The fly fishing world is ever-evolving. There are constantly new fly patterns, fly line tapers, rigging techniques, rod designs, etc. offering the promise of more productive fishing. Given the “newer is better” mentality of anglers, and society in general, it seems some methods of putting fish in the net have become overlooked by most anglers, particularly new anglers. One glaring example of this in my eyes is the art of swinging soft hackles.
The technique of swinging soft hackle flies has been around for ages, yet most new anglers I meet have never tried it. A swung soft hackle is of course deadly during a hatch event when insects are emerging, because the fly imitates an emerging insect rising through the water column. I have noticed that this technique can also be effective on wary, well-educated trout, even in the absence of a major hatch. I would attribute this to two factors. First, the look of a well swung fly is so attractive that even a picky trout may be unable to resist. Secondly, given that few anglers fish this technique regularly, heavily pressured fish may not be accustomed to seeing flies presented in this manner.
The most basic method of swinging flies starts with a downstream and across cast. A quick upstream mend of the line allows the fly to swing slowly and offers a more natural looking presentation to the fish. Once the line tightens and begins to swing, the angler gently raises the rod tip so that the fly rises through the water column, imitating an emerging insect. Strikes are detected by watching the connection between fly line and leader for movement of by feeling the bite when the line is tight. Once a strike is detected lift the rod to set the hook.
Soft-hackle, or wet flies, as they are sometimes referred, are very simple. They usually consist of some sort of body material like pheasant tail, peacock herl, or synthetic dubbing, a wire ribbing and a soft hackle collar, Hungarian partridge feather probably the most popular. Because the flies have basically no weight, pinch on a split shot 3-6 inches above the fly. Tandem rigs are totally acceptable. I like a small, size 10 – 12 streamer with a soft hackle dropped 6 – 8 inches off the back.
Swinging soft hackles is another effective trick to have up your sleeve. There are lots of good videos online demonstrating the technique or swing by the shop and we can give you some pointers on the water.