Dry Fly Hackle

Lets talk dry fly hackle

Let me start this by saying I am not an expert on hackle. Not even close to an expert but I do know after tying dry flies for 45 years for myself and commercially for local shops, I do know what I like and dislike about hackle brands. Hopefully this page can help the new tyer make informed decisions when puchasing hackle....especially online.  I've had my share of disappointments the past few years when buying hackle online sight unseen but mostly with saddles not capes. 

There are a few big players in the hackle business,  such as Whiting, Metz, Collins and Keough and a host of smaller breeders that sell online or on Ebay. 

 You need to decide what dry flies you plan to tie and buy the proper colors you need for the patterns you plan to tie.  The price for a dry fly cape isn't cheap so making a mistake can be expensive if the dealer won't  accept a return.  I like to tie Catskill style of flies and that usually requires hackle that will tie 10-14 with many in the 12-14 range  so that is the hackle size I look for when buying hackle. Much of the "premium" hackle today seems to have bred out the larger feathers in favor of longer feathers and smaller sizes of hackle mostly in the sizes 16-22 range with less size 14 and larger. They are still on the capes, but not like they were in years past. As an old school tyer I find this disappointing. A few breeders still have capes in the sizes I want such as Metz and Collins.

If you are just starting out tying dry flies the colors I would recommend buying are dun, grizzly, ginger and brown. Those colors would give you a good starting point to tie many different flies.


Collins #3 hackle

Metz Feathers

One of my all time favorites

Metz started in the early 1970's by introducing the first genetically engineered hackle for fly tyers. They were the first company to produce true "dry fly quality" according to their website. Metz was the first commercially available hackle that I started with when I began tying. Metz was available in just about every fly shop in Pennsylvania when I became a tyer. Metz was also the hackle I used on my dry flies that I tied for area fly shops. 

Mets has come a long way since then and their hackle today has improved in length, color, barb density, stem thickness and flexability. Metz is one of my favorite hackle brands. Since I tie mostly 16-12's, Metz is high on my list of hackle to buy. The #2's and #3's  seem to have many of the #12 and #14 hackles sizes that I desire for my Catskill dries and others that I tie.

Metz capes can be purchased for around $35.00 for #3's, $55.00 for #2's and grade #1 for about $69.00. Some premium colors such as Cree will cost more. Overall, Metz capes offer a nice blend of cost, quality and amount of usable feathers. I highly recommend Metz to new tyers and veteran tyers alike. 

Metz website link is here.

Collins Hackle Farm

Great hackle at a great price

Collins hackle is at the top of my list for many reasons. For one, Charlie Collins is a really nice guy. I met him numerous times at Fly Tying shows in New Jersey back in the day. He has been raising hackle birds for 40 years and has supplied tyers like myself quality capes at a VERY affordable prices. His capes are only available via mail order and no online ordering is available but he does have a website you can go to to look at capes and see his color choices. A link is provided below.

To order from Collins, you must send him a note telling him what your 1st and 2nd choices are, enclose a check or money order and he will fill your order in a timely manner. I have NEVER been disappointed in what he has sent me. The picture on the left is from his #3 grade capes. 

NOTE: As of April 2022, Charlie has stopped raising birds but has a 3-4 year supply of capes for sale. When they are gone...they are gone. It will be a very sad day for me when his capes are all gone.

So lets talk about what I like about Collins Hackle and why. For starters, as I've said before I love tying Catskill style flies and Collins Hackle Farm is locates in New York state. His birds bloodline came from Harry Darbee, Dick Bittner, Andy Miner, and Doc Fried, all Catskill New York tyers and breeders. You can't get any more traditional than that.

Lets talk hackle size and quality. Collins hackle come in 4 grades, commercial grade, grades 1, 2 and 3. With the grades 1 thru 3, Collins includes the saddle with the cape for free. Commercial grade capes are $ 25.00, prices for grades 1 thru 3 are: $35 for number 3, $55.00 for grade 2 and $75.00 for grade 1. Remember he includes the saddle for that price. The saddles aren't as long as Whitings or as full of feathers like Whitings but the included saddle will tie you another few dozen flies or more. Hackle length on all his grades are long enough for get two or three flies out of most feathers and barb count is very high. 

