View Full Version : Feathers
09-01-99, 11:28 AM
After about a year of tying, I thought that I would catch on to some things ,and I have. But, one area still confuses me.
Ok, so there are so many types feathers that can be purchased. I do not know a hen cape from a rooster cape from a neck, but I am especially interested in the visual differences (so that I can identify them in the store) as well as the use differences (soft hackle, dry fly hackle, tails, palmering hackle, etc).
OK, so these are the names that particularly confuse me (feel free to add any other names/descriptors to this list):
neck vs. saddle
chinese rooster capes
dry fly rooster capes
dry fly hackle
strung neck hackle
strung saddle hackle
Have at it mes amis!!
Flygurl -- Since no one else has responded, I'll try to help but my knowledge of this stuff is limited and I leave it to the experts to correct me if I'm wrong. Somewhere, back in my hazy past, I remember reading a book that covered some of this but I can't remember which one. Here's my shot:
neck -- the front feathers from a chicken's neck running down to and perhaps including the breast.
Cape -- The back feathers running down from the chicken's neck and perhaps across the back.
Saddle -- Back feathers from side to side.
Skins -- the full pelt from a bird such as a pheasant or chicken. Contains all important feathers from that particular bird.
Rooster/chicken capes, necks, saddles, etc. -- The chickens used for flytying feathers are specially bred for that purpose. Generally, I believe that rooster feathers are best for dry flies because they are finer and stiffer and therefore provide better heckle to support the fly in the surface film.
Again, generally, hen feathers are softer and more flexible, therefore more appropriate for wet flies and streamers.
Strung hackle is when the feathers have been removed from the bird, graded and tied with string. Pea*****hurl often comes this way. Generally, I would think that strung hackle is more expensive than skins because it has been sorted and graded according to size, quality, etc. However, that also means that you have less waste and you can purchase what you need in appropriate sizes and quality. In the long run, the price difference could be a wash.
Marabou is a fluffy flexible feather that creates action similar to that of a minnow when it is worked through the water. It is the feather used for Wooly Buggers and other streamer-type flies.
Feathes come in grades which signify the quality and size of the feather. Sometime ago, I purchased a Grizzley hackle neck at Unicoi Outfitters in Grade 2 for $19.95. It was one of the best investments I've ever made in feathers. It had feathers which would work for flies from size 20 to about size 12. Probably has a few feathers that would work with even smaller sizes. The neck was 15-18 inches long with feathers of 6-12 inches. The 6-inch feathers were perfect for small flies and the longer ones worked great for larger ones. And, I can tie several flies from each feather.
In addition, capes, necks and saddles are dyed to provide appropriate colors for different fly patterns. As i understand it, some types of feathers accept the dye better than others so there's a difference in quality that you have to be careful about.
Cabela's Flytying Catalogue has an excellent explanation of the different grades. sizes, etc. with photos. The catalogue is free and worth the information it contains eve if you never order anything. Do a search for "Cabela's" and you can order the catalogue on-line.
Jack & Drifter and others -- How 'bout jumping in here and clarifying or expounding on this post.
Orvis's Fly Tying catalog also has pretty good feather descriptive/uses explanation.
09-02-99, 10:39 PM
Mr. T just about covered it. A few additions, etc. Like he said, most chicken feathers sold for flytying come from chickens bred strictly for that purpose. Hoffman's is by far the best at that. Metz, Ewing, etc. are also good. The quality differs from neck to neck. Read up on how to judge the feathers before you spend a lot of money.
Hoffman (or Whiting as it is now known) sells part of saddles. These are dry fly quality and are marked as to the size they will tie. One of these saddle hackles is good for 3-4 flies each! (Long and narrow!)
Dry fly hackle comes from roosters. Hen and capons are too soft to support. BTW, the Chinese necks and capes are of an inferior grade and aren't worth considering.
The hen feathers and the body feathers from game birds like grouse, etc. are excellent for wet flies.
There are a lot of information about the many, many types of feathers (and parts of feathers) that are available (flats, biots, wing feathes, tail feathers, etc.), you do need to check out the references.
Confusing, ain't it <g>
09-02-99, 10:59 PM
Well said Len!
Fellow Feather Heads,
Regarding judging feathers (dry fly):
You want long feathers with little webbing. Webbing is found at the base of the feather and is composed of the thicker barbules. These barbules are more likely to absorb water, reducing bouyancy.
Longer feathers will allow you to tie a fly with one feather as opposed to two and will give you a more heavily hackled fly. Hoffman claims you can sometimes tie two flies with one of their hackles.
Also keep in mind the size of fly you'll be tying. If you tie a lot of midge patterns, choose a cape with plenty of the smallest feathers. If you tie a lot of saltwater and b****patterns, opt for a neck with plenty of the larger feathers.
Also certain natural colored capes tend to be rarer than other colors. (We're talking natural color as opposed to dyed) As a result, some colored capes are more expensive than others of different color but same quality.
Not sure about this, but I've "heard tell" that roosters are killed at a certain time of year. Alledgedly the feathers are shinier and more colorful during certain seasons. As a result, certain times of the year, capes and necks are more plentiful, prices are lower, and you can pick and choose from a larger selection. Jimmy Jacobs may be able to elaborate on this.
The Ole Man
09-03-99, 12:53 AM
Mr T, et al, did an excellent job with the descriptions. I can only add that marabou comes from somewhere on a turkey-not sure where. There is also chickabou which is a fluffy little feather found at the base of other feathers-they have a name, besides chickabou, but I can't recall the word. Also ,go to www.hookhack.com homepage , pull down and read "flytyers hints" and "hackle study".
I get a lot of use out of Metz "Microbarb Saddles" that are only available so far in 2 or 3 colors-very long and thin.
09-03-99, 07:01 AM
When in a fly shop, get a clerk to open a pack of hen feathers (for wets), a rooster neck, and a rooster saddle (both for dries). Selecting individual feathers, bend them to notice how dries are steely and the hen feathers are soft.
Jack -- thanks for that tidbit. I always thought marabou came from mares!
Flygurl--The first question I ever asked on this board was about palmered hackle. As it was explained to me, you tie the hackle in with the tip first (at the bend) then wind forward, giving a tapered effect to the hackle. I had done this for years but had never heard it called palmering until I got on this board.
Jack I belive the other name for the feather is philoplume as it is the immature feather at the base of the main stem.
09-03-99, 08:46 PM
Keep it going - you are all full of I.T., interesting tibits, that is.
09-07-99, 12:48 PM
One of our fellow board members, Rollcast, wrote a great article on picking hackle that's on the Gloablflyfisher website at http://www.globalflyfisher.com/tiebetter/hackles/picking.html .
A little advise that was passed on to me from a production fly tyer. Capes are a waist of money unless you are tying lots of flies under #18 in size. Hoffman Saddles offer more feather for the buck.
The Hoffman 100 packs are a good deal. About $9 and enough saddle hackle to tie 100 flies. They are sized 12-16, 16-smaller.
An affordable way to get the best hackle out there.
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