Selecting the proper hackle for a fly can be frustrating. Paying $60+ for chicken feathers can be frustrating too! Here are some tips for picking the right hackle for your flies that might make your tying easier, however I can't do much about the high price of chicken feathers. It might help to remember that an $70 chicken neck or saddle will allow you to tie about 300 to 600 quality flies so figure around 20 cents per fly.

A word about the Definition of "Hackle".
The terms "hackling a fly" or "wrap the flies hackle" refers to tying a feather and wrapping it around the hook shank of the fly. This usually refers to a chicken feather either from the neck or saddle(back) of a rooster (male) or hen (female). The word "hackle" can refer to an individual feather or several feathers tied on a hook or or strung together (some saddle hackle sold this way "strung saddle hackle"). Hackle from a rooster are usually used for dry flies because they are hard and stiff, do not soak up water and support the fly on the water. Rooster hackle (from the saddle) is used also for feather streamers (ghost series) and saltwater streamers(deceivers). Hen hackle(necks and saddles) is used primarily for legs on nymphs and wet flies but is also used for hackle tip wings on dry flies. There are other uses for both rooster and hen like: Hackle barb tails on dries and wets. Just remember, a rooster hackle sheds water and is stiff, and a hen hackle absorbs water and is soft.

Rooster Hackle
Click on pictures for full size blowup.

Rooster hackle (as opposed to hen hackle) is used primarily for hackling dry flies. A saddle (top) and a neck (bottom).

A rooster neck usually has a great range of sizes. A good quality neck will tie from #26 to #8 hooks which is a good choice if you are tying for yourself and not tying 50 dozen dries in 2 sizes.


A rooster neck hackle is usually short and can tie only one dry fly or may require two hackle to properly tie the fly. The better (read more expensive) the hackle, the longer it is and some can tie two flies.
A rooster saddle has fewer sizes, usually 2 or three and can range from #18 to #14 all the way up to #10 to #6 and anything between. A rooster saddle also has longer hackles and some hackles can tie up to 4 or 5 flies. Most saddles will tie a higher number of flies than a neck in the same price range.

Click on pictures for full size blowup.

Hen hackle is used primarily for hackling wet flies or nymphs. A saddle (top) and a neck (bottom).

Please excuse the ragged appearance of the neck, it has been picked a lot.

A hen neck usually has a great range of sizes. A good quality neck will tie from #18 to #10 hooks. The neck hackles also make great hackle tip wings for dry flies. Hen necks are cheap (compared to rooster) at around $10. The larger ones make good wings for feather streamers.
A hen saddle will usually tie very large, about size 12 to 6 wet flies. Good choice for the Matuka style streamers and fanwing dries. They are cheaper than necks, around $4.

Click on pictures for full size blowup.

Rooster and hen hackle comes in all sorts of colors from natural white to dyed black. Here are the most popular colors.

From left to right:

creme, black, light blue dun (gray), dark blue dun, med. brown, grizzly, olive, light brown (furnace-has black stripe down middle) and the neck at lower left is a med. blue dun.

Hen necks and saddles can be had in a natural mottled brown colors that make great wet fly hackle.

Click on pictures for full size blowup.

Size refers to the length of the hackle barbs. If you bend a hackle feather, the barbs will stick out like this. Then you can tell the size. Most necks and saddles are graded according to stiffness of barbs and how small of fly it can tie. If you are tying only large sizes (10 and bigger), you could use cheap saddles and have quality flies. But if you tie a lot of #16 to #24, you need a high grade neck.

See Fly Proportion for more info.

If you are tying a dry fly, you want the hackle to be around 1 &1/5 to 2 times the hook gap. The example on right is 1 hook gap length, the hackle is too small.

This hackle is 2&1/2 of the hook, gap too large.

This one is just right.

Kind of reminds me of
"Goldie Locks and the Three Bears".