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Soft Hackle Flies – Every Fly Angler Should Have Them

Soft hackle flies are extremely effective for trout fishing. As the hackle moves in the current, it looks very buggy – and trout can’t resist them. There are many different soft hackle fly patterns, and you can add a soft hackle collar to most nymphs.

Fly anglers have been fishing soft hackles for a long time. Traditionally, they were swung downstream to entice a bite. Nowadays, lots of anglers will nymph them on a “dead drift”, just like any other nymph.

It is hard to go wrong when fishing a soft hackle fly, they are very effective for trout fishing – especially when there’s insects hatching. As you fish more soft hackles, you’ll definitely see the results – more trout caught, and some very aggressive strikes.

This article will cover the benefits of soft hackle flies, and why you may consider adding some to your fly boxes. There is no reason that fly anglers should go without these flies – they are just too effective!

You Can’t Fish Soft Hackles “Wrong”

Since the soft hackle collars add so much action to these flies, there really is no “wrong way” to fish them. You can dead drift them on a nymph rig, but don’t be afraid to swing them as well. You can even jig a soft hackle up and down in the current to entice a bite.

They are particularly effective when there’s insects hatching – caddis, mayflies, etc. The hackle looks like a moving insect, and trout will mistake it for the real thing.

I like to nymph these flies on a long dead drift, and then let the fly swing at the end. During this swing, the soft hackle fly will rise in the water column – like an emerging insect. This is often when you’ll get a big strike from a trout.

So next time you’re out fishing soft hackles, play around with your presentation. Don’t be afraid to swing or jig your fly. It can be even more effective than a dead drift.

Soft Hackles Get More Bites

By adding soft hackle to a nymph, you are adding life to that fly. It completely changes the look of the fly underwater, and makes it a lot more attractive to trout. For this reason, anglers will often get more bites on a soft hackle fly than a regular fly.

The Hares Ears and Pheasant Tails shown above are some of the most classic flies. They work very well on their own, but tyers have experimented with adding hackle collars to these flies. Now, the Guides Choice Hares Ear and Soft Hackle Pheasant Tails are quite popular – as they have improved on the original fly. Anglers have quickly realized that the soft hackle versions are more productive than the originals.

Soft Hackles Can Imitate Multiple Bugs

Most soft hackles don’t imitate one insect in particular – they imitate many insects at once. The Partridge and Yellow shown above could be a Caddis, Sally or a Pale Morning Dun – You name it. They are more imitative than they are realistic, which makes them very versatile. This makes it much easier to match the hatch and fool trout.

This is also great for beginner anglers, because they can fish hatches without it being too complicated. Simply tie on your favorite soft hackle, and start catching fish. You don’t have to worry about having the “exact match” which makes things easier. Focus on the right color and the right size, and you should be hooking trout.

You Can Add Soft Hackle To Most Nymphs

A lot of nymphs can be improved by adding a soft hackle collar. It turns a regular nymph into a buggier imitation. I always encourage folks to play around with patterns when they’re at the tying bench – and adding soft hackle into flies is a great way to do this.

The Le Bug pictured above is a very simple fly. It is mostly just dubbing and ultra wire, but the soft hackle makes it come alive. This is a good example of how a simple pattern can be turned into a great pattern. The Le Bug is one of the best caddis imitations on the market. Without the hackle, it wouldn’t look like much, and it wouldn’t fish nearly as well as it does.

Soft Hackles Are Great For Hatches

As mentioned earlier, soft hackles are one of the best ways to fish a hatch. They look like emerging insects, and trout will go crazy for them – especially when they are swung downstream. Some of the most aggressive takes are on swung soft hackles – it is a super fun way to target trout!

If you are having trouble “matching the hatch”, pick a soft hackle with similar coloration and size to the insect that is hatching. This will usually get the job done and put fish in the net. Remember, soft hackles are imitative – they don’t have to be an exact match! They often fish better than an exact match, and trout won’t know the difference.


Since fly fishing started, anglers have been using soft hackles on the river. They work all over the world, and it’s always a simple way to catch fish. They are one of those flies that have always been around. In today’s fly fishing scene, they are sometimes overlooked – but it’s important to keep a few in your box at all times. They just might save the day when nothing else is working.

If you’re new to soft hackles, I would recommend to first get some Guides Choice Hares Ears, and Soft Hackle Pheasant Tails. These 2 flies are my top producers on a consistent basis, which is why I posted the links above. From there, you can venture into other categories – Partridge And Greens, Le Bugs, etc.