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Important Uses of Hen Feathers in Fly Tying

Hen feathers (as in chicken) are one of those exciting products that some fly tiers have yet to discover, especially juvenile (JV) hens. Hens offer a lot of uses in both wet and dry fly tying.

A good quality hen feather can produce a killer fly. They undulate very well in water, mimicking the movements of an insect or other small creature with uncanny resemblance.

They are used for cut or uncut wings on wet and dry flies, and are especially popular for tying soft hackle flies, replacing wild game bird feathers that have thicker stems making them more difficult to wrap. Some tiers use hen feathers for wings and legs on hoppers, and tails on the small bass bug.

Something else special about hen feathers is that there are various colors/patterns only available in hens.  The “hackle” of a bird is part of the sex feathering of a chicken (capes, saddles, and wing band), and displays differently between genders.  In other words, a rooster can genetically be the same as a hen, but have different colors and patterns than his female counterpart. If a breeder was ever able to match the beautiful Darbee dun hen coloration in a rooster, he would accomplish the almost impossible. 

When purchasing hen feathers, it is still important to use birds that come from genetic stock. That way you can take advantage of tying with fine, easy to wrap stems. And when tying wet flies, you want to also look for soft bards, which absorb water well. 

Clearwater Hackle sells full skins untrimmed so you can take advantage of the many sizes and shapes a hen has. These are great bargains and each will produce hundreds of flies. Hens can vary in color and pattern, so when buying keep this in mind. The pictures on our website are representational but cannot always capture the full range of possibilities. If you need a very specific color/pattern be sure to contact us and we’ll be happy to work with you to pick the perfect skin.