Starling Soft Hackle Hot

Starling Soft Hackle

Fly Materials

Wing Tip of the starling feather used for hackle.
Tail Mallard or wood duck fibers.
Body BWO superfine dubbing.
Hackle Starling tied sparse.

Tying Instructions

Instructions Note
This fly is best fished dead drifted under the surface as a still born or fished
across and down as an emerger under a BWO hatch. Strip very slowly toward you
after the fly has finished the downstream swing.

Why You Should Use and
Explore Wet Flies

Once again I
shall revisit the reasons for fishing and getting to know these flies. 
These flies are going to catch you more fish... period.  These flies fill
the gaps in catching fish that many anglers including myself experience. 
The fish are actively feeding and chasing insects in the water.  They
refuse to even entertain the thought of eating your nymph or dry fly, yet you
continue to see flashes and slashes at the top. 

If you ever
have $12.00 you want to spend to put more fish on your line buy the book
“Matching the Hatch” by Ernest Swiebert.  Read pages 17-20 and his
explanation of rise forms and what they mean. 

Many rises
are not to insects on the surface at all.  Many of the things we perceive
as a top water feeding activity is actually occurring inches below the surface. 
If you can identify these rises as subsurface feeding activity, and you fish the
proper wet and present your wet fly in the proper way, you will begin enjoying
great success on the end of your fly line. 

I was faced
with this scenario just the other day.  The apparent rises that I saw were
actually the tail of the fish kicking itself deeper back into the hole after
taking subsurface emergers.  There was no obvious hatch going on in the air
or on the water.  They would rise to many of my dry imitations, but refused
95% of them at the last second.  Refused many nymphs too.  After
switching to a pair of wets, one soft hackle and one flank fiber winged wet, I
immediately hit a home run.  I also noticed that the fish I started taking
were larger than the ones refusing my dries.  Have you ever had a day when
a dry fly fished under the surface worked?  If so, then a wet fly in the
same size and color will produce many more takes and hook-ups.

Ease of tying
once again is a major reason to fish these flies.  They can be ugly and
have “orchestrated Chaos” as Hans Weilman once put it too me, and take fish.
These are fishing flies, not presentation flies meant to be under glass. 
They are meant to be underwater.  These flies aren't instant gratification
coming off the vice, but go drop it in the sink full of water and you’ll
immediately see why you should be fishing these flies.  It looks like a bug
type form.

Now this
leads to another pair of theories.  Impressionism and silhouette keys. 
Many times a fly does not need to be an exact match of the natural to produce
fish.  Look at an Elk Hair Caddis for example.  I have never seen a
caddis natural that looked even remotely like and Elk Hair caddis, but I have
caught a many fish on them.  In the current, your wet fly only needs to
fool the trout for a split second to produce a take.  Think about making a
fly that’s silhouette looks like a bug only while whizzing by in the current. 
Wet flies are where it’s at.

aspect that a soft hackle can give you is one of the hardest to imitate... 
Life.  The soft hackles applied to many wet flies pulsate and move while
being dead drifted.  If it looks like a bug AND has movement in the fly,
your chances of getting the take are greatly increased.  I often add soft
hackles to my nymphs in order to create movement in the fly and integrate the
aspect of life into my nymphs.  Soft hackle Pheasant Tails and Soft Hackle
Hares Ears are starting to pop up in most fly shop bins and thee is a good
reason for it.

Techniques and Tips

Now lets
discuss the water types that are most conducive to wet fly fishing.  I
mentioned earlier and hinted at the fact that wet flies should be fished in
moving water.  Riffles and runs are where you want to be fishing wet flies. 
You are going to rely on a couple factors here. 

Number one,
the fact that if you are fishing moving water the fish has a much shorter length
of time in which it has to decide whether or not your presented fly is food or
not.  It has less time to discern the detailed aspects of the natural
insects present.  Here we are relying on impressionism and the silhouette
of the fly to trigger the strike. 

your presentation at this point is also of the utmost importance. You need to
understand what the bugs are doing and reproduce that movement, or lack of it,
in order for the fly to appear correct to the fish.  During periods of
little hatching activity and emergence, chances are the flies need a true dead
drift requiring an upstream presentation followed by mends to produce the drag
free drift.  This technique is often much more effective with some sort of
tiny strike indicator.  The small tube foam ones that twist on your leader
are best for this type of fishing. 

