Hen Hackle 101

Tie the Black Ghost with Hen Feathers

Hen feathers have many very helpful applications. Here’s a streamer that incorporates hen feathers for both the throat and wings. Many hen capes have feathers that are nicely shaped for streamer wings, and the web in the center produces an opaqueness that eliminates the need for using four feathers; you can tie this version of this classic pattern using only two hackles. The technique for tying the tail on Sim’s Seducer—by folding back the fibers at the base of the feathers rather than stripping the quills—comes in handy here.

Black Ghost

Hook: Extra-long streamer hook, sizes 6 to 2.
Thread: Black Uni-Stretch and black 8/0 (140 denier).
Tail: Yellow hackle fi bers.
Body: Black Uni-Stretch.
Rib: Flat narrow silver tinsel.
Hackle: Yellow hen neck feather.
Wing: Two white hen cape hackles.
Cheeks: Jungle cock.

Tying the black Ghost
Dick’s Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear Wet Fly

This Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear wet fly employs a speckled hen saddle feather. The colors and markings of these hackles vary greatly, which tends to indicate that a number of different bloodlines offer such feathers. I don’t know the exact breed that yielded the feathers I’m using here—maybe Rhode Island or New Hampshire red. But it doesn’t really matter: the fish don’t know much about chicken breeding.

This speckled speckled hen hackle contains contains realistic realistic mottled coloring.


Here’s my Gold Ribbed Ha Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear. I’m using a 1X long wet fly hook because I like the way the components lay out on the slightly longer shank.

Hen Hackle for a Classic Gray Ghost

Hen feathers come in a wide variety of natural and dyed colors. Here’s how the classic Gray Ghost appears using natural dun hen saddle feathers for the wings.

Tie the Doctor Tom

Here’s another hen-feather streamer that’s produced very well for my fishing friends and me. I call it the Doctor Tom, after Dr. Tom Whiting, the foremost grower of fine fly-tying hackle. As you can see, the feather shrouds the body a little, and the gold shows through softly.

Doctor Tom

Hook: Extra-long streamer, sizes 6 to 2.
Thread: Gray, black, or brown 8/0 (70 denier). Select a color to match the exact color of the wing.
Underbody: Flat gold or silver braid.
Belly: White bucktail.
Wings: Gray hen neck feathers; the exact shade may vary.
Eyes: Adhesive eyes.
Notes: Before tying on the wings, place the adhesive eyes on the feathers. Flip the feathers over and place a drop of superglue on the back of each eye. Allow the glue to dry before tying the wings to the fly.

Hen Hackle for Salmon Flies

Hen feathers make excellent hackles on Atlantic salmon flies. Here’s how they look on one of my favorite patterns, the Copper Killer.

Tying Hen Dry Fly Wings

Folding back the butt fibers, rather than stripping the fibers from the quills, stabilize the feathers when tying the wings on dry flies. Here’s how I tie grizzly wings on an Adams.

Dick Talleur is a leading authority on tying all styles of flies. He is the author of more than a dozen highly regarded fly-fishing and tying books, and has appeared in many instructional videos.

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