The Magic Shrinking Hackle

Sakasa Kebari

If you’re like me you’ve probably noticed that it can be pretty difficult to find just the right sized hackle. I’m not going to discuss the issue of “proper” hackle size too much here.  I will give my particular personal take on it though. When it comes to hackle size for sakasa kebari style flies I judge hackle size based on personal aesthetics and overall size of the fly –  rather than proportions.

What I mean is this – I want a fly of a certain size, and within limits I’m not overly concerned about the proportions (except for personal aesthetic reasons). But the hackle size on a sakasa kebari can make a huge difference in the overall size/silhouette of the fly. Big hackle=big looking fly.

And while I’m not going to sweat about whether the hackle, when swept back reaches just to the hook point, or whatever… I am going to sweat about whether it makes the fly too big.  If it gets too big I know that the small stream trout I go after will often refuse it.

So for whatever reason that you may be interested in smaller hackle size you will often come up against the fact that birds only have so many feathers in the size that you’re interested in – and you’ll run out of that size. And you’ll be left with plenty that are too big.

I like to use hen ringneck pheasant and there are more big feathers than small. So I can either get a new bird or find a way to use the big feathers. This simple technique will allow you to use those bigger feathers and get more out of that bird skin.

I first started using this technique years ago when using Hungarian partridge to tie soft hackle flies. Back then I usually bought those small bags of feathers rather than whole skins – and so feather size selection was usually pretty limited.

Tying Directions:

I’m using an eyeless keiryu hook and I’ve shown it with the silk bead cord eye already tied in.

1) Pick out a feather. You can see that hen pheasant breast feather I’ve chosen is quite large compared to the Japanese size 7 hook I’m using. For this particular hook, a size 7 is about the size of Size 12 Mustad c49s.

2) Pull back some fibers to create a tie-in point near the feather tip then tie in the feather with the concave side facing up as shown.

3) Build up a thread head. This is important for the technique as it allows the hackle to flare and stand up.

4) Wrap the hackle back toward the hook bend with as many turns as you prefer and tie off and clip butt-end.

collage 1

5) Wind your thread back toward the hook bend  – the point can depend on the size of the hackle. The further back you go the more you’ll reduce the hackle size. Sweep the hackle back and tie down. Take care to keep the hackle fibers distributed evenly around the hook shank as you tie it in.

6) Wrap thread back to just behind the head.

7) Sweep hackle forward and tie down just behind the head. Again being careful to keep it distributed evenly around the hook shank. When you tie the hackle down pull tightly to flare hackle into the sakasa kebari style. The thread head that you built up earlier will allow you to flare the hackle and keep it from lying flat.

8) Wind back down over the hackle and build up your thread body to the thickness and shape that you’d like. You can add a peacock herl collar if you’d like – as shown shown the picture at the top of the post.

collage 2

16 Comments on The Magic Shrinking Hackle

  1. Nice technique. This will open up a whole new world of hackle options for feathers that are typically too long.

  2. Steve Hoffman // February 28, 2015 at 6:02 PM // Reply

    Excellent idea clearly illustrated — well done!

  3. Damndest thing I ever saw. Bravo, Anthony! No crowd-follower, you.

  4. Nice technique. This will help fly tiers save money.

  5. Kyle Quattromani // March 1, 2015 at 7:47 PM // Reply

    Very nice. Now I can put these long feathers to use!

  6. Genius!
    Can’t wait to try it out

  7. Gave it a go. Takes some getting used to, but it does work with some planning ahead and care when securing the hackle to make sure it evenly distributes around the hook.
    You should do a video.

  8. Pretty great idea. This also adds some thickness to the body without “wasting” extra silk thread. Bonus!


    The link to the picture was;
    My 3d work. I wanted to use a long haired feather, we wrapped the body and hackle with a single feather.

    From a 2004 post.

what say you?