Four Methods of Hackle on Traditional Wet Flies

This is the Hemlock wet fly. The accompanying photo is similar to the one in my Hatches Magazine 2010 article, Traditional Wet Flies. The Hemlock is a simple pattern with only three ingredients; body, hackle, wing. Starting in upper left:

1) A beard style or false hackle, made with a pinch of barbs some from each side of a hen feather, placed together bottom side (concave) of barbs facing in.

2) A palmer-style hackle, wound over the body. Typically the Hemlock does not have a palmered hackle, but I did it for the article to demonstrate the style and make my point. One side of a palmer-wound hackle is usually stripped, but this one was not, because it is from an older hen neck, not as heavily barbed as many necks currently sold.

3) A wet fly collar hackle, wound on before setting the wing. The hackle is divided and slightly pulled down and a few fibers are trapped by the tying thread to allow room for the wing.

4) A collar style hackle applied after setting the wing. This style gives the fly a full collar, and makes a combination soft-hackle and winged wet fly.

All of these are perfectly acceptable methods of applying hackle to wet flies. Methods 3 and 4 are folded and wound in place.

And finally, not wanting to sound egotistical, but Hatches 2010 is still available. I suggest if you haven’t read my article, Traditional Wet Flies, it may help you to obtain a copy. At nearly 5000 words and lots of photos, there is a lot of how-to wet fly tying info there, primarily concentrated on hackles and wings. I still have a few copies for sale, I can mail them within the US and Canada, signed, for $8.50 including postage. Paypal accepted. Contact me via e-mail:

Schlappen fibers can be used for the false hackle, and I also often use the tip of schlappen feathers for types 3 & 4. I have found the tips of schlappen feathers useful and even favorable when tying larger wet fly patterns, such as the old 1800’s style bass and lake flies when dressing patterns on size #4, #2, #1, #1/0 and larger hooks.

I hope this helps those who have questions about wet fly hackles. Thanks for your time!

Hemlock wet fly illustrating four styles / methods of hackle.

By the way, the Hemlock is also a good fishing fly, it is usually a good practice when fishing a cast of two or three wet flies to insert at least one dark-patterned fly; the Hemlock fills this need and also catches trout. Tight lines everyone!


Thread: Danville Flymaster 6/0 white may be used for the body, black for the head. This is because I prefer white thread as my working thread under all colors of floss except black.

Body: Dark gray floss

Hackle: Brown

Wing: Mottled brown turkey

Head: Black

4 comments on “Four Methods of Hackle on Traditional Wet Flies

  1. Bill says:

    Great tutorial, and beautiful dressings (as usual).

  2. Sukhoidave says:

    Don the flies are beautiful as usual of course – and they will certainly catch fish better than a worm would – but for the sake of positive critique – I would like to give you feedback on 3 out of 4 of those flies. It seems like the head cement has flowed into the hackle and/or wing – it didn’t on the palmer hackled one and that makes it the more perfect of the group.

    I know you are a stickler for details and figure you will appreciate knowing what I have noticed in some of your flies. Easy fix I think – just be more careful when applying the cement. (Perhaps you need a custom made special fine-gauge dubbing needle to precisely add tiny amounts of head cement at a time…)

    Pretty sure it happens to all of us at times.

  3. Thanks Dave;
    I know that — it’s normally most noticeable on macro images of flies, and I have been more careful of this problem. I have switched one of the brands of head cement I am using since these flies were tied and the photos taken. Thanks!

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