Surely any aficionado of the soft-hackled fly knows the value of the partridge. Although James Leisenring committed the act of understatement when he said, “The English or Hungarian partridge provides the flytier with some valuable gray and brown speckled feathers.” Some? There are enough glorious feathers on a full partridge skin to keep you in soft hackles for decades. I know, because I just bought my second skin. I still have the first one, purchased a decade ago, and it still has many seasons of flies left in it.
Forget the packaged bags of partridge feathers. Then listen to Dave Hughes, who said, “I cannot urge you strongly enough to purchase an entire skin, wings and all.” This one came from UpCountry Sportfishing. I like to buy hackle in person so I can eyeball the skin. And of course, it’s a good idea to support your local fly shop.
I use feathers from all over the skin — for saltwater flies, too — but the hackles I value most are the silver-grey and brownish feathers that line the neck, shoulders, and back. These are the feathers that are used in the North-Country spiders and dozens of other traditional patterns. The closer you go to the neck of the bird, the smaller the feathers. Look for a skin that is densely packed with these smaller feathers.
A hook, a partridge feather, and some thread. Simple, buggy spiders like these have been fooling fish for centuries.