I have purchased Collins capes in grade 3 and the commercial grade and have been happy with both. On both grades that I have, hackle sizes run from about size 8 to 20 maybe 22. There are many size 10-16's., the sizes I tie most. 

In closing I'd like to add his colors are beautiful, the capes are shiny and he has colors you won't find anywhere else, such as his barred colors in duns, creams and many others. For Catskill dry flies, these are the heritage lines of birds I admire most in keeping with the Catskill tradition. My hat goes off to Charlie Collins for everything he has done to keep this historic line of capes available for tyers to enjoy.

Collins Hackle Farm link here.


Whiting Farms

The king of hackle

What can I say about Whiting hackle other than wow! Doctor Whiting has built and developed an incredible strain of birds and hackle. The capes are thick, the colors are fantastic and the hackle length is beat by no one. If you want long hanckle both on your capes ans saddles....then you want the Whiting brand.

Whiting Farms was founded upon the exclusive purchase of the “Hoffman Hackle” line from Henry Hoffman in 1989. Dr. Whiting acquired one branch of the Miner stock, which he named the “Hebert/Miner” product line, to delineate that its origin was from Andy Miner through Ted Hebert of Michigan ( Miner received his eggs from Harry Darbee, Catskill tyer and bird breeder).

Whiting hackle in all grades have long feathers with high barb count from their most inexpensive line to their most expensive. Whiting has so many different lines of hackle I wont even try  to cover it here. The Whiting website does an excellent job of explaining it and showing you the different lines they carry.

I have many Whiting capes in the Hebert/Miner line, High and Dry and the Whiting Red Label. You can't go wrong with any of their lines but I have noticed over the years that while the hackle gets longer, the sizes seem get smaller. That is good for tyers who tie sizes 16's and smaller,  but I find in the sizes that I tie, the capes seem to be getting less of them as hackle continues to evolve. Sizes 12's and 14's are on the capes but not as many as there use to be....in my opinon anyway.  It is my understanding Whiting has a new line out called "Heritage" that addresses that problem but I have yet to find one available.

 In closing I would like to say, no matter what line of Whiting you purchase you will not be disappointed. Prices start at $59.00 for the "Pro Grade" and go up from there into the 100's of dollares depending on the grade and color.

Whiting Farms Website here

Dry Fly Saddles

My love hate relationship with saddles

Yes I said it, I have a  love hate relationship with saddles. Who can resist a beautiful saddle that is 18 inches long or more? You can tie 100's if not 1,000's of flies from a good quality saddle, that is if you can get it in the size you really want.

Unlike a rooster cape which has a variety of sizes of hackle, saddle hackle is limited mostly to two sizes in most cases. Most of the time you can find 12-14"s or 16-18's, etc. on one saddle. If you can't shop locally for saddles and have to resort to mail order like I do....find a shop that you can trust who will size the saddles accurately for you. If the shop can't or won't  size it for you....walk away. If you are shopping locally take your hackle gauge along. I have never met a shop owner who wouldn't let me carefully size the hackle.

What happen to me six months ago was that I ordered 5 rooster saddles from an online shop and I wanted the hackle to be in the 12-14 size range. Yup I was told no problem. The shop even marked the sizes on each package. Most were marked 12-14 or 10-12. Great, I opened the package that day never really looking at the hackle sizes except what was marked on the packages and proceeded to put them in my hackle drawer. I didn't open them again for a few months. Guess what? I couldn't find a size 12 or 14 on any of those five saddles. Size 18's and 20's were loaded on those capes. I tie very few flies those sizes anymore, plus I already have plenty of capes with those sizes. 

This was with no doubt my fault for not opening the packages and checking the hackle sizes and sending them back. I'm also putting much of the blame on the shop owner for not sizing or correctly sizing the hackle as requested. Needless to say, I haven't purchased anything else from that shop and never will. He lost my business forever. I have since found a much better dealer with great prices and fully stocked with Whiting and Metz capes and saddles.

For a great selection of Whiting and Metz capes and saddles, you can't beat Jim's Fly Company in West Yellowstone, Montana.

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