was in New Zealand for. After assurances this was not what we were about to do (yet would have, if needed) , we plopped the fly in above the fish, watched him lift, turn and with a tightening of the line, we were on!


Now swinging a team of soft hackles through likely pockets or across wide, slow pools can be a very deadly technique on NZ waters, and you can be lazy at your peril! The slightest stop or most subtle pull on the line can offer you the breifest of moments to connect with the fish. And if you havent swung at the right speed through the right lie, you wont hit.


This is very controlled, attention demanding fishing. And very well worth it. However it is not on the swing where I feel soft hackles come into their own in my repitoire. Fished upstream to sighted fish, or in conjunction with blind nymph tactics, soft hackles prove a very versitile, tactical pattern to keep on hand.


I tie mine sparse in usually dull colours: black, brown, olives etc and mostly unweighted. When fish are feeding on emergers they can prove deadly, drifted naturally an inch or three sub surface, or pulled across the current when the fish arent locked in to a specific feed lane**.


Tied on a dropper behind your favourite beadhead this sparse, inconspicuous pattern sports the suggestion of life to fool even the most perceptive of fish. So dont feel soft hackles are the lazy way out. Keeping a selection on hand will often save the day when fish are being fickle on the Mataura, in the backcountry, and I'm sure most rivers near you.




Simple Soft Hackle. (Tying time, around a minute.)




Hook: Kamisan B175 size 16


Abdoman: Brown, Olive or Black tying thread (dont be afraid to try lime green, burnt orange etc too)


Thorax: A sparse clump of brown Glister sparkle dub


Hackle: one simple turn of black or brown partridge, hen or other soft hackle




** Thoughts on Soft Hackles during sparse, Mataura Hatches.


Soft hackles prove deadly during the less prolific Mataura hatches when fish may rise a couple of times and then dissappear. In these situations there are enough mayfly about to get them rising sporadically, but not enough to keep them locked at the surface, or feeding within the confines of a determined feed lane.


The fish are still there: there just isnt enough food on top for them to concerntrate here.


Carefully wade into position wide of and / or just below the rise. With a longer, light leader, plop your pair of small soft hackles 45 degrees upstream, above and across of the rise form. Remember in these conditions, where fish are lifting from the bottom that their riseform is often significantly downstream of where he sits.




A pair of soft hackles can be deadly in the above water


Allowing the flies to sink breifly, as they approach the rise area a simple long draw with the line hand will move your team through and across the current where the fish sits. Be prepared for the tug.


We are doing a couple of things here: firstly we are making our flies stand out from the naturals by drawing them across the current, rather than with the current where all the others are drifting. This will catch the trouts eye and if he sees your fly he has but two choices: yes or no.


Secondly we are improving the hookup in a situation where many fish will eat rather softly (ask any mataura angler how many fish they 'pluck' rather than hook in sparse hatch situations and you will know what I'm saying). As we draw the fly on an angle downstream or across, we are maintaining constant tension on the line. Any fish that eats, stands a good chance of being hooked, as you effectively pull the fly into the corner of his mouth.


You will find in sparse hatch situations, pulling a team of soft hackles will produce far more hookups than persevering with the good old emerger in the surface film.



Have fun!

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