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.
Great post! I’ve been increasingly curious about soft hackle flies in the last little while. This might be just the push I needed to get some partridge (or see if there’s any in the tying kit) and get some tied up. Thanks!
Scratch that curious itch. 🙂
Good advice! Buying a full partridge skin is probably the best decision I’ve made as a fly tier.
The gift that keeps on giving.
Great post!!! The only thing that would make this and other posts better is for the reader to be able to click on the pattern that you reference, in this case the North Country Spider or the Partridge and Light Cahill, and see the recipe.
That’s a good idea, Frank. I’ll look into doing that going forward. In this case, the pattern recipe is in the caption. Depending on the size of the fly, I use 6/0 or 8/0 UNI Light Cahill thread.
Love Partridge soft hackles. As you mention they have been fooling fish for a long time. I save the left over after I turn the hackle and color it with a brown sharpie marker. Makes great tails and legs on pheasant tail nymphs and antenna on caddis pupa. And I use a light yellow sharpie to tint the lighter colored feathers also for summer patterns. Not much waste when I get done with a skin. Good recommendation Steve.
I think you’re part Scotsman, Gary. Brilliant!
I forgot. I have been giving sculpin patterns for years to a good friend who lives in Emigrant Montana. My friend is a great bird hunter. So I told him that after the 9 gazillion sculpins I’ve given him the least he could do was give me a Hun skin, and maybe a pheasant. I got a box last month that contained 10, as in TEN Hun skins and two pheasants. BO NAN ZA
A dozen skins is surely fair trade for 9 gazillion sculpins. 🙂
Steve, I could not agree more on buying hackle in person. I used to buy it sight unseen,big mistake. A man by the name of Ed shenk taught me that valuable lesson. Thanks. Good post.
Thanks, Brad. I feel the same way about most natural materials, especially bucktail.
Happy 2017….may our paths cross in the New Year.
Indeed. That would be swell. 🙂
Steve, another excellent article & wonderful flies! Love soft hackles!
That makes two of us, Jim. Thanks for your kind words. 🙂