You must
present your offering in the same manner that the fish are feeding.  During
periods of actual hatching and emergence, one would most likely want to assume
the classic style of wet fly fishing...  Across and down.  Start with
a shorter cast than normal, let’s say 20 feet.  Cast straight across toward
the far bank.  I then mend one time to let my flies barely sink into the
film if I am fishing unweighted.  After that I either hold tight and lead
the flies, with my rod tip, across the current and downstream until my line
becomes taunt straight downstream below me.  I then usually lift my rod tip
very slowly, feed out a couple feet of line and then release my flies to go a
little further downstream and repeat a few times. 

Try waving
your rod tip from side to side to impart a back and forth motion of the flies.
This technique also allows me, upon the next cast, to search a couple feet
farther.  Feel for hits at this point, they are often ferocious and violent to
the point that many have been immediately broken off in my past.

Setting the Hook

Now for a
note fishing straight downstream.  If you set the hook by pulling straight
back toward you, you will tend to pull the fly right out of the fish’s mouth and
into your own face.  Not a good thing.  Instead, try setting at a
45-degree angle to the side of the downstream position.  This pulls the fly
toward the side of the fish’s mouth properly seating the hook in its jaw. 
Also keep in mind physics is not on your side at this point.  You are
fishing downstream and the fish has the current to use at its advantage. 
If it turns it’s head and starts swimming sideways you have the force of the
current on the fishes side and the momentum of the volume of water flowing
through the riff or run multiplying the force applied to your tippet.  If
you pull with your line hand or rod tip, chances are greatly increased that you
will break that fish off, especially if it is a good sized fish.

Once the fish
is hooked, allow it to take a line, but keep the line taunt, until you get
control of the fish.  If you are fishing in an area of big fish, you can
size up your tippet. 

another factor to think about,  If they are taking the fly hanging in the
current straight downstream, then the fish never ever gets a look at the tippet. 
You can actually get away with using obscenely large tippet sizes if this
technique is working.

You are also
going to find takes that happen as soon as the flies hit the water and shortly
after the flies begin their downstream journey and start to swing.  If this
is the case, then tippet size is a factor and you will also find you miss less
fish if this is the scenario in which they are taking wet flies.


Now that you
have the basic drifts down.  Start playing with the speed of your drift and
swing.  One of the basic techniques of fishing wets is to “high stick” This
refers to keeping your line short enough so that the current has very little
effect on your drift.  Flies and leader are in the water, but you are
actually using your rod tip to control the speed of the flies. 

Next you may
want to add tiny bits of weight.  These tiny weights can serve to slow your
drift tremendously and punch those wet flies through the film.  Now when I am
searching I tend to fish the upstream dead drift.  Then recast and do the
downstream swing.  Think slow and precise.

If you are
sight fishing, try to send your flies the same speed as the current, directly
into the fishes feeding lane.  Vary stripping line speeds from 1 inch at a time
to stripping as fast as possible.  When you strip on the swing you greatly
accelerate the speed that your flies are traveling down and across the current. 
Keep in mind though that most insects swim slowly and clumsily while in the
water, not fast and furious.

Weight and the Wet Fly

Now for
weight.  I fish wet flies unweighted to heavily weighted depending on water
levels in the riff or run I am at.  The fish tend to move to different
parts of the river depending on spawning activity, water temps, and time of
year.  During periods such as drought type conditions, the fish are going
to move into the riffles in order to get more oxygen and water flow over their
gills.  Riffs also tend to be prime aquatic insect homes for the same
reason.  The water flowing over the rocks tends to aerate the water. Prime
time to fish some good ole soft hackles or wets.

In riffs I
primarily fish my wet flies unweighted or with one tiny split shot to hold them
under water when swung downstream.  When colder weather starts to some in,
the fish tend to move back to their holes and undercuts for cover and ease of
holding in the river.  Fall is a great time to fish wets because heavy
insect emergence and the fact that the fish know that cold weather is coming. 
They want to fatten up to get ready for the winter.  They often become much
less selective in the fall, especially after the first frost, but when the water
temps are still warm.  They are also preparing themselves to spawn and go
through a period where they eat very little.

A good rule
of thumb is to observe the level in the water most of the fish are holding and
fish to that level.  It may be 1 inch deep or it may be 12 feet deep. 
Fish to the fish, not above or below.  Be flexible too because early
morning the fish may be laid down on the bottom eating nymphs.  Then, as
the day grows on they may start to come up in the water column to feed on
emergers.  Finally you may notice a few risers either feeding in the film
or on the surface.

