Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Fly Tying Series #4 - Black Bird Soft Hackle

Hi, today we're going to tie my variation on the Blackbird Soft Hackle.  I don't really want this fly to get too confused with Hugh Hartsell's Smokey Mountain Black Bird Soft Hackle.  My fly is different but it is a very effective fly.

This is primarily a trout fly but I have found it to be VERY effective on bluegill and I've caught smallmouth bass on it too.  I think, in a fish's mind (remember, a fish has an IQ of about 3 so there's not a lot going on in there to begin with), this looks like some type of an emerging nymph or other "water bug". (Fish don't speak Latin either).

Read more about tying and fishing with this lovely fly after the jump.




Before we get started with this interesting little fly, I wanted to say a word about fly tying tools.  One could go totally mad trying to keep up with all the goodies one can buy with which to tie flies.  I have a number of tools that I use only rarely (hackle guards when I'm tying really small flies, dubbing twister, and some others).

This photo shows the tools I use most.  These are the ones I just cannot live without.


  • Needle nose pliers. These are invaluable.  My main use is to smash down barbs on hooks but they are good for picking up and holding beads while placing them on hooks and any other jobs where one needs long skinny fingers.  I like the ones with smooth jaws for smashing down hook barbs.
  • Wire cutters.  These are great for, well, cutting wire so that you don't damage your scissors.
  • Whip finish tool.
  • Good scissors and cheap scissors.  Keep the good ones for cutting thread and feathers, use the cheap ones for hair, tinsel, and other stuff you'll use when tying.
  • Bobbin - This particular one has a ceramic insert in the tube but any bobbin will work
  • Bodkin - this is the long needle looking thing.  I find it invaluable in applying head cement and other tasks where a long pointy needle looking thing is necessary.
  • Hackle pliers
  • This basic tool set will get you through any thing I'm going to be showing here.

Blackbird Soft Hackle
If you're fishing warm water in a lake or pond, this fly is one I use to hand as a dropper behind a popper or other surface fly.  If I'm using it in a stream for bluegill or smallmouth bass, I fish it just as I would in a trout stream.  I cast it across and slightly down stream and let it swing across the current.  Most strikes seem to come right at the end of the drift or just about as soon as it hits the water.  When I tie it down a few sizes for trout, I fish it like any soft hackle (swing across the current).  I do get some fish on a dead drift but most seem to come when fishing across and slightly down stream.

  • Hook: any wet or dry fly hook with down turned eye warm water size 8-14, trout size 12-20 (14-18 is what size I use for most of mine).
  • Tail (optional) a few hen hackle fibers about 3/4 to 1 hook shank long.
  • Ribbing (optional) - gold or copper wire
  • Body - 3 - 5 strands peacock hurl. (depending on hook size)
  • Collar / Hackle - Starling.  Just about any part of this bird works.  I tie some with the iridescent neck feathers and some with feathers from the back or upper wing.  It all depends on the size fly and if I'm going to tie traditional soft hackle or palmer the feather up the hook shank. (I will show both below).

Let's start tying:
This photo shows four steps which I'll describe.
  1. Lay down a good base of thread.
  2. Tie in your peacock hurl at the hook bend.
  3. Tie in your wire (I used gold wire here but copper works too)
  4. wrap your thread about 2/3 of the way back tot he hook eye.



Next, wrap your peacock hurl around the wire as shown in the photo below.  Wrapping the hurl around the wire gives it some extra strength and makes it much easier to work. 



 TIP: I sometimes (usually when I'm not being overly lazy) put a few dabs of clear fingernail polish on the hook shank before I begin wrapping the peacock up the hook shank.  I find this also helps hold everything together.

Next, wrap the wire / hurl up to where you left your thread at the 2/3 mark and tie in your starling feather.  If I"m tying it in as a collar as this one for a more traditional soft hackle, I tie the feathers at the base and have the shiny side facing the hook eye (when I remember to look at the feathers).  If I'm tying in at the hook bend so that I'm palmering the feather all the way up the hook, I tie in by the tip to give a nice taper look.



Next, take your thread to just behind the hook eye and wrap your feathers up to the thread tie off point.  I try to brush the hackles back so that they have a slight rearward profile but with Starling it's easier said than done.  Tie off, whip finish and you're done.


In the next series of photos I'll show one with a few wraps of lead wire to get it down deeper and the Starling upper wing feather palmered all the way up. 

Tip: In this fly, I didn't use wire, but I made a thread loop to wrap the peacock around.  What the heck is a thread loop?  Well, after you tie in the peacock, pull 8-9" of thread out.  Use your index finger (I reckon your bodkin, a pencil, straw, or a stick would work as well, but since my finger is always attached to my hand and easily available, I use my finger) and fold the thread over to form a loop.  Using your finger to keep some tension on the thread, make a few wraps around the hook shank and you have a loop.  Now, tie in your feather by the tip, and follow the photos for the rest.

(see the second photo in the series and you'll see the thread loop hanging below the hook shank).






