The first trout that I landed with a fly rod came to a Gray Hackle Peacock wet fly, which were in vogue in those days. Then as "match the hatch" became the method of choice, the Gray Hackle Peacock fly was forgotten. Years later, my good friend Herb Forbes introduced me to his version of the Gray Hackle Peacock. It was tied without the traditional red tail and very light colored grizzly hackle. I didn't have grizzly hackle that was the same shade, but I did have light colored partridge hackle, and used it as a substitute. This fly was also forgotten for several year. One evening Herb was driving shuttle for me, and put on a demonstration across the river catching trout after trout in front of me and my clients. I yelled across the river, "What are you using?" He yelled back, "Tie on a Grey Hackle Peacock!" We did, and caught a big number of fish until it was too dark to see. Actually our flies were Partridge and Peacocks.
Literature has made the soft hackle style of fly most popular for trout in streams. These incredibly versatile patterns will catch many species of game fish under a wide range of conditions. Here they are usually fished dead drift or on the swing as a wet fly. Often the best depth is very shallow. Presented in this manner these patterns represent insects which are struggling just below the surface. The soft, wet, flowing hackle simulates the activity of thrashing legs and beating wings.
Soft hackle flies are also very productive in lakes and ponds for most species of trout, char, bass and panfish. These patterns are often fished in the surface film as an emerging insect. This can be a very productive method during mayfly and caddis hatches. Cast the fly with a floating lines ahead of cruising trout. Barely twitch the fly as the fish approaches. Soft Hackles can also be fished deeper around submerged weeds or even along more barren rocky bottoms. When retrieved through still water, the the long supple hackles mimic swimming legs. Several species of dragonfly nymphs swim with their legs extended.
Soft Hackles are some of the world's oldest and simplest fly patterns. Some patterns have remained productive for hundreds of years.
In 1496 Dame Juliana Berners published "The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle". It was the first definitive work on sports angling written in the English language. In it were the first twelve fly patterns. They were all soft hackle type wet flies. Sylvester Nemes in his great book The Soft Hackle Fly Addict brought these simple flies to the attention of modern anglers. Soft Hackles are as popular and productive as when first written five hundred years ago.
All of the flies listed below are dressed on standard wet fly hooks but are other wise unweighted (Except for Soft Hackle Tungsten Bead Pheasant Tail.