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Spey flies

2254 Views 5 Replies 4 Participants Last post by  juro
So, does anybody know enough about tying spey flies to tell me some tips to get that relaxed flowing spey hackle look? Whether it's salmon or steelhead flies,the relaxed droop of the spey hackle really intrigues me. The fly I am attempting is the Lady Caroline and the first couple look stilted and stiff. The spey hackle stem seems very thick too and only begrudgingly palmers around the hook. I am hoping someone has been here before....
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Jay -

There are a number of techniques which get the trademark Spey hackle effect to happen properly. First and foremost is hackle selection. Some guys out in the PNW used to settle for Schlappen. I couldn't do it

Schlappen is very effective for certain applications due to it's liveliness in water, my favorite is Brian Lencho's technique of palmering it into the body of a bunny fly to provide color diversity and a radial fiber ribbing (for lack of better words).

But for Spey hackle, schkip the Schlappen. I prefer Blue eared pheasant, dyed or natural; then dyed Spey hackle (Spirit River, other vendors makred SPEY hackle) made from chemically burned and dyed (flank?) feathers from fowl; then dyed mallard - in that order.

Having tied quite a few Spey flies (but by no means an expert) I've noted the following tips/techniques:

Work with the natural curvature of the feather. The barbs curve like a hand, so the stem must wrap to position the barbs in the classic curved formation that identifies these flies.

Strip one side unless you are tying "working" flies for sink tips in turbid water and trying to save time. Certainly for summer flies or fall low water Speys, strip the side you are not going to hackle from the stem.

Leave a little triangle on the tip of the feather to anchor the hackle before wrapping. If you strip the wrong half of the feather, you can simply wrap it in an opposite vector. Don't worry about it if you do, cross-wraps are common with salmon and Spey flies. Just be careful how you tie it in at the end.

The stem is very important, because if it's brittle it won't lay on the body of the fly well and may even snap while hackling. One negative nuance of the chemically prepared dyed fowl is that the stem is often brittle or thick. It does however provide a broad range of colors and lengths to work with.

Palmering over seal fur dubbing makes for a beautiful fly and hides the roots of the hackle from view.

Pick the dubbing and hackles to form the right effect, and I often need to remove some of the barbs from the upper half of the fly to allow for the matched mallard flank wings to set right.

Given three types of flies:

Black Heron, Sol Duc Spey (see Bob Veverka's image on Expert*ise) and my summer shrimp Spey, I use three different hackles: Blue eared or black dyed fowl for large sizes, dyed mallard for small sizes, orange dyed fowl, and white dyed fowl - respectively. If you find the "perfect" schlappen hackles, they will make better choices than the dyed fowl Spey hackles. This has been a problem for me over the years.

Let's get together and twist up a few one of these days.

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Hi Jay,

Juro's comments are right on. I'll just add a few additional comments . . .

I've been using dyed Golden Pheasant flank feathers for spey hackle on smaller flies recently and am loving them. And Golden Pheasant flank works really well for Lady Carolines.

Brittle stems are something you can't really do anything about (except by avoiding tying with them), but you can alleviate some of the stiffness of hackles by steaming them prior to tying. I just learned this trick in the last couple months - the steam softens the stem and allows you to wrap the hackle with more control. I've found this allows me to get that flowing, slightly curved positioning on the fly more consistently.

The final ingredient is *practice* - you learn to tie these flies by Doing It! I wish I could post a pic of my first attempts (some came out looking like Mohawks) to emphasize this. And others who are much proficient tiers than I tell similar stories.

Good Tying!

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What hackle are you using? If you are using blue eared pheasant, make sure you try feathers with the thinnest stems for the length you need. Fold the hackle, as per the directions in all the manuals, and wet it down thoroughly with spit (yuck). Press the fibers down along the hook shank with your fingers as you palmer the hackle.

Good luck,

Thanks for all the helpful suggestions and tricks of the trade. I'll try to get to tying some new flies this weekend and 'give it a go again' Sounds like materials and handling
the hackle a little differently will help.Maybe some day we as a group will have our act together enough to source good material collectively. Probably would shorten the learning curve on some of these less mainstream fly types.
If I can get one to look right, I'll post it.

Thanks for the help.
Jay -

I've got a good supply of Blue Eared Pheasant, burned and dyed Spey hackle and dyed flank feathers. Hit my email icon and send me your mailing address again so I can send you some.

BTW - your email icon is missing, if you want it to be available for readers of your posts you might need to add your email address to your profile to get this to show up (your choice).

!!! Bob Veverka will be featuring a Spey pattern for his monthly article in the next edition. !!!
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