Fly Tying: Sylvester Nemes On Soft Hackles

One of our favorite books on soft hackle flies (also known as “flymphs,” “winged wets,” and a variety other names) is in its second edition and shows little signs of aging. The Soft-Hackled Fly, the 1975 original, helped create a resurgence in what many fly fishers had dismissed as an arcane method of tying and presenting flies. Prior to this book, soft-hackles had lost favor to the more “scientific” imitations of dry flies and nymphs. Now few trout shops don’t offer at least a few “spiders,” “wingless wets” or “soft-hackle emergers.” Nemes’s revised 2006 book, The Soft-Hackled Fly and Tiny Soft Hackles: A Trout Fisherman’s Guide (Stackpole, 221 pages) is an enriched version of the earlier book with more photos and more patterns — he even tackles tiny midges and tricos — but the same unforced writing style that makes the book a pleasure to read.
Nemes, predictably, is a purist. (He once responded to someone who asked “Do you ever tie your flies as beadheads?” with “”Why don’t you just get a spinning rod?”) But he demonstrates that all the careful attention to color, materials, and tying techniques that are so important to dry flies and nymphs matter just as much in what looks to be the very simple construction of soft hackles. Soft-hackles, you might say, are only as simple as you want them to be.
Jack Gartside began tying soft-hackles as a teenager in the 1950s after reading a Ray Bergman article in Outdoor Life magazine titled “Basic Wet Flies for Trout Fishing.” He then did the thing that most of us do, which is to tie and fish ever-more-complicated imitations. But he later became attached again to impressionistic flies and even began including soft-hackle concepts in his saltwater patterns.
You can see a great selection of soft-hackle patterns on Hans Weilenmann’s Flytier’s site. For more on the history of soft-hackles, check out And for more on the techniques used to effectively fish soft-hackles and other wet flies, read John Likakis’s “Swinging Wet Flies” on MidCurrent.
The Soft-Hackled Fly and Tiny Soft Hackles: A Trout Fisherman’s Guide on Amazon.

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