Capes and Hackles

by Jonathan

The types of cape which you will come across are cock and hen capes from domestic poultry.

Hen capes are smaller and softer with denser fibres , and are usually used for wet flies , nymphs and lures. The hackle fibres are more mobile in the water. They can be wrapped around the hook in the conventional way or bearded , sometimes referred to as a false hackle.

Cock capes are larger and the hackles much stiffer and shiny.  Occasionally you will come across a cock cape which is softer and duller , usually a lower grade cape , these are known as henny capes.  These are very useful for lures or palmered patterns which need to be longer and give some kick to the lure.  Cock capes are used mainly for dry flies , the stiffer fibres make the fly float better and are wound round the hook more times.  Matching fibres can be used for the tail of the fly.

The standard capes are usually available in a wide range of natural and dyed colours.  They are graded , number one being the best , and most expensive. These are not necessary until you become proficient , ( and have a big fat wallet ).  Lower grades catch just as many fish.  Most of these capes are now imported from India and China.

There are ranges of capes which are  from poultry specially bred in the United Kingdom, just for their feathers.  The range of Metz capes is probably the best known.  These have nice long hackles and are great to work with but are expensive.  They are used mainly for dry flies. You should get more than one fly per hackle.

Hackles for north country spider patterns are usually from wild birds , many of which are now more difficult to obtain. Partridge hackles , brown and grey , are probably the best known and dye well. Others to look out for are woodcock , snipe , moorhen , cock and hen pheasants. If you know any shooting people ask for their help as many of them fish as well. If they do a lot of wildfowling , ( shooting ducks and geese ) they could help to get you CDC , teal flank and bronze mallard flank ………. all very useful. This range in itself would be an interesting lesson to put together.

Once you start collecting fly tying materials no walk along the river , or lakeside will ever be the same again. You will find yourself gathering feathers and anything else which ‘ just might be useful’ . On a recent trip my colleague could not believe I was collecting sheep’s wool off the barbed wire. Now that it has been washed in detergent in boiling water it will be dyed.










{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

SJEP February 10, 2010 at 10:57 am

Ooops i forgot to mention the excellent Steve Parton in Long Eaton, he has loads of fly tying and fishing stuff. His place of business is an industrial unit rather than a shop and it can be well worth a visit (If you can find it) just to rumage around and see what strange and wonderful things lurk in cardboard boxes. If you google Sparton you will find his website, he also makes rods to order and loads of other stuff including playing a mean harmonica.

SJEP February 10, 2010 at 10:32 am

To all those who have asked about fly tying materials. I would have no hesitation in recomending Lathkill Fly Fishing) in Halifax. A very good service and a wide range of quality items. If you are new to tying flies just say so and advice will be offered. In my experience with Chris (the owner of Lathkill fly fishing) he will sell you what is best for you, not what is most expensive. He has saved me a lot of money and he only charges £1.95 P&P whatever you order. Check out his web site (Just google “lathkill tackle” or similar) but i suggest you phone your order through as you may well get a better deal on some items.I would like to make it clear that i have no affiliation with Lathkill or Chris, i am just a very satisfied customer who wants to make sure the business thrives so i can continue to benefit from it. In the spirit of even handedness you may well want to check out Tom C Savilles who are also very good and very helpfull with any queries and i love the fly fishing shop in Bakewell because Peter the owner is a gem and worth a visit if you want rods, reels, fishing sundries or an AAGPAI qualified instructor.

Michael A.Yarab December 15, 2009 at 8:37 pm

Dave, I enjoy your lessons on fly tying. I have to gather more material for tying flies,hackles,feathers,etc. I made everything to do the job,so now I will get the material I need and get to tying flies for the spring.. Mike Yarab

Chris clark October 21, 2009 at 8:48 pm

Hi dave I was hoping you could clear this up for me and any one else who may be a bit confused , it’s about the materials and their uses, for example I understand about cock hackles been stiffer are more ideal for dry fly etc but where I’m getting confused is do u only use cock and hen hackles for this use or could u use any feather u might find as use of hackles, or are feathers main use for the flies wings, anyway all sounds a bit confusing so I was hoping you could elaborate on the materials and use of as well as how to determine the size of hackle or wing to be used, what is the primary use of feathers eg pigeon or starling type , I look forward to your reply regards dave chris c.

DaveC October 19, 2009 at 8:12 pm

Hi Ron
Thanks for your comments, much appreciated. I know very little about flies suitable for most American species. Some guys from USA have been successful with boobies…intermediate lesson 2. fished with a sunk/weighted line. Tying flies gets easier the more you do. The basics are the same, just get the patterns from books or magazines.
Happy Fishing
DaveC.and the Team

Ron Magdos October 19, 2009 at 5:36 am

Mr Cammiss
I am new to fly tying, I have only tied a few so far. I live in the United States and I do not fly fish,but I do a lot of fishing for bluegill and crappie using a weighted flies under a float in still water. Could you please do a beginner’s lesson on how to tie flies that would be good for this type of fishing? I enjoy watching your lessons and they have given me the confidence to try my hand at this great hobby.

michael gibson August 10, 2009 at 8:19 pm


Dave i have just started up fly fishing and find the thought of catching
a fish with with flies that i have made i have watched many of your videos
this has got me to this site and while reading through one question
i am not sure what to do with any road kill if i came across it what cleaning preparations are required.

