Variations Of Hackles

by Fly Fisherman

There are many variations of the principal types of necks (capes) or hackle quills. For instance, the Grizzly or Plymouth Rock hackle ranges from a deeply marked pattern which overall looks dark gray, to an extremely sparse marking which is almost to the white range. This light hackle with the sparse markings is often called “Chinchilla” and is used primarily for mixing with other shades, used in place of white, or dyed any color desired. The Red (‘Rhode Island Red) hackle which is reddish brown extends from so-called dark ginger to a deep brown or reddish mahogany. Incidentally, when “red” is mentioned in descriptions relevant to fly tying this is the red which is meant and not the scarlet or crimson red with which we are most familiar. Ginger is definitely another shade which carries a lemon yellowish tinge. It ranges from buff cream to a deep tan mustard. True Brown is just that, flat without a red tinge.

Some white necks are available which, on their outer surfaces, carry an ivory or yellowish cream tint. This is a desirable hackle much used for hackle tip wings, and in place of pure white. The neck is usually of better quality than the regular stock white.
The blue dun shade which is used probably more often in dry flies than the other colors is, in its natural state, a freak cross between black and white birds. The Andalusian blues are almost unprocurable and this is no great loss because the coarseness and sparseness of the barbs make the hackles not too desirable. Unless you are fortunate enough to find a “freak” blue or are in a position to do your own cross breeding the next best is the dyed hackle. These hackles generally are from pure white necks or the light grizzly dyed light, medium or dark blue dun.

Furnace is a deep red to dark brown with a darker area following the quill from the butt to, or almost to, the tip. Some Furnace necks have this list sharply defined while others have but a vague suggestion of the coloration.
Coch-y-bondhu (or Cock-a-bondy) is a Furnace with the tip ends of the barbs a darker shade also, matching the center marking. Very rarely used. Badger is a white, cream or light tan with a black marking following the quill of the feather as does the darker section on the Furnace hackle. Blacks and whites are just that. Good natural blacks are rare and dyed black necks are preferable to the general run of market blacks. White necks, too, in top quality are scarce. The whites have, as a rule, an extremely long barb structure on the quills. Most of them are used as a base for dyed necks of various shades and colors.

Then comes the almost limitless range of regular “Freak” necks which include off-Badger, mixed color or Multi-color
Grizzly, Honey Dun, off-Furnace and off-Coch-y-bondhu, the latter two which extend to almost solid blacks. Customarily the “Freak” hackle is used for variant tied flies, for hackle tip wings, for mixing with other regular colors to create effective shades and for the amateur’s experimentation. Fly tiers, short of professionals, need have little concern with the acquisition of all types of hackle. The modern trend to mixed hackles has eliminated that worry.

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