The Combos

One of the
major magazines just had an article on the “Hopper Dropper” technique.  As
most of you are starting to figure out, I fish multiple flies all the time. 
I am hardly ever caught with one fly on my line unless it is late in the day and
I have figured out the one fly I need to be using.  Still rare. 

I will
suggest some combos and new flies and materials are allowing for some even
deadlier combos than have ever been seen before.  The use of tungsten beads
is allowing me to more accurately control the speed of my drift and keep my
flies in the feeding zone more consistently.  Some people hate bead head
flies, others swear by them.  I believe they have a purpose in my box. 
Some days they are highly effective themselves.  I use them as just another
offering and tool to control my fly depth and speed.  I find that a good
ole soft hackle, drifted behind a bead head, puts my flies in the kill zone more
consistently than ever before.  The bead head also serves the purpose of
getting my wet through the surface film and under the water quickly.  I
find that tiny tungsten bead heads as a last fly, with soft hackles in front of
it, keeps my fly very slow in the drift on riffs and shallow runs. 
Sometimes I even allow the tung head to catch and hold my flies in one spot,
like and anchor, then I lift the rod tip to free the fly and it allows me to
drift another foot or two before it hangs again.

I often fish
unweighted soft hackles and flank fiber winged wets behind my dries to risers. 
Fish it just like a dry dropper.  Use the dry as an indicator or just keep
an eye out for a rise form behind your dry.

droppers were originally meant to offer the fish a surface and sub surface
offering at the same time.   Now if you have the nerve, patience, and
casting ability, I’ll offer you one up on the dry dropper.  Lets look at a
tan caddis with a bright green body.  What if you could offer the fish a 3
fly combo that would imitate a dun, emerger, and pupae, all at the same time.
Could this be the ultimate searching rig?  I think so.

Lets try a
standard Elk Hair caddis on top.  Floats very well and is a dang fine fly
in its own right.  Then drop off a Partridge and Yellow soft hackle to
imitate the emerger.  Then off of that, drop a bead head caddis pupae such
as Schroeder's Caddis Pupae.  Put that rig in about 1 1/2 to 2 feet of
water where there are caddis present, and I can almost guarantee you some

Lets look at
a mayfly combo.  Take a nice sized Wulff or Thunderhead, which imitates a
myriad of mayflies and floats well.  Then drop off a Hendrickson flank
fiber winged wet, then a Pheasant Tail with a tiny weight.  If you get the
sizes right and can keep this rig from becoming a wad looking like something
only your cat could produce you got a good chance at catching something. 
Now keep in mind that I am talking extreme searching techniques here.  But
think of the concept.  Dry, Emerger and Nymph all represented at the same

combos you come up with, use your flies for a reason, not randomly.  Tie
together a caddis searching rig, or a specific mayfly rig.  Use these wets
as searching flies and problem solving tools.  Whatever you do, fish some
wet flies, even if it’s dropped off your dry.  You’ll be amazed at what
they will do for your fishing.  To solve a very complex hatch and feeding
scenario can be highly rewarding.  Wet flies are the tool to use when the
going gets tough.  When the fishing gets tough, the tough reach for wet


I always try
and give you a few resources.  My one and only reference and the book that
has taught me the most is Dave Hughes book “Trout Flies”.  Pretty
expensive, but considering it is my fly tying and fly fishing reference, I find
it invaluable and it leads to new discoveries in my fly fishing all the time. 
He is credited with being one of the people that has helped keep wet flies
alive.  He also has books entitled “Wet Flies” and “Nymph Fishing” that are
more moderately priced.

“Matching the
Hatch” by Schwiebert has a ton of info for a very small price.

Also a force
to be reckoned with is Sylvester Nemes, “The Soft Hackle Wet Fly Addict” is a
work of art.

Once again,
the best way to learn these techniques is by going with someone who knows what
the heck they are doing when fishing wet.  Dry fly time is rapidly coming
to a close and its time to hone those wet fly and nymph skills for the winter.

Till we meet or meet again... Tight Lines and Screamin Reels.

Lee “Dawg” Costner

This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Questions and comments are always welcome.

Thanks for your time.

BWO superfine dubbing.

Fly Tying and Fly Fishing: