There is a huge variety of different fly tying materials feathers, which can be used to tie practically everything you want. We won’t need too many materials in the beginning. As classic basics I’m going to mention:
- CdC feathers for dry-fly wings and bodies (natural colours: grey, brown, yellow, white)
- Pheasant Center Tail for tails and bodies, the popular Pheasant Tail Nymph is tied from this fly tying material (natural colour, to begin with it so we need to have it)
- Marabou feathers for simple but efficient streamers, imitations of leaches, dragonfly larvas, etc. (it’s good to have black and white; later on I recommend buying red, olive, brown and fluorescent colours)
- Peacock feathers (the eye and it’s barbs), can be used for many efficient dry and wet flies and nymphs.
When it comes to feathers’ quality, there’s no rule. The best I encountered and at the same time fairly expensive are products made by English company Veniard. All the rest are repackaged fly tying materials bought “by weight” and of poor quality.
Definitely most of the fly-tiers use two types of feathers to tie hackles; these are: for dry flies – cock capes and for wet flies, nymphs and streamers – hen capes. However there are also many feathers from different bird parts that many people omit.
The differences are significant. Cock/rooster feathers are stiffer and not lined with down what makes them resistant to soaking and allows them to stay on surface for longer. Of course they also imitate legs of the fly.
Here I recommend using neck capes (wider variety of feather sizes – including even the smallest ones used for tying midge dry flies) and saddle capes (lesser variety of sizes but very efficient). Such feathers are much longer and consist of more regular barbs than their cheap Indian equivalents.
A grizzly colour cock from Howard Hackle genetic bird farm – the photo provided by John Howard
As a comparison; we can tie only one hackle from one Indian cape (to make the hackle along the whole body – a so-called palmer – we often have to use more than one feather), however using a feather from genetic cock’s saddle we can make even ten hackles/palmers (the length of such a feather is at least 20 cm or even more).
Obviously the caps’ and feathers’ quality depends on the price.
Comparison of feathers for dry fly hackle
There’s an exception to the rule, namely dry fly hackles such as March Brown, but not only. Such a hackle is tied using one feather from cock’s cap and one partridge feather (first the partridge then the cock)
Except the cap feathers for tying dry fly hackles we can also use CdC feathers and here’s fur, which is stiffer. Such hackles are tied by twisting the material in split thread or by dubbing method in a loop.
Wet flies, nymphs and streamers
Feathers from hen’s neck caps are basic material in this case. Such feathers are soft, they easily soak and work well in water.
For bigger wet flies and streamers we can successfully use hens’ saddle caps (additionally these feathers are used for classic, Matuka type streamers, where the wing and the tail are made from one or two pairs of these feathers).
It’s good to have some partridge feathers in our collection. Mostly we’ll be using grey and brown-spotted feathers from neck to tie hackles and tails of many classic patterns. In my opinion it’s the second best material (just after hen’s neck cap) and you just need to have it.
In many situations we will also use covert feathers of such birds as partridge, woodcock, grouse and beautifully coloured feathers of jay. All of these have interesting patterns and colours therefore I simply advise to make use of them.