The Hackle Stacker is more a style of fly than it is an individual pattern. Developed by Bob Quigley in the late 80’s, hackle stacker-style flies do a remarkable job of imitating not only emerging mayflies but cripples, duns and spinners as well.
Here, Pennsylvania fly fisherman and tier, and member of the Catskill Fly Tyers Guild, Tim Bartholomew is going to tie a Hackle Stacker Hendrickson.
For a hook, Tim uses a size 12 Mustad 94840. After mashing the barb and getting the hook firmly secured in his tying vise, he loads a bobbin with a spool with olive 6/0 Danville. Start your thread about 1/3 of the way down the hook shank from the eye and take touching wraps rearward before snipping or breaking off the tag. Continue taking thread wraps all the way back to the start of the hook bend.
Medium dun hackles fibers are used to form the tail of the fly. Select a single hackle from the outside edge of the neck with long, stiff, straight fibers and pluck it free from the skin. Pull down a dozen or so fibers from just above the webby part of the feather and, while keeping their tips aligned, strip them free from the stem. Measure to form a tail a hook shank in length and then transfer that measurement rearward. Using a pinch wrap, secure the fibers to the top of the hook shank with nice even thread wraps. If any of the butt ends are left sticking out, snip them off close. Return your tying thread back down the hook shank to just in front of the base of the tail.
To create the abdomen of the fly, Tim uses Spirit River UV2 Fine & Dry dubbing in Hendrickson pink. A small pinch is all you need. Build a thin 1 1/2” long dubbing noodle on your tying thread that’s gently tapered at both ends. Start taking wraps with the noodle so the dubbing begins right at the base of the tail and build up a tapered body that ends at the initial tie-in point.
Now comes the fun part. Place the index finger of your left hand about 3” above the hook shank and brace the rest of that hand on your tying vise. With your right hand, loop the tying thread over top of your index finger and then back down around the hook shank. Repeat this procedure 3 more times to form 4 full loops. With the loops done, start taking wraps around just the hook shank, in front of them, to compress them back against the dubbing. You can then remove your index finger from the loops. You should be left with what amounts to a very limber parachute post sticking up from the hook shank right at the front end of the fly’s abdomen.
Next, select another medium dun hackle feather. The hackle should be one size smaller than the hook size, in this case, a size 14 hackle for a size 12 hook. Right where the webby fibers start, strip off fibers from both sides of the stem and snip the butt end of the feather off, leaving about 1/8” of stripped stem for tie-in. With the shiny side of the feather facing up and forward, lay the stem against the near side of the hook and take thread wraps to secure it all the way up to the eye and then rearward, to the start of the abdomen. Pick up the thread loops and, this time, insert the index finger of your right hand into the loops to hold them vertically.
This next part looks a little tricky but it really isn’t that bad with a bit of practice. Start making clockwise wraps up the thread post, passing the hackle tip back and forth between the fingertips of your hands. When you get about 1/8” up, begin wrapping the hackle back down the post, all the way to its base. Once there, remove your finger from the loop, pull the hackle tip to the near side of the hook shank and, with your left hand, preen the hackle fibers and post rearward, and give them a nice, tight pinch. This will allow you to pick up your bobbin and take thread wraps to secure the hackle tip to the shank. Once you have the tip really locked down, reach in with your tying scissors and snip the excess off close. You can now take a deep breath as the tricky part’s over.
Create another very short, thin dubbing noodle on your tying thread, using the same material as before. Pull the post and hackle back and take wraps with the noodle to build up a thorax that tapers from the post down to the hook eye. Now, while holding the loops up with the fingertips of your right hand, preen the post and hackle tips rearward with your left then pull the loops forward and down over the eye. Pinch hard with the fingertips of your left hand while taking a couple of thread wraps to loosely secure the loops with your right. You can then gently pull the loops forward, under the thread wraps to seat the hackle over top of the thorax. While pinching the hackle fibers back and out of the way, take another couple of wraps over top of the thread loops and then pull them back and start making wraps over top of them as they point rearward. The idea is to absolutely lock the thread loops down before you reach in with the tips of your tying scissors and snip the excess off close.
You can then do a 3 or 4 turn whip finish before snipping or cutting your tying thread free. Sometimes you need to do a little preening and some judicious trimming to get the hackle fibers to look just right.
Hackle stackers are designed to ride in the surface film and the lower horizontal fibers make this possible. At the same time, the more vertical fibers suggest an emergent wing and make the fly more visible for the angler.
Once you get the hang of tying them, hackle stackers are a lot of fun to tie and incredibly versatile.