Genetic Hackles


Great strides have been made over the past 60 years with the hackles that are provided to fly tiers. It has been a process beginning with Harry Darbee in the 1940's and 1950's continuing today with the hackles produced by Dr. Tom Whiting of Whiting Farms. Mr. Darbee bred stock based upon color, hackle length, and barb stiffness. The offspring that he produced were shared with others, such as Andy Miner of Minnesota, and this collaboration continued to increase the quality with a wide range of colors and desired hackle properties. Miner also shared his work with fellow breeders: Carey Quarles (Keough Hackles), Robert Wetzel (Bob's Hackle), Charlie Collins (Collins Hackles), Ted Hebert (Hebert Hackles), and Buck Metz (Metz Hackles).

Beginning in 1972, Buck Metz expanded his operations to provide improved hackles to commercial and hobbyist fly tiers. Metz was able to provide true colors such as Ginger and Badger, on a consistent basis that were mostly web-free. Metz has subsequently been sold to Umpqua Feather Merchants.
Ted Hebert in 1973, concentrated on Duns and was able to develop Chocolate Dun and Badger Fleck. His hackles also developed the stiff barbs and irridescence needed for high quality Dry Flies.
Henry Hoffman (Hoffman Hackles) of Warrenton, Oregon is another pioneer who concentrated on Grizzly Hackle in the 1970's and selected his stock to produce some of the best Grizzly hackles in the 1980's. He was both an avid fly tier and a professional breeder who brought the needs of both aspirations together. His firm was bought by Whiting Farms in 1989.
Dr. Tom Whiting (Whiting Farms) is currently one of the foremost poultry breeders for fly tying hackles. He received his degree at the University of Arkansas and developed operations in Delta, Colorado. Dr. Whiting bought the poultry stock of Ted Hebert in 1997 which improved the original Hoffman lines with extra-long hackles and consistent sizes. Today, most commercial tiers utilize Whiting Hackles for their flies.

Types of Hackles

  • Rooster Capes (Necks): This is the region from the top of the Rooster's head, down the back of the neck to the base of the neck. There are a wide range of dry fly hackle sizes from 12 to 24. Hackles are stiff, shiny, and web-free. Good choice for the hobbyist who needs a wide assortment for dry fly hackles.
  • Rooster Saddles: This is the back of the Rooster. The hackles are longer than the cape but the sizes tend to be limited to only a couple of sizes such as 12-14 or 14-16. Shorter spade hackles are found along the edges of the saddle which can be used for streamers and tailing materials. Good choice for those that need mainly a couple of sizes for a large number of dry flies.
  • Hen Capes (Necks): This is the region from the top of the Hen's head, down the back of the neck to the base of the neck. There is a webbiness to a hen cape that makes them preferable for wet flies and nymphs. Some of the smaller feathers can be used for dry fly wings. Good choice for the hobbyist who needs a wide assortment.
  • Hen Saddles: This is the back of the Hen. The hackles are short, webby and oval-shaped. Good choice for those that need beard hackle on wets and nymphs. The solid colored hackles can also be used for cut wings on dries.
  • Spade Hackles: Short tapered feathers found on the shoulders of Saddles. They have long, stiff web-free barbs. Used for tailing materials.
  • Schlappen Hackles: Long webby feathers found along the butt of the saddle about 1 inch wide. Used widely for streamers and beards on wet flies and nymphs.
  • Wingers: Small Hen capes with webby, rounded tips. Used for small dry fly wings.
  • Marabou: Soft downy feathers located in the belly area but also found along the sides of most saddles. Used for wet flies.

Hackle Colors

There are generally 10-11 Natural colors of hackle that most flies utilize. These are:

  • Black
  • Light Dun
  • Medium Dun
  • Dark Dun
  • Cream
  • Light Ginger
  • Silver Badger
  • Golden Badger
  • Brown
  • Grizzly
  • White

Badger can be white, creamy, silvery, or ginger-colored with a black-brown center and, sometimes, a black tip. The Dun color is from an old English word, "dunn" , which is a shade of gray. Grizzly is a feather that is barred in dark and light. The barring is at an angle like a chevron. Some of the larger Hackle Providers produce many other variant colors, naturally. There is also a number of Dyed colors to necks and capes. Whiting Farms has about 46 natural and dyed colors for their Dry Fly hackles.


Primary Hackle Providers

  • Whiting Farms : Dr. Tom Whiting has developed his Dry Fly Hackle with the combination of strains from the Hoffman and Hebert broodstock. The result is a large array of colors with soft stemmed, high barb density hackles of extraordinary length. He maintains the Hebert/Miner line to preserve the unique characteristics of color and supple quills. In addition, Whiting also developed a line for wet flies that he refers to as American Hackles. These hackles are broad and densely webbed with round tips. Whiting also produces Spey Hackle, Coq de Leon Hackle, and Specialty Hackles such as Bugger Packs, Tailing Packs, Chickabou, Streamer, and Popper Packs.
    Whiting 100 Packs contain enough saddle hackle material to tie at least 100 dry flies. They come in a large assortment of colors and are sized. See Color Chart.
    Tailing Packs have an extra long and stiff spade hackle. Whiting has four speckled colors from his Coq De Leon line known as Pardo's. See Color Chart.
    American Hen Capes have highly webbed hackles with rounded tips. They are perfect for matukas, streamers, and dry fly wings. The stems tend to be softer than others to allow for easy wrapping. Whiting dyes the white capes into a number of vibrant colors. See Color Chart.
    American Rooster Capes come in 10 natural colors. Whiting dyes White hackle, Grizzly, Black Lace, and Ginger to achieve a wide assortment of colors and markings. See Color Chart.
    American Rooster Saddles also come in 10 natural colors. It provides hackles for size 12-16 dries and has good spade hackles on the shoulders for tailing materials. See Color Chart.
  • Metz (Umpqua Feather Merchants) : Metz has been a leader in hackle production, particularly during the 1980's. They produce three lines; Necks, Saddles, and Micro-Barb Saddles. The necks are renowned for their small hackle sizes of 26-32. Rick Dailey continues to develop their flock.
  • Keough: Bill Keough has developed high quality hackles with soft stems, high barb density and excellent feather counts. He bought into the Darbee/Miner line and has 14 natural colors that he is raising. Renowned for excellent color traits, they are also an excellent value hackle. He carries saddles and capes in sizes #4-16 and down to #22 or smaller.
  • Collins Hackle Farm: Charlie Collins uses the Darbee/Miner strains. He concentrates on thin quills that do not split or twist. Necks and Saddles are sold as one piece. He also tries to maintain the original Darbee/Miner attributes with a lesser dense fiber count.
  • Conranch Hackles : Dennis and Liz Conrad of Elk, Washington have been in business since 1997 but their flock is one of old lines going over 45 years. They sell high quality capes, saddles, full skins, and juvenile hen skins for small wet flies. Dennis and Liz have maintained a strong following among many serious fly tiers.They recently sold their business to Clearwater Hackle, who continue to provide the same hackles.
  • Ewing Hackle: Doug Ewing has been breeding since 1989 with white and grizzly stock bought from Joe Keough. Doug specializes in Mini-packs that contain about 200 feathers per patch for an economy hackle.
©2023 Steve Schalla
This page is not to be copied without my explicit permission.