The arrival of the October Caddis or Great Autumn Brown Sedge, to me anyway, marks the end of the big bug season here in the east, the last chance to fish with a dry fly I can actually see. But soft hackles, like this one, can be remarkably effective and even more fun to fish than dries.
An Orvis Tactical Barbless Wide Gap hook in a size 10 makes for a balanced, nice looking fly. It’s a modern update to classic pattern that aesthetically works really well. With no barb to mash, begin by getting the hook firmly secured in your tying vise.
Brown UTC 70 Denier is a good choice for tying thread but you can also go with something more orangy if you like.
Start your thread just behind the hook eye and take a few wraps rearward before snipping of breaking off the tag.
Small gold Ultra wire is used as a rib to segment the fly and add a little bit of shimmer.
Leaving about an eye length space behind the eye, lay the wire against the near side of the hook and begin taking thread wraps rearward to secure it to the shank. Allow thread tension to carry it to the far side of the hook as you go. Continue taking thread wraps all the way back to the hook bend. This is about the same location as the barb, if your hook has one.
From a burnt orange Brahma Hen Soft Hackle and Chickabou pelt select a single Chickabou feather and pluck it free from the skin.
Looking at the backside of the feather, locate where the stem dramatically drops in size and gets darker. Strip off all the fibers below this point and maybe just a few more above it. Once you’ve gotten the lower fibers stripped off, moisten the remaining fibers with either saliva or water. This will really help to keep the Chickabou from going all over the place during tie-in and wrapping.
With the tips pointing rearward and aligned with the hook bend, use a single pinch wrap to secure the feather to the top of the hook. Take another quick wrap around just the shank and then one more over both the feather and shank. This will really lock things in place. Then, lift the feather up and with open spiral wraps advance your tying thread to where you started to tie in the wire.
Using hackle pliers, get hold of the butt end of the chickabou stem and give it a little twist to tighten the fibers into a thin rope. Then begin making touching wraps with the rope up the hook shank. Don’t worry if you get some off shoots, there’ll be more once the chickabou dries and they add a good bit of buggyness of the pattern.
Continue wrapping until you reach your tying thread, then secure the chickabou rope with two or three wraps. Keeping the remaining stem lifted to vertical, reach in with your tying scissors and snip it off close, being careful not to cut the thread in the process.
Get hold of the gold wire and begin making open spiral wraps over the chickabou, up the hook shank. You can use counterwraps if you like, but I don’t think it adds that much in terms of durability. Six or seven evenly spaced wraps seems about right in order to nicely segment the fly.
When you reach your tying thread, take a few tight wraps to get the wire well secured to the hook shank. You can then brace the fly with the bobbin nozzle and helicopter the wire to break it off close. Adding a few more thread wraps to cover the end of the wire won’t hurt either.
For the actual soft hackle, select a single nicely marked feather and pluck it free from the skin. Sweep the lower, longer fibers down toward the base of the stem. You want to pull down anything longer than the length of the hook minus the eye. Once you’re happy with the fiber length, begin stripping the lower, longer fibers away to expose the stem. Do leave some of the very lowest fibers on the stem to act as a handle during wrapping.
Get hold of the feather in your left hand and while holding the very tip with your right, pull the lower fibers down but don’t strip them off. This should leave just the very end of the feather exposed. Snip the tip off square to form a small triangle which will act as a tie in anchor.
Keeping the fibers swept back, place the anchor against the hook shank just behind the eye and take a few good firm thread wraps to secure it there.
While holding the stem with your right hand, sweep back and fold the fibers together with your left. Keep stroking the fibers back until all are pointed rearward.
Begin wrapping the stem around the hook shank, preening the fibers rearward as you go. Each wrap should land just in front of the previous. Two or three turns is all you really need.
When you're satisfied with the number of fibers, use a few tight thread wraps to bind the stem to the shank. Once it is completely secured reach in with just the very tips of your tying scissors and snip the excess stem off close.
Pull all the fibers back and take a few more thread wraps behind the eye to hold them there. If you can, go easy with the number of thread wraps. To me, soft hackle flies look much better with short small heads. You can then finish the fly with a 4 or 5 turn whip finish and snip or cut your tying thread free.
There are a gajillion different ways to fish soft hackles, just make sure to leave time at the end of the drift or swing to allow the fly to rise in the water column as this most closely resembles an emerging natural and where you’re most likely to get a take.