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A Quick Guide to Chicken Feathers: Capes, Saddles and More

Among the fly tying materials here at the shop, there may be none more impressive than the feathers. If you’ve ever held a high quality chicken cape or saddle, you know how mesmerizing it can be to thumb through one of these natural works of art. There’s no synthetic material that comes even close.

We recently received a shipment of feathers from our friends at Whiting Farms. So we thought this might be a good time to take a dive into the world of feathers – rooster, hen, saddles and capes…what does it mean to the fly tyer? And how do you pick the right feather for any particular pattern?

Over the past several months, we’ve made an effort to answer common fly tying questions and de-mystify those tying materials that cause the most confusion. Check out our previous articles on fly tying thread, chenille and dubbing. This time, we’ll do our best to answer some of the most common questions about chicken feathers.


Whiting Farms Grading System

Whiting has been one of the world’s preeminent innovators and producers of high quality feathers for fly tyers. Based right here in Colorado, Dr. Tom Whiting began Whiting Farms in 1989. Since then, Whiting Farms has meticulously honed and perfected feathers for a variety of tying purposes.

If you’ve purchased a Whiting saddle, you’ve probably noticed the Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum ratings, and the difference in price. What separates them? The higher grades will offer more consistency throughout the cape or saddle, in both sizing and quality. For the tyer, that translates into more flies. A Whiting Bronze dry fly saddle can tie an average of 900 flies. A Silver saddle will produce about 1,400 flies. A Gold saddle will average around 2,000 flies. And a Platinum saddle can produce about 2,800 flies.

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The Importance of a Hackle Gauge

When working with chicken feathers, one must-have tool for tyers is a hackle gauge. With the ability to measure flies from size 8 to 28, the hackle gauge takes the guesswork out of picking the right feather for the pattern at hand. It’s simple but essential.


A QUICK GUIDE TO WHITING FEATHERS

Whiting offers a range of feathers that are suited to different fly patterns, from tiny midges all the way up to giant musky flies. Uses include dry fly hackle, tailing material, soft hackle collars, nymph legs, wings and so much more.

Here’s a brief guide to some of those products and how they can serve fly tyers:

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Rooster Capes and Saddles

Rooster capes contain feathers for a wide variety of fly sizes. The stiffer fibers create excellent dry fly hackle for high-floating dries.

Saddles offer a more narrow size range, for tyers who will be tying lots of patterns of a similar size. The very long, consistent feathers can each produce a number of flies.


Rooster Midge Saddles

These saddles features small feathers for tying small flies. 80% of the saddle provides feathers for size 18 and smaller. This is a great option for tying small dry flies and adult midge patterns.

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100 Saddle Hackle Pack

The 100 packs are an easy entry for the tyer who isn’t ready to invest in a saddle. Additionally, 100 packs are available in a wide rang of color and size options. So named, because they contain enough feather to tie 100 flies.


Hen Capes and Saddles

Hen capes display narrower feathers, which are partly webby. While hen saddles provide a fully webbed look. These make excellent collars and legs for nymph patterns.

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Soft Hackle with Chickabou

These contain two distinct feather types. First, there’s the soft hackle, which is wide and webby for large collars. Second is the Chickabou. It’s smaller than marabou and great for tying small streamers, damsels, and leeches.

Ben Baxter told us that he is stoked on the Soft Hackle with Chickabou that just came in. “I like it over CDC for buggy collars on larger nymphs, soft hackles and streamers,” he told us. “It’s a more webby, thicker material that moves differently than CDC, especially on the swing. The thicker material makes the fly and its movement more visible.”


High and Dry Hackle

Whiting’s High and Dry Hackle is a less expensive dry fly hackle that provides tyers with a wide range of color options, mostly in the 14 to 16 size range.


American Rooster Capes and Saddles

Whiting offers a unique option in their American rooster capes and saddles. The capes have webby feathers that are useful for streamers, saltwater flies and bass flies. Meanwhile the saddles are webby with a tapered shape. These are also great for streamers, saltwater and bass flies.


American Hen Capes and Saddles

American hen capes feature round, webby feathers, which are very versatile for tying dry fly wings, stonefly legs and bass popper tails. The saddles are wide and webby for big bass patterns and saltwater flies.


American Soft Hackle with Chickabou

Like the previously mentioned soft hackle with Chickabou, this product contains two distinct feather types. The soft hackle is wide and webby for large collars on big flies. The Chickabou again is smaller than marabou, and ideal for tying small streamers, leeches and damsels.

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Coq de Leon Rooster Capes and Saddles

Coq de Leon is the oldest known fly tying chicken. And with the arrival of eggs from Spain in the mid-90s, Whiting is now the only breeder in the world to offer Coq de Leon rooster and hen. These capes provide tyers a wide range of feathers. They are great for tailing material, as well as large dry fly hackle and wooly bugger hackle.


Coq de Leon Hen Capes and Saddles

The Coq de Leon hen capes are soft and webby in natural colors, perfect for collars nymph legs and wing cases.


Coq de Leon Soft Hackle and Chickabou

Like the original and the American, the Coq de Leon soft hackle and chickabou gives tyers two types of feathers. The natural color of the Coq de Leon is great for natural looking wing cases and wet flies.

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Coq de Leon Tailing

This is an excellent tailing material because of its unique speckling and stiff fibers.

Whiting also offers a Coq de Leon Euro Nymph tailing pack. These tailing packs have long fibers in vibrant colors.

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Brahma Hen Capes

These hen capes are soft, and have natural colors for collars on nymphs and wet flies. Dakota Wentworth says that he likes tying with Brahma hen for soft hackles and small streamers. “Its webby and the mottling color is awesome,” Dakota told us. “Its a great substitute for Partridge to change things up.”


Brahma Soft Hackle with Chickabou

The natural mottling of the Brahman soft hackle is great for sculpins and wooly buggers. The Chickabou is a fine gray marabou feather.

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Schlappen

Schlappen feathers are wide and webby. They are ideal for tying fly patterns for bass, pike and Musky. Whiting offers Schlappen in more than 30 different colors.

Dakota has been doing a lot of tying with the Whiting Schlappen. He is using the Schlappen for huge pike and musky flies. ‘The full feathers that come in these packs are perfect for tails and breaking up the other flash and fibers that make these big flies swim.” Dakota added.


Not Sure? Ask Questions!

When it comes to fly tying materials, there are no dumb questions. The options can be mind-boggling and if you feel intimidated, you’re not alone. If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. Visit us at the fly shop or give us a call at 303-794-1104.

We’d be happy to help you walk through the options and pick a cape, saddle or other product for your fly tying goals. You can shop our selection of fly tying feathers here. Online and phone orders get free shipping, or you can opt for same-day curbside pick up.

Whether you’re wrapping dry fly hackle, a nymph collar or tying up some big pike flies for this spring, we hope you have fun and learn something new along the way. Give us a shout with any questions!