Martyn White | Saturday, 23 March 2019
Is chicken eugenics the enemy of good fishing flies? I think it is, and the fly tying fashion that is going hand in glove with "improved" genetics is creating a, possibly, vicious cycle.
The improvement in genetic dry fly hackle makes many things easier and for some flies like the Griffiths gnat or stimulator is a vast improvement on what was available before. However, I am not sure if the downside of these hackles has really been acknowledged. Yes they have longer stems that are thinner more flexible and less likely to break, but they also have a far denser count of barbs that are much stiffer and consistent than what you'll find on any Indian or Chinese hackle. On the face of it, this all seems good and makes flies look quit crisp on the vice but is it as good as it seems?
I remember a period in the late 80s or early 90s when the "trick" of trimming the underside of a dry fly seemed to be the top tip in every dry fly article in every magazine I read. The writers pouring scorn on Halford et al and the classic dries with their full collars. I didn't notice it at the time, but it coincided roughly with the reliable availability of good genetic hackle from the states. But what these people failed to account for is that flies tied with and Indian hackle don't need trimming, the softer uneven fibres(of which there are fewer)simply don't offer the same support as a genetic. That's not all, the barb length forces different proportions which generally don't fit the "correct" hackle to gap ratio that fashion demands but do fit the proportions of many of the things we're the fly is supposed to imitate. And the move bringing much more life to the fly.
Just look at the grey duster, a fantastic fly if tied with a poorly marked badger hackle from £2 cape but less so when tied with a crisp well marked feather from a Whiting or Metz neck.. Possibly why it has fallen out of favour with many anglers despite the fact that it's been catching trout for decades longer than anything in many modern fly boxes.
So why not give the old cheap hackle another chance, save the high end stuff for where it's actually an improvement, save yourself a bit of money and probably catch more fish.