Crazy Collars

FROM THE VAULT: Crazy Collars

The trout might accept simple and easy-to-tie flies, but we should show some respect and use patterns worthy of catching wild fish.

[by Russ Forney]

“YOU’RE CRAZY. THERE’S NOTHING BUT CUTTHROAT TROUT in this creek. Nobody goes to that much trouble tying flies for cutties; they’ll take anything.”

This chance encounter with an experienced angler on a Wyoming mountain stream convinced me that my adventures at the tying bench were misspent on high-country trout. This wise fellow failed to see the need for carefully crafting flies for fish that are not picky about what they eat. Sure, these cutthroat trout are not particularly discerning about fly selection, but I was not about to offend any wild fish that spends its rugged life living above 8,000 feet with just any old pattern. The scenery alone was reason enough to visit this spot; fishing took the experience to an even higher level. A few extra minutes at the tying bench was a small honorarium to pay for the privilege. The patterns I used featured something called “crazy collars.”

A crazy collar is an elongated hackle brush built on a paraloop-style thread loop. I wrap the brush behind a bead head to form a dense collar. The completed collar is a thick mane of splayed feather fibers that is a visually appealing addition to a fly.

Collars have adorned flies for a long time. They add color, texture, and animation to many styles of patterns. Collars are made from ostrich herl, peacock herl, and hackles.

A collar marks the transition between body segments and often bridges the gap between the wing and head on a fly. It can also unify the distinct parts of a pattern, blending the elements used in the overall design. While collaring a fly is certainly not a novel concept, crazy collars give the technique a satisfying new look.

Different Materials—Different Looks

As illustrated in the accompanying photographs, the materials used to make a paraloop-based collar greatly influence the appearance of the finished fly. For example, the Crazy Caddis features a thick collar made of saddle hackle mixed with strands of coarse dubbing. These materials mimic the chaotic tempo of an emerging caddisfly. A couple wraps of dubbed thread immediately behind the bead head push the hackle back over the body, imitating the swept-back caddis wing and clearing the hook eye of any stray hackle fibers.


For smaller hook sizes, tie crazy collars using ostrich or peacock herl instead of saddle hackle; the effect is similar but better proportioned to diminutive hooks. Ostrich herl becomes animated when drifted under the surface, and the soft fibers pulse when retrieved with slight twitches.

The Crazy Peacock Emerger is a generic pattern that favors size and silhouette; it is not a hatch-specific design. The fly features a distinctly segmented abdomen, and a dense peacock collar bridges the gap between the abdomen and bead head. Peacock herl gives the fly texture and sheen, two qualities that endure across seasons and hatches. To reposition a drifting Crazy Peacock Emerger just beneath the surface film and to add a touch of light, substitute a glass bead for the tungsten bead.

Making a Hackle Brush

The mechanics of tying a crazy collar are the same regardless of the materials you use. Tie a hackle to the hook leaving a bare section of quill about one and one-half times the length of the body; you will wrap the bare stem up a loop of thread. After wrapping the stem up the loop, wrap the feather back down the loop. The hackle fibers will splay out from the loop. Adjusting the space between the wraps will vary the denseness of the brush; touching wraps produce a thick brush, while looser spacing produces a sparser collar.

To prevent gaps in the collar, the length of a hackle brush should allow for at least one and one-quarter wraps around the hook shank. Start with a hackle brush equal to about the length of the hook. With a little experimentation, you will find the length that best fits your tying style and design concepts.

The key to tying Crazy Collars is patience. The technique is not particularly difficult, but do not hurry. Wrapping the bare quill up the thread loop, and then winding the splaying feather back down the loop, requires attention and a careful hand. The construction becomes quicker and the collars more robust with practice; the process becomes less tedious after you have tied a few.

Wrapping a thin stem dozens of times around a thread loop stresses the quill and can cause it to break. Making smooth wraps and using even pressure helps prevent breakage; avoid tugs and pulls while wrapping a feather or herl around the thread loop. Once wrapped around the hook shank, the collar is resilient enough to survive encounters with the rocks and bushes that line many streams.

Remember to leave plenty of space behind the bead head when adding a prominent collar; a gap equaling at least one and one-half times the width of the hook eye is about right. Tie off the hackle brush, add a few wraps of dubbing, and whip-finish the thread.

An Adaptable Tying Technique

Crazy collars readily adapt to using different materials. For example, in addition to the standard recipe, dress the collar on the Crazy Caddis with both hackle and ostrich herl, or with the Adams grizzly and dark ginger hackles. These collars are multilayered and add visual complexity to the pattern.

Combine materials in the brush using the basic technique, and wrap both feathers together as a single unit. The combination of ostrich herl and saddle hackle is a favorite of mine, and some days it seems more attractive to the fish than hackle alone. The soft layer of ostrich herl moves beneath the longer, stiffer hackle fibers and adds an interesting lifelike dimension to the fly in the water.

Making two separate collars is another way to tie with a combination of ostrich herl and hackle. Remember to budget extra space on the hook for the two collars.

Crazy collars are not limited to caddisfly imitations. This technique also gives a distinctive look to nymphs. Wrapping a full collar behind a bead head creates an impression of swimming legs on an in-the-round design.

You might think that crazy collar flies require excess effort, adding unnecessary complexity to patterns offered to fly-naive fish. But, if you are fortunate to cast to wild trout in a remote setting, dress up your flies in honor of the occasion. Just be ready for outstretched human hands asking for a few of your “crazy flies.” Wild trout are not the only ones attracted to well-dressed flies.

Russ Forney has contributed many fine articles to our magazine over the years. He lives and fishes in Wyoming.