Any tips for a beginner on making hackles behave?

Today’s flies. I’m just learning. Mop fly looks a like it would be really good for catching a cartoon bugs bunny. Even so, I’m really liking the “Spagnum” color of Shetland Spindrift yarn. It has dark green & black fibers.

So can anyone share your best beginner tips for making the hackles look right? It’s hard to keep steady tension as I turn the feather; the hackle pliers like to fall off or break the stem; I don’t know when to stop; and rather than the nice, even sunburst you internet people make , my barbs clump together and just go wild.


There is nothing wrong with the hackles on the flies you have posted. They will catch. OK they won’t win prizes for the best tied fly. However, in my view, one ties a fly to catch fish. If it looks a bit ‘rough’ so what. It’s probably more appealing to a fish. How many times have you fished with a fly that has caught lots of fish and the fly looks in tatters, yet it still catches.
May I suggest you look at the many videos on YouTube. There are a lot of very good tiers out there. Find two or three you like and ‘subscribe’ to their videos.
If you watch Davy McPhail and Barry Orde Clarke. They are two of the best.

When tying keep it simple. When tying hackles don’t try and tie on too much hackle. Also manipulate the feathers whilst tying if they are not going the way you want. By that I mean wet them with your fingers - I always tie with a damp sponge in a dish nearby.
Also try a be ‘light fingered’ when holding the hackle pliers. It takes practice but can be done - even with the fattest of fingers!
Lastly just enjoy it. I have tied on and off for many years. These days I tie about half a dozen flies each day and dream about the fish each is going to catch :grinning:

Have Fun



Your hackles are what I STRIVE for!
What you see as uneven, or wild, I see as my best work because they flat out catch fish.
You’ll see videos of some of the best fishermen (not necessarily the best fly tiers) winding their thread back through the hackles to both improve durability and give them some “buggyness”.
Don’t overthink the appearance of a fly.


I have some spring steel hackle pliers that kept slipping off or cutting feather stems. I put a small piece of heat shrink insulation on one of jaws and it made a huge difference.


Hello, and welcome!

Personally I also felt intimidated by the neatness of the flies that resulted in YT videos (the channels that are recommended by David are very good and I feel like I watched hundreds).

Just to echo the others that neat flies aren’t necessarily ideal for catching fish. Hunters have an intuition for what injured prey looks like (lions vs old/lame Gnu for example) and will tend to prefer it as the engery in vs energy out is a better trade off.

I’d strongly recommend you take a look at the Discover Tenkara content. They have a lot of free advice on their videos, but the paid content is affordable and very high quality (and the book called something like “how to fool fish with simple flies” transformed my understanding of both the “why” of effective fly tying and the “how”). They have a short video series for sale on tying tenkara flies but they are full of general tips from a lifetime of very practical experience (ie making flies to catch, not to put in a display cabinet)

Worth noting that John and Paul at DT both have a background in the academic study of fish and their environment, so their content is very well researched and science based.

Do drop me a message if I can help and keep on experimenting (and showing us how it’s going).

Best, Russ


Thanks to everyone for the encouragement. Today’s looks a little more like I intended it to. (Never mind the yarn … or any of the other flies from today).

Yarn color is “Burnt Umber”


I think you’ll find that the flies will continue to work well, dare I say better, after they’ve been chewed on a bit. I enjoy trying to make flies that please the eye, but that doesn’t mean they will catch any more fish.