That's about it for the blackbird soft hackle fly.  It is a highly effective fly for both trout and warm water species.  Tie a few up, give it a try and let me know if you caught fish.  There is something about starling feathers that just make this fly very effective.

The next 2 weeks, I'm going to focus on foam bodied flies and poppers.  For a little teaser, below are a couple photos of the finished products.  I my even throw in a bonus fly tied with boa yarn just for fun.


Happy fishing and I hope you don't have the same snow cover on the ground as we have here.



  1. What the heck are you tying dude??? You might want to take some lessons before making a blog on how to tie flies.

  2. Anonymous -
    Opinions are like, oh well, everyone has one and I appreciate you sharing yours.

    As I said in the very first post, I'm not into tying pretty flies. The fish don't care as long as the presentation is good. If the fish don't care, why should I?

    If this blog isn't for you, I suggest you find one of the more elite trout fly blogs. There are hundreds of them out there or you could post your own, good for you.

    My intent here is to give folks some ideas for easy flies to tie, not necessarily rehash what is in the books or what they can find on YouTube.

    If a person really wants to spend 15 minutes tying a fly I applaud them. Personally, I'd rather tie 3 flies in 15 minutes and go fishing.

    This blog isn't on "how to tie flies" it's about giving some guys and gals ideas for flies they can tie and try or modify to suit the needs of their local water.

    Materials, basic getting started stuff and then go experiment and improve on what I've done.

    It's supposed to be fun and easy going.

    I chose not to delete your comment so that I could offer this explanation.

    One thing I would suggest before I take any more lessons on fly tying is you take a lesson on manners. I think it will do you a lot more good than fly tying lessons will for me.

    By the way, as the bio on the blog states, my name is Jeff not "dude". Of course, I have no idea what your name is since you didn't sign it.

  3. dont sweat the small stuff!!! the flies are fine !!!an bass an blugills are fun to tye ..because one can be learning due to thier own water...i like em an always like new stuff made from basic things ..keep up the good work an i will send folks your way ,,just for reading..

  4. Michael,
    No problem. I actually thought the "dude" comment was kind of funny. No accounting for what folks will say when a computer screen and keyboard separate them from the other person. Heck, I may have even met up with that person on a stream or lake somewhere and traded flies with him.

    My grandmother's funeral was yesterday and as a result, I'm probably a little shorter tempered than normal.

    The flies I've been showing have caught fish in Oregon, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Indiana, Ohio and North Carolina.

    I really do hope readers will take the basic ideas, alter them for their own waters, add their own tying personality and not just try to copy them.

    I really want to stimulate some ideas to get tiers out of the recipe books and out there fishing with stuff they tie.

    Thanks for the compliment and kind words. Much appreciated.

  5. I like your Black Bird Soft Hackle. I made a Starling and Herl, and I think it is basically the same fly. As long as your flies are making you happy, and you are catching fish, that is what matters. This is your blog spot. People who have nothing good to say, should shut their mouth if you ask me. I will check out the rest of your blog, as time permits. Keep up the good work.

  6. Kelkay, I saw your fly on the FAOL BB and it's the same fly. Yours was a lot better looking and a very nicely tied fly. I liked it a lot. But they are the same idea. I added some gold wire to one example and on one I palmered the hackle up the fly instead of a traditional soft hackle collar.

    I've never seen the fly in a book but a couple years ago, a fellow gave me one on a stream and I caught several fish on it. I came home, looked at his fly and started tying some like it.

    Thanks for the note.

  7. Obviously, your "anonymous", above has his Orvis undies on too tight, or is perhaps, touchy because his Cabela's zinger snapped back too quickly and knocked his Cardero cigar into the water?
    Regardless, I find your site very refreshing as fly fishing type blogs go because it's honest, down to earth and is informational to probably 90% of fly fishers on the water today.
    "Basics and simplicity" have caught me a lot more fish, over the 35 years I'ver been tying and foaming the water with a fly line, than making sure my copy of "A River Runs Through It", is rewound properly.
    Keep your new blog going, JUST as it is.
    I'll be back, for sure, I enjoy it a lot, so far!

  8. "Orvis undies". Now, that's a visual image I just don't want dancing through my head. Oh, how I'm glad it was not a video comment.

    Back to tying some ugly flies on a cold snowy winter day.

    Flybinder, thanks,

  9. try tying this with a red head or just use red thread all the way through.

    the hot spot really makes this pattern work.

    the british have a pattern that uses a red tag at the butt of a similar pattern. i have not had as much success tied that way.

    you mentioned at the top of your post that this was mainly a trout fly.

    last season i caught carp, bass, crappie, bluegill, and trout (a turtle and two frogs) on a bonefish pattern.

    just think of your patterns as fish flies.

    they really don't know the difference.

  10. I like this fly!

    I was looking for the SMBBSH pattern but it seems Hugh only shares it in person, which is his prerogative.
    I've seen you post on the LRO forums, but hadn't checked out your blog - found this with a Google search.

    I like the idea of twisting the herl around the wire. I think I will try some with both black and red thread.

    Keep posting patterns, seeing them tied on a Peak vice is particularly useful to me.