Soft hackle flies are a little known secret to a select few in the fly fishing community. But once you know exactly how to fish them and when, they become a staple fly in your fly box.
There are have been countless times where I would've have gone home without a single catch under my belt. It is on these particular nights that trout are responding to extremely specific insect behaviors that aren't easily represented with a simple dry fly cast or drifting a nymph. These trout were exploding at the surface chasing down caddis pupae and not taking dry flies. More often than not, trout only key in on flies that imitate the exact upward movement pattern of caddis pupae racing to the surface, which is rather easy to replicate by swinging a soft hackle wet fly.
The basic way to fish a soft hackle fly is to swing it across the currents to give it that upward movement trout love, which you can read more about here. On the other hand, you can include these incredibly buggy flies within your multi-fly nymphing rigs or cast to upstream trout like you would as a dry fly.
Here are 11 of the best soft hackle wet flies for fly fishing that we depend on.
Nick Nicklas produced this excellent blue wing olive emerger with soft hackles for a pulsating movement. On cloudy days with warm weather, we notice a surge of blue-winged olive activity and trout become more comfortable coming out of their usual pockets for easy pickings. We'll target the ends of slow-moving pools or riffles for the trout that sip up the cripples or struggling emergers.
This is a variation of the classic Hare’s Ear nymph pattern you commonly know. Tied as a soft hackle, the Partridge Hare’s Ear fly pulsates and moves just like how emerging nymphs wiggle and squirm on their way up to the surface. On the other hand, you can also add a non-beaded version of the Hare’s Ear Soft Hackle into the top of your nymphing rigs or off the back of a dry fly.
When other flies fail, this soft hackle pattern has an uncanny way of surpassing our expectations. While it can be swung through pocket water and deep pools, the Caddis Soft Hackle is most effectively fished either below an indicator whether it be a foam strike indicator or a buoyant dry fly.
Dusty's Black Soft Hackle seems to excel more than any other soft hackle pattern we attempt on overcast days and low-light conditions. The black body perfectly contrasts the sky and trout appear to notice. Not to mention, this is an excellent pattern when mayfly hatches are rampant.
We love to include this olive pattern into our nymphing rigs on days when blue-winged olives duns are apparent on the surface. Trout will often ignore these freshly hatched BWO duns on top and target the freely drifting nymphs below.
This barbless wet fly is a great prospecting pattern when you're not exactly sure what exactly trout are favoring today. It has just enough flash and movement to give the impression of a mayfly nymph or caddis larva struggling in the current.
This pattern is deadly in the New England states before the Sulphur duns begin to emerge and nymphs are incredibly active alone the stream bottom. As they begin to hatch you'll see trout taking nymphs just below the surface and ignore the already emerged duns on top. This is the time to swing this pattern down-and-across currents or include it near the top of your nymphing rigs.
The Partridge Hare's Ear Soft Hackle is an extremely versatile and buggy wet fly that will imitate nearly any insect hatch. We love including this soft hackle within our wet-fly rig near the top and in a smaller size to imitate the common daytime midge hatches and reoccurring caddis hatches.
Tricky fish that wouldn’t take duns or adults off the top, will find it difficult to resist this soft hackle emerger. This particular pattern has little weight, which helps keep it in that strike zone for emerging mayflies.
Trout love to key in on emerging caddis flies. You’ll know when this is happening because trout will literally be rocketing out of the water in pursuit of caddis pupae that are racing to the top. The only way to catch fish during this time is to imitate a rapidly moving caddis emerger swimming to the top by swinging this pattern with other soft hackle flies.
Few things beat soft hackles when trout are exploding at the surface. Sure, beaded nymphs do well, but when trout refuse to feed close to the bottom and keep their eyes up only wet flies will do. This BWO soft hackle fly pattern is a great blue-winged olive fly for swinging through runs.