Tom August 9, 2009 at 9:18 pm

Dear Sir,
I have watched most of your video lessons with the idea I can maybe start to tie my own flies. If you can advise me on the best place to buy the materials and other bits I would need to get me started, I would very much appreciate it.
(I live in the North of England)
Kindest regards

David Cammiss August 3, 2009 at 10:46 pm

Hi Wayne
Thanks for your e-mail.
I must confess to not tying many small dry flies with anything other than a wound hackle. You are obviously tying very small dries. On the rare occasion that I tie hackle tip wings I first select hackles that look too small for the job! I tie them in securely with the tips projecting over the eye of the hook . Pull them back and seperate with a figure of eight, just as many turns as it takes to hold them in place. Wind the hackle on behind the wings.
Give it a try I am not into dry flies these days. Practice with larger size hooks until you have mastered it. Better still settle for a good grizzle hackle about six turns, easier and neater.
Happy Fishing
DaveC.and the Team

Wayne Marx August 1, 2009 at 2:53 am

Hi Dave I am having troubles tying the wings on a Mosquito. Can you do a lesson on how to tie one. I have been trying to use grizzly hackle tips and tying them upright and trying to divide them but they never come out right. Please Help!!

DaveC July 3, 2009 at 9:20 pm

Hi Tom
Thanks for your kind comments. We do try to please.
I wholly endorse everything you said about Roy….nice guy, good hooks and good value for money.
Happy Fishing
DaveC.and the Team

DaveC July 3, 2009 at 9:17 pm

Hi Aaron
Let me know where you live. If it is the UK. I will be able to help you with info. I would forget about dying your own materials until you have some experience….it is an art in itself. Most of the materials you will need are readily available in a variety of colours.I do dye some of my own and it can be a messy job.
Hope this helps.
Happy fishing
DaveC.and the Team

Aaron July 2, 2009 at 6:36 pm

I want to start fly tying but don’t no where to buy the feathers and materials. Or which materials is best. Can someone help? Also do you need a special type of die to die materials where could i purchase it?


Tom Chapman June 30, 2009 at 9:54 pm

Paul Barlow – I use Roydlures hooks and so far I caannot fault either the hooks or the service Roy gives to his customers, reasonable prices and quick delivery A+++++
By the Dave – thank you so much for the time, effort and content of your videos amy it last long and grow over time THANK YOU!!!

Paul May 23, 2009 at 12:58 am

Tom you can download flv player or you could download Realplayer.
With Flv you need mozilla firefox and then download the extension downloadhelper. I currently use this and find it very usefull for all media downloads.

Paul Barlow May 12, 2009 at 9:31 pm

Hiya Dave
Thanks for your comments the other day. Caught my first fish 2lb rainbow on my own tied buzzer. Question for you the useful sites (Royd hooks) do you endorse these products, if so I will order some. Great stuff.

Dale Ruth March 8, 2009 at 12:41 am


Yes indeed Kent, I can relate to your never ending quest when it comes to seeking out any opportunity that might provide suitable F.T.M. There is a small lake in our neck of the woods where thousands of migratory birds of countless species land in one wave after another to rest up and/or to refuel before continuing on their journey south. Their numbers produce an awesome bonanza of various feathers strewn everywhere – all for the taking if one is so inclined to pick them up along the shoreline and surrounding resting areas. I wash them thoroughly before using to ensure they are free of possible parasites.

There are many ” Nothing over a Dollar ” stores in our area and I have purchased plenty of materials that I see no harm in using in making attractive and productive flies – an assortment of shiny, highly reflective tinsel in every color including beads, super stretchy stuff and even thread – the list goes on. Cheap stuff yes but not necessarily all poor quality and to be quite honest I usually can’t see a difference in appearance and I just assume the fish can’t either since I’ve caught and released many a fish using these materials. Some of these materials have succumbed to being easily tattered by aggressive, action packed trout but all that is needed then is to reuse the hook to make either the same or another fly pattern. Provides even more opportunity in satisfying the addictive passion of flytying from my perspective. I do buy materials from
our local flyshops as well.

British Columbia

dennis March 1, 2009 at 3:53 am

@Tom All you need to download is FLASH player.
Google it, its very common application!

kent February 16, 2009 at 10:46 pm

First of all thank you for being there when I started tying flies. Nice to have someone like you to guide one through the first steps of learning.
No walk along the river… you say… hahah…. for me it is no walk anywhere. I gather fur from my niece’s rabbits. I brush my brothers dog (chow-chow is good dubbingmaterial) . A quick shopping-spree to the toystore with my children yeilds flytying materials for me. I carry a small pair of scissors in my jacket just in case,- And I have a hard time keeping them there if I’m standing in line at the cashregister and someone in front of me is wearing a fur-collar-coat. Driving home from work, I allways go though the forest to see if someone accidentaly should have run down a pheasant or perhaps a duck or something. Nomatter where I go I am scouting for F.T.M. It looks more and more like an obsession…… Don’t you think???

Tom February 16, 2009 at 8:17 pm

Another great article.
Unfortunately I had to reboot the computer at the weekend and now I can’t get any of the flytying videos.
Can anyone tell me the media player I need to download.
Please help my half hitches have turned to pot.

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