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Tying & Fishing Soft Hackle Nymphs

Review by Joe Cornwall


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I'm a soft hackle fanatic.  I carry a C&F fly box with a swing leaf that holds some 30-plus dozen of these simple, beautiful and super-productive flies.  I fish soft hackle flies for trout as a matter of faith and I'm seldom disappointed.  I also rely on the design for hooking big bluegills during the dog days of the summer months.  And a size 12 partridge and orange is my "go to" wet fly for caddis obsessed June smallmouth.  I firmly believe that if you're not carrying soft hackle flies whenever you're on the water, you probably aren't  getting the point of the exercise!  I guess this demonstrates that it all boils down to the fact that I came to this book with preconceived expectations.  One of my expectations was that very few books could rival the ground-shaking work done by Sylvester Nemes in the exploration of this, our oldest and most revered of fly designs.  I'm pleased to say that Tying and Fishing Soft Hackled Nymphs meets that challenge.


Allen McGee has much to be proud of with this work.  He presents carefully considered and detailed information about the history, construction and, especially, the fishing of a variety of patterns with roots deeply and simultaneously planted in the traditions of Scottish North Country spiders and North American wingless wets.  Allen expertly draws on the writings and teachings of such luminaries as Pete Hidy, James Leisenring, G.E.M Skues and Frank Sawyer.  By the end of the first chapter you have a good sense of the breadth and importance of soft hackle influence on current pattern and techniques


Chapter 2, Traditional and Modern Tying Techniques, is worth the price of the book alone.  The soft hackle fly, and by extension the soft hackled nymph, is easy to tie.  Its simplicity is deceiving, though.  Proper material selection and application will increase the productivity of your flies.  McGee takes us carefully through traditional wingless hackle flies all the way to the most contemporary glass bead thorax ties.  Any space that was left in my soft hackle fly box will now be filled with a fat handful of McGee's patterns.


By far the most important section of this book is McGee's treatment of fly selection and presentation strategies.  If you know the basics of reading water, this book will give you the other half of that equation - knowing what to do with the conditions you face.  Starting with the traditional wet-fly swing you'll learn about the Leisenring Lift, the induced take, Hidy's swing techniques and more.  This material is discussed in the context of trout fishing, but the information is vital and applicable to many other fly fishing disciplines.  One might say the information is "scaleable."  .  Tie on a large soft hackle streamer and most everything written would apply to smallmouth bass in a Southeastern freestone stream or to stripers in  a Northeastern tidal flow. 


Tying and Fishing Soft Hackled Nymphs (ISBN 978-1-57188-403-9) is highly recommended and available from Frank Amato Publications, Inc. for $24.95.

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