Part of the planned series of ReadMARK&Learn. This page is part of a set of pages designed to aid the fly tier in building the skills for their tying, the tools  and how to use them plus jargon busting. Fly Dressing is a vast subject, offering interested people a fascinating hobby, which can be quite daunting for the beginner. For further details or to suggest additional content; please send an email to

The following copy is for absolute beginners who may wish to get a grip of both the items and some of the jargon used in Fly Tying. A Fly Dresser will often talk about the following as if everyone knows what they are saying. So this hopefully will help some. If there are glaring mistakes, omissions, typos etc. Please do get in touch so that we can build a searchable library for new members. It would be most helpful if you could Cut & Paste the appropriate current wording and then provide amendments clearly in an email. N.B. he decisions of the SFDG Committee on what is or is not on the Website is FINAL. Please use Email as your means of communicating your suggestions. Thanks, Keith. 

To Search for a word, you may find it prudent to use your Browser’s Find Command (often in the Edit Menu). This will highlight the word and you can then look for the relevant sentence. If the term appears often you may then be able to ask to Find Next or even Find Previous use of said term.

Hackles are used in Fly Tying and generally, at least for beginners, come from Chickens.

Hackles are feathers, that are wound around the hook shank to add value. Generally just one Hackle is used on a Fly Pattern. Exceptions exist.

Hackles are normally sized in the region of one to one and a half size of the Hook Gap. Hook Gap is the distance from the Point to the Shank of the hook. Which alters according to the Hook’s Size and features.

Dry hackles are for Dry Flies, which means they should float. Dry Hackles are primarily added to the collar, thorax area or head of the fly.

Dry hackles come from Male Birds ie Cock (& Rooster) chickens. So they are called Cock Hackles

Dry hackles are also used on Emergers. These (sometimes on Grub Hooks & / or specific hooks like KlinkHammers). Emergers are Flies that both float and sink. Actually they are emerging for one state to another. There Tail & or Shuck (like a snake shedding it’s old skin); is normally submerged whilst their head (the eye end of the hook is poking out of the water).

Wet Hackles are used on Wet hooks and other types e.g. Nymph hooks.

Wet Hackles come for Hen Birds.

Wet Hackles are primarily wound around the body of the fly, that is along the hook Shank from the tail end to the eye end. They may stop short and they may have more than one feather used.

Wet hackles are for Wet Flies which normally sink. the Fly will sink better with more weight, which could be Lead Wire tied on the hook shank first & / or a Bead (e.g. Brass) added near the Eye of the hook to represent the Head of an Imitation fly.

Feathers have fluffy waste near where they were tied in (grew out from the chicken). These are not used and should be stripped away.

Attaching a Hackle can be assisted by leaving a small triangle slightly up the shaft. Hackles are normally tied with their good (shinny) side facing forward to the eye, Sometime these are smoothed back while winding on. Hackles can imitate Legs, and Wings etc. So occasionally they are wound against their natural curvature. Fly Tying Instruction (& maybe checking on YouTube) should help explain this.

Palmer or Palmering is a term for winding a hackle along the Body ie Hook Shank, normally in Open Turns; as opposed to Closed or Touching Turns. This is normally done from Tail to Eye, although stops short sometimes of the Thorax (bigger than body area behind Head). Space is left at the eye for tying off, which can be a Whip Finish or Half Hitches, both either tied by hand or with the appropriate tool.

Apart from Palmer wrapping hackles, and normally for Emergers & Dries, 2 -6 wraps at the collar, just before the Head and eye is usually enough.

Parachute flies and Paraloops Hackles are almost always tied up and down a post. This can again have two hackles of differing colours. Parachute & Paraloop flies are beyond the scope of this article. Being mentioned as a further illustration of the plethora of ways a fly can be tied / dressed.

Hackles come form Capes and or Saddles. A Cape could be considered to be hanging around the Neck area and the Saddle could be considered as (off) the Shoulder and (around) the Flank of the Bird. Capes are more consistently uniform in narrower width, longer and cost more. So when buying hackles, consideration is needed as to sex of bird, type of feather and how many Flies of what size it could be used for. Saddle feathers are primarily of different lengths and widths. They could be said to taper from wide to narrow. Cape Feathers often quite long and uniform are thus often suitable for tying many flies on the same size hooks. Hackles can be purchased stripped off the Cape or Saddle, in bunches that can assist in a varied collection at a lower cost. Whole Capes & Saddles potentially will have many feathers & costs can escalate easily. Especially if one then considers the next two issues i.e. Quality & Colour

Hackle Quality is a multiple field. Premium down to Bronze Grades with one company (Whitings having a much larger spread than that). Different “farms” e.g. Whitings, Metz, Chevron and then Jungle, Chinese & Indian. This is not exhaustive, but a fair indication. Genetic Capes & Saddles are bred especially for Fly Tyers and this leads to a huge range of quality, uses and prices. Whitings have their own Grading system which in itself is quite daunting for the beginner. There is no need to buy the highest quality, but you do get what you pay for. Indian & Chinese feathers are often of much poorer quality, adding them to your box needs some caution.

Here is a link to WhitingFarms Olympic Grading system: WhitingGrading

People used to prefer to handle the capes & saddles before purchasing, so as to asses Quality and Quantity of the Feathers they wished to buy. Few purchases will have many potential Hackles in all sizes. Testing them gave an indication of their usefulness and avoided owning many using few. Purchasing On-Line has made this very difficult.

Hackle Colour adds to the complexion of purchasing. Hackles are sold as a colour, of which there’re many. Dun is a type of Grey, others include Olives, Creams & Browns. Each can be further subdivided giving a whole host of alternatives to purchase! Each colour may be suitable for some patterns and not for others. So Fly Tyers generally have many more than one coloured Dry & Wet hackle! Worse still; some Hackles are multi-coloured e.g. Grizzly. Grizzly feathers often appear to have more of a tiger stripes look and Badger feathers can have multiple colours running from top to bottom. This further opens up the possibilities; and costs. Whitings for example offer Variants, which means the the feathers can be dyed in a plethora of selling opportunities!

To see their main “color” range, here is a link WhitingColours

The above is simply set out as a starting point. articles on Hackles could go on (possibly for ever). It is BEST to know what you want to tie, i.e. what patterns, in what sizes, for what purpose(s), to catch which fish, in what type of water etc. etc.

Else you could come to the Fly Tying Classes, where materials are provided (at a very small outlay).

The Surrey Branches’ Byfleet & Zoom classes offer fantastic tuition in a friendly group.

When you build experience you can empty your Bank Account as you like!